Living in a tiny house

There are definitely both pros and cons to living in a tiny house.

We came from a house that was roughly 190 square meters in the UK and now live in one that’s 42 square meters!

Moving to a smaller house made us evaluate what we actually need to have. We got rid of over 80% of everything we owned when we moved here – and to be honest, we haven’t missed any of the ‘stuff’ we got rid of. We did bring some books – the ones about gardening, preserving food and living off grid! Our music was uploaded onto iTunes and then all the CD’s were sold, and books were sold / donated, but having a kindle means all my favourite books now take up no room at all, and clothes whittled down to the bare minimum (although Rog would say I still have too many!).

I used to have so much kitchenware – enough plates for 15 people to come for a three course meal without having to wash up in between courses – madness! Glasses, mugs etc – way too many! Even though I whittled these down, we still have plates and bowls we haven’t used since moving in! And clothes, shoes and handbags – let’s not even start talking about those …!!!

So a big pro is less cleaning – which is just as well, as it’s pretty dusty where we live. I can clean the house top to bottom in under an hour, but I do this several times a week now (and half an hour later you can write your name in the dust again!!).

Things that hadn’t been seen as essential before now moved up the priority list – all the tools in the garage, my sewing machine and sewing box, candle holders (and those household candles from the back of the cupboard for emergencies!) – all of these suddenly became priority things to have. We sold lots of our archery stuff, but kept the crossbow and bolts – we get all sorts of animals out here so better to be safe than sorry!

The biggest challenge to living in a small house is storage – you take having an airing cupboard for granted – and our old house had 3 lofts, although this did mean that we hoarded an incredible amount of rubbish – I would be happy with one small one now! Things like the suitcases – we just don’t have room for them in the house, so we have a small brick shed that’s now referred to as the loft – we have to be careful what we store in there though, as we do get little mousey visitors in there – so needless to say, it’s always Rogers job to get things out of the loft!

There isn’t room in the bedrooms to put a cupboard in to store things like towels and sheets, so Rog put up a long shelf in the spare bedroom for these things, and other stuff simply has to go under the beds! But we manage.

Since moving in I have had another clearout and got rid of some of the things we brought from the UK – like the iron that is never going to work on the solar (and even gives the generator a hard time!), so there’s just no point in keeping it, taking up valuable under bed storage space! I did buy a small travel iron, which is fine on the generator, just in case I need to iron something for a special occasion!

It does make me more conscious of what we have, and so now, if something doesn’t get used, it’s likely to end up being given away or thrown away, whereas before, I would keep everything simply because I could.

The spare bedroom doubles up as my office when I’m working – so we have a folding picnic table that can be moved out of the way when we have guests, and I use one of the kitchen chairs. When I’m not working, the Mac just fits on top of the chest of drawers, which has to house things like sellotape, envelopes, games, batteries etc

Converting the bodega last year into a useful storage room has helped – having only 1 kitchen cupboard for food was tough, but now I have shelves in the bodega where I can store food, as well as things like cleaning stuff, loo roll etc and that has made a big difference! I have very few cupboards in the kitchen for pots and pans, so Rog made a hanging pot rack out of pallets and fencing, and it works brilliantly! Once upon a time I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid at spending hundreds on something like this, but it’s very satisfying when it’s free!

Clearing the clutter from life is something I would heartily recommend. At first I was a bit sad at selling everything, and was hanging on to things … but with each item that I sold, not only was it money in the bank for the move, but also I felt lighter and somehow more free. It got to the point where I was chucking everything on eBay and Gumtree – Rog would say, ‘have you seen …’ and I’d say ‘yes, I sold it and posted it off yesterday!’ There has been hardly anything that I regretted selling – I did buy a new pressure cooker – something that I had in the UK but never used. Here, it really works for me to have one, as I can cook a stew in under 15 minutes, and marmalade in about 20 minutes, which saves money on the gas – something that you become very aware of when you rely on gas bottles and don’t just have a constant supply of piped gas!

Our bedroom doubles up as the lounge, particularly in the winter months. After dinner we sometimes watch a film on the tablet, and so the most comfortable place to watch something is the bed as we have no couch to lay around on! We do have 2 armchairs in the kitchen / dining room by the fire, but at the end of a long day what you really want to do is stretch out and relax!

We have adjusted to a small space really well, and you do learn very quickly to make the most of every bit of space you have!

Why do we stop playing?

A few years ago, whilst waiting outside a school before a meeting there, I was watching the children in the playground, running around, skipping, shouting, laughing – you know, proper belly laughing. It prompted me to post on Facebook then that maybe work places should have a 10 minute break time mid morning and mid afternoon so that staff could run around, laugh, play footy etc to escape being a grown up just for a few minutes. Let’s face it, we all get tired of adulting sometimes.

Photo by Michael Morse on Pexels.com

I was reminded of this the other week when watching a film called Tag, where a group of mates had been playing a game of tag for 30 years – for one month a year they would chase each other all over the country – and it was based on a true story. The wonderful quote used in the film was:

We don’t stop playing because we grow old – we grow old because we stop playing

How true is that? So the day after watching the film I spent the morning climbing trees! There is something so satisfying about it, and our orange trees are perfect for climbing!

I think as we grow up we forget the simple pleasures in life – life gets hectic and we convince ourselves we don’t have time for fun, and that being silly just for the heck of it is something reserved for kids.

Let’s face it, the world is going to hell in a handcart, so maybe now is the perfect time to look at having fun again – not sensible grown up fun, proper childish stuff – running around, skipping, finger painting, jumping in a pile of leaves, climbing a tree, going tiddler fishing – let your imagination run riot! Don’t watch the news, play tiddlywinks or cuddle a chicken instead!

Caption competition???

Ethel is a funny old bird!

I mean the chicken, not my mother in law whom the chicken is named after (well, on second thoughts … 😂😂) – no, no, I definitely mean the chicken!

When we named them on the day we got them, we didn’t know at that time that chickens really do have personalities! Ethel was a little smaller than the others, as as my mother in law is about Yoda size, we thought that the small chicken should be Ethel.

Well it turns out that chicken Ethel is a sandwich short of a picnic!

Last week we got so fed up with her keep trying to keep her out of the veg garden, stop her eating the dog food and drinking the rusty water (used for the trees when they need iron), tormenting the dog etc that Rog picked her up and walked down the end of the second terrace and plonked her down – far away from mischief … only 5 minutes later she was back. So Rog picked her up again and took her away … 5 minutes later, yep, back again. And so the game went on …

There’s nothing better than a few dog biscuits!

Now normally, we thought that chickens wouldn’t like being carried about very much. And when they don’t like something their necks shrink, and head goes right down to the body.

Well it turns out that Ethel loves it. Head up, looking about, not a bit nervous or unhappy. She’s almost saying ‘wow, look at meeeee!’ So now as we carry her away from mischief, we sing ‘her song’:

I believe I can fly, I believe I can touch the Sky, I think about it every night and day, just spread my wings and fly away ….

Not quietly either, full on singing – she seems to like her song too! Maybe it’s not just the chicken whose cheese has slid off her cracker!

(Almost) Free tomatoes!

I had never grown tomatoes before living here, mainly because until a year ago I didn’t actually like them (largely thanks to a dinner lady at primary school who forced me to eat one, whereupon I was sick at her feet!). But now I love them, and they’re a huge part of our diet here. I even make a rather fab chutney and have canned some tomatoes too!

We don’t have a compost pile here, we just bury our kitchen scraps straight into the ground, so I was delighted when potatoes and tomatoes started cropping up randomly under trees – they’re proving not to be the ideal place to grow them, but it did give me an idea how to grow tomatoes very cheaply!

I sliced a single tomato into about 5 slices and covered the slices with a bit of compost in small pots – and a few weeks later, 13 tomato plants! These were then transplanted into one of our veg beds, and they’re coming on quite well – there aren’t tons of tomatoes on each plant, but I have a lot to learn yet about growing tomatoes. For my first effort I’m pretty pleased.

A neighbour told us we’ll struggle to grow tomatoes here as they get attacked, but they seem to be ok at the moment! Almeria Province is well known for its tomato production in the infamous plastic greenhouses – 80 % of Europe’s tomatoes grow here – that’s a lot of tomatoes! Many of them now use hydroponics to grow the tomatoes but we’ll just stick to popping them in the soil I think 😂

We think we’ve worked out why we’ve been struggling to grow really good veg down in the veg garden. The veg garden is near the five rather huge pine trees at the front of our finca, and the trees have stripped the water and goodness out of the soil down there. We also have the problem of the processionary caterpillars that come and build their nests in those trees, so it didn’t take long for us to decide to chop them down! And, of course, we now have our supply of fuel for the winter! The processionary caterpillars are horrid evil little things – they are actually considered the most dangerous predator in Spain, and kill loads of pets each year. They shoot poisonous spines in the air / at you if you get too close, and these are really bad for young children, the elderly, and anyone with a breathing condition. Pets go and stick their noses into them and breath in the spines – their throat swells up and they die a rather horrible death. Last February we had so many nests in the trees, and although I blasted them with insecticide, an awful lot survived. The weekend they decided to march down the road, Rog went down with a flame thrower and got rid of them all – the most popular method of getting rid of them over here!

My plan for next year is a lot more tomatoes, and now I know this method works, I’ll probably need just half a dozen tomatoes to grow a ton of them! I have a hankering to sun dry our own tomatoes and preserve them in our own olive oil – that’s proper self sufficiency in action – I won’t get to that point this year, but life isn’t a race any more!

Shade

We’re currently in the middle of a heatwave – like Spain needs one of those! Summers are normally blistering, but the last few days have been off the scale reaching 43 degrees in the afternoon here.

It’s been really hard keeping the house bearable. So sit outside in the shade I hear you cry! Well it’s not that simple! It wouldn’t be, would it! 😂

Last summer we bought a pergola for the roof terrace. It got absolutely ripped apart by the wind and has now been recycled as a handrail for the stairs and the roof of the chicken coop. Rog tried several times to repair it, but we do get strong winds here, and nothing worked for longer than a day or two before it broke again. We’ve tried a sail off the posts already on the roof terrace – nope! So we’ve given up trying to get any shade up there, which does mean that after about 9am it’s impossible to sit up there until the evening. But it’s lovely up there in the evening as you get a gorgeous breeze and get to watch the sun go down behind the mountains!

We have a little area to the side of the house, where we had a couple of small tables for potting plants, the big homemade washing machine, bags of compost etc etc. So we set to this morning clearing it all out, and we’ve managed to make a little triangular area where we can fix a canopy up on the roof of the house and then tie the other corners to one of the mandarin trees on the second terrace and the apricot tree on the first terrace. And it survived a very windy afternoon – hurrah! The canopy is one of the olive harvesting nets, but we have plenty so could spare this one!

Now we know it works, we’re going to build a raised deck here so that it’s just a small step from the side of the house, and it will look a bit nicer. We had some big pieces of wood lying around which we can use for the frame – we just need to get our hands on some decent pallets now!

We didn’t bring any garden furniture from the UK, but we had an old plastic table and some folding wooden chairs here – ok so it’s not the prettiest, but it works!! A bit of incense keeps the flies at bay too. We’re going to finish off that bit of wall too under the patio – Half a job Harry definitely worked here when they built the house!

Living in Spain after Brexit

We completed on the house mid March last year, and in April got the ball rolling to register as self employed, register for state healthcare, and obtain residency. We got our residency on 3rd July and then immediately started the process to change over our driving licences, which was all done by September. Was it difficult? No – mainly because we used a gestoria!

Gestorias exist in Spain to help people through the maze of red tape and paperwork that is just a part of life here. Spaniards have always used them for registering cars, submitting tax returns, all sorts of things. Anything that comes under the title of ‘official administration’ is covered by them. We spoke to people who had tried to do the paperwork for residency themselves and heeded their warning – don’t do it!!!

So expats here are on the countdown to the 31st December, when the transition period ends. After that date, anyone applying for residency here will have to meet the criteria as a 3rd country – the red tape gets thicker and the income requirements skyrocket. I also read recently that anyone arriving in Spain next year from the UK will not have reciprocal healthcare at retirement. This makes the move impossible for many, as the cost of private health insurance at retirement age would be huge – and you have to have healthcare to get residency.

However, Spain values expats here, and have made the process achievable (as long as you don’t stick your head in the ground and pretend it’s not happening!). EU citizens seem to be having a hard time obtaining settled status in the UK so I’m really pleased we were making the move this way round!

A recent statement by the Spanish government went like this:

How lovely is that – brings a tear to the eye!

I think the people that will be hardest hit are those that, for years, have spent 6 months in Spain over the winter here and then 6 months in the UK – this won’t be possible after the transition period. The maximum stay will be 90 days in any 183 day period without residency. So you can be in Spain for 6 months if the year, but over two stays.

You can see Spain gearing up for this already – when I go through the airport on my Irish passport, it gets looked at and handed back. When Rog travels on his UK passport, it gets put into the machine and logged – anyone who thinks that Spain will be laid back about this in the future (like they have been in the past) is going to have a big shock!

I’m just so glad we put our best foot forward and got it all sorted last year!

Ten Top Tips – save money, help the planet and help yourself!

With so many people losing their jobs, or having been furloughed on 80% of their normal pay, I thought it would be handy to share some tips and ideas that will not only save you money, but are also more environmentally friendly ….

1. Cleaning – use vinegar, lemon and bicarbonate of soda – these three items will clean everything! When I mop the floor I use a couple of capfuls of vinegar, a squeeze of lemon juice (from a real lemon, not a plastic one!) and a few drops of essential oil – sparkling floors that smell delicious! For stubborn dirt in the kitchen or bathroom add a little bicarbonate to the worktop then use vinegar and / or lemon on top – let it bubble and fizz for a few minutes then wipe away! Just a word of caution – if you have plastic / resin sinks and baths don’t use the bicarbonate as it could leave scratches! Obviously don’t use on wood – there’s a quick easy recipe for furniture polish on my recipes tips and ideas page! Keep a spray bottle with a 50/50 vinegar water mix in the bathroom so you’re not mixing it up each time.

2. Moisturiser – forget £20+ bottles of stuff that promise everything! Buy an Aloe Vera plant (or two!) and you will have a lifetime supply of gel for moisturising, for cuts and stings and for sunburn! You can scrape the gel out from inside the leaf and add a vitamin e capsule, pop it in a jar and it will keep in the fridge.

3. Save on electricity and gas bills – we have become much more aware of the energy we use here – I’ve talked about this in other posts – a few simple things like turning off the WiFi when you’re not at home or in bed, not leaving stuff on standby, will all make a difference. Look after the pennies …

4. Food – have something to eat before you go shopping – it’s proven that we’ll buy more if we’re hungry when we go shopping. Stop buying branded goods – I used to be a terrible snob about supermarket brands – more fool me! Try to swap 5 items – if 4 are great but you hate the 5th, then buy that brand for that one item, you’ll still save money on the other 4! Then choose another 5 …

5. Vegetables – look for special offers and buy seasonal veg, which will be cheaper. If there’s a fantastic offer on green beans, for example – buy extra. Blanche and freeze what you don’t need now. We’ve all got to used to eating things like strawberries and tomatoes all year round – buy them when they’re cheap and preserve some for later in the year when they’re more expensive! Find a weekend market instead of buying from the supermarket, or better still, grow some veg in the garden!

6. Meat – a slight reduction in meat in your diet can save you £££’s! Up the veg and a little less meat – good for you and good for your wallet! Buy cheaper cuts of meat and add more seasoning / herbs / spices to turn a cheap cut into a fantastic meal!

7. Hair conditioner – use diluted apple cider vinegar a couple of times a week after washing instead of conditioner – works a treat and costs peanuts!

8. The garden – need compost? Stop buying it and make your own. Have a bin in the house where food scraps go, add them to your compost pile – you don’t need much space and there’s loads of different ways to manage a compost pile (see You Tube!). If you don’t want a compost pile you can bury the scraps straight into the ground!

9. Gifts for Xmas and birthdays – I think most people will be having a lean year this year, but why not use it as an opportunity to make gifts? A bit of knitting or crochet, make some chutney or fudge, whittle some wood 😂 – whatever you can do!

10. Ok, so this one is from Rog! ‘Don’t throw anything away, it might come in handy!’ For example, I had nowhere in the kitchen for my pots and pans, so Rog made a hanging pan rack out of pallets and fencing that were just lying around. We’ve used old pipe and pallets to make raised beds, old ibc’s for the chicken coop … the list goes on! Rog loves a challenge so when I say we could do with something, he’s off, rummaging about that see what he can find!

And a bonus tip – if you have sky, virgin or similar for TV, look at what you actually watch! Do you need all those channels or do you end up watching BBC1, ITV etc but just through Sky? Could you swap to a different sort of subscription (or even just call them and haggle a better deal – be prepared to get to the point where you tell them to cancel your subscription!), change to something cheaper like Netflix- do you have Amazon prime but never make use of Prime TV? Better still, watch less TV and do something more useful instead!

I have been amazed at how wasteful we used to be and how easy it has been to spend less money, live a healthier life, and reduce our carbon footprint!

Lunatics and terrorists

I refer, of course, to the dog and the chickens!

Luna’s continual escaping started to give us real cause for concern on so many levels – she’s a big dog and rather exuberant and I was terrified she would knock someone over whilst jumping on them to play, and we really don’t want to be responsible for someone getting hurt. We also didn’t want her getting pregnant! The little finca next door has 4 dogs, one of whom is male. We soon discovered that his own harem of 3 dogs wasn’t enough. He escaped and Luna escaped, and well, I don’t need to go into details … thankfully she’s not pregnant though – a lucky escape!

So we’ve had to take some rather drastic action, which we didn’t want to do, but our choice became to either take action or take her to a shelter. She needs to learn that she has to stay on our finca all the time – there’s no fence or wall that will keep her in – she can jump a 2m wall with ease, so without turning this place into Alcatraz we had to find another solution.

We have put a long washing line up along the first terrace and we attach her lead to it – she can still run around, lie in the sun or choose from a selection of trees to lie under, but we can control where she is. We do also use a chain at night – again, it’s long enough that she can still wander about, but she can’t leave the finca. It was a bit heartbreaking at first, but after a few days we realised it actually wasn’t bothering her at all – we walk her around the perimeter of the finca 4-5 times a day so that she learns where the boundaries are. Our neighbour said we had done exactly the right thing, and that by the time she is one year old she will quieten down and will know where she can and can’t go – so this won’t be forever. If we don’t get her completely trained now while she’s young, we have no hope of controlling her when she weighs 10 stone in another 18 months!

When we go and sit on the roof terrace, she still comes with us as we can attach her lead to one of the posts up there, and she can still sit just inside the door of the house so on hot afternoons she can lay on the cool tiles on the floor.

Our next thing to sort is to get her spayed in case someone else’s dog comes on our finca and gets her up the duff, but we want to get this new regime ingrained first so she doesn’t get confused by leaving the finca or we’ll find ourselves back at square one again.

Then there’s the chickens – or the banana terrorists as Rog now calls them! We have two areas where we have banana trees, and each area has about 6 trees, some of which were really big (and you’ll notice I said ‘were’!). Yep, 4 little clucky chickens managed to fell 2 trees – turns out they have a taste for banana trees, and spent an afternoon merrily pecking at the trunks – they were so badly damaged and leaning at such an angle that Rog had no choice but to finish what the chucks started! They also had a real go at some of the pups (the young new trees that come up). So we solved the problem by fencing off the banana trees so we could start letting them free range again. At least we thought we had solved the problem …

The other afternoon was so hot – the dog was asleep under a tree, and we went for a little siesta, and left the chickens to roam. Until now they have never ventured down onto the first terrace where Luna is most of the time – they have been perfectly happy with the other two terraces. But while we were asleep they somehow managed to tiptoe past Luna into the vegetable garden! Not where we want them scratching around! So we now had to herd them back past Luna, up two flights of steps and back into the run – they’re so naughty!

Life was so much simpler before the animals, but they do make life more interesting, and I couldn’t imagine not having them now!

Ethel and Maureen loving the banana trees before they were fenced off – they could sleep and eat all in the one place!

Working outside

For the last 15 years or so in the UK I worked on the road as a rep, driving around 40,000 miles a year. There are benefits to this type of job – you avoid office politics and the obligatory small talk with people you sometimes don’t like too much 😂, but it does take its toll, both physically and mentally. Don’t get me wrong, there were days that I loved it – driving back home with a fist full of orders, knowing you’re on for good commission that month – I would have a big old sing in the car, and do my best Jerry Maguire impression ‘SHOW ME THE MONEY’ – I think Rog used to know what sort of day it had been by the way I pulled into the drive 😂

But it can be lonely, hours and hours each day in the car, and physically it totally screws your neck shoulders and back – and lets not even talk about the varicose veins on your accelerator leg! You tend to average a 12 hour day in this type of job, and then when you get in there’s emails, reports and the like to do.

So now I work just a few days a week, sitting at the computer – but only for 5 hours at a time maximum. I now earn in a month what I used to earn in 3 days, but it doesn’t matter – it’s enough. The rest of the week is spent on housework / washing and working outside on the farm. Rog spends all his time working outside (you should see his tan!). The list of jobs to do here is endless, but we’re under no pressure and there’s no-one telling us what we have to do, how we have to do it and when it has to be done by.

We work with the seasons and the weather. In the winter it’s pretty chilly in the morning and so we start a bit later after a couple of pots of tea, and then finish working outside as it gets dark (no earlier than 5pm). In the summer, we have to get started earlier before it gets too hot. We stop at 12.30 and the afternoon is spent having a leisurely lunch and a siesta. Then at about 6pm we start working again as it starts to cool down.

We take regular breaks – we’ve spent an hour today collecting firewood from our neighbours farm as he’s just given his trees a massive prune – the temperature was about 30 degrees already at 10.30am – so do that job, then take a break before starting anything else. We wouldn’t last the day if we didn’t! By the way, he did say to us to help ourselves to the wood!!

Even when I’m doing the washing, it all goes on outside in our old fashioned sink and the homemade tumbler washing machine. Lots of fresh air and quite physical!

Last winter was the coldest here for 40 years, and there were days when I didn’t want to go outside (I really do feel the cold) but Rog convinced me to help him chop some wood one day, after which I was so hot I didn’t need a fire straight away! They say there’s no wrong weather, just the wrong clothes – and we do go from thermals and jumpers to the skimpiest shorts over the course of the year!

It’s a different way of life – you gauge your day on what the weather is doing AND how you feel – now and then we have a lazy day – and why shouldn’t we! And we don’t feel bad about it anymore! Some summer evenings are just too lovely to work – it would almost be criminal not to have a sit on the terrace with a glass of something cold and just enjoy the view whilst watching the bee eaters enjoying their final flight before bed!

I don’t think I could go back to our old life – every day feels joyous here, even when we’re melting in the heat and covered in insect bites or freezing cold 😂. I used to think I was in tune with nature, but now I understand what it really means, and there’s nothing like it on this earth! Where the wind blows from at different times of year, where the moon rises, the position of the sun when the bee eaters and swifts take flight in the evening – we know when to go up on the roof by the position of the sun over the mountain, not by the clock in the house – being in the same place each day means you really see what’s changing as the year turns.

Changing the way we eat …

Since moving to Spain our diet has definitely changed – the climate changes what how and when you eat, and the veg here is so good!

Our consumption of meat has been gradually decreasing over the last year or two and we have found that a diet with less meat seems to suit us very well.

So a while back we made the decision to stop eating meat and dairy – mainly due to animal welfare reasons, but also for health reasons. We’re not calling ourselves vegetarians or vegans, as we’re still eating fish and also the eggs we get from our own chickens. We’ve never been into labels and like to do things our own way.

It has been easier than I thought, although I do miss cheese and proper salted butter some days! We’ve started using oat milk instead of cows milk, and that has been absolutely fine – took a few days to get used to it after a lifetime of cows milk, but not a real hardship. Vegan cheese is a bit odd – think cardboard with a taste of quavers, but we recently found one that is made from coconut oil rather than cashews so it has a better texture.

The Spanish aren’t really into veganism or vegetarianism – at our local market the other week the lady on the meat stand came over and asked if I wanted some meat – so I said thanks, but we don’t eat meat – she looked at me like I was a mental case and then said, well I have some chicken 😂 to which I said, thanks but that’s meat, and we don’t eat meat! So she said, what, not even chicken! I think she would’ve called for the men in white coats if she knew we didn’t eat dairy as well!!

I think a lot of vegans get a bad press because something strange happens to a small number of people when they go vegan – they turn into pious a**eholes and spout to everyone how cruel they are to eat meat and dairy products – I actually had a vegan say to me that I eat chicken periods (eggs) – I mean, come on for goodness sake!!

Well here’s my promise – we won’t be pious a**eholes!! When my parents visit here, there’s no way my Dad would stand for vegan or vegetarian meals – he would literally walk out! So meat will be on the menu for them. And we’ll have to get cows milk in for them. Just because we’ve made the choice to not eat meat, then surely people should also have the choice to eat meat if they want to? Right?

So why then do we people feel the need to keep saying ‘what you need is a nice steak’ – errr, no we don’t actually! The a**ehole thing works both ways …

We’re doing it!!!

I know, it’s just some beetroot and salad onions, but I’m made up! Skipping down to the veg garden with my little basket and coming back with these makes me so unbelievable happy. Having never grown veg before it’s going to take years to perfect the craft, but time is something we have…

And in the meantime, Rog was harvesting the first pears! I just love it.

Fresh onions and beetroot in the salad tonight with pears for pudding – life just doesn’t get better!

Something like ‘normal’ …

I’m not quite sure why, but I just can’t stand the phrase ‘the new normal’ – I think it’s because I really liked the ‘old normal’ and the thought of wearing these face masks every time we go out, and not being able to hug friends etc for the foreseeable future doesn’t bear thinking about for me.

But … our cafe in the village opened yesterday and so we lost a few hours there today catching up with friends! And it was lovely. The village market was back on today with stalls the length of the high street (well the only real street!) and there were people milling about, sitting on benches in the sunshine and chatting – it almost feels like Illar again! Driving through the village during lockdown was eerie – not a soul in sight and none of the old fellas sitting around chewing the fat – I couldn’t be happier that that is over with (for now at least).

I know, it’s not exactly a throng in the picture!

Diatomaceous Earth

We recently read about DE and decided to order some to use here on the farm.

DE is a natural substance which is made from the fossilised remains of tiny aquatic organisms whose skeletons are made from silica. It’s mainly used for insect control, although food grade DE can be purchased as there are some health benefits to using it on yourself (but I haven’t looked into this side of it!).

Although it’s a natural substance, you have to be a little careful when using it – I try not to breath it in, and keep it away from my eyes etc, as it can be harmful when sprinkling it around. It’s not poisonous, so safe to use here around the dog and chickens, which is what really attracted me to the idea of using it.

