Cleaning the trees …

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

We took delivery yesterday of this mighty fine machine …

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

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

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

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

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

Before …
After!

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

Then tomorrow, the other two terraces!!

Advice I would give to my younger self …

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

My life in a nutshell could be described thus:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luna and Persi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I couldn’t imagine not having them now!

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

Meditation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My favourite destination when meditating!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buying into the model

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What we can learn from nature..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for surviving hot weather!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have cool, but not cold showers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Environment Day

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

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

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

Here are some ideas for ways to join in:

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

Plant some insect friendly plants or a tree in your garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suffering

Eckhart Tolle wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eckhart Tolle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here comes summer!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A very different way of life!

Something a little like normal …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another big decision!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Natural ways to feel better …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How much does it cost to live off grid?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing a blog!

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

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

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

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

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

Spring jobs and pacing yourself …

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

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

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

Then the orange trees need pruning and spraying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking it all in your stride…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food shopping in Spain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another year has rolled round

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rediscovering old hobbies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As we say goodbye to 2020…

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

Appreciate everyone and everything.

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

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

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

Be happy.

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

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

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

Feliz Navidad! Happy Christmas!

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

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

The insanity of modern society

A chap called Eckhart Tolle changed my thinking on life, the universe and everything quite a few years back now, and his message sounds like a very simple one – we should learn to live in the present. Don’t dwell on the past, it’s gone. Don’t be anxious about the future, it hasn’t happened yet. Makes sense, doesn’t it! Living it is a whole lot harder than you could ever imagine. It takes practice, practice and then some more practice!

His most famous publication, The Power of Now, explains how the ego is constantly trying to grab our attention by making us think about all sorts of things that really shouldn’t be concerning us right at that moment. It talks of learning to be still – to just exist in the moment.

I regularly watch clips on his channel on YouTube – listening to him is easier than reading his work, and by listening in frequent, small chunks, it’s easier to digest what he’s saying.

So the piece I watched (again) last night was about living simply. It asked the question should we reduce our activities and possessions – and I liked the answer so I thought I would share it, as I think it will resonate with many people who have been suffering through 2020 and the traumas it has brought.

First, on activities and what we spend our days doing. Eckhart acknowledges that the collective conscious (the majority of people) feel they have to be continually busy and continually stressed to be successful – which certainly sounded familiar to me! ‘I have to be busy, I’ve got to do this … and this … and that … or I’ll lose my job or my home won’t look right’. And it is sheer insanity! But it can be really hard to see a way out of this. We end up doing most things at home and work to an ‘acceptable’ level, rather than doing fewer things and doing them really well, letting things mature as he puts it. Snap decisions without thinking through long term consequences etc. So choose what will make you stand out in your work, what will be beneficial to the company, and do that well. You will be forgiven for inconsequential things that don’t get done if what you did achieve makes a difference. I think learning to say no and asking why are also important.

The second point, about personal possessions was really simple. It’s not about what you’ve got, but about what your inner connection is to the items – are you defined as an individual by surrounding yourself with beautiful things – do you need them to feel worthwhile? If you do, then perhaps it’s time to put some space between your feelings and the objects – it doesn’t mean you have to get rid of everything, although the day might come (like it did for us) that you just don’t feel the need for stuff. Once you stop defining yourself as a person by things you have bought, then you don’t need to buy stuff to be happy and fulfilled as an individual. There are certain people that we know who ‘feel sorry for us’ because we don’t own much anymore – really, you don’t need to, we’ve never been so happy! We still have some lovely things around but the difference now is if they were gone tomorrow then that would be fine. We don’t NEED them, but at the moment we quite enjoy having them around.

If you can learn to live in the present moment, and to quieten those voices in your head, then life gets better – it’s as simple as that. I’m still not terribly good at it every day, as I have a tendency to worry about the short term future. I’m due to go to the UK in a week to see my sister who is in the final stages of brain cancer – and I am anxious about traveling with the pandemic. Mainly because if I get it and give it to my parents and sister it would finish them off. And at the moment, will I even get there, and if I get there will I get back? It’s not like I can say, well I’ll go next year instead, as my sister won’t be there – this is my last chance to see her. Quite exceptional circumstances, I agree, but also a personal test for me in dealing with the situation. In one breath I say, well there’s nothing I can do about this situation, and then those voices start again! The difference now is that I’m aware when I’m not living in the present, and then I can haul myself back again and quieten the anxious thoughts.