The insects don’t have to ingest it – simply walking through it will do the trick.  To an insect, the powder is like thousands of shards of glass which penetrate the insect.  It causes insects to dry out and die by absorbing the oils and fats from the insect’s exoskeleton – cool! This comes second only to exploding ants by mixing bicarbonate of soda and icing sugar! The bicarbonate expands inside them to explode them!

DE is only effective if it’s dry, so regular sprinkling is required.  I have used some in the chicken coop and run, around the dogs kennel (she was being attacked by ticks daily poor thing) and around the outside of the house.  So far it seems to be quite effective.

We’ve also sprinkled it around the bases of the trees where they get attacked by ants farming aphids up in the leaves, and that, combined with the systemic insecticide, is working rather well.

It’s also good to use around the vegetable garden to protect our crops, and we’re even using it in the house to deter critters coming in to bite us in the night, and around the bodega where we store food (mainly in jars, tins and plastic boxes, but you can’t be too careful!)

There really are A LOT of insects here!

You can buy DE online and it’s not too expensive – we bought a 25kg sack of it for about €25, but you can get it in smaller bags – might be a good option for lots of you in the garden!

 

 

Chicken update …

I’ve always wanted to have some hens but was never able to until now.

We’ve had them for a couple of months now, and they make me laugh every day – they really do have personalities! As I go past I always say hello to them, and they do talk back – Rog said I was going bats!#t crazy talking to them … and then I overheard him having a full blown conversation with them 😳

They are quite naughty … you can’t go into the coop with sandals on – they just love pecking at toes! They do protest at being put away at night – you get three in, turn your back for a split second to get the last one in, and then the other three escape again, but it’s all part of the fun. We’ve found that using a piece of board to herd them works well (sometimes!)

We do let them out every day or every other day – one of us sits with the dog on a lead on the terrace – think she’ll have to be much older before we can trust her around them!

They love to stretch their legs and have a good forage about, and we feel better knowing they’re having fun. We wanted to let them free range but that’s just not possible with Luna.

We’re getting 4 eggs a day and the aim is to sell them, although that hasn’t been possible with all the virus stuff going on. I’ve been giving some to our veg lady each week and in return she gives us a ton of tomatoes for free – I have jars of homemade canned toms and chutney – having so many tomatoes is almost as problematic as having 28 eggs a week! 😂

They are actually pretty easy to look after. They like to get out the second the sun comes up over the mountain in the morning, and so I get a bucketload of weeds ready the night before to give them first thing. Rog made a snazzy feeder out of tubing so that only needs filling up every few days, and so it’s a case of clean water with the weeds in the mornings. We have a small feeder that goes in the coop at night in case they get peckish. We have changed their food recently – we got a sack from the local ferriteria but it was like dust, so after a visit to our local pet shop we now have proper dried corn that they love – and at €11 for a 25kg sack that won’t break the bank!

In terms of cleaning them out, we’re using the deep litter method, so once a month we add more wood shavings into their house. That means the whole thing only needs emptying and cleaning twice a year. Their nesting box is fitted to the outside of the coop for easy access to add hay and collect the eggs. Using diatomaceous earth around the edge of the coop and in with the wood shavings keeps insects at bay (I’ll do a post on diatomaceous earth another day!). We do have some small mice that come to nick the corn at night, but there’s not much we can do about those!

These girls though …

Left to right: Balti, Maureen, Attila the Hen and Ethel

Easing of lockdown restrictions in Spain

Spain went into lockdown back in March just before the UK and I was lucky to get the last flight back into Almeria from the UK – if I hadn’t come back early I would still be in the UK now, over two months later!

The lockdown here was one of the most restrictive across Europe. Two thirds of Spaniards live in flats and spent that first 6 weeks unable to leave their flats unless they were shopping for essential items. Children weren’t allowed to go out at all (unless they had to go out with their parent where no one else could care for the child). No daily exercise was permitted and only one person could be in a car to go out for essential items. Pretty hardcore stuff. Those that thought we were mad for living out in the campo were suddenly a bit jealous as we still had our freedom out here, and daily life wasn’t too different for us.

A couple of weeks ago we transitioned into the start of an easing of these restrictions, and last Monday we went into the second phase.

Just to make things confusing, the first stage was phase 0 and the second stage is phase 1 😂. Some places, such as Madrid, didn’t meet the criteria to move to phase 1, so they’re in phase 0.5 😂 It’s nigh on impossible to know what you can and can’t do! Luckily, Almeria has been pretty good – not too many cases compared with elsewhere in Spain, so the move to the next phase was never going to be an issue here.

We still can’t leave the province (not that we need to!) and there are still no flights out of Almeria – really hoping I can get back to see my poorly sister soon, although with two weeks quarantine both ways it would hardly be worth it, as I wouldn’t be allowed to see the family in that time. With my sister being so ill, she can’t have any visitors in case she gets the virus – mum and dad go over and wave to her through the window – brain cancer at any time is devastating, but this pandemic has made it even harder for everyone in the family. It would be good to see her again though, and to support mum and dad.

But, last Wednesday did see us going food shopping together for the first time since March! It was quite an event!

Cafes are allowed to open again, but customers can only use the outdoor terrace and with a maximum capacity of 50%. There are stringent hygiene requirements too and twice daily disinfecting of the premises, which has meant that lots of cafes have chosen to stay closed, fearful of getting it wrong, including our one in the village. But we did stop at a different cafe whilst out shopping – there wasn’t a whole load of social distancing going on, but we didn’t mind – it was lovely to see people out laughing and kids running around again.

A few more shops were open so we were able to get some bits – only shops that are less than 400 sqm can open, and the number of people in there at any one time is limited, but it’s a step forward.

So fingers crossed we’re in the road back to a more sociable life with the freedom to travel again …

It’s that jam time of year ….

Last year when we moved in here at the end of March we knew nothing! We didn’t even know what some of the trees were! In April we went ‘oh, that’s an apricot tree’ and in May said ‘oh, they’re ripe!’ At this point I just wasn’t prepared – no jam jars, no sugar, no tried and tested recipe!

This year of course is different. I maintain a good stock of jars, I have recipes and knew the apricots would be ready around this week so made sure I had plenty of sugar.

Not all of them are ripe yet, but we did pick 24lbs yesterday afternoon so the jam making started last night and will all be done over the next couple of days – it’s so nice to be a little more in the know this year! The thing with apricots is they turn quickly, so when we pick them you then have to get on with it whether that’s jam, chutney or bottling them in syrup.

I’ll share my fabulous jam recipe again because it really is beautiful jam and is so easy to make:

3lb apricots

600g granulated  sugar

Wash, quarter and de-stone the apricots and put into a non reactive bowl

Add the sugar and stir

Cover and leave for 12  hours to macerate (hence the session starts the night before!)

After 12 hours pop it in a large preserving pan, bring to the boil and let it boil merrily for 10 minutes. Stir frequently while it’s coming to the boil while the sugar dissolves, and once boiling just give it a stir every couple of minutes.

Place into sterilised jars

Literally, that’s it! Nicest jam I have ever eaten – I guarantee you’ll never eat shop bought apricot jam ever again!

I mean, homemade cranberry scones topped with apricot jam – don’t mind if I do!!!

 

First aid in the campo and the wonder that is iodine!

We’re forever getting bites and stings, scratching ourselves on the trees and the like, so having a decent first aid kit is quite important.  But there’s one thing we have started using all the time since we moved here, and that’s iodine – it’s miraculous!

Obviously iodine is used by doctors and hospitals all the time, but it was never very common for it to be used at home very much in the UK.

There was a bottle here when we moved in, and so on some of our bigger cuts we thought one day, we should put some iodine on it to stop it getting infected … and that was it – we now use it almost daily!  Bites, stings, cuts, everything.  I recently had a really bad eye infection and so got the iodine out – it was a lot better by the time I got around to speaking to the doctor a week later, but hadn’t quite killed off the infection, so eye drops had to be used to finish it off!  But I would’ve been in a right mess without the iodine!

We have two first aid cupboards here – one in the bedroom, which we refer to as the ‘ooh I don’t feel very well’ medicine cabinet – simple remedies, paracetamol, homeopathic medicine and essential oils etc, and one in the bathroom which is the ‘oh my god I’ve cut my arm off’ medicine cabinet.  The latter has serious first aid stuff – the iodine, tournequets, big ass bandages and dressings, saline eye wash etc – the one we used when Rog chopped his finger off last year!

Our neighbour reckons an ambulance would come out here, but the last turn into our lane and the last 100 metres would be impossible for an ambulance, so we need to make sure we can do immediate first aid here.  We do have a house address for official use, but only a few of the locals would be able to tell anyone how to get here, so we have GPS co-ordinates to give out and can send the exact location via things like Google maps – these are all things you have to think of living out here.  You wouldn’t want to be trying to work out how to direct an ambulance here if one of our limbs was hanging off!

Fingers crossed (although Rog struggles to cross his fingers now 😂) we’ll never need to make that call …

Living with solar power… a year on

Having completed just over a year of being off grid, I really think we have this licked now! Not really knowing what the climate would be like across a whole year meant we had to try and anticipate what we would need to get through winter.

We have three decent sized solar panels, a 2000 watt inverter, charge controller and six big batteries to store the energy in here.   We replaced the ancient system that was here when we moved in as it was just 1 x 100 watt panel, very old batteries and a 150 watt inverter!  What we have now gives us enough electricity to run the compost loo fan 24 hours a day, for charging phones, the toothbrush, battery packs, running the WiFi and the radio / speaker. We can also run the computer when I work in the day as long as it’s not really cloudy. We have to be careful how many things we have going at once, so try to stagger the usage.  On bad winter days we turn the wifi off for most of the day so we can have it on in the evening for a few hours – running the compost loo fan is way more important than having wifi!!  We added a wind turbine last autumn to try and boost the power on cloudy days and overnight – I wouldn’t say it’s been a roaring success, but it helps to maintain the batteries rather than add to the stored power.

We can have lights on, but they’re quite a drain on the power even though they’re LED, so we have a couple of solar lights that we charge up outside during the day, and another we can charge on the usb in the day, which is a great light in the evening.  Worse case scenario, we always have a stock of candles. It all comes down to finding other ways of achieving your goals, and prioritising what’s most important.  We can use the light in the bathroom in the evening as it’s not on constantly, but we do find these days that our eyes don’t like bright artificial lights!

On cloudy days we really limit our usage. We both have battery packs that we can charge up on sunny days to use on cloudy days so we don’t need to draw on the power, and we have the all important back up petrol generator so I can work in bad weather.

But it’s funny how quickly we’ve got used to living like this! It just takes a little juggling and organisation, but we do it now without really having to think about it!

In the kitchen though, I didn’t want to be beholden to having sunshine to be able to cook, wash etc, so opted for as few electrical items as possible. I did bring my food processor, but this has been resigned to the back of the cupboard as it will only work on the generator – it’s too powerful for the solar on start up.  I can use it if I really need to, but its a bit of a pain to turn on the generator, run a lead into the house just to blitz something for 30 seconds!  I have a spiralizer and have just treated myself to a pull cord mini chopper / processor, and I have to say it’s brilliant!  But other than those, everything is just done the old fashioned way by hand with a wooden spoon or knife – it actually feels like real cooking again!

We have a fridge with a small freezer, which runs on butane gas – we go through a gas bottle every 3-4 weeks, which costs about 13 euros, so an effective way to run a fridge.  We have a small camping oven with two gas rings, which is ok for cooking on – this also runs on gas, and a gas bottle lasts 6 weeks, so pretty efficient.  I simply avoid cooking things that take hours – lots of dishes that take 20-30 minutes works well on so many fronts!  For most of the summer it’s too hot to eat anything other than salads anyway! Our hot water is on gas too – in the summer a gas bottle lasts nearly 3 months – all you want are cold showers when the temperature doesn’t drop under 26 degrees at night and averages 36 in the day!  In the winter we get 6-8 weeks on a gas bottle.  So we average 2 gas bottles a month – about 26 euros – I wish my gas bill in the UK had been that low!

I’ve got the clothes washing down to a fine art now.  I have a small hand crank washing machine in the house for clothes and a larger one outside that Rog built for duvets, towels etc.  When we got here there was an old fashioned sink outside with a washboard (you can actually still buy these new here!). Rog has done it up, added a pipe to drain away the water etc and this is brilliant for getting really dirty work clothes clean.  Now that the weather has gone back to normal at last, the washing dries in no time outside, and with the afternoon breeze it doesn’t need ironing – in fact, I haven’t ironed a single thing since we moved to Spain! It’s been a revelation!

We weighed up putting in a bigger solar system so we could run things like a fridge, but the cost was pretty steep – it would only break even after ten years compared to what we spend on gas, and at that point, parts of the solar system would need replacing, so not a cost effective option.

We bought a decent generator when we moved here – being able to work to earn a few bob is essential, but we also use this for some of Rogers’ power tools for doing jobs outside – there are times when you just need to use beefy tools for some jobs!  We bought a rechargeable drill with a spare battery pack, so one on and the spare charged up as a back up, and this does for most jobs.

Our only source of heating for the winter is the wood burning stove, but as our house is tiny this pretty much heats the whole house.  We have a fan that sits on top of the stove to maximise output, and this is powered solely by the heat from the fire – an excellent purchase! We tend to only use this in the evening – if it’s cold in the day it’s warm clothes and move around (difficult when I’m teaching, so out of view I have a hot water bottle and a blanket!).

We don’t have air conditioning here – some people think we’re crazy to live in Spain without it, but the house stays pretty cool in the summer, and we do have a tiny fan just to keep the air moving in the day. We found last year that we opened all the windows in May and they stayed open until September! We have mosquito nets up at all the windows to stop the critters otherwise leaving them open just wouldn’t be an option!

We use strimmers outside for weed control, a rotavator and of course the wood chipper, and these all run on petrol. As they aren’t in constant daily use they don’t cost us much at all – we rotavate a couple of times a year, strim every couple of months in autumn and winter but more often in the summer (almost a constant job like the forth bridge!) and wood chip maybe 6 – 8 times a year.

Back in the UK we never gave a second thought to using gas and electric – just turn it on, and the direct debit goes out each month.  Now we have to be more careful, and prioritise what jobs to do and what to use, but it’s really no problem at all.  I would imagine that living off solar in colder or cloudier climates would be harder and more of a challenge.

I can honestly say that with the set up we have, living off the grid is pretty easy and less of a compromise than I ever thought it would be.

Preserving fresh food

One of the plans we had for our new life was to grow and preserve as much of our own food as possible. We’ve had some cabbage, broad beans, peas and onions from the garden so far, with lots more planted. So far we’ve eaten whatever veg we’ve produced, but we plan to increase how much we grow each year as we find our feet.

From our fruit we either make jams, chutneys, sell it or just eat it!

Yesterday my lovely veg lady gave me about 4 kilos of tomatoes in return for some eggs – now we like tomatoes, but there’s no way we could eat that many before they go off, so I set to this morning to bottle them so they’ll be like tinned tomatoes which I can then use in dishes.

I know lots of people have started growing some veg now because of the worries around food supply chains with the pandemic, so I thought I’d share how to preserve tomatoes, and also details of my favourite, no nonsense preserving book. I’m guessing that come the summer people are going to suddenly be inundated with tomatoes!

First, my favourite book is this one by John and Val Harrison:

It’s practical and easy to follow – it’s become my little bible here!

There are a few bits of equipment that I would recommend you get, namely a jam thermometer and jar tongs (worth every penny!) A decent preserving pan is helpful for jams and chutneys (I stole my mums!).

For jams and chutneys you can use ordinary jars – I re-use these as long as the seal on the lid is still good. For bottling and preserving use le parfait clip top jars and mason jars. All are easy to get hold of in the UK and can be used re-used for years, simply buy new rubber seals or lids occasionally to make sure you always get a good seal.

To bottle or can tomatoes, I skin the tomatoes first – cut a small cross in the bottom and pop them in a pan of boiling water for a minute until you see the skins loosening – take them out with a slotted spoon and peel off the skin, cut out the hard core and chop up.

Once this is done simply bring your tomatoes slowly to a simmer, stirring frequently.

I wash my jars and then pop them in a warm oven to dry and sterilise while I’m cooking the tomatoes – if you have a dishwasher simply wash them on the hottest wash.

Ladle the tomatoes in leaving half an inch headroom. Add a teaspoon of salt or lemon juice and put the lid on. Pop into a water bath (saucepan of hot water with either a cloth in the bottom or a metal trivet, and make sure the jars don’t touch each other) and let it bubble away for 40 minutes to seal. The water needs to be 1-2 inches over the jars, so keep an eye on the water level and top up when necessary.

Once done, lift the jars out and leave standing for 12 hours – and that’s it! You can check the seal by unclipping or parfait jars – the lid should stay sealed (if it doesn’t it needs to go back in the water bath) or unscrewing mason jars – the middle section of the lid should stay put. Your tomatoes will be good for a year.

Here are the ones I’ve just finished:

You can add herbs or garlic etc – I’ve just left mine plain and will add the garlic and herbs when I use them in a dish.

Fingers crossed I’ll be sun drying our own tomatoes and preserving them in our own olive oil later this year!

Baby oranges

I’ve found watching the life cycle of oranges quite fascinating over the last year. The UK isn’t well placed for growing citrus fruit, so this has all been totally new to us.

The trees blossomed about a month ago, just as we were harvesting the oranges, and since then the trees have been humming with the sound of hundreds of bees busy pollinating.

The blossom is just about done now, which means that next week we’ll be able to insecticide – some of the trees have an aphid problem so this won’t be a minute too soon. But while the bees are doing their thing you just let them get on with it and don’t interfere! The smell of the orange blossom has been heady to say the least – I don’t suffer with hay fever, but it even got me sneezing!

As the blossom falls away, the trees reveal their little babies!

The tiny green balls are what will become the oranges that we will harvest next year. The harvest around here starts in mid January and goes right through to April. We have to wait for the call from the cooperative to tell us when to harvest, as they can’t be sitting around for weeks in crates. This year we got the call which gave us a week to harvest and get the oranges to the drop off, which was fine.

Lots of these tiny oranges will fall off over the next few months – the trees will shed about a third or more of them to make sure it can grow all the other oranges to perfection.

Our job over the next year is to insecticide every 3 months, water regularly and fertilise 3 times. We also keep an eye out for dead wood and crossing branches that need cutting out. There’s no specific time of year to prune orange trees – it’s just an ongoing job throughout the year. We did remove some of the bigger branches that needed to come out after the harvest in March – it’s important to let light into the middle of the tree, as one thing oranges do need is sunshine, and lots of it!

The motivation to change

I’m pretty sure that the current situation with the virus has given lots of people food for thought about their lives, their dreams and what the future might hold.

Motivation is a funny thing – other people can’t make you feel motivated, that only comes from inside you. You can be inspired by others that brings about the motivation within you, but only you can make things happen to bring about a change.

So what inspired us to make our big change – well, there were a number of factors and we really reached the point where we couldn’t ignore the call any more.

As a child I used to go to Ireland each summer to stay with my Grandmother. She lived in a small village right in the middle of rural Ireland, and we were related to a large percentage of the village! My Mum grew up a way out of the village with her Granny, but spent most of her time on the farm down the lane from her Granny’s cottage – Nancy and Joe weren’t actually blood relatives, but her farm was a sanctuary for my Mum. I loved it there – every morning I would get up early and walk to Nancys’ in my wellies in time for milking, which was all done by hand, and then I used to take the milk up to the top of the lane with Joe in the donkey and cart. On the way back we would stop at what was my great granny’s cottage to see my aunts – Queenie and Kay, for a cup of tea and a chat. The farm had no electricity, no running water, no bathroom – proper off grid! The farmhouse was thatched and the kitchen had a big open fire – the only thing for cooking and heat. There were chickens and dogs wandering around the yard and the donkey lived in the orchard. My days were spent collecting eggs in the hay barn, taking the cows down to the brook for a drink of water, helping Joe in the fields – it was perfect and I loved it. I used to have to go back to Nans for lunch, but the minute that was done I’d be back to the farm – I spent every possible moment there and would’ve stayed there forever given the chance. I have so many funny stories about those years in Ireland, I should probably write a book!

But those sorts of dreams rarely become a reality – you leave school or university, get a job, get a mortgage, have kids, and somehow your childhood dreams just vanish. You wake up one day in a house that’s too big now just for the two of you, mortgaged to the hilt and working all hours to pay for a house you never spend any time in.

Yoga and meditation played a huge part too – they help you to think clearly and give you the ability to shut out the ‘noise’.

Then one day, out of nowhere, Rog said, ‘let’s move!’. ‘Where to’, I said.  ‘Anywhere’, he said. And that’s how it started …

Time for some honest list making and planning – so much planning and research went into this.  We spent 2-3 months defining what sort of life we wanted and how we could make it work financially. We put the house on the market just before Easter, and then put most of our stuff on ebay and gumtree – every item we sold got us one step closer.  The house sold in August and completed in November and that was us off … and the rest is history as they say!

So roughly half of the world’s population is currently in lockdown, and has been now for many weeks … giving people time to think and dream … what changes have you been dreaming about, and more importantly, what are you going to do about it?

Local Wildlife

Living here gives us amazing views, not just of the beautiful scenery, but also of the local wildlife. At this time of year some beautiful birds return, and there’s nothing better than sitting in the roof terrace watching the bee eaters do their final flight before bed, followed by the acrobatic swifts that sometimes fly so close to us they make us duck in our chairs!

So I thought I’d share some of the wildlife that we’ve seen over the last year that were new to us – by the way, I can’t take credit for the photos below! We never manage to catch any of these as we don’t have our phones on us when we’re outside!

1. Wild pig

These have caused us a few problems over the last year, and we had to set traps (but secretly hoped we would never catch one – they’re pretty bad tempered!). My close encounter with one the other week hasn’t done anything to improve my opinion of them! When the river dries up in the summer they come digging around the roots of the trees for water.

2. Spanish fox

A visitor a few months ago – the main difference to the foxes in the UK is these look better fed, and are huge! But they are just as bold as the ones in the UK!

3. Spanish carpenter bee

This is one of only three insects to make it on the list – obviously we have hundreds of insects here, but this one is spectacular – they are enormous and frequently fly into the window with a colossal bang! Initially we nicknamed them ‘what the f@&?k are you’s’ which to be honest is a better name than carpenter bee!

4. Ladder snake

I’ve only seen two of these – they’re not poisonous, but I still wouldn’t fancy getting bitten! We did have a snake in the house last year but we struggled to identify it – Rog remembers it having a diamond pattern on its back, which matches a very venomous viper we get here, but let’s not dwell on that or I’ll be having nightmares!!

5. Gecko

Now initially I was nervous of these, but not any more – they’re really sweet , eat mosquitos and are terrified of humans – hilariously they think you can’t see them if they don’t move!

6. Iberian blue tailed lizard

I’ve struggled to find a picture of these – they’re small and move that quickly that it’s impossible to get a picture! Their tail is electric blue, very pretty! The one below is similar but the tail isn’t quite the right colour.

7. Bee eaters

These birds are beautiful – they do a big show as the sun starts to set behind the mountain, and the last few rays show off their iridescent colours fantastically

8. Benelli’s Eagle

Fabulous to watch circling above our house! When they arrive all the other birds take cover and hide!

9. Buzzard

We don’t see too many of these but have spotted a few over the last year

10. Kestrels

We watched two babies growing up and being taught by mum how to hunt last year – it was fabulous seeing them grow and learn

11. Golden oriole

This is such a beautiful bird – in the summer they come in the morning and sit in our trees to sing to us while we have breakfast!

12. Hoopie

Very striking bird – they nest just a hundred metres from our house down the hill, and we can see them coming and going during the day. Lovely call too!

13. Goldfinch

So pretty, and I love the way that finches fly – it’s not so much flying as occasional mad flapping to stop themselves from falling out of the sky!

14. Greenfinch

Finches are very traditional birds to keep in small cages in Spain – you’ll see them in lots of cafes – personally I prefer to see them flying around in the open air.

15. Cicada

These drive us to distraction in the summer – the noise becomes unbelievable in the afternoon – when they finally stop the silence is almost deafening, but in a really good way!

16. Locust

I hate these things – Luna loves trying to catch them and toys with them until they die. They don’t so much fly as fling themselves about, and they’re huge. As you walk along the spring past you – ugh! They also seem pretty resistant to insecticides – I’d happily take a flame thrower to them!

So there we are, some of the best and worst creatures we share the finca with!

Irish Soda Bread

I just thought I’d share my recipe – it’s so easy and doesn’t require yeast (which is like unicorn poo here and I’m guessing it’s the same everywhere!). I’ve been using this recipe for years and it’s foolproof!

1lb flour – just use plain flour or half plain and half wholemeal – either is delicious

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp salt

300ml milk (ideally buttermilk but if not just ordinary whole or semi skimmed milk and you can add a drop of lemon juice to ordinary milk, but you don’t have to!)

3 fl oz lukewarm water

Chuck it all in a bowl and mix up with a fork. Don’t knead or mix too much. Shape into a 7 inch round and place on a greased baking tray. Cut a deep cross on the top and sprinkle with a little flour. Cook on 200 degrees for 30 minutes then turn upside down and give it another 5-10 minutes.

You can also add some fried onion and bacon bits to the dough before baking – extremely naughty but takes it to another level!

Then the only tough thing is trying to resist eating massive chunks of it while it’s still hot!

We didn’t resist today … half gone already 😂

Spring has … limped in

After one of the worst winters here for decades, Spring is attempting to get going. The weather has improved slightly this week, actually managed a wear a t-shirt yesterday and today for a few hours! Looking at the forecast it’s going to be up and down over the next few weeks, but at least it’s warmer now while it’s raining!

But despite the weather, Spring is doing her thing and stuff is growing – it’s my favourite time of the year.

The nisperos are growing visibly bigger every day:

And the orange blossom, which has been humming with hundreds of bees every time the rain stops, is starting to die off to make way for baby oranges:

The apricots are going great guns – another month or so and they’ll be ready:

Baby pears are forming:

The vines are taking off:

Almonds are getting big, but won’t be ready until August / September:

And the olive blossom is getting ready to open:

We still have some poorly trees that we’ve been trying to rescue since we got here – we have 12 chirimoyas that really don’t look well at all – I’d hate for these to fail as the fruit is delicious and really expensive to buy! A handful of the orange trees are struggling, but they’ve had a really good hard prune, which will be kill or cure … time will tell. The big challenge at the moment is the weeds – we don’t use herbicide and could literally spend day after day pulling them out and strimming! The good thing now, of course, is that we pull them up and give them to the chickens!

We leave the wood sorrel and chickweed to grow freely – these are good for the soil and the chickens favourites. Since we started giving them a huge pile of weeds every day, egg production has gone through the roof – we’re getting 28 a week – that’s a lot of eggs for two people! We were planning to sell them, but with the current lockdown restrictions we can’t to that – so we’re giving some away and eating the rest, scrambled egg for lunch most days – I’m not complaining!!

Update on Luna

Well she’s about 24 weeks old now, and she has a surname now ‘tic’ – get it, Luna Tic 😂

And that’s exactly what she is! Nothing is safe or sacred. We used to have lovely fairy lights and solar lamps on the roof terrace – nope, all been eaten now! The list of things she has eaten and destroyed is long, but I couldn’t imagine not having her here now.

Her tail has a mind of it’s own, she can clear the coffee table on the terrace in one swish! We made the decision on day one that she would not be allowed in the house, although she regularly sneaks in when she thinks we’re not looking.

Yesterday I was weeding the veg garden – she crept in the house, stole my knitting and wound it around all the trees outside – 3 balls of wool, demolished.

And cacti, she loves eating them- spikes and all.

But she does guard this place and us so well – at night she chases goodness knows what around the farm! And she did see off the wild pig the other week! That makes up for the destructive tendencies in my view!

When we got her she weighted about 15kg (at 12 weeks) and we think she’s now about 30kg at 24 weeks – she’s going to be a big girl!

And we do love her …

Worrying times …

Because I teach English to students in China, I’ve had many first hand conversations about the lockdown that started over there in January and have watched as the virus progressed across the world. I think most people felt sorry for the Chinese and didn’t really think back in January that we would all be where we are now.

Spain has been hit hard as you will have seen in the news, initially around Madrid and in Northern Spain, but it is inevitably spreading to all parts, despite this being our third week of lockdown. Apparently the rate of infections is slowing but the death rate will continue to increase for some time yet.

And so now it’s on our doorstep. There’s an old people’s home in the village, and when I ventured out for food last week I saw a military vehicle going in, and in recent days there has been serious disinfecting going on around the village – and we found out why – there are multiple cases amongst the residents and staff. This is so sad – we have seen many care homes around Spain being decimated by the virus, and I really hope the residents and staff will be ok.

Even more worrying are signs locally that people are getting lockdown weary. I went out for food yesterday to our nearest larger town, Alhama, and loads of people were out shopping without masks or gloves, and ignoring the social distancing rules. I made sure we now have enough food to keep us going for several weeks – meat we can do without, and we get eggs daily from the chickens. We buy our veg from the local market each week, but all markets were closed at the start of the lockdown, so my lovely veg lady, Alexandra, has offered to bring my order into the village each week –  a much better option and less risky than the supermarket. The plan now is to hole up for as long as possible so we can avoid food shopping in supermarkets. We might be eating veg with butter beans and chickpeas for some time to come!

The lockdown over here has tighter regulations than other countries currently have – we can only go out for food and medicines, and all non essential businesses and shops are closed. The postal system is barely operational now too. It does me wonder how things will be in another few weeks – the world has changed so much in such a short space of time. I realise how lucky I am still being able to work and earn a few quid, although it has been quieter in the last week as life starts to return to normal for people in China – having been indoors for so long they’re all desperate to get back out and about again.

The weather is actually disrupting our day to day lives more than the lockdown – it has rained for weeks now, but hopefully, if the forecast is right (!), we’re at the end of this unseasonably bad spell, which means we can crack on with the jobs that need doing outside! We have actually joked that the Government ordered in this weather to make people stay in!

I guess all we can do today is sit in front of the fire with a good book!

Has Mother Nature just had enough of us?

It’s been my opinion for many years that the day would come when Mother Nature, like an angry Mum, would just go ‘stop, that’s enough’ (in that tone of voice that only Mums have!). Do you think we’ve reached that point?

I mean, look at what we’ve done to the planet …

Climate change – arguments are there that it’s a natural cycle of our planet and other arguments that we are the cause – I sit somewhere in the middle on the fence in this one, but what I do know is that the levels of pollution that spew out are harming us, the animals and our planet.

Extinction of species – we are seeing an extinction rate estimated between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate and since 1970 it has been reported that we have lost 60% of species on this planet.

Deforestation – I mean, really, we need trees to survive, but that hasn’t stopped us cutting down hundreds of millions of acres of natural forest across the globe. One and a half acres of forest is cut down EVERY SECOND.

Over extraction of minerals and natural resources go hand and hand with hyper consumerism and waste. The stuff we throw away, stuff that we probably didn’t need in the first place … filling our oceans with rubbish, killing the wildlife.

Mono farming – we are losing soil at an unprecedented rate across the planet – some reports suggest that within 40 years over 30% of the worlds arable land will become unproductive … think about that … and with a booming population that is estimated to be heading towards 9-10 billion within 50 years, our planet will not be able to sustain us.

In just a few weeks of the virus outbreak, skies above smog chocked cities are clearing, and even the canals in Venice have fish returning …

So, the big question – has Mother Nature decided to act now, in time to be able to recover the planet before we finish it off for good?

Or are you a conspiracy theorist … is this Mother Nature or a man made weapon?

For the first time in most peoples lives, we actually have time, being stuck in our homes, to think about these things.

Maybe we should all think about what we could change in our lives if / when we get through this? We’ve got to learn something from it, haven’t we?

The lockdown in Spain.

So we’re on day 10 of lockdown here in Spain, and it was announced over the weekend that it has been extended until 11th April (minimum).

After returning from the UK 9 days ago and showing no symptoms, I decided it was time to venture out as we were getting very low on supplies, needed petrol for the generator, food for the animals and a gas bottle. Rog has asthma so I was reluctant for him to go, and also the control freak in me wanted to do the food shopping (being the cook!) 😂

Over the last few days I have been sitting here wondering whether Spain has been panic buying like I saw with my own eyes in the UK. Being 1km away from the village, we haven’t seen a soul and had no idea what was happening out there. I know that there has been panic buying in places like Madrid, but would we be different being a more rural community?

So off I went with my face mask and gloves and shopping list. First stop was for a gas bottle, chicken feed and dog food – all good. A piece of tape on the floor in front of the counter ensured we kept our distance – the chap wore a face mask and gloves. He got my shopping and popped it in the car for me, as he always does, but with both of us respecting the distance rules of 2 meters. Definitely quieter than normal on the roads as we can only go out for essentials.

Then on to the bank for the cash point – all good again, orderly very small queue, everyone keeping their distance, but still saying good morning to each other.

Gloomy thoughts of panic buying were starting to disperse in my mind – but I still had to do the supermarket run …

At the entrance to Dia supermarket I was met with a table with a pile of plastic gloves – mandatory to use while shopping. They bake their own bread in this store, and there was plenty of it on the shelves – in fact, there was plenty of everything. It was calm, orderly, and no sign of panic buying (with the exception of … you’ve guessed it, TOILET ROLL) – there was very little stock of loo roll, but the shelves had been filled with kitchen roll instead. Plenty of fresh fruit and veg, meat- everything. The sense of relief was enormous and resulted in me buying just a week’s worth of food, with the exception of topping up a few things that I usually keep stocks of that have now run out at home, like flour, cereals and milk.

At 8pm every evening, the locals in the village come out into their balconies to sing the national anthem and applaud – we can sometimes here the music from our village and from the next one down the valley. I’m sure just being able to wave to friends and neighbours lifts their spirits.

Spain, I applaud your sense of community and thoughtfulness of others.

There is such a thing as too much excitement in one day …

Sitting on the roof terrace this afternoon, Luna lying next to my chair (quite unusual in itself as that involves being still!) when I noticed something in her fur – bugger, a tick. Huge, dirty great tick. We’ve never had to remove one of these before so we checked on old faithful (You Tube) grabbed a pair of tweezers and set to. Nope, not happening. When you’ve got a 5 month old puppy who weighs about 50lbs and decides she doesn’t want to be messed with then it just ain’t happening.

Back to You Tube – ah! Neem oil or apple cider vinegar – squirt either on and stand back.

So an hour or so later I thought I should check to see if the tick had gone, put the chickens away for the night etc etc. We’ll blow me, the neem oil worked – no more tick – fantastic! After a small tousle I managed to get some iodine on the wound. Put the chickens away, tidied up the terrace (Luna is currently eating her way through all the deckchairs) and headed back down the steps to the house.

Something caught my eye as I got to the second terrace, and at the same moment Luna went mad and raced off – about 20 feet away was a wild boar. Now we’ve seen the damage these things can do – a chap in the village recently got gored and ended up with 40 stitches in his leg. We had a boar problem last year – they were coming up and digging under the olive trees for water so we set some traps and blocked up where they were coming in – and we’ve not had a problem since, or so we thought!

So Luna is going mental as this boar takes off, and I’m shouting to Rog indoors, so then he comes and and takes off after Luna and the boar … returning a few minutes later to say it’s gone – phew! Well now we know what she goes mad about in the night!

That’s life in the campo!

Feeling incredibly lucky …

When we made this move I came off all social media platforms, except LinkedIn, and it’s heart breaking today to see so many people posting that they have been made redundant this week because of the Coronavirus emergency. It’s not like there will be many companies hiring in these uncertain times – I genuinely send all my best thoughts to anyone facing this situation at the moment.

We faced a similar situation back in the 2008 financial crisis when we both lost our jobs and almost lost everything – but we didn’t – there is help out there and my advice is tell creditors now, before you start missing payments – it took us years to get back on our feet, but we didn’t lose the house. I guess the other big advice is this – it’s all just stuff, and actually life becomes much simpler if you scale everything back. It doesn’t matter where you are, it’s who you’re with that counts.

It made me think back to when we were in the UK – huge mortgage and pressure to earn X amount every month just to survive. Western society encourages people to achieve more by owning more, borrowing more – and whilst no one could’ve predicted this pandemic, it shows how fragile modern society really is.

Ok, so these days we don’t own very much, but we have everything we need, and more importantly, we’re financially free of the system. I’m counting every lucky star over our heads today.

Mission Orange Harvest completed!

Well we weighed in at 1,008 kilos – happy with that. Last night definitely required a hot water bottle on the lower back to ease the pain!

Another week and I’m not sure we would’ve been able to take them in …

Looking at this photo does give us a massive sense of achievement – when we moved in we had to give the trees a hard prune as they hadn’t been done for a long time, so we’re convinced we wouldn’t get that many oranges this year. We’re pruning again now that the harvest is finished – the trees are already in flower and full of our busy little friends pollinating!

It’s naranja day!

So amidst the Coronavirus situation, we have the orange harvest.

While I was in the UK last week Rog got the call to say that our window for taking the oranges in was Tuesday – Thursday this week. Rog spent last week harvesting as many as he could in preparation for the drop off and he has filled every crate bucket and bag we have here leaving only about 5 trees still to harvest.

Of course then, everything changed with the declaration at the weekend so we were sitting here this morning wondering whether we would be allowed to move our oranges up to the hopper, which is on the main road just outside the village.

But we just got the call – yes, we can take them up there! Hurrah!

So today, in our little 35 year old car, we need to shift 1,300 kg of oranges! And only 1 person can be in the car … so Rog will take them up there and I’ll refill the empty crates he brings back ready for the next run … going to be a long day, but a really exciting one!

The ‘State of Alarm’ in Spain

It’s been a bit of couple of weeks – I was due to go to the UK this week to see the family, but ended up going a week ago as my sister is unwell. I planned to come back on my original return date of the 25th, but on hearing that a State of Alarm had been declared here we thought I had better check the flight situation last night – and lucky that I did. I managed to get in a flight into Almeria this morning and am back at home. It turned out to be the last flight into Almeria from London for the foreseeable – and it was only once we landed that the crew told us that we took off with no permission to land – that only came through when we were halfway to Spain. Phew! Gatwick was deserted this morning – there was me and one other person going through security and there were only about 60 people on my flight.

So a State of Alarm is stage one, and can be followed by a State of Emergency, and then the most serious level is a State of Siege (which actually sounds quite exciting!).

So what can we and can’t we do – well for one, you have to be a resident to get into the country. We can go food shopping and go out for medical supplies. Non essential shops, bars, restaurants etc are closed for at least 15 days. We can still get supplies for the dog and the chickens, you can get gas bottles and petrol. You can’t go out unless you are going for supplies, going to work or going to a medical centre. Only one person in the car – clearly want to avoid family trips out. Basically you have to have a good reason for leaving your house – Rog was able to come and get me from the airport this morning – we didn’t see any police but could’ve justified our trip as we were returning to our habitual residence.

Funny, we bought this apocalypse proof place out in the sticks and when the proverbial poo hit the fan, where was I – in the middle of London! I do think a zombie apocalypse would’ve been much more fun than flu! Sorry, I shouldn’t make light of this, and genuinely hope that our elderly friends and families stay safe and healthy.

There’s still food in the supermarkets here – not the stupid panic buying like we’ve seen in the UK in the last few days.

All in all, it won’t make a lot of difference to us as we spend 95% of our time at home anyway – just means that just one of us can go out to get what we need – no real hardship.

It will be interesting to see what happens here over the next few weeks and whether we get raised to a State of Emergency. It will also be interesting to see how the UK responds this week and whether they pursue the herd immunity plan or follow the rest of Europe and go into lockdown.

Strange times indeed …

The veg garden

Well the veg garden is coming along nicely now. We have created separate areas and grouped the veg together with plants that like growing together – companion planting. Because we have odd shaped terraced land with lots of trees, it’s a case of lots of small beds here and there in between the trees! Also, being a real novice here it’s very much trial and error this year – I have a feeling we’ll have a big glut of veg and then nothing, so I’m trying to plan how to avoid that!

We didn’t have money to spend on expensive raised beds, so have marked the beds out with things we already have here, like a cut up IBC and some pipe! The bean poles were free – they are a bamboo-like grass that grows abundantly by the river, so we pop down there with a saw and help ourselves. The tops are thinner so we’ll use these bits as canes for the tomatoes. Amazing what you can do for free!

In the mornings we use the ash from the fire around different plants and trees, and also the morning coffee grounds go out too – all helps them to grow!

Last autumn I planted broad beans, peas, cabbage, onions and garlic, and this month I have sewn lots of seeds for lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, red beans, leeks, spinach, beetroot and butternut squash. I still have potatoes to go in, and will sew some wild garlic in with those.

I planted nasturtiums in with the cabbages and marigolds with the beans to keep insects away, and it seems to work well. I’ll put some basil with the tomatoes too. The insect population is steadily increasing as the days become warmer, so we’ll see what happens!

There is a real joy in nipping down the garden to cut some cabbage leaves for dinner and I can’t wait for the rest to start growing!

I’m also planning a small herb garden but haven’t quite decided what to grow or where yet – we have got mint and spearmint growing on one of the banks with the vetiver – it can go as mad as it likes along there, it won’t interfere or overtake the herb garden or veg as it’s as the other end of our land. I’ll be using creeping thyme on another bank to help secure the earth and suppress weeds there.

A year on and there’s still so much to do!

The chickens are here!

I am delighted to introduce Ethel, Maureen, Atila the Hen and Balti!

Ethel and Maureen are named after our Mums and the other two, well, the names just made us laugh!

We are planning to let them free range in the day and use the coop for the night, but at the moment they have to stay in the coop while they settle in, and it gives a chance for Luna to get used to them too! We’re just hoping she doesn’t try to play with them like she plays with / destroys everything else around here once we let them out 😳

It’ll take them a couple of weeks to settle in before they start laying, but fingers crossed we won’t be buying any more eggs from now on!

Re-using old IBC’s

When we moved in here there were 8 old IBC’s along the top terrace, which were used to store water before the finca got a piped water supply. Where they were placed wasn’t great though, as they blocked the third terrace (together with an enormous fig tree), so we had to walk to the other end of our land on the second terrace to get up to the third terrace. As we didn’t need them for water we decided to move them down to the end of our land knowing that one day they would come in handy…

Well, they’ve turned out to be amazing for making so many different things! We are actually using one to store rainwater that comes off the roof – it holds 1000 litres so if we ever have a problem with the piped water we can at least use this for irrigation.

But we also have a roof rack for the car made out of metal casing, a dog kennel and the chicken coop! The only thing we had to buy for the chicken coop was some chicken wire. We used two of the plastic totes to make their little house with roosts inside and a nesting box, and then the cages were cut up and reassembled to make the run! The roof of the run is made from the pergola roof that got destroyed in the storm last September – nothing gets thrown away here!

We also traded one IBC for some local honey, eggs and beans! Leftover bits of metal cage are being used as temporary fencing where we’re trying to stop the dog ragging up and down the worst bits of the banks like a complete lunatic!

Luna’s house, complete with porch:

The chicken coop

They really are the most useful things ever!

Valentines Day and other ‘commercial’ days …

Once upon a time, we were well and truly in the trap … Valentines Day, Mothers / Fathers Day etc – buying cards and pressies (sometimes quite expensive too!). You’re made to feel like a right git if you don’t take part in these ‘special’ days.

So we’ve dumped them all. And it’s really wonderful! We don’t ignore the fact it’s Valentines Day or our anniversary – we just don’t spend any money on it. Instead, we do something nice for each other (I cooked a nice dinner and Rog is doing all the clearing up!). My view is you should love and appreciate your other half as though it’s Valentines Day every day – probably why we’re still so happy together after 24 years!

We can’t ignore Mothers Day and Fathers Day for our parents – our lives wouldn’t be worth living, but we’ve told our kids we don’t expect cards or pressies – just maybe take 10 minutes to call us – worth so much more than a card to us.

It’s funny how your views change when you remove yourself from being surrounded by commercialism.

Shampoo or no poo???

When we moved here I wanted to get away from using chemicals wherever possible either on myself, in the house and in the garden, and have tried using a variety of alternatives and combinations for replacing shampoo over the last year. Theres loads of info on the internet about going ‘no poo’ with long lists of benefits, such as better condition hair, better hair growth etc.

The first homemade shampoo was a bit of a disaster that left me with an oil slick on my head! But I altered the recipe and it was ok, but not great. The recipe called for liquid Castile soap, which is really expensive, so I ditched this recipe and went in search of alternatives, and found soapnuts. I used soapnuts years ago as a replacement for laundry detergent, but have to say that just popping the soapnuts into the washing machine didn’t work great and so ended up going back to detergent at that time.

To make soapnut shampoo you simply boil up some soapnuts in water (and I added a few sprigs of rosemary too), strain and bottle. It lasts for a week in the fridge and to use it you simply wet your hair with it and leave it on for 5-10 minutes before rinsing off. All pretty easy, and for the last 8 months it has worked well – my hair has been in clean and in great condition for very little cost. But just recently it stopped working so well – the ends of my hair were great but the oil slick was back on my head, and sorry, but I just can’t live like that!

I also use the soapnut liquid as our laundry detergent. As Rog suffers with eczema I was pleased to see that the soapnut detergent didn’t upset his skin at all, so big thumbs up for that! Boiling up the soapnuts and using the liquid as detergent has worked better than just adding soapnuts to the machine, so really happy with the results. And it works out to about €20 a year for detergent – much cheaper than traditional detergent.

A popular way of going no poo is to use baking soda – didn’t really appeal, although I do condition my hair once a week with diluted apple cider vinegar – don’t pour it on your head, just the ends of your hair – works a treat.

But that still left me with the problem of a replacement shampoo … another trawl on the internet and I discovered shampoo bars – and some of them are completely natural, organic, no chemicals – hurrah! They’re a bit more expensive ( I paid €18 for 4 bars) BUT they last for 3-4 months each.  And a couple of days in, and I t think I may have found the happy balance – clean hair, no chemicals, and no more expensive then buying ordinary shampoo in the supermarket over the course of a year.

So while it is nice to make your own stuff, again it’s all about finding that balance. I would definitely recommend ditching shampoos with chemicals especially as there are other alternatives so easily available.

Just a word of warning if you’re thinking of going no poo – you will have a week or so of awful, greasy hair – it’s just your hair recovering from having all the oils stripped out – there’s no avoiding it, you just have to go into hiding for a few days!

The end of our first winter off grid

Well, we seem to be through the worst of the winter! The weather has turned beautiful this week and although next week is not so good, we’re not going back down to really low temperatures.

I’m very glad we choose to live off grid in Spain rather than the UK or Ireland! We’ve had some really tough days and weeks – storm Gloria in January saw plummeting temperatures and days of rain – and we had it better in Almeria than many parts of Spain. Apparently this is the worst winter for decades! For me to be able to work we had to run the generator – luckily we bought a new one a few months ago as Rog needed more power than we can get from the solar panels for his power tools, but it’s pretty efficient so doesn’t cost much to run for 4-5 hours.

The thing we have struggled with the most is the damp – it makes it colder in the house than outside, and that’s been difficult on the days I work. We’re only 1km away from the village, but we’re generally 3-4 degrees colder here because we’re close to the river – amazing what a difference that makes – we arrive in the village looking like we’re ready for an arctic expedition and they’re all there in just a sweater! We do get some looks 😂

The weather inland is different to down on the coast – we’re at an altitude of about 500 meters here so it’s generally cooler here, which is s blessing in the summer!

At the start of the winter we had a good stock of wood – but it wasn’t enough. Luckily wood isn’t expensive here as most houses have a stove or fireplace, and so we could go to the wood yard and fill up the back of the car for €25 and that would see us through a couple of weeks. We have done a bit of scavenging too for free wood but as you can only take fallen wood, you’re limited to what you can take, and it tends to be too green to burn – it would be ok to store away for next year though. Only on the worst days do we put the fire on in the daytime – we try to keep it for the evenings. It’s cold in the mornings, but a hot shower, getting dressed and getting on with things is the best way to to deal with those!

There was a point where I started looking at gas heaters but we were put off by (a) the cost to buy and run and (b) we already have 2 gas bottles in the house and 1 outside – if we had another one inside we would invalidate our house insurance! If one went it would be BOOM 💥 Yea, think we’ll stick with the log burner!

So wearing the right clothes is important – thermal layers became a necessity for me for most of December and January, as I do tend to feel the cold more than Rog does. Early nights with multiple hot water bottles also helped! To save electricity we don’t use the lights, only when we’re in the bathroom, and so bought some solar lights that we can charge up in the day to give us a couple of hours of light in the evening. Couple those up with some candles and it’s been absolutely fine. When you only have solar power you sometimes have to make a choice of what you can use! We like to watch a film on the cold nights and now have a tablet that we can charge up in the day so then we have enough electricity in the evening to have the WiFi on – it’s all just a bit of a balancing act! Come the summer we’ll be back on the roof terrace for the evenings.

But I do feel like I’m toughening up a bit – I couldn’t have imagined a winter in the UK with no heating other than a small wood burning stove – I used to reach for that central heating button without a second thought! I do think we’ll be better prepared for next winter – a bigger stock of wood for one, and I’ll be asking Father Christmas for some new thermals!

The thing is, there’s two months of winter that are cold, and two months of summer that are really hot – and the other eight months are just really comfortable. I think we can live with that!

So now we’re looking towards spring – lots of work to do outside – we have loads of seeds to plant in February and March so we can start to become more self sufficient for our vegetables, and the trees are starting to blossom and the bees buzzing. The birds are back to sing to us in the evening and life is good!

Introducing Luna …

So we stopped at the cafe today and while we were there one of our mates asked whether we wanted a dog – we said we had been thinking about it, but yes, we would like to get one.

So before we knew it, we were on our way up to a farm where the chap had three mastin puppies – well now he only has two, and we brought one home with us – total cost – 2 beers!

And here she is – totally in love with her already:

She’s only 3 months old – mastins grow to be enormous, but she’ll protect us and the finca with her life – they’re fiercely loyal.

So this answers our question I posed last year about whether to have animals or not – and we’ve started building the chicken coop too!

The Fudge Effect

Before Christmas we decided that there were a dozen or so people who have been an enormous help to us since we got here, and we thought we would take the opportunity to say thank you with a little bag of homemade fudge. The list included neighbours, our mechanic, the blokes in the hardware shop, the lady in the post office, the local Mayor (who agreed to make our road legal so the house could be legal!), the lady in the town hall and the people who run the local cafe, amongst others.

So I set to with vast amounts of butter and sugar and spent a day in the kitchen. We got some cellophane sweetie bags and some nice ties, and attached a note saying happy Christmas and thanks for all your help this year.

All of these people were on the list because they’d been so nice and so helpful, but the effect these little bags of fudge have had now has a name in our house – we call it the fudge effect!

The man in the local hardware shop for example – he’s always a bit grumpy, but always helpful (even though we sometimes make him sigh!) – well the fudge effect now sees him smiling and waving when we go in! And it’s the same wherever we go, people waving to us in the street – maybe they don’t often get people showing their appreciation? We know we’ve been a pain, with our bad Spanish and stupid questions!

I think we may have given ourselves an annual job to do now … and one we will happily do!

But it does go to show that a little kindness goes a long way, and it makes us very happy that we’ve made a small difference to someone else’s day.

A life changing year …

Well it’s one year ago today that we sailed out of Portsmouth harbour to start a new life in Spain.

I remember crying my heart out because I’d broken my parents hearts and we were filled with every emotion known – excited, terrified, anxious, you name it, we were feeling it! We were now officially homeless and facing months of living in a tent while we found a new home.

So jump forwards 12 months – my parents get it now and their tickets are booked to come over in March to stay with us. Rogers Mum, who was equally as upset at the move, has been over twice, and she’s already talking about her next visit! They have all watched as we have carved out this new life, and I think now they’re all actually quite proud of what we’ve done. I’ll always be the laughing stock of the family, because I’m different, but I actually really don’t worry about it anymore – we don’t have to pretend to be people we’re not now, and that is a huge relief! And if our antics over here make people laugh then I see nothing wrong with that!

This first year has been such an adventure – don’t get me wrong – there have been challenging days – it hasn’t all been plain sailing! But we’ve met every challenge together head on. Proper challenges too – turning river water into drinking water – you know, the important stuff! Some friends stayed with us recently and by the middle of the week they made an observation – they said, you’re not just living here, you’re both thriving here. Probably the nicest compliment ever!

We’ve learned a lot of new skills – installing a solar system and then adding a wind turbine, stripping down old machinery that was here and getting it working again (I’m talking rebuilding carburettors and the like!) – Rog is not scared to give anything a go, and we had no experience of these things before the move. Then there’s me giving up sales and becoming a teacher – I would rather not have to work, but at least it’s only 14-20 hours a week and I can work from home! Then there’s looking after 90 trees, when we didn’t have a clue what to do with them! But we learned, and we are still learning! Throw in learning a new language, and trying to fathom foreign systems and ways of doing things – makes me dizzy just thinking about it!

The most important lessons I’ve learned this year:

Be yourself, not what everyone else wants you to be – if people ridicule you for that, they have a problem, not you.

Don’t go through life being afraid to follow your dreams – accept compromises along the way, but if you achieve 80% of your dream, there’s a good chance you won’t lie on your death bed going thank god that’s over! Do something – now, not next month or next year – make a commitment to work towards it – it might take years, but that’s better than never! Whatever it is, get excited about it and make the plans to achieve it part of your life every day.

Leave the drama out of life – too many people live their life like it’s a soap opera – if that delivery is a day late, will the world stop turning? I have been very guilty of this in the past, (and I do still occasionally overreact!) but generally leaving all that behind has made me a better and happier person.