So, if you’re like I used to be, always worrying about everything, then I would really recommend listening to The Power of Now – you wont ‘get’ it all in the first listen, but don’t worry – it’s a lot to take in in one go! And again, thank you Paul for introducing me to Eckhart!

Learning to cook all over again!

Since moving to a predominantly plant based diet, I can’t tell you the new things I’ve learned, and the experiments that have been carried out in this kitchen!

It really helps having such lovely fresh produce available, and a good nose about at the market often comes up trumps. My herb and spice rack has never been used so much!

Lots of people on a plant based diet use these vegan and vegetarians alternatives – ‘pretend meat’ – but the problem I have with these is that they’re so highly processed, and when you read the labels you find they’re not that good for you (or for the environment). When we first went down this road we had a trip into Almeria to go to a big supermarket and bought a variety of alternative products to try, and very quickly decided that we would rather just not eat the alternatives, and instead stick to cooking with fresh plants from scratch. Apart from the fact they’re highly processed, don’t taste that good and are expensive, we would have to do a 62km round trip to get any of them. Nah!

And I’ll just say, pretend cheese made from cashews … ewwwww… it tastes like cardboard flavored with whatever they use to make quavers crisps.

Growing up with an Irish Mum and an English Dad who suffered terribly with stomach ulcers (he ended up having most of his stomach cut out), we ate very plain food at home. It was all plain meat and boiled veg, stew and dumplings, Sunday roast with Yorkshire’s – in fact, the first time I ate pasta was after I left home! My first curry was about six years ago – I know, it’s shameful!

So, I decided it was time for this old dog to learn some new tricks – and once you get started, it’s amazing what you can serve up with a few veg, herbs, spices and a little inspiration from You Tube! The great thing is that I have time now – I’ve always loved cooking, but now I’ve become quite passionate about it. After a long day at work it was often difficult to muster the energy to cook something exciting. Living here and only having a small supermarket locally means I have to get inventive with basic ingredients or face a trip down into Almeria for supplies.

A few favourites of ours have become:

Veg stew with white beans and dumplings – ready from scratch in 30 minutes and perfect on a cold day.

Veggie paella (I call this paella de Finca del Cielo – if Spanish people saw my paella they would have a fit as it’s not terribly traditional!).

Poached quince crumble with oat milk custard (ooh get me!)

Deconstructed tortilla (don’t laugh but it’s way easier than trying to flip a tortilla when you make them as chunky as I do!) Again, it’s my own take on a Spanish tortilla and does not conform to tradition!

This is real comfort food!

Fried cauliflower rice. I used to buy the tubs of cauliflower rice in the UK but had never made it myself. As they don’t have that sort of stuff here in the shops I now make my own, and am quite ashamed that I ever bought it – sooooo easy!

So, over the next few days I’ll share the recipes for these on the ‘recipes, tips and ideas’ page. They’re all really flexible recipes – they change every time I cook them depending on what’s in the fridge!

The great thing about cooking without meat is that it actually becomes quicker and healthier and you don’t have to sacrifice flavor. I have been astonished at how easy the change has been, and by not going for the ‘pretend, processed stuff’ we’re saving a fortune every week. Eggs feature quite heavily in our diet as the girls lay an average of 3 a day between them – I think I have cooked eggs in every possible way over the last few months!

I thought I’d miss dairy, but I really don’t. We use oat milk instead of cows milk, and the only problems I’ve come across with this are cakes and Yorkshire puddings. We did try rice milk, and a few years ago I tried almond milk, neither of which I was that taken with.

I have bought some nutritional yeast which is used to add a cheesy taste to food, and it’s ok – you can sprinkle it on sandwiches or over salads and pasta, or stir some into your pasta sauce before serving. We wouldn’t eat it every day, but it makes a change now and again.