Be realistic – life is never going to be perfect every minute of the day, it just won’t be! If you go through life expecting everything to be perfect you’ll be in for some big disappointments – knowing stuff can go wrong means that when it does you have have your 5 minute strop and then move on and deal with it!

Look after your mental health as well as your physical health – they’re solely your responsibility.

Don’t take connected services like gas and electricity for granted. What I wouldn’t give some days at the moment to be able to flick the heating on! These days if we want heating, we have to go and cut firewood – an exercise in itself which warms you up!! I realise now how wasteful we used to be – lights on in a room we weren’t in, radio on in the kitchen and the tv on in the living room at the same time, running the washing machine for just a couple of bits, oh my goodness, when I think about it now!

I can honestly say that I love my life and I can’t wait to see what 2020 brings! I’m particularly looking forward to it warming up a bit!! 🥶 At least that’s guaranteed to happen here!

Winter in Spain

So how does the Spanish winter compare with good old Blighty?

The sun shines most days – lovely blue sky and some real warmth in the sun when you’re outside – we’re averaging about 15 degrees most days.

But that’s not to say it doesn’t get cold! In the morning and evening at the moment the real feel temperature is between 0 and about 6 degrees. It does quickly rise up to 10 or 12 degrees by 9-10 am, but the house is cold!

Most houses here don’t have any insulation, so any heat you generate escapes straight outside! This is perfect in the summer, as the house stays lovely and cool, but it feels strange in winter for it to be warmer outside than in the house!

We have our little wood burner, which we use in the evening, but we don’t tend to light it in the morning. We have put some silver insulating material in the fireplace behind the fire to stop as much warmth escaping as possible, and we have a fan on order to sit on top of the stove and push the warm air into the room.

We can’t burn coal here, just wood, and we’re going through a lot of it! There was loads of wood all around the land when we moved in, from years of pruning, but we’ve gone through all of that now. We spent New Year’s Day in the local forest collecting firewood, and oh, the joy of finding a tree that had been blown over! The only thing was that it was wedged between two other trees on the side of a very steep hill, so getting it down was a bit of a laugh! We will have to buy in some firewood to see us through, but there’s something immensely satisfying about going out and getting it for free from the forest! (You can’t go and chop down trees, just gather fallen wood by the way!).

Now I’ve always felt the cold, so I am having to learn how to keep warm without the modern luxury of central heating:

1) Just toughen up a bit!

2) There’s no wrong weather, just wrong clothes. Thankfully we do have plenty of warm clothes, and a range of thermals from when we went to Sweden a few years back – so we layer up!

3) Get moving; do stuff! It’s the sitting around at breakfast time that I feel the cold. The worst time for me is when I’m teaching – five hours at the computer without being able to move around to keep warm. Tactical use of blankets and hot water bottles come into play here! I often go and sit outside when I’m finished to let the sun warm my bones!

4) One of the best ways to get warm is chopping firewood! By the time you’ve got your firewood you’re lovely and warm (but that doesn’t stop me putting the fire on!).

I’m not going to lie, it can be a bit tough when you’ve had central heating all your life to suddenly live like this, but once you get outside and enjoy the sunshine it makes it all worthwhile! And it’s certainly warmer than the UK …

Christmas in Spain

Unlike the UK, Christmas doesn’t start here until December, which is quite refreshing! There’s other things that are different here too:

The real start of the Christmas holidays is on the 22nd December with the lottery – it’s called El Gordo (the fat one!) because the total prize fund is massive – about 2.5 billion euros. The tickets are different to the UK lottery – you get batches with the same number, so you could buy the batch (hundreds of euros) or buy a share in that batch, with each share being €23. It often happens that a whole village will be celebrating as they have all bought a share in the same batch from the local shop, so if that number comes up each share would be about half a million euros before tax. The draw itself takes about 5 hours and is done by children from a school which used to be an orphanage. They reckon 90% of people in Spain buy a ticket, so we have treated ourselves to a single share of a batch – would be rude not to! Apparently it’s a thing to sit and watch the entire draw, but we’ll give that a miss I think!

Generally, Christmas trees are not a thing here. We kept our favourite tree ornaments and have them in a box, but we don’t have a tree to put them on now! There are probably places in Almeria city where we could get a tree, but we don’t really have room in the house for anything more than a tiny tree, we’ve just got a bit creative with some tinsel and battery lights around the place!

Christmas Day is not quite the big thing here that it is in the UK. Yes, it’s a public holiday, but the big meal happens on Christmas Eve followed by midnight mass. The BIG day is the 6th January – Three Kings Day – this is when the children get their presents (which does make sense really!). I think we’ll be keeping the tradition of opening our pressies on Xmas morning and having a nice lunch.

Food – traditional Christmas food here is lobster / seafood, lamb and suckling pig. The sweet treats aren’t big tubs of chocolate – they’re small biscuits and nougat type sweets. We’ve tried a selection of the traditional ones – sorry, but they just not Quality Street I’m afraid – they’re not going to win me over!

I think the strangest thing for us this year will be having a Christmas and New Year without a houseful of family – in our 24 years together we have only ever had one Christmas Day on our own. This is where video calling makes a big difference when you live far from family – I’m guessing a lot of the morning will be spent catching up with everyone!

One thing’s for sure – this Christmas will be very different for us!

Wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing, Rog and I would like to wish you all a very happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year.

Builders are all done…

Really happy with the work that our builders have done – money well spent… here they are and what the house looks like now:

The wall outside the bodega by the steps in this next picture was a few bricks but mainly made of mud! It’s now a proper wall! And they did the steps while they were at it so they’re even now!

As a reminder this was it three weeks ago!

We’ve also had the inside of the bodega tiled by Emilio – the room was so uneven we decided that our tiling skills wouldn’t be up to scratch – he used tiles that we found all over the place when we moved in – they were under trees, sunken into mud, little piles all over the place – – we put them in several huge piles in one spot and thought they’ll come in handy one day! Well they have! Of course, they don’t all match and it’s not designer, but I think Emilio did a great job with what we had, and everything here is about being functional rather than pretty! At least now we have a great place for storing food and preserves.

In the spring we’ll paint the whole of the outside so it all matches up and looks lovely, and that’ll be the house pretty much done!

Lenticular clouds

I just thought I’d share these photos of the sky over our house the other day – even our builders stopped to take photos. These clouds are often mistaken for UFO’s and you can see why – it really did feel like the aliens were coming! We are blessed here with beautiful sunrises and sunsets, but this sunset was something else! They’re caused by clouds bumping into a very cold mountain making them turn back on themselves to form the circles.

Hurrah we got 31 litres!

We weighed in our olives last week and went back today to collect our share of the oil.

They take a sample from the olives you weigh in and calculate how much oil your olives will yield. They then give you back a percentage of the oil from your total batch. So the better quality your olives are, the more oil you get.

We were hoping for about 25 litres based on what the locals were saying, so you can imagine we were over the moon when they gave us 31 litres of extra virgin oil! The cost of that to buy in their factory shop is about €120!

We have three varieties of olives here, and the best yield came from the tiny little round olives rather than the great big fat ones! Everyone said to us that the little ones make fab oil.

And with the bodega almost finished, we will have somewhere to store it all thank goodness!

So look out for La Almazara de Canjáyar Extra Virgin Oil – if you buy a bottle you might just get some made from our olives 🤗

Harvest time!

We thought the olives would be ready just before Xmas, but we saw people harvesting in the last week or so and thought we’d better crack on!

We have nets which go under the trees on the ground, and then work our way around and through the tree pulling off the olives into the nets. We have 9 olive trees so it’s quite a big job. Commercial olive growers have fancy tractors that shake the tree and can harvest a tree in minutes – we’re averaging 2-3 hours per tree with two of us doing it! But we’re not in a hurry, and I have to say, it’s extremely satisfying and therapeutic picking olives!

We also had an awful lot of pruning to do on the olive trees once we’d harvested all the olives – not sure how many years it’s been since they had a good prune, but they’re looking better now!

These are what we picked from just one tree – we actually ended up with 246kg altogether!

We took the olives to the local oil factory yesterday – they will cold press the olives and then give us a share of the oil as payment, and they then sell the rest of the oil. The local factory is a very famous one (Almazara) and they sell their oil all over. When you turn up you join a queue (everyone is harvesting now!) and then you weigh in your olives and off they go as a batch with your name and number on. They give you a ticket which we will present next week to collect our share of our oil – can’t wait to see how much we get!

I’m looking forward to having our own olive oil for cooking and preserving other food we’ve grown. I’m planning to use it to store garlic, sun dried tomatoes and roasted peppers.

Then in the next few weeks the mandarins will be ready. We have about 6 mandarin trees, most of which are heaving – we can’t sell these … I’ll be preserving as many as possible so we have them to eat all year round.

After that we have a break in harvesting until February / March – the big one … the oranges 🍊 – 35 trees! You get more money per kilo if you leave some stalk on rather than just pulling them off the tree – so although it’s more labour intensive we’ll be doing it this way to make the maximum amount of money, but we’ll still only get about 11 cents a kilo selling them to the local cooperative. All of our oranges will be going for juicing as we don’t have an eco certificate for the farm – and this takes three years to get, with regular inspections and testing by the Spanish equivalent of the Soil Association, so I can’t see us going this route to be honest for 35 trees. I can’t be doing with rules and regulations any more!

The builders are in!

We’ve tried to do pretty much everything under our own steam here, but it’s really important to know when something is simply beyond your capabilities.

The second bedroom wasn’t quite finished outside when we bought here – understatement of the year!

So Emilio and his merry band have been brought in to sort this out. We’re on day 2 and good progress is being made – all this you hear about Spaniards being lazy is complete rubbish. Never seen builders work so hard and refuse tea coffee and food all day. They start at 8am and finish when it goes dark at 6pm. We’ve experienced this time and again this year with every trade we’ve had dealings with.

We’re also getting them to render the inside of the bodega. We’re never going to make wine here, no point when we hardly ever have a drink, so we’ve taken out the wine making equipment and will be using this room to store our produce and the preserves I make etc – a much better use of the room. We’ll need some shelving and cupboards (more pallet wood!) once the render is done and we have loads of old tiles here so we might tile it to help keep it cooler. Here’s the ‘before’ pictures – it’s all a bit grim!

The outside wall of the bodega is also being finished – somewhere along the way they ran out of bricks when they built it … and so finished the wall with mud for goodness sake!

When the builders came to look at what needed doing, they used that much loved phrase in Spain ‘ay madre!’ (Oh mother!). At least there was no sucking through teeth!

I’ll hopefully have some prettier pictures next week!

Ooh a new washing machine!

For the first month or so I was washing, rinsing and wringing by hand – and it was not at all fun! Then I got a little hand cranked machine, which is fabulous, but has one drawback – it’s a bit small … washing the duvet cover, large towels, dressing gowns etc is not great.

So we’ve (that’s the Royal we – it was mainly Rog!) built a solution for the larger stuff, and we’re a bit chuffed with this …

One 50kg barrel with a hole cut out of the side and a tap for draining the water away underneath – a metal pole through the middle attaches it to the frame, and it even has agitators inside (made of plastic pipes cut in half and attached to the inside of the barrel). This one doesn’t need to be spun all the way around like my little one – I just stand at the end holding the wooden pole and turn it backwards and forwards – it’s enough to get the washing and the water sloshing about nicely and provides a bit of exercise at the same time!

Total cost – about 15 euros – we had the barrel here already, so just needed the metal pole, a couple of hinges and the clip. The frame is made from pallet wood (we’re tinkers for picking up pallets that have been dumped when we’re out and about!).

Marvellous!!

Pine cones and other interesting tips!

Whilst we’ve been here we’ve had to get inventive, and with a policy to waste as little as possible, we try and think of different ways to use up what some would consider rubbish! There’s also some handy gardening tips here!

Collect up some pine cones, dry them out – free firefighters for wood burning stove or open fire! Don’t throw your ash from the fire in the bin – stick it around your garden plants, they love it!

Clover family ‘weeds’ and wood sorrel – fantastic for the garden, just don’t let them flower – pull them up, leaving the roots in the ground, and spread round the garden. They add nitrogen to the soil. I spent my life digging this up in our old garden!

Comfrey – grows easily from seed. Have several clumps around the garden and when you’re planting something, pull off a load of leaves and lay on the soil first – fantastic stuff. Add compost on top (preferably homemade!) The leaves will feed the new plants and the clump where you pulled them from will regrow really quickly.

Newspaper as a weed barrier – don’t bother buying the expensive sheeting from the garden centre – just wet some newspaper and lay it on the soil before planting (on top of the comfrey leaves) – dig a hole where the plant will go and then cover the paper over with mulch, wood chips or hay. Hay is better than straw for mulching.

Terracotta pot heater. We were sceptical, but I get so cold when I’m teaching in the spare room – 4 hours of sitting still – blanket over my legs and a hot water bottle – we had to try something! There are loads of videos on YouTube about different ways to make these, but all we did was find a tile to sit the four tea lights on and put a couple of smaller tiles either side of the tea lights. Then stand two terracotta pots over the tea lights, a smallish one first and then covered that with a larger one. It really does take the chill off and costs pence to run.

Food waste – we have a bucket with a lid in the kitchen for food scraps – we don’t put any meat in this, just fruit and veg. Every couple of days we take it out and simply bury it in the garden – we started a compost heap but the flies were bad and we read somewhere that just burying the scraps and letting them compost in the ground worked just as well. No messing about with compost heaps or barrels – works a treat! When we’re preparing a new vegetable bed we put some earth down, cover with kitchen scraps and the compost from the compost toilet, cover with more earth and leave for a couple of months. When we’re ready to plant we’ll top off with comfrey leaves, newspaper and wood chips.

Rusty old nails – don’t chuck them in the bin – make a stew! No, I haven’t gone totally mad! Stick them in a bucket or jar with some water and leave to soak for a week or so – feed the water to your plants – gives them a great boost!

Coffee grounds – if, like us, a pot of coffee is essential in the morning, don’t tip the used grounds down the sink. Fill up the jar with water and water your plants with it – great fertiliser.

Lights indoors in the evening – as it’s winter and getting dark early now we need lights in the house that don’t run off the batteries, as we have a finite amount of power each day. We have been using candles and a light that we can charge up in the day on a usb – but we can’t charge that if it’s a bit cloudy. So we have some outdoor solar lights – they don’t need brilliant sunshine to charge outside and give us a good few hours of light in the evening – some of the garden solar lights are so pretty now – just stick them outside during the day and bring them back indoors in the evening – cheaper (and safer) than candles, and for those of you with electricity, it might save a few pennies on the electric bill!

Today’s adventure is brought to you by …

‘Up a bit, hold it, right a bit, LIFT, aarghhhh, LIFT, it’s nearly in, right a bit, it’s in, it’s in’

So the roof terrace had 3 poles on the front edge when we bought the place – no idea what the previous owner had them for, but they’ve been my washing line so far. For the wind turbine, we needed to get it up high. Rog managed to find another pole that fitted inside one of the poles on the terrace, and so today we have installed the turbine. It’s taken most of the day, with a lot of shouting of encouragement to each other and gargantuan effort for the last big – getting the top pole with the turbine in it into the bottom pole. Because the cable runs through the poles, we had to lift the top pole from horizontal so that the two middle bits of pole stayed together, then once the top pole was upright we could slip it into the bottom pole. It was harder than it sounds!! Walking up a step ladder on the corner of the terrace whilst lifting the pole up into a vertical position!

The turbine comes with a control box that converts the power from AC to DC, the same as the solar panels, so we’ve been able to wire the turbine into the solar panel cabling and so into the control panel and batteries.

After a week of 80 km winds, wouldn’t you know it that today there isn’t a breath of wind … so we just need to wait for some wind now to see how well it works (and whether those poles will be strong enough!)

Solar power problems and solutions …

So we’ve moved to a really sunny country … but it’s not sunny all of the time. Here we are in November, and three cloudy days in a row has left us with very little power in the batteries. We do have a generator, which I have had to use to be able to work today, but we need an alternative power source rather than relying on sunshine alone.

When we first started looking at off grid power, we wanted to combine solar panels with a wind turbine, but everything we read suggested we would effectively have to have a double system – one for solar and one for wind. Well hurrah! We have now found a wind turbine (that we can actually afford) that outputs power in the same way as the solar panels – 12 volt DC.

You can now buy combination systems, but buying a solar /wind system as a package works out really expensive, so it’s better to buy the individual parts and build a system yourself that meets your requirements.

In theory we should be able to add this in to our existing system alongside the solar panels and into the same controller and batteries. The cheapest ones we could find in Spain were about €300-600 but with a bit of shopping around we’ve found one in Germany for €110 – it’s on order and will hopefully be here in the next week – fingers crossed it all goes to plan!

This part of Spain (and where we are in particular) is VERY windy so hopefully this will mean that cloudy days won’t see us using candles and turning everything off like we are at the moment! I don’t mind living by candlelight, but that’s an expense in itself as we’re going through about 4 big candles and half a dozen tea lights a day!

It’s funny, I did a lesson with one of my teenage students the other day and the lesson was about ‘making a difference’ – whether it be helping homeless people, caring for the environment or coming up with a medical cure … to say he was impressed when I told him that his lesson was being brought to him by 100% solar power is an understatement! He wants to be an engineer … so I suggested that he come up with a more efficient way of harnessing renewable energy that has a smaller carbon footprint to make the equipment … now that’s what I call a homework assignment!

Pest control

When we got here the previous owner had left some insecticide, fungicide and herbicide for us, but we wanted to try and do things organically. While we were sorting this out we did use the chemical insecticide as we desperately needed to do something (we were being eaten alive!).

So we then switched to neem and essential oils for pest control and used these over the summer. It became a much more pleasant job, as to spray with neem and essential oils you don’t have to wear overalls, mask, hat, goggles gloves and boots. You can airy fairy around in shorts and t shirt with the spray pack on your back – lovely. But, and it’s a big but, it just didn’t work. Maybe these things work in an urban garden, but out here it just wasn’t effective. You have to spray every 10-14 days using organic methods vs every 3 months with non organic. The cost of neem and other oils is horrific to spray every two weeks vs about €30 a year non organic. Add in that we were still being eaten alive and it was getting hard to justify the organic route.

Apparently there is an effective one, which while it’s not totally organic, is much less harmful than most, so we’re going to get the name of that and give it a go.

Over the next couple of years our planting plan should help as we become more of a permaculture site – planting insect repelling plants in the right spots should help, but this won’t happen overnight. And growing so much fruit is always going to attract loads of pests!

In the meantime we are doing a light spray with the chemical stuff, but using insecticidal soap with neem on our vegetables. We’ll see how we get on!

Going a little bit feral …

So we’ve reached the point now where life is settling into a nice routine. The first few months here we were crashing around trying to get things done, finding shops to buy things we needed for the house, then realising we’d forgotten something so off we go again! But now, it’s all calmed down considerably, and we generally only leave the farm twice a week – Wednesday morning into the village for the market to get fruit and veg, and Friday we go to Alhama, about 8km away, for our supermarket shop, and anything else we need from the hardware shop etc. We’re down to about one trip every two months into Almeria now (which has become a big day out 😂).

So we’ve found ourselves going a little bit feral … just us two here, so what if I’ve worn those trousers for 3 days, if I put a clean pair on they’re only going to get muddy … keeping clean here is just impossible! We do make a bit more effort on the days we go out, don’t want the locals thinking we’ve completely lost the plot already 😂 but I certainly don’t feel the need to get best bib and tucker out – most people round here work the land so I think of it that we’re just blending in!

Living off grid with very limited solar power means no hairdryer (or other electronic beauty gizmos). Once upon a time I wouldn’t have dreamt of leaving the house without blow drying my hair as well as a bit of foundation and mascara as a minimum.Since we’ve been in Spain, I’ve worn make up once – and it felt horrible! I can now shower and be ready to leave the house in under 20 minutes (like blokes can!) – it’s a bit of a revelation I have to say!

When I went back to the UK in June I didn’t take any make up with me, I’ve just got used to not wearing it now, and I don’t feel ‘naked’ going out without it. I deliberately grew my hair longer while we were planning the move, so on a bad hair day I just tie it up, job done!

And has it made any difference not trying to doll myself up in the morning – hell yea, there’s more time for drinking tea!

New hobbies

I’ve always loved having lots of hobbies, but rarely had the time to indulge in them.

We’ve just had our first proper couple of rainy cloudy day for months, and so the solar batteries have struggled a bit, so feet up with a film is out of the question tonight. Luckily I bought a crochet hook and some wool the other day after seeing a project on YouTube that I fancied having a go at – making a crochet laundry basket (don’t laugh!). Well on day two of cloud and rain we now don’t have enough electricity to turn the lights on – so it’s crochet by candlelight!!

Now, although I have A Level needlework and am fairly decent with a sewing machine, knitting and crochet are something I’ve never really taken to … you only have to ask my poor daughter in law. When she was expecting our first grandchild I felt a compulsion to crochet something (‘cos that’s what Granny’s do!) so I turned out this awful pram blanket, all wonky and with holes where there weren’t supposed to be holes – you get the picture. Well I handed it over saying I won’t be offended if you don’t use it … her face was a picture! Funnily enough it never did make it into the pram 😂

So here I am, one failed square to my name as my crochet history … but it’s working … I’m actually doing it, I’m making something that might actually be able to be used!!

It is lovely having time to try new things, and with the fire glowing and the candles flickering, I really wouldn’t change a thing!

Back to work!

Back in August I decided to do my Teaching English as a Foreign Language course, and have now become an online english teacher to students mainly in Asia.

I get to pick what hours and which days I want to work – I have to commit to 10 peak hours per week over 4 days, and have chosen to add an extra 4 hours to that. If I need to I can just add in extra hours or book time off when I want, and I love that flexibility. Being used to regularly working 12-14 hours a day, 5 days a week (and then catching up on emails at the weekend), I can hardly believe that I’m able to work just 14 hours a week. And doing this from home is lovely. With the time differences, the peak hours fall over late morning to 4pm ish, so I still get the morning and evening to do other things. So we’ve been back to our gestoria today to get me registered as self employed here.

Being self employed in Spain is not a cheap business – you pay 19% of your earnings each quarter towards your tax bill – then at the end of the year they look at your earnings, apply your personal allowance and other business allowances and then refund any overpaid money. BUT the expensive bit is the Autonomo payment each month – which is basically your social security payment like your National Insurance in the UK. The difference is that in the UK you pay a percentage of your earnings as National Insurance – here it’s just a flat rate of €265 per month – they have now introduced a gradual stepped approach so I’ll be paying €60 a month for the first year rising to €132 in year 2 then up to the full €265 in year 3.

There has been talk of changing it to a percentage of income, but with the political scene here in Spain a bit up in the air, no one knows when this might happen. This is one of the reasons why so many people here don’t declare their earnings (called black money). Apart from the fact we’re not into breaking the law (!) my earnings are being paid directly into the bank so it will be visible within the system, so we’d be daft not to be above board and do things the right way. And it’s only right that we contribute to the country that is now most definitely home.

Our outgoings here are less than a quarter of what they were in the UK so we’re not under pressure to earn vast amounts to meet our commitments. Just €800 a month will see us living very comfortably indeed.

It’s funny, we have fewer possessions and have to be a little careful with the pennies, but we’ve never been happier. We have managed to achieve that thing that everyone seeks – a proper work life balance. It is possible!

Ready for winter!

Clearly, winter here won’t be like winter in the UK (I hope not or I want a refund!!), but it will get chilly in the mornings and evenings. There is a fireplace in the corner of the room, which we used a few times when we first moved in – the problem we had is that being a single storey house, the chimney isn’t that tall and we weren’t getting a good draw … which meant the room filled up with smoke every time we had a fire. We tried several approaches, such as an upside down fire, but nothing really worked. Open fires also take a lot of tending.

So we decided to but a small wood burning stove – it will burn hotter and keep the room warmer for longer, and with less smoke (well, that’s the plan!)

I can’t ever have imagined us installing this ourself in the UK – we paid a small fortune to put one in back there … but over here we’re pretty self reliant!

So up the chimney went Mr C with the pipes, elbows and magic heatproof tape!

And in just 30 minutes we’re good to go!

Now we just need a chilly day to try it out 😂

My biggest fear realised!

Now it’s getting darker a bit earlier we sometimes put the computer on after dinner and watch the odd film. So the other night we were in the spare room watching a film, and Rog said he’d go and make a cuppa. As he went to stand up, he froze and said ‘leave the room … now!’ I laughed and said why? ‘Just go …’

So now I’m in the kitchen and ask again ‘why?’

‘There’s a snake in there’

😱 There are just no words for the paralysing fear I felt – if there’s one thing on this planet I just cannot deal with, its snakes. At this point I decided the kitchen wasn’t far enough away, so I went into our bedroom, and got on the bed .. in that ‘there might be a monster under my bed kind of way’ and left Rog to deal with the snake.

After much crashing and banging, Rog came into our bedroom armed with a large carving knife (my best Sabatier I hasten to add!) and a walking pole and declared the house safe again. My hero!

Apparently it was only about 8 inches long and we have no idea whether it was one of the dangerous variety we can get round here … we take the attitude that all of them are dangerous! Rog tried to get it with the knife but when it turned on him hissing he decided that using the knife meant his hand was a bit too close for comfort! So he just kept stabbing at it with the walking pole. Neither of us likes killing animals, but I think I can justify this one.

We found a tiny hole under the window, which has now been filled, so hopefully this won’t be repeated ever again – dear god I hope not! I think we both could’ve done with something a bit stronger than a cuppa after that!

We have ordered two sonic repellent sticks for outside that are solar powered and are supposed to keep beasties away … they can’t arrive too soon for me!

Growing food … at last!

So this week has finally seen us in a position to start growing some food, which is very exciting as that’s what it’s all about for us.

Today we planted blackberry and raspberry bushes – we also want to have blackcurrants, red currants and blueberries soon too.

We have planted cabbages, onions and garlic in a raised bed as they are all happy growing together – the garlic should help keep pests away, but we’ve added in marigolds and nasturtiums too to help with pest control too. We have another raised bed to get ready yet but will hopefully get this done soon. Also intend to sew some beans and peas this week. We’re so lucky with the climate here – we can grow pretty much all year round!

We’ve waited until now to start planting as we do now feel that we’re getting the hang of what we’ve got – there’s still a lot to do, but we’re growing in confidence. A poco a poco as they say here – little by little…

We’ve made our first raised beds out of an old IBC tote – Rog cut the top and bottom off them cut it in half to give us a decent depth – this has been filled with some homemade compost as well as some we bought (we can’t make it quick enough!) and then we’ll be topping off with mulch.

We won’t be growing everything in raised beds, some veg will be planted straight into the ground – the soil is so fertile here that topping off with some compost and mulch should be fine. We really want to mix and match the veg up – I never wanted to go for straight rows, military style and uniform, it’s just not how I roll! (that and the fact I can’t plant in a straight line for love nor money!). Some veg will be planted under the trees, such as the beans, as they put nitrogen back into the soil which the trees love, so everything wins. Also, by spreading our crops about, if one bunch gets attacked by pests then at least we’ll have another batch elsewhere – that’s the theory! We just need to remember what we’ve planted and where – I can feel a little hand drawn map coming on!

In terms of the cost, it’s pennies to grow this ourselves – 10 cabbage plugs for €1, 20 onions for €1 and €10 garlic for €1! Our compost is homemade from the compost loo and kitchen scraps, and although we’ve had to buy a couple of bags of compost to top up the homemade stuff, long term we won’t be doing that, and we chip our own cuttings for the mulch – this is what it’s all about!

The biggest challenge will be how to store our produce – the bodega is being converted into a store room, but keeping the temperature down in there will be a challenge. There are some tubes through the roof that used to be used to pour the grapes into the fermenter – we have bought a couple of solar powered fans to try and extract the warm air from inside – makes it a bit better but we’re hoping that tiling the room will make a big difference. We are going to fit a solar panel and battery to run a small chest freezer in there once it’s all been rendered and tiled inside. I think the most effective way will be to bottle most of the produce – chutneys, jams, pickles, bottled fruits and sun dried tomatoes and peppers stored in oil, that kind of thing. Hopefully we’ll have a good olive harvest and will get a decent amount of olive oil to use to preserve the food.

I’m liking the sound of this – tomatoes we’ve grown, dried on the terrace and bottled in our own olive oil … can’t wait!

Cabbage, onions and garlic:

Blackberries and raspberries:

Mulch!

It’s amazing how important mulch has become! It’s at the very heart of what we’re trying to create here – a ‘back to Eden food forest’ – and while we know this is probably going to take years, the groundwork is under way.

We met a couple of Brits recently, and probably the first like minded people we’ve met – and they live in Illar near us. They’ve been over here for more than ten years, although just a couple of years in Illar. When we said where we lived they said ‘oh yes, we’ve heard about you!’ 😂

They were saying that last year this area had just over 12 inches of rain all year, and that if you have under 10 inches you’re officially classified as a dessert – up until the recent storms we’d had just 4 inches. And this is why mulch and a good irrigation system are so important – the mulch helps to retain the moisture in the soil. It also keeps the weeds down as well as rotting down into compost – so naturally renewing the soil. Every time we cut some wood off the trees we’re out there chipping it to spread back under the trees – so far we’re about half way round, but only with a ring of mulch around the edge of the canopy – we need more! A quick solution would be to get a layer of hay down in the ground, which we can then add to with the wood chips.

We’ve got a lot of pruning to do over the next few months so that will help – we did the apricot tree and cut about 10 ft off the height – it had grown so high it would be impossible to get to the fruit next year – we may have fewer apricots next May but this hard prune should stand us in good stead for the future – we need to train the trees back to a manageable size. We’ve done some of the almonds and half a dozen orange trees – so only about 75 trees left to do 😂

I suppose we could also put the word about that we’re after more wood – most of the local farmers seem to burn their pruned wood (and then walk away from the ash, which is criminal really as that back under the trees works wonders!)

The vetiver we planted recently now have a layer of mulch around them and it looks like we’re going to be out there a lot with a hose over the next few months unless we start getting some rain!

Turning river water into drinking water

We do have a water supply to the finca, but it’s river water for irrigation use. It would be an immense cost, and a right pain, to use bottled water for drinking, so we set about making this dodgy water fit to drink.

So this is where our water supply comes onto our land, and we have a sediment filter – which we replaced with a whole new part when we moved in. When we purchased the finca, this was the only filter on the property – the internal filter had been changed and was the wrong size for the housing, so didn’t really do anything. The shower cubicle in the bathroom was testament to this – there was no saving it, we had to rip it out – absolutely brown and disgusting! The boiler was also knackered from having such dirty water being dragged through it. There is a pressure meter here so we can see what pressure the water is at – we average 9.5 bar!

Off to the right in the picture is one of the irrigation pipes with a tap to turn it on and off – there’s another out to the left too which is just out of shot. So the water for irrigation goes through just this one filter. We rinse this filter at least once a week.

The next step is a pressure regulator – allowing water to hit the house at 9.5 bar would be damaging to pipes, taps and the water filter fitted inside, so this allows us to regulate the pressure at just over 3 bar into the house:

Then we have two further filters on the pipe before the water enters the house:

We typically have a 20 micron and a 10 micron filter in these – and you can see how effective they are – they start out white! We change / clean these every 2-3 weeks typically.

So this grade of water, having gone through 3 filters, is what we use for washing etc – under test it comes out at about 180 parts per million. This is the water comes out of the kitchen and bathroom taps and the shower.

Then the final stage is the 5 stage reverse osmosis filter inside the house:

This filtered water then has its own holding tank in the same cupboard that holds about 9 litres and a separate tap. As you use the water the system bursts into life and replenishes the tank. We chose the non electric version without a pump as we only have solar power – the water comes out of the tap fairly gently but it’s fine – we’re not in a hurry! So by the time we drink the water it’s been through 8 filters!

We test the water regularly using a kit that cost just €20. There’s two parts to the test – the parts per million solids and the PH.

So what are safe levels of solids in water – in the UK its recommended no more than 200 parts per million, whilst in America, the standard is 100 ppm. We’ve set our own standard of 50 as the point where we’ll change the cartridges in the reverse osmosis system, just to be sure – you know what I’m like about having clean water!

Our filtered drinking water is currently at 32 ppm, so we’re all good at the moment. UK tap water is generally over 80 and under 200!

The instructions with the reverse osmosis system says to change 4 of the filters annually, and the last one is supposed to last about 5 years. But we’re very conscious that due to the nature of the water we get, the filters are likely to last less time than that – regular testing means we can spot quickly when we get to 50 ppm and change the filters. It worried both of us that one of these filters could fail and there’s no indicator to tell you that – if you’re filtering water that’s safe to begin with then it’s not a big deal, but in our case that could be a disaster and make us very unwell.

It took a couple of weeks, a little bit of engineering and quite a lot of swearing, but Rog got there with this system! All the bits we had to buy came in at under €200 and our annual costs for replacement filters will be about €100 which is a lot more economical than buying bottled water.

Good water

There are many aspects to leading a healthy life, but I think we’ll all agree that having access to a safe water supply is essential, and it’s something that’s taken for granted in developed countries.

Some years ago, we became aware of the side effects of drinking tap water in the UK, and so installed a 5 stage reverse osmosis water filter in the house. I will credit my step son with this who, on his return from New Zealand, told us about Kangen Water and the benefits of drinking alkaline water.

Our main concern with our tap water was the addition of fluoride to the water supply. Fluoride will naturally be present in water across the globe at about 1 part per million, but across much of the UK, fluoride is added to water with the justification that it decreases tooth decay. Indeed it was hailed as a great gift to the people. There are many countries around the world that that add fluoride to drinking water.

But what else does fluoride do? Studies have shown that fluoride calcifies the pineal gland, which is like wrapping it up in cotton wool to effectively deaden it. There are theories banded about that it was used as chemical warfare in WW2 by the Nazis to pacify Jewish prisoners – many of these theories have been hailed as untrue – who knows whether this was the case or not?

So why is the pineal gland so important? The pineal gland is a small pea shaped gland tucked away right in the centre of the brain. Scientists aren’t really sure what it’s purpose is – they know it produces melatonin, which helps with sleep patterns. But for millennia, the pineal gland has been associated with the ‘third eye’ – how we connect to the universe. The pineal gland releases DMT when we sleep in tiny amounts, and then at the moment of death we experience a big hit of DMT. DMT is often referred to as the Spirit Molecule, and many people who experience near death experiences comment on seeing a white light – this is likely to be the DMT at work. It is present in every living thing on the planet, and there are cultures who brew plants to create a drink for ritual purposes. DMT on its own is a massive subject, which I won’t go into here, but there’s millions of pages on the internet with info about this. Some people take DMT in large doses to experience the psychedelic effects – not something we’ve ever felt the need to do to date, and I should point out that DMT is an illegal drug in many countries. People who have taken it speak of an amazing experience showing them the universe in all its glory. There are also breathing techniques you can employ that encourage the body to naturally release DMT – Wim Hoff is probably the most famous fellow to teach this – again, you’ll find lots of info on the internet and YouTube.

So anyway, we initially bought a really good standalone filter to try out drinking near pure, alkaline water. After a couple of months, and after starting to see the benefits, we upgraded to an installed system so we would have filtered, alkaline water ‘on tap’

It only cost about £150 and the filters needed changing annually at a cost of about £50. We also bought water bottles with filters in so that when we weren’t at home we could still drink good water.

I was already meditating regularly (or trying to!) and an enthusiastic yoga student. I had also discovered Eckhart Tolle, living in the present and mindfulness (thanks to my boss at ParentMail, Paul, to whom I will be forever grateful for this). But I often struggled with all of this – working lots of hours and feeling a bit tortured by life, I struggled to relax during meditation and suffered constantly from brain chatter. I just couldn’t get my mind to shut up for a minute!

So, what did we experience with the new water? It was like we woke up from a dream (or a nightmare) – that’s the only way I can describe it.

Suddenly, we could meditate and it became so clear what was important and what was artificial. Having a small farm and a simple life had always been a dream – now we knew we simply had to find a way to do it – and I put this life changing decision down to the water we were drinking.

All the trappings and ‘security’ we’re all led to believe we need for a happy life showed themselves to be just that – trappings – they trap you into needing more, wanting bigger and better. We stop remembering that we’re part of an amazing universe, that we’re made out of the same stuff as our planet and universe. We become obedient, believing that the structure of modern society is the right / only way to live. We believe the scare mongering – what better way is there to control people than through fear and division?

One Saturday, we sat at a cafe in Peterborough people watching – trudging through town with bags of stuff – did they look happy? No! I wanted to go and shake them and say ‘can’t you see what you’re doing to yourself – believing that buying stuff will make you happy? It won’t! It’s a trap!’ – but I didn’t – just didn’t fancy explaining to my mum why I’d been arrested in town for shaking people 😂

Now I know that to some people, I probably sound like a raving loonie at this point. And I’m not saying that you’re wrong to want a nice house, a good job and to live wholly in the system – but it’s just not for us. We’re realistic enough to know we haven’t fully escaped – we’re registered legally here in Spain, we pay our taxes and bills. There are people who totally ‘disappear’ from the system, and I take my hat off to them. For us, we feel like we have a good balance.

There’s a growing movement around the world for people to wake up – but it can only happen if individuals take the step and make it happen! And if you’re happy as you are, fabulous.

BUT, if you take nothing from this blog apart from the need to drink good water, then I’m happy … it doesn’t make everyone throw everything up in the air like we have you know!

My next blog will be on what we do now to change the water we get (river irrigation water) into good, safe drinking water – that’s what this blog was supposed to be about, but I got distracted!

Pruning fruit trees

I don’t mind admitting this was something that really scared me when we bought here. At age 51 I’ve never had a garden that had a fruit tree in it! Whatever small trees we did have I tended to steer away from pruning (until they became a problem at which point Rog would have to sort them!) simply because I was worried about doing it wrong. And now I have 90 fruit trees!

Many, many You Tube videos later here I am, pruning the pear trees with confidence, so I thought I would share a bit of what I’ve learned.

Always clean pruners etc before starting each tree to ensure a disease isn’t spread from one tree to another. The easiest way to do this is to have a small lunchbox with a rag in it soaked in rubbing alcohol – give the blades a quick wipe and air dry for a minute.

Fruit trees need airflow so what you’re looking to do is stop leaves from different branches touching one another basically.

Branches should never cross each other.

Any branches growing into towards the centre of the tree have to go! I’m cutting our pear trees at the moment and aiming for a bowl shape (so no central trunk up the middle of the canopy). Some people do have a central trunk going up, which is fine as long as the other outward facing branches aren’t too close to it.

Each branch should have direct sunlight, so where there is a branch above another one, and cutting out its light, then one of those needs to go. Keep the one that looks healthiest and in the best position out of the two.

Keep the height down by pruning long branches back to an outward facing bud – this encourages the growth away from the middle of the tree. There’s no point having inaccessible fruit 40 ft up in the air – you should’ve seen us trying to harvest the apricot this year – risked life and limb!

Make cuts at 45 degrees to stop water sitting on the cut and damaging the tree. And when cutting off larger branches cut them as close and flush with the main trunk as possible. If the branch you’re cutting is long and heavy, make a cut away from the trunk first, then cut the rest of it off up close to the trunk. This stops stress being put on the main trunk and minimises the risk of tearing the bark.

So how much should generally go – well as a rule of thumb, about 25-30% of the tree should come off. This may seem like a lot, but you’ll get better quality fruit and a healthier tree.

Having just watched a video about pruning almonds though, it looks like with these you only keep about 30% of the tree! Looking forward to doing those!

Always happy to hear and share any other hints or tips any of you have!

One of my favourite channels on You Tube is called The Gardening Channel with James Prigioni – he’s young and enthusiastic and really explains things clearly. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll have a You Tube channel of our own!

Recent storms

You might’ve seen in the news the storms that hit south eastern Spain last week – luckily we were just on the edge of those rather than in the middle of them, but it was still a scary couple of days.

To make it worse, Rog was in the UK visiting family, so I was here on my own for the first time!

The rain started Thursday with several downpours, and then the storms hit Thursday night and went on until Saturday morning. I’ve never been scared of storms – always enjoyed watching them, but the one at 4am Friday morning will stay with me forever. I must’ve drifted off in between storms, and the clap of thunder at 4am didn’t just wake me up, I actually jumped out of bed and ran into the other room! Never heard anything like it in my life! The tin roofs of the sheds rattled, the bed moved and the whole house shook! I thought we’d been hit by lightening! That storm lasted until 6.30am – so I sat there drinking tea waiting for the storm to move on before grabbing a couple of hours kip!

I did a quick inspection outside later on Friday morning – the newly planted vetiver had taken a beating but fingers crossed it will recover. Aside from the car sitting in the middle of a small lake we looked pretty unscathed. No collapsed terraces or damaged trees – I think we were very lucky.

We had just put an empty IBC by the kitchen to catch rainwater off the roof terrace – it holds 1000 litres and filled up in 24 hours!

The sun came back out on Sunday though, and it does mean we won’t have to irrigate for a few days!

Finding a local builder

We do have some funny conversations at the local cafe! We decided to get a builder in to render the outside of the spare bedroom that sticks off out of the side of the cortijo – it’s just too big a job for us, and one that requires skills we don’t have. We’re also going to get them to put down a floor in the bodega (currently an earth floor) and render the walls in there so it becomes a useful storage room for food.

So we’re at the cafe, and ask our mate, Miguel, if he knows of a local builder. There then followed a group debate which included the cafe owner and several other people, and this went on for a good fifteen minutes, on the merits of using various different people! I think they rather enjoyed having something new to debate!

There’s one chap in the village who we don’t like very much – and it seems a lot of the locals don’t rate him much either – we’ve nicknamed him El Gordo (the fat one) – he turned to Rog one morning and called him a turkey because he wasn’t drinking beer at 9am – yea, just one of those people! Anyway, he chipped in that he has a builder in the family based down in Roquetas (about an hour away) – there’s not a hope in hell that we would go on his recommendation! We could feel ourselves getting ripped off just by him mentioning it! Luckily, everyone else shouted him down (literally), and the group decision was that we should go and see Emilio, who lives in the next village but was working on several houses in Illar at the time.

So Miguel Rog and I set off to try and find Emilio in one of the houses he was working in – we eventually found him working in a house belonging to an old lady. He said to give him 15 minutes and he’d meet us at the cafe and come and have a look. Meanwhile the old lady tried to sell us her 1 acre finca that is apparently next door to us! We excused ourselves politely …

Emilio had a look and a measure up and quoted us €1600 for the work – so we asked if that was his best price and whether he could reduce that for cash – apparently that was the cash price – we tried haggling but there was no wearing him down – he said he would have to hire a mechanical mule (baby tractor and trailer) to get the materials here, and it would take two men a week to do the work – the walls were in a terrible state and not straight! Fair enough .. can’t argue with that! One corner of the bodega was finished with earth as the clearly ran out of bricks when they built it!

Up until this point, Emilio had been very business like and in a bit of a hurry, but once the price was agreed out came the fags and a 30 minute chat! It seems to be like that here – get the business end of things done then there’s always time for a natter! I was amazed at how much we understood – it was a proper conversation without using our phones to translate anything!

So, work is due to start in November … I have a feeling it’s going to be quite an experience!

The art of doing nothing

One of the things this new lifestyle has given us is time (whatever your beliefs are on whether time exists or not, you know what I mean!)

For as long as I can remember I’ve always been busy – and listening to stories about me as a child from my parents, I have been like that from day one! Always wanting to be doing something – colouring, potato painting, making cakes for dad with pastry that I had played with for an hour before cooking (sorry Dad!) – flitting from one thing to another – I wore my poor mum out! Even when she tried to have a nap I would physically lift up her eyelids to wake her up. I was a demon in an adorable way apparently!

This trait continued into adulthood – after A levels I went to work in a bank, and got promoted through the ranks at lightening speed. Married in haste, repented at leisure, although I was lucky enough to have my son Matt from this marriage. Nine very long years later I met and married the right man, and we’ve been together 24 years next month.

Poor Rog has had to endure my constant flitting during this time, different hobbies, then let’s be medieval traders, watching me more than double my count of qualifications, just for fun. I do have an extremely bizarre CV going from my Financial Planning certificate through to Magical Herbalism! Always busy busy busy, don’t ‘waste’ a minute!

And then I stopped, sat quietly, meditated, and actually thought for once ‘what do I REALLY want my life to be’ – and this is where I’m so lucky to have Rog, because we were on the same page at the same time. Having a little farm was always a dream, and I thought that’s all it would ever be, because I didn’t stop and think about how it could be done – I just saw us trapped in the rat race with no way out. Part of that could’ve been me being a bit scared – making such a massive change seemed so daunting it was maybe easier to keep it a dream…

But here we are. I have found that having time is probably the most precious thing you can have – just to sit and admire the view, to look at the stars, to stop and watch a dragonfly or pretty coloured lizard, to talk to new people, and to just ‘be’ – to exist.

Don’t get me wrong, in between those moments we work hard, then there’s my sewing, reading, baking etc etc etc – I still love all those hobbies! But taking time out just to exist, without guilty feelings of what you should be doing, that’s an art!

Vetiver grass update

Well that wasn’t so bad! All the IBC’s have been moved to the other end of our land for now – Rog has already used one of the cages to make a roof rack for the car, and one is now outside the house to catch rainwater from the roof terrace. We had 8 IBC’s in total – 2 of the remaining ones we’ll be turning into hen houses, and a couple of others will become raised vegetable beds – nothing gets wasted here!

The vetiver is all planted – it was impossible to do perfectly straight rows because of the state of the banks, but we’ve got 2 complete rows plus a third row in the worst parts rows in on the bank nearest the house – just have to wait and see now how they take. They’ll need watering every two days for the first few months while they get established. We haven’t put any drip irrigation in yet, thought we’d start off with the hose and see how it goes.

Vetiver grass

We’ve just taken delivery of 100 slips of vetiver grass – sounds a lot, but this is a trial … we actually need around 1,500 plants! Oh and you might notice the almonds in the background that we’ve just harvested!

Vetiver is used to stop soil erosion and stabilise the land. Our terrace slopes are a bit the worse for wear, and so it makes sense to get everything shored up and stable before we move on with the food forest master plan. Taking shortcuts just isn’t the permaculture way …

It will grow to about 1.5 meters tall, but the important thing about vetiver is the root system – the roots will grow to 3-4 meters, and this is what stabilises the land. Vetiver also removes contaminants, improves soil and moisture conservation, and when we trim the grass, it can be used as animal fodder. It also smells lovely and is a natural insecticide. Wow!

If this works and we go ahead next spring and order the rest it will be a considerable investment, but is the right thing to do long term – we don’t want to plant fruit bushes to see them slide away and die! The cost works out at about €1,50 per slip but we have already negotiated a 50% discount for the spring order. It is possible to get it cheaper, but they tend to be less established – fewer stems per slip and smaller roots. So hopefully by buying better quality plants we will have fewer plants that fail – but then, this is what the trial is all about! We might order a few of the cheap ones we found to do a direct comparison!

Planting them won’t be a quick job – getting up the sloping banks is quite alarming, as is trying to stay up there! We’ll be planting about 20cm apart and you plant them like rows of soldiers. If the slopes weren’t quite as bad we could plant 30cm apart.

So – we need to move the remaining IBC’s in the picture (2 down, 6 to go) before we start planting – a busy few days coming up! I’ll post a picture once they’re in!

And just to make it fun, the weather has ‘turned’ – massive storm last night and we’re due some more over the next few days – time for the wellies to come out!

As the nights start to draw in …

So here we are, September already, and the days are getting shorter.

We’re used to really long summer days and really short winter days in the UK – in Spain the difference in daylight hours between summer and winter is less drastic – it never gets light here at 4.15am like it does in the UK, but similarly it never gets dark at 3-4pm in the winter.

I got up just before 7am the other day and thought I’d made a mistake and got up in the middle of the night! It was still pitch black outside! Until just a couple of weeks ago we were sitting in the roof till 10-10.30 at night, but now it’s dark by 9pm. The lowest temperature in the night that we’ve had for months has been 19/20 degrees – that’s quite comfortable but I have to say I’m not sorry to see the back of night temperatures at 26 and 27 degrees – with no air con here that gets quite sticky!

In April we took the duvet off the bed and just slept under the duvet cover – and since June we haven’t even slept under that!

With the daytime temperatures now dropping to 29/30 it’s possible to work outside for more of the day (although that little afternoon sleep is becoming a real habit!). And looking at the forecast we’ll be dropping to mid 20’s over the next couple of weeks. Time to ramp up the outside jobs. It’s likely we’ll have more conventional working times then over the autumn and winter, closing the door and drawing the blinds after dinner.

So what do we spend our evenings doing – no telly is brilliant, we don’t get sucked into the worlds problems watching the news. I have rediscovered my love of reading and chew through books like no tomorrow! Thankfully I have a kindle so I don’t have to find anywhere to store all the books. Rog isn’t an avid reader, so he tends to spend time on You Tube watching how to convert IBC’s into something more useful, how to take a carburettor out of a chain saw etc – he has learned an impressive amount of useful stuff over the last few months! I also have my sewing – I’m still working on that heritage patchwork quilt which is all being sewn by hand! It’ll get finished eventually! It’s been too hot since June to see – my hands get so sweaty I can’t hold the needle 😳

And now that we have a decent amount of solar energy, WiFi and a computer, it means we can also watch the odd film at night. We got an Amazon Espana prime account for €32 for the year which gives us access to films, series etc. Back in the UK the tv used to be on a lot without it being watched – just background noise. But being on solar energy only means we have to watch our consumption after dark so we sit and watch something, then it’s off.

And we talk to each other – one of the reasons for this move was the fact that we never saw each other – we’ve been together for 24 years and married for 20 years, and we still like spending time together!

We’ve been on an adventure!

We had to go to Baza today to see our solicitor to sort our wills out – apparently it’s a nightmare if you die here intestate.

So we went the ‘sensible’ way there along the A-92 motorway (it’s about 135 km from us) but we had noticed there was a much more direct route across the mountains. Now as our car is very old and very small we can do a maximum speed of about 90km – which is a bit slow for the motorways! So we decided to come home across the mountains – wow, what a drive!! We made sure we had water (for the car as well as us 😂) and a couple of cakes for sustenance!

We had a couple of stops to enjoy the views:

I would highly recommend doing this wherever you visit really – get off the main roads and explore!

Tough decision …

When planning this adventure we said we wanted to get a dog and also keep a few hens for our own supply of eggs.

There are several things that have made us have a rethink:

Our land is not totally fenced in, and can’t be – we have other farms around us and because the area is terraced there’s no real way of fencing the back of our land or one end. We have redone the fencing along the front and one side. We don’t want to keep a dog on a chain all the time, that’s just cruel. Our neighbours have 4 dogs that they leave on their bit of land, and a couple of these escape regularly and have a trot round our land. So we could end up with the mother of all dog fights, or our dog could escape and cause problems for our neighbours. As for hens, we don’t have a lot of spare room to build a decent sized coop, and if we let them just wander about the farm during the day they would be easy prey.

Cost – having had our lovely Shiba Inu, Ella, for 14 years, we know that keeping a dog is not cheap, and we’re on a budget here. The same would go for the hens. We use about 6 eggs a week, which cost less than €2 – keeping hens would definitely cost more than that a week.

Freedom – this sounds really selfish now but at the moment we can come and go as we wish, and the amount of work we have here already keeps us busy. If you’re going to have animals you have to devote the time to look after them properly.

We do have predators here that would endanger the animals too – losing Ella 2 years ago broke my heart, so we couldn’t allow ourselves to get too attached – we’re on our second cat and we’ve only been here 5 months!

Those reasons aside, I do still feel a pull towards having some animals at some point but I don’t think it’s something to rush into – maybe we’ll review it in the future once we’ve got the farm more under control and we’re confident in what we’re doing.

Farming in a hot climate

Farming in the smallest clothes you own and wearing sunglasses feels weird – as a child I spent most summers on a farm in Ireland, where wellies and coats were the order of the day, even in August!

It has its pros and cons. Obviously the wall to wall sunshine is fabulous! Today we’re expecting to be at 37 degrees by lunchtime so you do lose a chunk of the day where it’s simply too hot to work outside. We drink an extraordinary amount of water throughout the day to try and stay hydrated. Mornings and evenings become the new work day with a little siesta in between! We use drip irrigation but where they’re aren’t water pipes, the ground is like concrete – if you want to dig you have to take a bucket of water with you to soften the ground first. The flies would drive you mad – they are so persistent! Lots of bites on legs and ankles so no flip flops whilst working! Neglect a seedling for one day and it dies – plants need the sun, but many can’t tolerate the afternoon heat, so we try and shade those in the afternoon. There are venomous snakes and spiders, so you have to watch where you walk, and if a big pile of wood needs shifting, you rake it out first before you start picking it up!

We don’t buy sun cream – Rog is allergic to every single make out there so has never used it, but me being Mrs Pasty, well I’ve always used it – I can burn in five minutes. We’re careful – don’t work in the direct sun for more than 15-20 minutes at a time – thankfully we’re quite shaded here because of all the trees. We don’t sit up on the roof terrace unless we sit in the shade (we have a pergola at last, hurrah!). Since arriving in January I’ve only burned once – and that was back in March when I decided to have a sit on the beach with sun cream on!

The drip irrigation is a blessing, we would spend our whole lives watering otherwise, but we were quite naive about it when we first moved in. You think, I’ll just turn in the irrigation and have a cuppa … oh no! The water pressure goes up to 9.5 bar some days and drops to 6 or 7 on others. On a low pressure day you need to release the caps on the droppers (about 200 of them under the trees) so enough water comes out – then if the pressure goes up they start popping off all over the place! They get clogged with mud, leak, and need constant attention. We’ve got it down to about 30 minutes to get around all of them making the adjustments and fixing bits – then we can have a cuppa! We irrigate for 2-3 hours every other day in the summer so it becomes a major part of life! We tend to irrigate in the evening once it’s cooled down a bit. We have taps all around so we can segment the irrigation – this is handy when the pressure drops as we can do a bit at a time to make sure everything gets water.

Almeria is one of the most fertile places in Europe, which is why there are miles of those plastic greenhouses providing 60% of Europe’s tomatoes. It’s great that everything grows so well, but it means the weeds do too! There are some weeds that provide nitrogen to the soil so you don’t pull them up – strimming regularly is the only way to keep them under control. The growing season here is 9 months of the year, which is a major plus. The climate here means that the winters are pretty mild – down to 8-10 degrees, and the summers don’t usually go over 40 degrees. Working in the heat is tough – you have no choice but to slow it all down, and take regular breaks in the shade.

You know yourself that when it gets hot your appetite disappears – but because we’re doing physical work we really need the calories- we’re gradually getting used to the heat and can now eat a proper dinner at night instead of plate after plate of salad – we just eat later in the evening, which is the Spanish way anyway.

The major pro that kicks out any downside is that we’re doing something we love and we’re free … no mortgage, no working 70 hours a week at a job that is destroying your very soul. Yes, we need to get jobs soon, but we’re looking at working just 2-3 days a week, leaving us the rest of the week to run the farm. It feels like the right balance.

I’m a big fan of Alan Watts and I saw a great quote today on You Tube –

‘The most dangerous risk of all – the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet that you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later’

We’ve done this move on very little money (but every penny we could raise out of the house sale, the sale of our stuff and savings) – the farm cost €37,000 + fees and we’ve spent about €10,000 on it – things like the solar system, composting loo, generator, wood chipper etc – it can be done, you just have to find a way and be prepared to make compromises along the way. We could never have done this in the UK with the money we had available.

Farming in Spain, yea, I’d recommend it!

People who moan about Spain …

Ok so you may have enjoyed one or more holidays in Spain in the past – maybe in a really touristy area such as the Costas. Someone we know has had a holiday home in such an area for years and has never had anything good to say about Spanish people, and constantly moan about Spain as a country. They have just sold .. probably for the best!

So what is it really like living here?

Away from the Costas it’s bloody marvellous. Community and family are so important. People say hello and have time to stop and speak. People work hard when there’s jobs to be done, but also know how to relax, kick back and enjoy life. In our experience, they turn up when they say they’re going to. And you don’t get ripped off just because you’re English.

I had a call the other day which turned out to be a wrong number – it went like this:

Me – Hola

Them – I’m calling about a cooked turkey order (English person)

Me – Sorry, can you say that again!

Them – I just need someone to speak my language – I’m calling about a turkey (quite angrily)

Me – We’ll actually I’m English – I thought you said turkey! Sorry but I think you have a wrong number …

These are the people who have a rough time in Spain and constantly moan about everything! And it’s no wonder – clearly made no effort to learn the language and are then rude to people who don’t speak English! Put that scenario into an English setting – a Spanish person expecting everyone in England to speak Spanish! Can you imagine the outcry!

In my opinion there are people who come over here looking for a mini England in the sun – and they wonder why local Spanish people get the arse about this. It would actually be a travesty for the Spanish culture to be swamped by the English culture.

When we first arrived in Spain we stayed in a Costa Del Sol town for a month on a campsite – just about everyone in town spoke some English – and there we were trying to learn Spanish! We hated it there – couldn’t wait to get away!

The solution – learn to integrate, do things how the locals do, learn the language, smile, take on the culture, join in, don’t moan at the price of PG tea – and if anyone isn’t prepared to do at least some of these things then maybe the UK is the best place for them!

Where we are and some pics!

Although we’re out in the countryside, we officially come under the village of Illar in Almeria province, so we’re in the far south eastern corner of Spain. Almeria city is about 15 miles south east of us.

Illar has just over 400 residents, of which there are about half a dozen Brits with holiday homes. It’s a very tight knit and traditional community where everyone only speaks Spanish, which is great for us on a day to day basis as it means we’re learning Spanish much quicker than if we lived somewhere with more ex pats. After all, we wanted to live in and experience Spain – not a mini UK in the sun!

We have two cafes, a little shop and a chemist and just 15 minutes away is the larger town of Alhama de Almeria. And there’s a municipal pool that opens June to September.

We officially sit in the Alpujarras – the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Half an hour one way and we’re in the mountains, and half an hour the other way is the beach! And the views are amazing!

The airport is just 40 minutes away, so in terms of location we really hit the nail on the head! Sitting up in the roof terrace tonight you would think you’re miles from anywhere, but just 5 minutes in the car and we’re in the centre of the community.

To be truthful we were a little worried about whether we would be accepted what with the whole Brexit thing going on – but we had nothing to worry about. We’re the mad English couple who don’t have a house in the town, just a cortijo in the campo, and who drive a very old blue Santana (made in Spain!). Everyone (with the exception of one grumpy old man who refuses to acknowledge we exist!) has been fabulous and warm and welcoming, and we love it here.

So, a bit more about our place – half an acre with 90 trees and 97 vines and a tiny house that’s just 43 square metres (but they fitted in 2 bedrooms, a shower room and room which is the kitchen / dining / living room. We don’t have much space, but then we don’t need much! The trees are orange, almond, olive, pear, nispero, mandarins, banana, peach and persimmons – strangely I think we’re the only house in Spain without a lemon tree, but we’ll plant one soon.

We have two brick sheds – one serves as the ‘loft’ for any stuff we can’t fit in the house as well as deck chairs etc and the other is a proper workshop. We do also have a bodega – the previous owner made A LOT of wine! We’re in the process of clearing this out to become a storeroom for produce that we grow. It has an earth floor and several months on it still stinks of very old vinegar / wine! Quite a bit of work to do in there yet … The big problem is how to keep this room cool – we’re working on that! We have the old solar system we took out of the house so we might be able to use that …

So, enough words, time for some new pictures:

Learning what a year looks like here

I mentioned that I had started a project book which contains a perpetual calendar, mainly because the growing and harvest times here are totally different to the UK. We watch the other local farmers to see what they’re doing and when, which is a great help. But we’ve come to the conclusion that July and August are definitely the ‘back off and rest months’! The other farmers do the minimum – an hour of strimming in the morning or evening at a push. One or two have harvested their peppers, and you see the odd rotivator – but apart from that, nothing. And the reason is an obvious one – it’s just too hot. I decided to do some strimming yesterday and by 10.30 am I had to stop – absolutely soaked through with sweat 💦

So we’ll know for next year and plan accordingly (basically accept its down time!) Next month and October we’ll be pruning all the trees except the orange trees (which are looking very healthy and covered in fruit growing at a rate of knots!). Then December is the olive harvest. We can also start some planting in September – we’ve tried to plant some seeds recently but the sun is so strong it kills the tiny shoots within minutes of them popping through, so until we’ve got some shade there’ll be no summer planting!

I’ve been using the quiet spell to start a TEFL course, which will enable me to start teaching English as a foreign language online – we do need to start thinking about earning some money!

Striving for perfection

Whilst having a little siesta this afternoon I started to ponder this subject as I thought about not only how different my life is now, but what changes it has brought about in me.

I heard something many years ago, which I largely ignored until now:

80% of perfection is generally good enough – you’ll spend as much time completing the last 20% as you did on the first 80% – I think that’s pretty true!

I was definitely a perfectionist in my old life – everything in the house had to be just so (to the point where I used to iron dusters so they looked nice piled up in the cupboard). I would get desperately frustrated at work, both with myself and with colleagues. I would worry about what had and hadn’t happened and lived in an anxious state about the future.

True, yoga and meditation did help a lot, but compared to now I realise that I lived in the present when doing yoga or meditating, but not too much at other times!

So fast forward to now – I actually apply that living in the present stuff pretty much all the time now. Things can’t be perfect living where we do, and I’ve learned that less than perfect is absolutely fine. I still like to keep the house clean, but I’m not obsessive about it. I don’t iron and sometimes our clothes have wrinkles in them 😳😂 We have days where we plan to do stuff, and you can guarantee that we’ll get waylaid somewhere along the way. Great example is you need the generator to run something to do that job – generator breaks therefore spend all day mending the generator – this type of thing happens a lot! But every day we’re living and experiencing. To get here we’ve sold / given away pretty much everything we had – seems it’s easier to be happy the less we have – maybe because we appreciate every single thing we have in a way I never did before!

My sister is a great example – she’s currently renovating a house in Surrey – and every time I speak to her on a video call she’s in a state of total panic at some problem with the house – she’s been renovating for over 18 months and the big thing she’s pushed to one side while working on the house is LIVING! What’s more important – a flashy kitchen or your life and happiness? Everyone is different and wants different things, and I respect that. She says the kitchen will make her happy …

But, and here’s the big question – what will be enough for you? At what point will you be able to go ‘that’s it, I’m happy with what I’ve got’? Or will there always be more and more to strive for in the pursuit of a perfect life?

Off grid compromises …

When we first started planning this adventure, I think we both had this picture in our head of a remote cottage with very little interaction with the outside world (apart from family and friends of course), making or growing as much as we could. We always accepted that there would be things we would have to buy – it was never part of the plan to weave loo roll! We thought if we could become 40-50% self sufficient within 3 years that would be a good goal.

So we’re 4 months in and here’s the reality – we’re 1 km from a very small village – and we like that. We’ve got to know some of the locals and drop into the cafe a couple of times a week for a natter. So we have the peace and quiet of the countryside but can drive 5 mins to a doctor, little shop and a decent cup of coffee!

We have a water supply – true it’s only river water, but we’ve managed to turn it into safe drinking water for the house – so we haven’t got to worry about wells. We don’t have any drainage or sewerage, so all the water we use in the house goes out to water the trees, and the new composting toilet means everything gets recycled and used on the land. Because all our grey water goes outside, we don’t use anything with any chemicals. I make all the shampoo, shower gel, kitchen and bathroom cleaner etc from natural ingredients.

Electricity is truly off grid – solar only. Solar is limited unless you’re going to install 20 panels and a massive inverter, but we are happy with what we’ve got. Some things we don’t run on solar and use gas bottles instead – hot water, cooking and the fridge. The additional investment we would’ve needed to make with the solar system was massive – we calculated it would take over 10 years before we broke even, and by that time parts of the solar system would need replacing. At some point we will add a chest freezer and we think this will be fine on the solar system. We use 2-3 gas bottles a month.

Washing clothes is all off grid – I bought a crank handle washer and spin dryer, so a big tick there (although some off gridders would say we should’ve made these ourselves!).

We have a computer, and on Monday we are having WiMAX installed. This is a compromise but we had to get realistic! We will need to work at some point, and this will give us the ability to work from home. There’s also lots to learn, and the internet is a useful resource to help us. We will have dark cold winter nights, and the ability to watch a film now and again will be great. We don’t have a TV, we don’t read papers and we don’t listen to the news – I would challenge anyone to try this for a few weeks – it’s wonderful!

Food – as we have 90 fruit trees so I buy very little fruit! We haven’t planted much veg yet as we need to get what we’ve already got under control – we decided to hold off until the autumn to start the veg. So at the moment I am buying our food, but the big difference is everything is homemade with simple fresh ingredients – no convenience foods, and now I have a gas oven I can start making bread etc myself, which we haven’t been able to do until now.

Rubbish and use of plastic – reduced dramatically – two small bags of rubbish a week – putting that into context it would take us over two months to fill a UK wheelie bin! Happy with that! Not a scrap of food is thrown away – all goes to compost.

So we haven’t compromised on everything, and I think our goal to be 50% self sufficient is going to be possible. I’m comfortable on the compromises we have made – coming from a life in the UK where I had all the gizmos and modern trappings to where we are now has been a huge jump, and I’m not sure I’ll ever want to be washing clothes on a rock by a river!

Paperwork in Spain ..

Goodness, it’s relentless! Spain is famous for its bureaucracy and we’re starting to understand how it got this reputation! There are local, provincial and national offices for everything, and at some point, you have to sit across from another human in an appointment to get what you need! And multiple copies of absolutely everything!!

NIE – present yourself at the police station

Register a car – we attended 4 different offices!

Buying a house – in person in front of a notary

Residency – appointment at the foreign office

Change of drivers licence – medical centre appointment

State healthcare – NISS office with multiple copies of everything, then see local doctor who applies for your health card

I spent 20 years as an administrator so paperwork has never posed me a problem, but it’s starting to fry my brain even though we’ve been using a gestoria – I totally understand why they exist now!

We have two more steps to go – attend an appointment to get me added as a beneficiary under Rogers state healthcare and to get our driving licences changed – sight and hearing tests booked in for tomorrow and then we can take all the paperwork to the gestoria and they will do the rest.

I’m amazed anyone gets time to go to work as we just seem to be flying from one meeting to another!!

If you’re planning to move to Spain, put away about €1500 for gestoria fees (not including house purchase, your solicitor sorts that) unless you try to navigate the various systems, which I really wouldn’t recommend!

Going for a lie down now 😳

Wildfires

As if we haven’t had enough drama for one week, we’ve had helicopters flying over us for the last 24 hours because there’s a wildfire the other side of the mountain – they fill up with water just across the valley from us so are working in a continual circle of filling up and dropping. The wind is in the wrong direction for us today so we’re keeping a very close watch on what’s happening. I know these summer wildfires are common in Spain but it’s still just a bit scary. The guys who deal with these fires are real heroes in my eyes.

A small setback …

So on Wednesday we happened to ask where the local doctor was because at some point we really should go and register for healthcare – we’re both really well and tend to use alternative therapies for day to day simple stuff, but you never know, we said …

Then yesterday Rog was using the wood chipper and his index finger got severely mangled – rushed to Alhama to the medical centre but they said it was too bad for them to treat so we’d need to go to the big hospital in Almeria. I have to say, the healthcare system here is every bit as good as the NHS in the UK, which surprised me. We were seen almost immediately, and then had to wait for the surgeon to have a look. They operated within a couple of hours and I was able to bring him home last night. They decided not to amputate in the end but have stitched it up and seemed happy with how it went. The dressings will need changing every couple of days, so I guess we’ll see tomorrow when they’re changed for the first time how the op went …

We’re just so thankful it wasn’t his whole hand, and it serves as a good reminder how dangerous some of these machines are. Now I have the challenge of making him rest! 🙄

What a week we’re having!

Unexpected last minute visit from son number 2, new solar system done, compost toilet installed and armchairs arriving Wednesday!

When we arrived here we had a single 100 watt solar panel with a 150 watt inverter, a very basic control panel and six batteries, some of which were leaking (quite alarming as they’re in the bedroom!). Basically the previous owners had a small portable tv and a bit of light in the evening – which is fine if this is just a weekend getaway. Living here full time meant we would need more power. As a stop gap we added a 165 watt panel and upgraded the inverter to a 2 kw one. It meant we could charge phones and the toothbrush as well as having lights. Thanks to some clever wiring done by son number 1 we have now been able to boost the whole system for just €1500 instead of the €4000 we thought it was going to be – thank god for clever kids! So we now have two 280 watt panels with the 165 watt panel, a new control panel and six new batteries that have a bigger capacity than the old ones – the batteries are the most expensive part so we wanted to make sure we got them right!

This afternoon we were able to boot up the pc, have a small fan running, charge a phone and turn all the lights on – all at the same time!! And it barely made a dent in the power! We didn’t leave it all on for long though! We’ve got so used to living with limited power that we barely know what to do with it all! That will change tomorrow though when I finally get to go and buy a small convection oven – it will be lovely to have more than just two gas rings to cook with – and those of you who know me know how much I love cooking! I still need to be careful of which one I choose and get something that’s as much under 2 kw as possible, but I’m already trying to decide what to cook first – son number 2 has put in a request for toad in the hole!

The composting toilet – so very very impressed with it – fabulous! I’ll leave it at that as theres been multiple blogs about poo already!

So then on Wednesday we get our armchairs – they’re very simple and we had to get some that were on the small side, but it will be lovely to have something other than the dining chairs or deck chairs to sit on!

That’s all the big expenditure done thank goodness! It’s very scary seeing the bank balance decrease at the rate it has recently, but we’re hanging in there and will be looking to work a couple of days a week come September. So with all the major house stuff done we can really concentrate on the outside now.

And the local outdoor pool is now open so I can go for a swim – what more could a girl possibly want in life!

Getting organised

We’re learning so much here and at such a quick rate that info is starting to blur already … so I decided it was time to get organised and start writing down what we’ve learned in an easy reference project book – anyone with a sizeable garden could benefit from doing this too.

My first section is Garden Recipes – what the different essential oils will tackle and the doseage required. I’ve even made a note of how many drops are needed in our 11 litre sprayer for ease. This section also includes things like nettle tea, which can be sprayed on poorly plants to help them recover.

The second section is House Recipes – shampoo, laundry detergent, spray cleaner etc.

The third section incorporates the preserving recipes that are now tried and tested.

The fourth is Garden Notes – the principles of permaculture, a plan of our land with the trees etc – this will help us plan where to put new plants and organise companion planting. It will also give us somewhere to note triumphs and failures so we know what to repeat and what to avoid next year.

The last section is a perpetual calendar – what needs harvesting each month, when trees should be pruned etc. Hopefully this will help us plan our time as well as identify when the best time is for us to visit family back in the uk.

I’m hoping this will become our off grid home bible!

Whoo hoo! Residency sorted!

We’re official! And the great thing is that we don’t have to reapply in 5 years as we originally thought – permanent residency is now granted so we won’t have to go through all this paperwork again!

There’s a lot of conflicting info about what you need to get residency in Spain, so the requirements as at today’s date are:

Somewhere to live, and to be registered on the padron at the town hall where you live (rented or owned).

Healthcare – whether private or state healthcare if registered as self employed. Because we have registered Rog as a self employed farmer, we had to get a copy of our marriage certificate dated within the last 3 months to prove we’re still married – this can be ordered via gov.co.uk and costs around €38. Because Rog pays social security each month we are now both entitled to state healthcare (at a fraction of the cost of private healthcare). This only applies if you are under retirement age. If you are already retired there is a reciprocal arrangement in place between the Uk and Spain to provide healthcare free of charge.

€5500 in the bank (although we weren’t asked to provide this)

You will have to attend the foreign office with passports, NIE and proof of the above points. Your UK marriage certificate needs to be translated into Spanish, which our gestoria arranged. As long as all the paperwork is in order you will be granted residency there and then, and be given a card confirming this.

So we have completed this part – the next stage is for us to attend the social security office to register for state healthcare, and then register with the local surgery.

And the final thing we have to do within 6 months of getting residency is to change our driving licences. We will use our great gestoria in Almería again to complete the paperwork, so all we’ll need to do is attend a sight and hearing test. It was mentioned that this might change after Brexit and it may become necessary to actually resit your driving test! We’ll be sorting this in the next couple of weeks rather than risk having to do another driving test!

You can expect to pay around €220 each to obtain residency through a gestoria – trust me, it’s money well spent!

So we’ve jumped over most hurdles now – just 3 more steps to go and we are done!

Decision reaffirmed…

Just back at Gatwick this morning on my way back home having spent a week in the UK catching up with the family. Lovely to see everyone, and I think it’s made things a bit easier for Mum and Dad, now I’ve proved I will come back to visit! But I really am ready to get back home – I’ve missed Rog and our little peaceful farm – there’s just too many people squished into the UK and I see now just how suffocating it is. Five hours to get back to London from Peterborough on the train yesterday … longer than it takes to fly to Spain – it’s nuts!

It’s always useful to be able to take a step back and review life, and this week has given me an opportunity to do that – having all mod cons at my disposal again, the family all there, familiar shops in walking distance – do I still think we’ve done the right thing moving? Oh yes!

A year on from my first blog

My first blog started just a few days before my 50th birthday – we had the house up for sale and were dreaming of moving to Spain.

A year on and what a lot has changed. This morning I had my breakfast coffee on the roof terrace in the sunshine looking at a gorgeous view, and haven’t got a care in the world – a far cry from the frantic life we were leading back in the UK – 100 miles an hour, up at stupid o,clock to drive all over the place, never seeing each other etc etc

As of yesterday, Roger is officially registered as a self employed farmer so we can pay our social security payments (called autonomo here) each month. This gives us both access to the public healthcare system and means we can go and register with the local co-operative to sell our oranges. We have our appointment at the foreign office to (hopefully!) get residency on the 2nd July. The gestoria says that with our setup here, we’re guaranteed to get our residency …

When we got here we both decided we wanted to do things by the book – we have met a lot of English people who, until the Brexit thing, had been living here for years but had never registered as being here, hadn’t got their residency etc. We decided to be completely open, honest and show we’ve nothing to hide, pay our taxes etc. I couldn’t bear to spend my life wondering if they would catch up with us one day! Their systems here are improving and people are getting caught out!

Employing the services of a gestoria was a no brainer for us – we’re not fluent in Spanish yet, and not understanding the processes and paperwork would’ve meant months of chasing our tails to get where we are now. It cost €300 to get Rog registered as self employed, and our residency bill is €450 – and worth every penny.

Since arriving here on the 8th January we’ve achieved so much, and are exactly where we dreamed we would be – you can make your dreams come true, you just have to take a deep breath and go for it!

What a year it’s been!

Pozo problems part 2!

So we thought we had solved the Pozo problem earlier this week … nope – water pooling on the top again. Nothing for it but to dig down to the actual Pozo to get to the bottom of the problem (excuse the pun!). Turns out the Pozo is the simplest form of pit, and definitely not big enough for two people living here full time. Pozo’s are actually illegal in Spain since 2002 but most people seem to ignore this and carry on regardless. But for us to dig a Pozo big enough would require a digger and we’d have to loose probably 2-3 mature orange trees. So weighing up the various options we have decided to invest in a composting toilet.

There are lots of different makes and models on the market, and having done an entire afternoons research, to the point where my head hurts, we’ve found the most suitable one for our set up – Nature’s Head Composting Toilet. It will easily cope with 4 people, so we won’t expect visitors to pee in a bucket! These loos have got really sophisticated over the last few years – they don’t smell, easy to maintain and have the added benefit of an end product that we can use on the garden. After digging the Pozo out today, I think we would prefer any other way to be honest!

The way we look at it, we got the house for a very good price, and well under what we had budgeted for, so investing in this loo (which is €1000 😳) and things like the solar means that we’ll end up with a sustainable home the way that we want it.

And nothing could ever smell as bad as that Pozo 😂🤢 …

A few pictures …

I’ve had some suggestions to upload a few pictures and even a video (which I will do another day!) of where we are – it’s wonderful watching the baby oranges form on the trees and the grapes getting bigger and bigger …

Pozo problems …

Over the last few days we’ve been noticing a few problems with the Pozo negro (bacteria hole in the ground to deal with poo) – mainly water pooling on the ground above it, which did have an unpleasant whiff.

Usually you’d go, no problem, we’ll get a man in with his truck to suck it all up and take it away. But, and it’s a big but, the closest the truck would be able to get to us is 1km away in the town. So calling someone in wasn’t an option.

Now in our house there are pink jobs and blue jobs – we’ll both muck in on everything when called for, but today I called this a blue job through and through, and busied myself as far away from the problem as possible!

We bought a bilge pump from a boating supplier and several meters of tube, and poor Rog had to stick one end of the tube down into the Pozo and pump it clear.

The lesson from this – in the past the initial reaction to a problem is ‘let’s get someone in to sort this’ but out here in the sticks, we have to be more resourceful and self reliant, and it’s no bad thing … ok we’ve had to pay for the pump and tubing, which was about the same as you’d pay someone to come and pump out the Pozo for you, but we’ve got the gear now for any future problems, so over time we’ll be quids in.

But some excellent news now … we have plug sockets that work!!! Our eldest is an engineer and he came over last week and spent a day working out what was going on with the solar and wiring in the house … and he managed to figure out a way. We do need more solar panels and batteries, but as long as the appliance isn’t more than about 350 watts we can actually use it in the house! We were starting to think we would have to start from scratch with the solar system, but thanks to Matty we can now simply add to what we have – he’s probably saved us about £3k! Even with new panels etc we will be limited to 2000 watts, but it does mean I’ll be able to get a little convection oven. We’re definitely getting there …

Aromatherapy in the garden

Most people think of a nice massage or oil diffuser to make the house smell nice when you mention essential oils, but I’m about to undertake a bit of an experiment using them in the garden as fungicides and pesticides.

I am a qualified aromatherapist, but only really ever learned how to use oils to treat people. Whilst unpacking my books I came across a book that I’ve owned for probably 20 years but never read – it’s called The Fragrant Pharmacy by Valerie Ann Worwood. As it was too hot to work outside yesterday afternoon I decided to make a start on this book. Lots of things that I had forgotten that I knew came rushing back and I’m so excited about starting to use oils for the plants and trees. A lot of my oils are very old so I’m off shopping tomorrow to pick up some fresh supplies.

Patchouli, tea tree, cinnamon and niaouli can all be used for mould and fungus by adding 10 drops of oil for every 4 litres of water.

Peppermint is extremely good as an insecticide, although I have a list of particular oils for different individual pests too.

It all makes perfect sense to try this route out, as we have been researching companion planting to reduce pests and diseases. Indoors I always add a few drops of lavender oil to the water for washing the floor – spiders and bugs hate the smell so it helps to reduce uninvited guests!

About to aromatherapy the s*!t out of the place!

The trees won’t behave!

Ok I’m the first to admit that we haven’t got a clue what we’re doing, but being fairly intelligent and resourceful we’re learning ‘on the hoof’- but I just wish I could get the trees to give us a chance – they’re like naughty kids…

Leaves going funny colours, leaves falling off, aphids with the accompanying ants, baby oranges, mildew on the vines – aargh! Can you just have 1 problem at a time please 😂

But we’re taking one thing at a time (a poco a poco) doing the relevant research and then tackling the problem. We want to get to the point where we have a self sustaining forest, but that’s not happening this year! It will probably take 3 or 4 years to get to that. All the trees have had some fertiliser this week, no small job even with two of us, the vines have been puffed with sulphate powder, trees have had a dose of insecticide and there are a couple of almond trees that need fungicide tomorrow – thank god for the Internet to help us diagnose some of these problems! We spend half the time looking like we’re from the film Ghostbusters, kitted up to apply the relevant medicine to the trees. We have found a supplier near us whose products are organic thank goodness! These trees really have become our new children!

A bit of a round up …

So we haven’t snared a wild pig yet, which I’m actually quite relieved about. I’m not sure my self sufficiency skills are ready to extend to butchering a pig yet! On a positive note though, the snares that Rog set together with the new fencing seem to have done the trick in keeping them away – a good result.

Between May and October you can’t have bonfires here for obvious reasons. The problem that gives us is how do we get rid of all the weeds etc – yes we have a compost corner, but the volume of stuff we cut down is ridiculous. So thinking caps on – a wood chipper is the answer – this will allow us to make mulch to use around the trees and plants – a bit step forwards towards creating a permaculture. So it arrived yesterday – it was supposed to be delivered on a truck with a tail life as it weighs 125kg – no, ordinary transit van turns up in the village. He drives to within 100m of the house, and our plan was to wheel it the rest of the way. So Rog and the driver get this out of the side of the van, no easy task. The box is totally bashed in and the pallet it’s on is broken – not great. On closer inspection the chipper is broken – the actual engine has been snapped off, amongst other damage. We tried to refuse delivery but the driver wouldn’t take it back, so now we’re stuck in the middle of the road with a totalled wood chipper with no wheels fixed on … along comes Luis and his mechanical mule – saved! So now we have this back at the house and the emails are flying backwards and forwards trying to sort a replacement. Just a tad hacked off as this was a big investment …

Ants! I’m starting to really dislike them, crawling all over our orange trees and turning them into aphid farms. In order to conquer them I’ve been watching them and doing lots of research into organic ways to get rid of them. So this morning I have mixed up copious amounts of icing sugar and bicarbonate of soda and placed this around the base of all the trees. The theory is that the icing sugar attracts the little blighters and the bicarbonate makes them explode when they digest it. I’m still an advocate of kettles of boiling water on the nests, so hopefully by employing these methods we’ll get rid of them.

Lots of seeds have now arrived to grow around the trees to provide the nutrients the trees need in a natural way, and we’ve started rotivating where the veg will go, but we really need to get what we’ve already got under control before we throw more into the mix!

One thing is for sure, we experience a new sort of tired now – not that stressy brain hurting tired, proper physical tiredness gained through honest hard graft! And as the weather is hotting up we have started getting up early and cracking in with the jobs so that we can either rest or do the ‘pottering’ jobs in the afternoon.

Every day I look across what we own outright and I’m so grateful …

Working terraced land

Our land here is over three terraces, some of which are suffering quite badly with soil slip.

When we were buying the place we knew it needed new fencing, and we’ve been working our way around the front boundary over the last couple of weeks – it seems obvious now, but I never realised what an acrobatic job this would end up being when the fence needs to go on top of a very steep bank! We’re getting there though, and this groundwork is important to finish before we start planting. As the vines are getting pretty big now it’s made the job harder, but the vines will love having the new fencing to grow on.

We have ordered a huge batch of different seeds – chickweed, comfrey, feverfew, buckthorn and alfalfa to name just a few. We do have camomile growing wild here which is great, but these seeds will provide the ground with nutrients and also ‘hide’ some of our fruit crops that we will grow in amongst these. Having medicinal herbs in the garden will also be great – as a herbalist I’ve always wanted to be able to grow my own organic herbs.

We have visited our local garden centre which is very different to the garden centres in the uk – it sells plants, pots, compost and associated weed killers etc. Quite refreshing not to have a food hall and gift hall and clothes in amongst the plants! We have a list of fruit bushes we want so will take that in to them when we’re ready to start planting, now that we know what they stock. We’re planning to put blackberries, red currants, blackcurrants, kiwifruit vines and blueberries dotted in between the existing trees – which is going to be a lot of fruit bushes!

We did a plan of our land with an inventory of the trees and we were quite staggered to realise we have 88 trees and 97 grape vines!

One thing at a time though … finish the fencing first then the exciting stuff can start!

Water, wild pigs and soap nuts!

Well we can’t complain about daily drudgery here – there’s definitely never two days the same.

The massively high water pressure is causing problems – you fix the pipes and joints and it’s all good for a week until the next leak… poor Rog seems to spend half his time on his knees fixing water leaks – we should buy shares in PTFE (known as Teflon here in case you ever need to buy some!).

Something had been digging around the trees over the last couple of weeks – and I mean really digging! We had our suspicions but called our neighbour in to get his advice – and it’s wild pigs. We need to take urgent action or we’re going to start losing trees. Paco has recommended setting traps and getting a gun and said that we will have a party with a big BBQ when we get it /them. Apparently when the river dries up they start wandering around in search of water so potentially is a summer long problem. A trip to the ferriteria this morning and we have some galvanised steel and special clips to make traps. We need to look up the laws on owning an air gun here, but in the meantime we do have a crossbow.

But the big success has been the organic shampoo – ditches all the recipes, bought soap nuts, boiled them up and use the water to wash my hair – a complete revelation, I will never buy shampoo again! Definitely goes to show how easy it is to over complicate these things.

We’ve also planned out the veg garden now and made sure we’ve planned to put plants that like each other together (companion planting). I’ve also been doing some research on forest gardens and permaculture as in the long term that looks like the right option for us. We would rather take our time and plan it properly as we’re starting from scratch – easier in the long term rather than trying to change it in the future.

Alchemy ain’t that easy …

After my success with the pine disinfectant spray I went gung-ho into making shampoo!

Not such great results on the first attempt though, but I’m not giving up!

The first attempt was a recipe off the internet using aloe vera, which we have growing here and is one of my favourite ingredients – great, I thought.

Put the aloe in a blender … mmm I have a blender but no electricity to run it. I know, I’ll whisk it to death – 15 minutes later it was clear that wasn’t going to work too well. I know, the garlic crusher! So there I was, up to my elbows in sticky aloe gel, now more of it on me than in the bowl. Rog came in and stopped dead at the mess – I just shouted ‘It’s alchemy!!!’

Not to be deterred, I cracked on with the rest of the recipe – a cup of Castile soap, check; quarter of a cup of sweet almond oil (seemed rather a lot but hey), check; tablespoon of honey (more oily stuff??), check, and a tablespoon of lavender oil. Mix it all together and away you go.

Two days of extraordinarily greasy hair later, I’ve binned it.

So, I haven’t given up though, just not in my nature. I searched for more recipes and found one on the good housekeeping site. Half a cup of Castile soap, half a cup of water (which can be a herbal tea so I used rosemary from the garden) and the merest drizzle of oil – sounds more like it. So I’m ready to give that a go tomorrow …

I did also make lemon shower gel though – pretty much the same as that first shampoo recipe without the aloe and replaced the lavender oil with 50 drops of lemon essential oil and it’s lovely!

In telling this tale to my sister she did comment on the fact we have ‘a bacteria hole outside for sewage and that I’m now washing using garden plants – had I read Stig of the Dump?’ That’s big sisters for you!

Our first fiesta …

Well I’m exhausted from speaking all that Spanish! We couldn’t quite work out why there was a fiesta today, but it didn’t really seem to matter. Apparently from now there’s pretty much something going on in the village every weekend.

It was a complete display of something that has sadly been lost in the UK – community. There was a band, and everyone went to the village hall for food and drink, and the band only stopped long enough for a quick bite to eat, so the whole occasion was very loud and joyful.

It gave us an opportunity to meet new neighbours, and I simply can’t believe how friendly and happy everyone is here – they all put it down to the immense amount of sunshine!

El agua, es gratis!!

So we met our other neighbour, Paco, yesterday. He owns the terraces above ours. After a quick chat and introductions he said there is a fiesta in town on Sunday and that we should come along – a good way to get to know some of the people in the village.

Now there are two different types of irrigation used around here – the drip irrigation, which we have, is an intricate network of pipes around the property with valves that sprinkle water gently around each tree. Every 2-3 days we turn the water on for a couple of hours. It takes some maintenance to stop the valves blowing, but we can carry on with our normal living while the water is on.

The other method is flooding. We have lots of channels and pipes around the property that used to be used to carry the flood water around the farm, but we were told these are no longer used because the previous owner has installed the drip irrigation.

Paco uses the flooding method … on the terraces above us …

What he did tell us is that the water for this method of irrigation is free in the winter for farmers as it comes straight from the river, and he would show us how to use this and where to turn the water on in the lane. He also explained he was going to do his terraces that day.

He helped Rog scramble up to his terrace and pulled a screen up in a channel shouting ‘El agua, es gratis!!!’ (The water is free). And that’s when it all started to go horribly wrong … Rog watched in horror as the water shot down across our terraces. Our channels and pipes are clearly clogged up in places and so the water went straight into the shed instead of under it in the water channel. And with this method of irrigation theres no off switch – so the water just kept coming!

Poor Rog had spent the last few days organising the shed and now everything was floating in 12 inches of water … two hours of sloshing around in wellies and we think we’ve saved it all. The shed wall has an interesting ‘lean’ (definitely wouldn’t pass building regs!) and now we know why! Lord knows how long the shed has been flooding every time Paco irrigates!

So today’s job is to unclog the water channels before Paco decides to irrigate again!

We eventually came in to eat and sat looking at each other across the table, covered in mud … before bursting into hysterical laughter. Well, what else can you do!

And at least we know if we sort the channels out we can have free irrigation water in the winter, although I don’t know if my nerve would hold to try the flooding method again!

Learning Spanish

When we decided to embark on this adventure, we started to learn Spanish – after all its just rude to live in a country and not speak the language. We’re using various apps like Duo Lingo, which I have to say is very good and it’s free. Michel Thomas is another good method, and Rog watched a few lessons on You Tube – we would like to buy the cd’s but we don’t have electricity to run a CD player at the moment – maybe in the future.

Just over a year in and we do still get stuck (thank heavens for translation apps!) but for general day to day stuff we’re pretty fluent now, and when the phone rings I don’t panic as much! Talking on the phone is definitely the hardest as body language, facial expressions and hand gestures really do help you to understand!

I think the key is to speak it at every opportunity – when I go to the post office to collect our mail or parcels, I always have a chat to the lady in there – she knows our Spanish can be a bit iffy so let’s me practise – asks what we’ve been ordering etc. Managed to have a conversation today about using eco products. Even when the other person speaks English I keep going in Spanish!

The hardest thing is that the apps teach you stuff like ‘I like that green skirt’ when actually we need to discuss irrigation, fertilisers, insecticides etc but we take the ‘grammar lesson’ and apply the different words we need – and it seems to be working for both of us. I even suddenly found myself in the position yesterday where I knew the Spanish word for something and actually had to stop and think what the English word was! You know it’s all coming together when you think in Spanish – but it does take time and a poco a poco every day!

If you’re thinking of living inland, learning Spanish is a must – on the coast you’ll find English speakers, but the Spanish will love you for giving Spanish a go …

Using Eco Friendly Products

I was as guilty as everyone else back in the UK – big fan of bleach for cleaning, lots of harsh chemicals in all of my cleaning cupboards, and not a second thought as they went down the loo / sink / drains.

Now we have no drainage systems – any water from the sink or shower goes out under the tree next to the buried septic tank and off into the soakaway. So anything we send out will affect the land, and our plants and trees.

I have bought eco washing detergent and washing up liquid, but long term I want to make my own cleaning products. So I made a start yesterday with a spray cleaner.

Rog lopped one of the pine trees yesterday so I cut off the pine needles, covered them in a bowl with boiling water and covered the bowl. I left that to steep for about 6 hours and then strained and bottled the liquid. Added 10 drops of lavender essential oil to the bottle and hey presto, an effective and eco friendly spray cleaner. Pine is a natural disinfectant and the lavender deters our eight legged friends and other creepy crawlies, and it smells great too. Total cost for one litre, about 50p for the lavender oil!

Next on the list I need to look at shampoo and shower gel …

The Spanish Siesta

Temperatures are starting to ramp up here now, and we’re learning the true value of the siesta. I’ve been painting the outside light this morning and the paint is drying before I can get it on the light! So a nice lunch indoors will be followed by a little lie down and then work can recommence at about 5.

In the UK we’re so used to getting up, working straight through and then relaxing in the evening – I think it will take some time to get used to this new way of getting things done! We are finding that we’re getting less tied to time – most of the day I actually haven’t a clue what the time is – which was a really important part of the plan. We tend to eat when we’re hungry and sleep when we’re tired. And I feel great on this approach. We don’t work once it gets dark outside – for me that’s mainly due to the wildlife I have to say!

But we are making headway outside … we have just about finished the first round of weeding and it looks a million times better. Then will come the spraying of the trees – we’re a few weeks late doing that but I don’t think that will hurt. Once the trees are happy again we can start planning out the vegetable garden.

We’re thinking … peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes, beans, carrots, corn, cabbage and broccoli to start, and we’re looking at ways that we can maximise the space. We’ll probably do some vertical planting in a pallet as well as using some of the pipes we have lying around, raised up off the ground – both of these methods will be suitable for the stuff that doesn’t need deep soil to grow, like the tomatoes. And we’ll need to extend the drip irrigation for the veg.

We’ve identified the best place for the chickens, but unfortunately we have to find a way to move 8 IBC’s which are each full with 1000 litres of stagnant water first. 🤔 And they’re on a very narrow part of the top terrace so you can’t actually walk around them! Thinking caps on …

Mother in law

We picked up mother in law yesterday and brought her back here to stay for a few days. It’s made me realise how special this place is – the change in her in just a couple of hours was amazing – to say she came alive is an understatement. And after a great nights sleep, Ethel’s first words this morning were ‘I’m in heaven’

Visitor ready!

24 hours till our first visitors, it’s been a bit like an episode of DIY SOS but we’ve made it. Rog has turned into Gepetto in his shed making stuff for the house from things lying around – I think his masterpiece is the pot hanger – made from a pallet and some fencing. There’s other things we would like to do to the house in time, but having it clean, fresh and cockroach free (😱) means we can now crack on and concentrate on the land. I think I’m most proud of the last two pictures – the spare room, which 2 weeks ago was horrific – I’ve never plastered before, and while it has a ‘rustic’ finish, I think it looks alright!

Thank you Dave…

This is Dave, and he’s a bit of a legend in this house now:

Not only did he get his van with all our stuff within 100m of the house, he stayed to help us get it all up the lane to the house as well. He charged us less than half what the big removal firms were quoting, and knowing our stuff was with the one chap all the way was very reassuring. And not a single thing was broken! If you need to move stuff to or from Spain, he’s your man – his contact details are:

Dave Keymer – 00 44 7874 638330

Thank you Dave!

My bed is nearly here!

The van with our stuff is now in Spain, and will be here tomorrow – after nearly 4 months on the air bed I can hear my bed calling to me 😂 ‘Just a bit longer, one more night and I’ll be there!’

How we get it all to the house is another thing. We are 1km down a lane out of the village but think the van could get most of the way, which would leave us about 100 meters to walk it to the house, and we have two alternatives for the driver to turn around and get back – I just hope he’s willing to go the extra mile (or kilometre) to help us, otherwise it’s going to be a very very long day tomorrow – what a way to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary!

Our first visitors are due this weekend, so we’ve been transforming the spare room for mother in law – it just needs painting now. I ordered Sandtex from the UK which worked really well in the rest of the house, but ran out so ordered some more. The paint you buy over here seems to flake really badly so we paid the extra to do the job right. Picked it up today and the tub has split, so we have a plastic bag of 10 litres of paint rather than a tub – typical! Thanks FedEx! It takes two weeks to get here from the UK so no time to order more and have it ready for this weekend – think I’ll just have to do the best with what I’ve got!

Weather is still awful, but it does make it easier to pull the weeds out! There’s always a silver lining!

So much to learn …

Work is progressing well inside and out, despite the weather! Rog has now collected up the various piles of tiles that were scattered around the land – we have enough tiles to open a shop! But they will come in handy as the steps at the side of the house up to the terrace are just blocks, so we plan to mosaic them at some stage (not really a top priority at the moment).

The rubbish is almost cleared – 5 weeks of filling the back of the car almost every day for the bin run and we’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Both sheds have been emptied, and we have made some amazing discoveries – balustrades for the roof terrace that have never been added – like the stairs these are not a priority, but at least we know we haven’t got that expense later down the road. A really old front door that will be beautiful with a little work. Deckchairs a plenty, including three rocking chairs! Two are currently being given a new lease of life to use in the house, as we got rid of our UK sofa, knowing it would be too big for wherever we ended up buying.

The spare room has been plastered – pretty pleased with how it looks, but it does need some touching up and finishing before we can paint – but as it’s pouring with rain again today it’s not really the right day to be painting! The plaster has taken days to dry because of the recent weather.

And weeding – oh so much weeding! Just a couple of hours outside produces enough to make a huge bonfire! We have started a compost heap, but if we added all the weeds to it it would be like Mount Everest! The good news is that since freeing the vines of weeds they have completely sprung into life.

Talking of vines, we do have our own bodega at the back of the house – apparently the vines produce about 2,000 kg of grapes for wine making – we have a manual and a motorised press, the big vat thing and the oak boots – the only problem is we have absolutely no idea how to use all this to make wine! Need to do some homework!

We’re starting to identify the trees that are healthy and the ones that need a lot of attention – we have five nisperos, all of which look almost dead. Four pear trees that look great. The almonds and olives are fine, as are about half the orange and mandarin trees. I think we might have to lose a few and re plant – I don’t know how many years they’ve been unattended, but even our green fingers can’t bring back the dead! And as for the banana tree – I’m beginning to wonder if it’s worth having – the amount of potassium you have to add costs 10 times more than just buying some bananas.

Onwards and upwards, learning more and more with every day!

Thoughts on not ‘adulting’ any more

My son commented tonight that he was doing fully fledged adulting at the moment, which got me thinking about how much I’m not adulting any more.

I’ve always been very sensible really – we’ve managed to bring up three children who are all grown up now and whom we are very proud of. I have held down responsible jobs, and always tried to be a helping hand to anyone in need. Sensible shoes, sensible clothes, sensible life.

Compare that picture of sensibility to now – I set fire to the house yesterday (not on purpose!) and reacted by going ‘ooh Rog, fire’ whilst laughing maniacally – Rog was on the shed roof at the time but got to the house in seconds to find me pouring water over the fire – still laughing (I have no idea why). Lesson here – don’t spray insect killing stuff on the floor next to a fridge that runs off bottled gas 😳

Rog has also taken to throwing oranges at the dog next door – they have 3 dogs but their property isn’t fully fenced, and one of the dogs keeps coming over to our land and eating the cat food (they’re not particularly well looked after in my opinion). Last night we heard the dog by the house so Rog went running out in his dressing gown and slippers, wearing a head torch and throwing oranges from the crates by the door – funnily enough the dog hasn’t been over today! Oh how I wish I’d had time to get a picture!

We are becoming very well known in the village now – for being the mad English in the really old car who wave and shout buenas to everyone as we go by – the funny thing is that they’ve started waving back – and one chap actually put down what he was carrying yesterday to wave both arms at us and shout buenas before we’d done anything – I think happiness is infectious! My son reckons all the locals think we’re on acid or something!

And condensed milk in coffee … all the time 🤗

Living cheaply

When you suddenly stop receiving a salary after 30 odd years, it feels a bit scary. You find yourself looking at stuff and trying to figure out ways of getting the job done using what you already have around you. There are some costs you can’t avoid, but with some canny planning it is possible to keep these to a minimum. Sometimes a one off investment in something is a good way of saving money long term.

We still have some money in the bank, but are trying not to go through that where possible. Our stuff doesn’t arrive from England until the middle of next week, so we’re living in the house with what we had in the tent and what is around the place. As we planned to be on solar over here, there’s not much coming from the UK that needs electricity.

Our one run of kitchen cupboards was made up of 3 different kitchens, so instead of replacing it, I’ve hand sewed some curtains to replace the odd doors – for the princely sun if €10! Last year in our old house we replaced the kitchen and spent £14k! And I like my €10 cupboards just as much to be fair!

We were delighted to see the previous owner had left us a weed wacker, chain saw and rotivator, but as they have been left standing for years none of them worked. There’s a workshop in town that could repair them for us, but Rog set about doing it himself today – total cost was €4 for s new spark plug, some fresh petrol and half a day – excellent result in my book, as we now have what will eventually be our vegetable garden all ploughed. Rog has also found a myriad of old tools including a massive grim reaper style scythe! With a bit of attention they can be serviceable again soon.

We have a very basic solar system at the moment – we had one 100 watt solar panel and a small 150 watt inverter. We have added one 165 watt panel and upgraded the inverter, but we have much more to do to the system. So at the moment we have light and the ability to charge phones and a battery drill, and that’s pretty much it. We want to wait until we have our residency before we invest in the solar system, so what we have is it for a few months. When we upgrade we want to include a hot water system so the gas boiler will be an emergency back up only, cutting more costs. The fridge currently runs on gas, costing €12 per month, so we need to include the fridge when we plan the new system. Cooking is also gas but I’m not sure I’ll change this. I use a countertop camping type hob which isn’t expensive on the gas, so I think we’ll stick to this and add in a small convection oven to run off the solar, or invest in a gas oven and accept that there will be a monthly gas cost for cooking. I have considered cooking in the open fire, but who wants a roaring fire when it’s 30 degrees outside! The solar system will undoubtedly be our biggest investment, so we need to plan it carefully and shop around – not to be hurried!

And I have been washing the clothes by hand … washing, rinsing and wringing – it took almost a full day each week. So I did splash out €90 on a washing machine – a non electric one with a crank handle – it’s a revelation! I can do the washing now in an hour (quicker than my spaceship modern washing machine back in England) with minimum effort and fab results:

I can wash and rinse in this but still have to wring everything out by hand, so I’ll be adding a salad spinner to the mix to get this done more efficiently – after all, being off grid doesn’t mean living in the dark ages!

This week’s mission

The main bedroom is all painted – wasn’t in too bad a state, and the bathroom is done. Tomorrow the main room, which is prepared, but the big challenge is to make this room habitable in 10 days, ready for our first visitor – the mother-in-law!

Legal stuff

When you buy or rent a house in Spain, you pop along to the local Town Hall to get a Certificado de Empadriamento – basically says you live there. This is different to residency. The Town Hall receives their budget based on the number of citizens in their town, so are keen for people to register. You also need this certificate to apply for residency.

Usually, you pop along and either get a certificate straight away or within a couple of days. We finally got ours this week – took just over 3 weeks! This is because we bought a house that was previously not registered on a road with no name. The Mayor wanted to include us in the town, so first they had to register our lane as a road with a name – which is now Praje Mogaire and funnily enough we are number 1! This also meant we were given the choice to name our finca – and we chose Finca del Cielo (farm of heaven) – we thought it had a nice ring to it!

Now we also needed this certificate to register the car in our name, which we bought the day after we completed on the house – we were given a cover authorisation for 30 days – and within this timeframe we had to complete the registration process – so it was all getting very tight – as the 30 days ran out over the weekend we had just 3 days to register the car – not a problem we thought. Oh my god – if you buy a car in Spain either go to a dealer who will do the registration for you or buy a pushbike. Two days we spent in Almeria, and that was even with the help of a gestoria who we ended up paying €160 to get the right forms done. Still, we got there in the end and all the forms have gone off and the transfer tax has been paid – phew!

A quick word on gestorias – they are basically administrators who are supposed to know their way around the Spanish system – they can help with all sorts of things like getting your NIE, residency, registering a car or tax returns – they’re not solicitors or accountants, but they will help you complete the right forms and get them to the right place for a fee. We are planning to use a gestoria for our residency applications, as we’ve heard you can end up running all over the place completing and re-doing forms time and again. A lot of gestorias have ‘runners’ who will take the forms to the right buildings, and they don’t usually have to make appointments or queue, saving valuable time. The gestoria we used for the car didn’t speak English, and didn’t have runners (we had to do that bit) but we were pushed for time and didn’t have much choice – but for our residency we will definitely find an English speaking gestoria! Our Spanish is improving but we’re not quite up with all the legal stuff!

We have a mechanic, and his name is Jesus!

And yes, he has performed a miracle on the car today! Driving to Alhama this morning there was an awful crunching noise and we ground to a halt – thankfully our insurance includes recovery! We picked a name of a garage randomly in nearby Alhama de Almeria and had the car towed there. After much gesticulating and pointing, he said he would look at it today or tomorrow – and tonight he has just texted to say it will be ready at 10am tomorrow – he managed to find a replacement gear in a breakers yard, so the price is fantastic too.

You often hear of difficulties that people have getting things done in Spain – we are experiencing the exact opposite – last week we called Emilio (our now forever gas man) on Monday and had a new boiler up and running by Tuesday evening. Now today with the car too – sorted efficiently and cheaply – maybe it’s because we’re inland away from the coast – maybe it’s because we try to only speak in Spanish and smile a lot, I don’t know 🤔

Dragons and lizards

A word on the wildlife – flippin ‘eck there’s a lot of it! We’ve been clearing out areas that have been untouched for years today and the different wildlife certainly makes it ‘interesting’ – I’m trying not to do girly shrieks every five minutes but I do wear jeans and wellies and a hat (like they’ll protect me 😂).

It’s very satisfying to stand back and see the difference you’ve made. You then realise that anything is possible if you do it a bit at a time.

And the really fabulous news is that we have hot water! Emilio is now our gas man forever – worked until late to get us sorted with a new boiler the other night – I will never take that hot shower for granted again!

A few days in …

Rain yesterday … all day like it does in the UK, and then just as we started to dry out today, more rain! Thankfully I found a pair of wellies that fit well enough. The enormity of the work that’s needed here has revealed itself, so we’re taking everyone’s advice – a poco a poco – we’ll get there but it’s going to take time. Freed the vines up today of weeds strangling them – we need to have one hell of a bonfire tomorrow!

But I think my biggest success today came on the telephone – we asked the lovely man in the hardware shop if he knew of a gas engineer for our boiler – and sure enough he produced a name and number. When you’re learning a new language the hardest thing is to have a conversation on the phone – but I did it! He’s coming tomorrow at about 7pm and we’re going to pick him up from the town hall in the village – I even managed to tell him he couldn’t drive his van to the house – feel pretty chuffed with myself. I am looking forward to a hot shower at some point in the near future! And maybe he’ll fix the gas fridge too, which currently freezes everything in it 😳

In my old life I was constantly prioritising, and that hasn’t changed here – with so much work to do we’ve got to fathom out what’s most urgent. Some of that is obvious even to novices like us, but we’re also watching the farmers around us to see what they’re doing and when.

But would I swap my wellies back for high heels? Never! I’m muddy, wet, and look like I’ve been dragged through a bush backwards … and I don’t care a jot!

Life is good …

First night in our new home – it’s so quiet, just the odd barking dog in the distance, the clicking of a few insects and the last bird songs before they go to bed, and of course, the crackling if the fire

When we sat down in January 2018 and decided things needed to change, this very moment was what I dreamed of. Feeling truly blessed and a little emotional this evening.

Moving Day

So after 80 nights in the tent, we’re finally moving into the house today. We’ll find out this morning when we get there whether the loo is now working, having left the silicone to set over night. We definitely don’t have hot water – despite futile attempts to light the ancient boiler it wouldn’t play ball – but hey, we’ve got a kettle and a sink in the meantime while we get that sorted!

The tent has been a real experience – we did pay a little extra for a big one:

It’s been very comfortable and there’s been very little I’ve missed from home. It’s the first air tent we’ve had, and I must say, it has stood up to the recent very windy weather really well – better than any pole tent would have.

So my next post will be in a few days once we’ve settled in hopefully!!

Introducing Carlos the Santana

We sold the Saab and bought this 34 year old Santana – simply had to be named Carlos according to the other half! Having new brakes fitted today before we move – fairly important to have decent brakes at the house! Hoping to get moved in in the next few days, but we lost 2 days this week getting the car sorted – which was a priority!

Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink!

When we bought the cortijo the agent said it had drinking water – and to be fair, we took this with a pinch of salt as we knew it was rustic or irrigation water. When we discovered the shower was leaking we found that part of the problem was the amount of sediment in the water. We had already planned to put in a 5 stage reverse osmosis filter in the house, but that wouldn’t cope with this amount of sediment, so we set to work.

So we’ve replaced the filter where the water comes in on the land and inserted a second, 50 micron filter on the pipe which brings the water into the house – sorting it that side should then allow the reverse osmosis filter to work properly and give us safe, clean water.

Now throw in the problem of the water pressure – it hits us at 10 bar! There’s a pressure measure where the water comes onto our land, and another on the pipe into the house. Thankfully we have an amazing ferretería just outside Alhama. One pressure regulating valve later, and we can now control the pressure of the water into the house, limiting it to 3 bar. The guys in there were brilliant – I think they realised the mad English people will be regular customers!

Our network of pipes cross crossing the land is hysterical – we’re starting to look like the spaceship enterprise!

Not everything went quite as smoothly as we would’ve liked though! The first test of turning the water on in the house has blown a valve on the filter system inside, so we need to get a replacement before we test again – fingers crossed we’ll have clean safe water any day now!

However, now the fridge has a problem – it runs on gas or electric and has a problem with the thermostat knob – every day we return to the house and have milk in there that’s frozen solid 😳. Life with no bra is one thing … but life without tea – unthinkable! We need to try and fix this as a replacement fridge freezer is over €700

Take one problem at a time, solve it then move on to the next one – a poco a poco!

Tomorrow is another day, and we’re still smiling!

a poco a poco a poco …

This is the answer to everything here! Little by little … and it’s not bad advice (except when you’re trying to get a mountain of things done)!

Me: ‘I need to learn more about fruit trees’

Pepe: ‘a poco a poco …’

In the Town Hall, registering ourselves at the house

Me: ‘I need to learn more Spanish’ (in Spanish I hasten to add)

Town Hall lady: ‘a poco a poco ..tu hablas español muy bien’ (which produced a big grin from me!

In the Town Hall asking how we get rid of the mountain of rubbish from the house

Me: ‘We have lots of rubbish from the house, how do we get rid of it?’

Town Hall man: yep, ‘a poco a poco …’

So because the house is just outside the village, the Mayor has agreed to register our house on the records in Illar so that we will officially be residents of Illar and not just those crazy English living in the campo. This means we were able to give our house a name … and we have chosen Finca del Cielo (Farm of heaven). Has a nice ring to it we think! The welcome we have had in the village so far has been amazing.

Aside from all that we have had to do man shopping – taps, new shower, inverter for the solar system, tools etc – in the ‘olden days back in England’ I would’ve chosen swanky expensive stuff, but all that had changed. Why spend €500 on a shower when a €50 one will do exactly the same job and get you clean! I like this new attitude, it feels good.

Big couple of days coming up getting ready to move in now – we need hot and cold running water in the house which means 2 water filters need fitting, 2 taps and the shower. The water has loads of sediment in it, so we thought it better to fit a filter outside, and then have a second one in the kitchen to remove everything and make the water safe. Then we need to fit the inverter so we have light and one socket, and despite the house being tiny, I’m still cleaning!

Oh, and we have the dangerous caterpillars nesting in the pine trees at the front of the house – procession caterpillars – asked the Town Hall about them but apparently we have to cut them down and set fire to the nests without getting anywhere near them – most definitely a ‘blue job’ methinks!

All good fun en el campo!

Two days in …

We don’t have 1 cat – we have 2!

Some things are going well – we have added an extra solar panel so now up to 8 amps – 1 more panel should do it. The kitchen is no longer a health hazard – honestly there was more penicillin in the fridge than the NHS have in their stores, and let’s not even talk about the rat poison sprinkled inside the cupboards! We managed to make the all important first cuppa there today!

As we have a pozo negra we can’t use any chemicals in the house, so copious amounts of vinegar, bicarb and lemon juice are my new cleaning cupboard, and very effective! The lingering smell of vinegar on both me and the house may take some time to dissipate! For the uninitiated, a pozo negra is a septic tank system where the tank is buried in the ground and (unless it goes wrong) never needs emptying- the bacteria in the tank eat the mucky stuff and the grey water left over soaks away. This is a very popular system in the campo as the lorries can’t get to most of the cortijos to empty the normal type of septic tank. So this is why chemicals can’t be used in the house – they would kill the bacteria and stop the septic tank from working. Very clever.

We have managed to get most of the drip irrigation working now, and have more oranges than we know what to do with (we’re getting the contact details this week of who the previous owner sold his fruit to), but it may be too late for this years harvest, which is dropping to the ground faster than we can cope with – we thought we would have to write off this bunch of oranges but will be ready for the next harvest.

All the previous owners belongings together with the beds and mattresses etc are piled outside the house now. It really is as if one day the owner said ‘let’s not live here anymore’ and they walked out and locked the door! We’ll be asking the town hall tomorrow how we get rid of it all, as there are no tips / recycling centres around here like there are in the UK. We know the council do free rubbish collections, but the waste lorry won’t be able to get to the house. We don’t want to just take it into town and dump it all by the communal bins and upset all the locals in our first week there.

Some things are proving a little more challenging – we turned the shower on to test it and the shower head literally burst into pieces and the water now flows down behind the shower cubicle, so we’ve started dismantling that to try and fix the problem – this means we’ve had to turn off all the water to the house, so I’m cleaning with water out of the irrigation raft down the road! And we have a lot of hornets (or wasps, we can’t decide), nesting in the bricks of the house …

We’re still grinning and still in complete awe of the scenery …

We’re there!

Well what a day! Buying a house here is so different to the impersonal process in the UK. Everyone attended the Notary’s office this morning, the meeting started late as everyone was drinking coffee in the cafe next to the office 😂

The notary reads out the details of the sale, various discussions happen until all the info is agreed, money exchanges hands (we had to take a mixture of bankers drafts and cash) and everyone is happy – sounds simple – took over an hour with much laughing. But the moment that will stay with me forever went like this:

Pepe (old owner) ‘don’t forget to feed the cat’

Notary ‘a cat?’

Us ‘what cat’

Pepe ‘your cat’

We got more than we bargained for today!

So off we went to the house. We still have the Saab at the moment – too big to get to the house, but we had stuff in the car we needed to get there today. So pedal power it was, backwards and forwards from the car to the house. Then came the big toolbox … wheelbarrowed it to the house – the locals think we’re nuts now! But we did meet and feed the cat!

A few days of clearing out and cleaning to follow before we can move in … ready for the challenge!

Excited isn’t the word!

Ups and downs, a few tantrums and some arm waving, but we are actually completing on the house tomorrow, I can’t quite believe it. Living in a tent for the past couple of months has been an experience, and a great lesson to teach you what you NEED vs what you WANT!

We’re not moving in straight away – we need to add a few more solar panels on as the house currently has just one, and it needs a damned good clean, as it hasn’t been lived in for some time – I did notice on the viewing there were a fair few eight legged residents – they will be evicted immediately! We hope to be in sometime next week though, and it’s only half an hour from the campsite, so we can go up and work in the day and then come back to camp for hot showers, hot food and a clean bed. It should only take a few days (the house is only 56m2 after all!!).

The rest of our stuff (which we whittled down to 13 cubic meters) will arrive just before Easter so that gives us time to do a bit of decorating while there’s hardly anything in the house. We also need to crack on with the work on the land – lots to do!

While we’ve been camping we have become avid YouTube watchers, learning about looking after fruit trees, drip irrigation and all sorts of things that we’ll need to know – it’s going to be a big learning curve!

Once we have the house we can buy a car – in Spain you cannot buy a car as a non resident unless you can produce title deeds for a property or a 12 month rental agreement. We’re seeing a car on Friday that will actually be able to fit down the road to the house (the old Saab is too big!). We’ve even managed to sell the Saab to a couple on the campsite, which makes life easier. The cost of transferring it to Spanish plates is uneconomical, and as it won’t get to the house, it needs to go – for a £700 car it’s been amazing – we’ve driven thousands of miles since leaving the UK and it hasn’t missed a beat.

Then next week we need to complete the paperwork for residency (for which you also need title deeds or a rental agreement!). I think we’ll find a Gestor to help with that – they seem to be invaluable administrators who, for a reasonable fee, help you through the Spanish minefield of systems!

A few pictures of our new home! We’re calling it Finca Del Cielo (farm of heaven):

Hurrah we have exchanged contracts!

Not on that second house – turned out to be registered but as a shed, so we wouldn’t be able to live in it, but the first house we viewed in Almeria. It wasn’t legal at the time but the owner has now sorted all the paperwork – should complete in about a week. The dream is becoming a reality!

Another day, another house …

We have given up on the first house – they said they would have the paperwork sorted by the 20th Feb and they haven’t – time to walk away. We viewed one last week very close to the first one – better house but just a bit less land. Went back today for a second viewing, made an offer, which after a bit of negotiating, was accepted. We have been promised this is legal … we’ll see! Paperwork should be with our solicitor today – really hope he manages to look at it otherwise we’re back to waiting again!

Meantime we are making the most of the beautiful campsite (La Garrofa) with the private beach and the glorious sunshine – it’s a hard life 🌞

A little ray of sunshine

So we’ve heard today that the meeting this week at the town hall wasn’t the date set for us to complete – it’s actually the date that the current owner should get the planning permission. This should mean that we know by the end of the week whether we can buy the house or not. We did view another house last week as s back up, so we have that as an option if this one doesn’t happen at least.

We’ve made the tent a little more comfortable by buying a small fridge – it’s definitely warmer in Almeria than in Torrox, and we’re not within walking distance of a food shop now, so it was getting difficult not to poison ourselves! Shopping every day tends to end up costing more, so at least now we can buy enough food for 4-5 days at a time.

The new campsite, La Garrofa, is fabulous, we love it here.

Excited now for what news this week brings …

The inevitable snag!

The house doesn’t have planning permission, estate agent says can be sorted before the date we’re due to complete (2 weeks tomorrow) – really? We’re moving to a new campsite in Almeria this coming Saturday so at least we’ll be in the right area to continue our search in case this one doesn’t happen. We had read that this was a common problem with the types of houses we’re looking at in Spain, so we’ll just have to play the waiting game and see what happens. We have lined up some similar alternatives around the same area to look at, but the worry now of course is that they won’t have planning permission either …

We’ve bought a small fruit farm!

Done it! Back to our favourite this morning and successfully negotiated a price that everyone is happy with. The appointment is booked at the Town Hall for the 20th February to sign everything which gives our solicitor time to check it all out. Two bits of advice I would give anyone looking to do this – learn Spanish and get a good bi lingual solicitor – we did both and I’m so glad we did. We’ve done the two viewings and all the negotiation ourselves only in Spanish, which I’m actually really proud of, and it gives me great comfort to know I don’t have to learn all the legal jargon now in Spanish!

We’re moving to a new campsite on the 9th Feb over in Almeria so we can get things organised and be around in the right area – started making lists already!

Somos muy emonionada! (We’re very excited!)

We’ve found the one!

In just two weeks we’ve managed to sort our NIE, open a bank account, view loads of houses and have now found the one we want to buy. We’ve settled on Almeria, which surprised us both because we were put off on the drive in by the sea of plastic greenhouses that line the coast over that way. We drove towards Almería and turned north just before the city and drove up past Alhama de Almeria to a tiny village.

We’re going back next Tuesday for the second viewing and to negotiate face to face with the owner and estate agent, which apparently is the way it’s often done here. If we agree the price, the actual purchase should go through quite quickly we hope. The house is tiny at just 52m2 and there’s half an acre of land stuffed full of fruit trees. We came away from the viewing with a massive bag of oranges, which are delicious! The view is spectacular with not a soul in sight, yet it’s just a ten minute walk to the village. Alhama is a 10 minute drive away and has all the shops we would need day to day, and the airport is 30 minutes away. And, it’s under budget … roll on next Tuesday!

Viewing houses in Spain

We’ve seen 4 houses so far, and the experience has been a bit different to viewing houses in the UK! Because our budget is small at just £50k / €55k and we want at least 1000m2 of land with a preference for well water and solar, the places we’re seeing are off the beaten track! The first place we saw we up in Comares so we met the estate agent at their office in Colmenar, a few miles away. Follow us, they said, as they got into their 4×4 Mitsubishi 😂 So we did! Wasn’t terribly easy mind – shale and rock tracks which had had rock falls and a small river crossing later we reached the most gorgeous little cottage. Unfortunately the land wasn’t really suitable and what they said came with the house was about a third of the amount of land advertised. We’ve asked for copies of the escritorio (deeds) to see exactly what comes with the house. Water is from a community well and there’s a cesspit instead of a septic tank. But at €43k there would be money in the pot to put things right. It’s just the access that’s the biggest hurdle.

Then we saw two houses up in Jaen province – one of which is perfect. We would’ve preferred to have stayed further south for the climate, but we accept there will always be a compromise. Two wells, flat land, solar already installed and even a little swimming pool! And the house comes with a dog, Champion – a German shepherd cross with one blue eye and one wonky brown eye. The current owners can’t have him at their new house, and so if the person who buys the house doesn’t want Champion then he’ll be put to sleep 😱. We couldn’t let that happen.

This mornings house was beautiful – tiny but workable, but all the land is mountainside so we’d be like mountain goats living there 😂 We met the elderly owner and his son outside a restaurant – neither spoke English but I have to say I’m so pleased with how we managed with our limited Spanish – it’s really coming on now. I would say it’s essential to learn Spanish if you’re coming here. I prepared some questions last night in Spanish so we didn’t have to rely on Google translate during the viewing – this was a good move! Follow me, he said (in Spanish) so we jumped in the car and followed up and down a twisty mountain single track road (better than the Comares house!) for about 25 minutes until we arrived on top of a mountain – the views were gobsmacking!

We have 3 more viewings this week – two of which could be real contenders for the one up in Jaen. Hopefully we’ll be in a position to make a decision by next weekend … very exciting!

Camping and stuff …

Camping in January is a bit chilly at night – I’m glad we chose to camp down on the coast where it’s a few degrees warmer! But during the day – lovely sunshine for the most part and warm – loving it!

We’ve applied for our NIE numbers – you can’t do anything here without an NIE – our solicitor in Baza did the paperwork for us and took us to the bank and the police station – well worth the €50 charge – it was done in minutes and are expecting our numbers to come through next week.

We’ve opened a bank account with Sabadell initially – English speaking which is useful while we’re still learning Spanish, but we’ll open a local bank account once we know where we’re buying a house.

We’ve seen three houses so far – that idealistic idea of living up a mountain – we understand the reality of that now and so have ruled those out!! When the seller takes you up a mountain track in a 4×4 and struggles, with wheels hanging off the side you suddenly realise what remote means!

We saw a house though yesterday that could be perfect – it has all the solar panels in place, two wells and a nice piece of flat land for growing veg. There’s a host of fruit trees and the house itself is plenty big enough for us to have visitors. It’s just 6km from a decent size town and an hour to Granada airport. Think this might be the one, but we’re holding off until we’ve seen the other houses we’ve got booked in over the next week or so.

Moving from a fairly big house to a tent has presented us with some challenges – cooking on the floor, no fridge etc, but it’s a means to an end so I’m just trying to enjoy the experience 😊

And for the first time in over a year the pleurisy pain has completely gone – that tells me we’ve done the right thing.

We’re here!

3 days by ferry and road – arrived yesterday. Decided to break the journey up – if you’re travelling through Spain there are loads of services on the main E5 route that have hotels – we stopped at Hotel Manzanares – an opportunity to try out our Spanish as no one spoke English which was great practice!

We arrived at El Pino campsite in Torrox Costa yesterday – you can’t book in advance but we managed to get a pitch with electric hook up for €315 for a month – and we can extend as we need to. It does get chilly at night in the tent (well it is January!) so we bought a fan heater today and an electric stove – no point buying gas when we’ve already paid for the electric! We thought it would be better to stay on the coast where it’s a bit warmer as were here in winter – Granada is -6 at night at the moment!

We’ve arranged to meet our solicitor next week to get our NIE’s organised – he charges €50 fir doing all the paperwork – I think it’s worth it as we know it will be done right. Until we have that number we can’t buy a car or open a bank account so the quicker it’s done the better. Time to relax now for a couple of days while we sort out some viewings …

Hard goodbyes

We’re on the ferry. Saying goodbye to our parents yesterday was heartbreaking – even though we know we’ll be back to visit, it’s harder than I ever thought possible to see my parents so upset. When you start making these plans, you know these bits will be tough, but it’s been worse than I imagined. As Rog said though, once we’ve done a trip back to see everyone they’ll believe that we’ll be back regularly.

We’re due to arrive in Bilbao Tuesday morning and will hit the road down to the south coast – if we need to stop overnight on the way we will. Anyone that knows me will be shocked that it hasn’t all been planned like a military operation – this is an important lesson for me – let go a bit, live in the present and deal with stuff as it happens! 🤗

It’s all very exciting 😁

We’re on our way

So the house is sold and we’ve been staying with Mother in Law for the last couple of weeks while I work my notice – thankfully my employer has let me off some of my full 3 months notice, and so with some holidays I’m owed I actually finish next Wednesday.  From here we’ll be off to stay with my parents for a couple of weeks before we sail on the 6th January.

We looked at different options for getting our stuff to Spain – we’ve managed to cut all of our belongings down to about half a garage, and that’s in storage now ready to come over once we’ve bought a house.  That in itself was a bit of a minefield, and we ended up with a shipping container in a secure unit – this was by far the cheapest way to store our stuff.  Removals firms were quoting us over £3k to store and move our stuff, but we have found a chap in Spain through our estate agent who goes back and forth with a large van and a trailer, and charges £100 per cubic square meter!  Bargain!  Halved the cost in one fail swoop!

We bought an old Saab Estate and that’s packed with our camping gear and some clothes – trying to whittle down what we might need over the next few months was a bit tough.

Saying goodbye has been hard – I went over to see the grandchildren – I will always hear the eldest, who’s 6, saying ‘I love you so very much Granny’ for the rest of my life.  The other two are a bit younger and I don’t think they really understood that we are leaving.  Then came the goodbye to my son, and I sobbed, I don’t mind admitting it.  Then goodbye to friends – more tears.  Finally, the next morning it was time to leave the house that’s been our family home for the last 15 years – where we bought our kids up since their teenage years.  Yep, more tears.  So we went for breakfast at the local cafe as I’d packed everything – even had a cry there too.  I think that part of it was the relief too – after we exchanged contracts on the house, going through systematically cancelling all of the direct debits, and feeling completely free (although homeless!) was amazing!  We’ve gone from over £1800 per month in direct debits down to £20 just for our phones.

So next week we’re off to London, and one step closer to getting to Spain.  We managed to exchange our money into Euros (another minefield) and that’s sitting securely with the exchange company (TorFX, would highly recommend them from our experience so far) ready for when we have opened an account in Spain.  I do wish our timing had been a bit better – trying to second guess what the exchange rate was going to do last week with all the Brexit stuff was a nightmare, but we jumped at a decent rate, and whatever happens now, we know exactly what we have to spend in Spain on a property.

And our first viewing is booked in – a house that we saw almost a year ago that we fell in love with got sold, but has come back on the market due to a problem with the title deeds – this is being fixed with the local Town Hall, and we’re just praying that the people that tried to buy it have found somewhere else and won’t be considering it again!  It’s been empty now for 4 years so needs some TLC, and there’s one rather worrying crack, so I think we’ll need a survey.  It’s got just under 4 acres, loads of fruit trees, 200 olive trees and a two bedroom house with solar panels and its own well, so all set up already for living off grid.

We’ve got loads of other houses to visit too, having done loads of research on Idealista, Kyero, ThinkSpain, Rusticom, Inland Andalucia and Andalucia Property Sales to name just a few – these are the ones we’ve found the best so far though.  We’ll make inquiries on these other properties when we get there.

We’ve decided to camp down at Torrox Costa rather than inland – it’s a few degrees warmer on the coast, and we’ve found a site that charges E200 per month if you’re staying for 2 months, a third of what other campsites are charging!

I can’t stress enough how important research is – we’ve saved a small fortune just by spending a bit of time on the internet.

 

The dream is almost there

So we finally to an offer on the house at the end of August, and I’m sitting here today waiting for the valuer to arrive – bit nervous as you always are when someone else is coming to inspect your home.

While we’ve been selling the house we haven’t been sitting on our laurels though.  We have found a solicitor in Baza to use when we go out there – usually a minor and simple thing in the UK, but really important when looking to move to another country.  They are a firm that specialise in rural properties in Andalucia and are bi-lingual.  Yes, we’ve been learning Spanish since the start of the year, but as you get older these things take longer to learn, so although we’ve done pretty well, I don’t think we’re quite at the stage where we can do something as important as buying a house with our level of vocab!  We’ve found the bank we want to open an account with, been in touch with several companies to look at the best rates for moving our money to Spain (and the difference in rates is pretty amazing!), and planned out different ways that we could earn money.

We search property sites weekly looking for possible properties, although we said from the start that we’re not going to try and buy a house from here – we need to be there.  So, where to live once we move there while we’re looking for a house to buy?  The offer we had on the house was a little on the low side, so there’s not much money to play with, and we may need to be able to move around different regions of Spain while we’re looking for a house.  That pointed to just one solution – buy a tent to live in, which we’ve done.  It’s a good one mind, as we might be in it for a few months!

Looking at properties, it’s really important to decide what you want, and look at them with your head not your heart.  We made a list of things it must have – 2 bedrooms, a legal well, preferably solar already installed, and at least 1 acre of fertile land.  Anything else we had saved outside of those parameters had to be removed from our list of favourites, even if there were cute houses.  In a lot of ways, the search is being driven by the land – after all, the whole idea is to live off the land for the best part.

You Tube has also been a good source of info about organic farming, building chicken coops etc etc, so we’ve used the time we’ve been waiting to sell the house to learn as much as possible.  We’ve never kept animals before (except pets) so didn’t know anything about keeping chickens – birthday presents have been books on faming and animal husbandry this year!

And we’ve been selling our stuff!  Ebay, gumtree, open house sales etc.  And we’ve given quite a lot of stuff to the kids – you get to the point where £100 isn’t actually going to make that much of a difference, so rather than giving stuff away really cheaply to just get rid of it to strangers, we decided we would rather help the family out.  The house is looking a bit empty!

So that plan is to put the few things we do need in Spain into storage, and we’ve found a chap to bring it out to us in his van once we’ve got a house.  We looked at professional removal companies, and for just the few bits we need out there, we were getting quotes for £3500!  Sod that!  ‘Dave’ lives in Murcia – has a van and a trailer, and charges £100 per cubic meter – perfect.  He will collect it from storage and bring it to our door, which I feel much happier with than these road trains that the big companies utilise.

I have to give 3 months notice in my job, and Rog works on the agency for driving.  I’m hoping that my employers let me off early, but we have a plan to move in with mother in law while I’m working my notice, so we can live cheaply and save those last few crucial pennies from earnings.  So if the valuation goes ok today, we should be out of this house by the end of November, and on the boat to Spain in January.

I wouldn’t say our parents are happy about it, more resigned to it now, which I find quite sad, but it is what it is.  Everyone else thinks what we’re doing is fabulous (if a bit mad!).

Hopefully my next blog will be at the point where we have no ties – no mortgage, no jobs and the ferry booked!

The Journey Begins

Hello and welcome!

So I’ve started a blog just a few weeks before my 50th birthday!  Am I bothered about turning 50?  Nah!  It’s just a number.  But it is time to make some changes in life; shove myself out of my comfort zone – mainly because it’s not too comfortable!

When you’re small, anything is possible – and we truly believe that with every fibre of our being – then we get ‘realistic’ and are encouraged by society to grow up, have a family, get a big house, get a bigger house, burden ourselves with debt so you outwardly look successful – we all know how it is!

Well, we’ve done all that – and the result – tired … really really tired.

I’m so grateful for all of my family – fabulous husband, three children and 4 grandchildren between us, wonderful parents and siblings – we are truly blessed and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.  But now it’s time to do something, dare I say it, that’s a bit selfish.

Some of us suddenly have a defining moment in life that makes us look closely at where we are in life – mine happened last December on the way back from a business trip when I collapsed in A&E with pleurisy – and I’d been working with that for over 2 months – yep, time to take stock.

So in January this year, me and Rog sat down and asked ourselves ‘what do we want to do with our lives’?  See more of each other was an easy one; live a simpler life with less stuff; get rid of the need to earn £x every month to pay the enormous household bills; be kinder to the planet; grow our own fruit and veg and have more time to develop spiritually.

You see, we’re kind of spiritual people – our outward facing life doesn’t always show that side of us, but scratch away the facade, and there we are – a couple of proper old hippies who want to be kinder to the planet and kinder to ourselves.  Some of the meditation practice we have done in the past taught us that ‘stuff’ doesn’t make you happy – go around any shopping centre on a Saturday and you’ll see people cramming their lives with ‘stuff’, trying to be happy, but looking pretty miserable.  So we can cast off the need for the big house full of ‘stuff’.  Start thinking about what we ‘need’.

The answer was simple – sell everything, move to Spain and buy a farm – be mortgage free, live off grid and provide as much of our own food as possible.  That wasn’t a 10 minute conversation by the way!!

So our questions that we’ve been working on ever since:

  • What about the family?
  • Can we afford it – what’s our house worth, can we get enough equity out of it to buy somewhere, how much will a house in Spain with land cost?
  • What do we need to do what paperwork and organising is needed
  • What about the family (again)?
  • How will we live – we’ll still need some money, although a much smaller amount?
  • What problems will we encounter – you hear nightmare stories about buying property in Spain?
  • What would we take from the house – what can we sell – how much would removals cost?
  • Where in Spain should we look at?
  • What will our living costs be in Spain?
  • Will we be able to find work, or find a way to make money?

We’re just about there with the answers now, which I’ll go through in my next blog, and I hope that what we’ve found out so far might help anyone else thinking of making this type of move.

So the house is on the market, and we’re hoping we’ll sell sooner rather than later, but in the meantime we’ve pretty much stopped buying anything that’s not essential and are busy squirrelling away every penny towards our new life.

Can’t wait … whether it works or not, at least we’re trying to follow our dream!