We said at the start of our change in diet that we wouldn’t be arseholes about it, so when I make cakes, I buy a pint of cows milk. I have now found a few recipes that don’t call for milk but use water instead. There’s always an alternative way to do things, and as I become more knowledgeable I’m sure our use of cows milk will go to zero.

Occasionally we buy a chorizo and I’ll add a little bit to a paella, but this is becoming more and more rare. I’m amazed that we haven’t craved a bacon sandwich yet, and we happily walk past all the meat and cheese etc in the supermarket without a second glance!

I think the fact that we said if we really fancied a bit of meat then we’d have some has helped – when you tell yourself you can’t have something you immediately start to crave that very thing! But I’m happy with the choice we’ve made – I feel well, I’ve discovered a passion for cooking and we’re saving money – what could be better than that!

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???

Aloe Vera – the plant of immortality!

I did a blog post a while back about the wonder of iodine. My next wonder is aloe vera, and by the end of this blog I hope you’ll agree that it’s one of the most valuable plants on this planet! Whilst on a trip to Lanzarote a few years back, we visited a museum dedicated to aloe and although we were already fans of it then, it really opened our eyes to more uses for it!

Aloe Vera is approximately 95% water, but the other 5% is made up of extremely high levels of healthy enzymes. It has more than 200 bioactive compounds such as minerals, enzymes, vitamins, amino acids, and polysaccharides, which all improve nutrient absorption in the body. It is also rich in calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, copper, potassium, and manganese. It boasts anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties which help detoxify the body and support the immune system. It also contains the vitamin B12, which is normally only found in animal based foods, making it invaluable to vegetarians.

The ancient Egyptians referred to aloe as ‘the plant of immortality’, the Chinese as ‘the method of harmony’ and during the crusades it was mixed with other ingredients and considered to be an elixir that would lengthen the life of those who drank it. Indeed, the healing properties of aloe have been documented over thousands of years all over the world.

There are over 50 conditions that aloe can be used for – I’m not going to list them all here, but I will hopefully give you a few ideas how you can incorporate it into daily life to benefit from this miracle plant.

1. Drink it – the easiest way is to buy aloe juice from a health food shop, and you then mix a little with some water each morning. Now it’s not what I’d call a lovely taste, but after a few weeks I promise you will get used to it. The benefits of drinking aloe juice are the huge number of vitamins and minerals contained in it, plus its an antiviral and an antibacterial. The juice will also help fight a number of digestive disorders and flush toxins from the body. If you have aloe plants you could of course, make your own juice and there are loads of tutorials online in how to do this. Please see the warnings at the end of this post about drinking aloe juice.

2. Moisturiser- I use it daily head to toe. I have made some aloe body gel, which is a bit sticky and fiddly- but very pure! All you need to do is scrape the gel out of the middle of an aloe leaf, zap it in a blender and then mix it with a little water. Add the oil from a vitamin e capsule and a few drops of essential oil – lavender is great for skin. Mix well and it will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks, so don’t make too much up in one go! Again, you can buy it, and I would recommend getting one that is 99/100% pure – it costs a little more but worth every penny. Living in such a hot climate means my skin gets really dry, but using aloe every day has made my skin in the best condition it’s ever been in.

3. Sunburn and other burns. You can use shop bought aloe gel / moisturiser or just cut an aloe leaf and rub the gel inside straight onto the sunburn. Apply regularly throughout the day.

4. Eczema, rosacea and psoriasis – my Dad had really bad eczema on his back for years – I bought him some aloe gel and within a week he was clear – use every couple of days to keep the eczema away – again, the purer the better.

5. Keeping an aloe plant in your bedroom will help purify the air you breathe as you sleep.

6. Haircare. Using pure aloe gel, rub it into your hair and scalp and leave in for 30 minutes before rinsing. It will improve dry, flaky or dandruff prone scalps and lessen hair breakage.

7. Insect bites – aloe relieves any itching and swelling and protects against infection – everything you want in an insect bite cream! Just use the gel from the plant leaf for best results, or again use the store bought gel.

The list of benefits just goes on and on! BUT, there are some contraindications, and please be aware that aloe is a natural laxative, so if you drink too much you could find yourself staying close to the bathroom! Do a spot test on your skin to check if you are allergic to aloe gel before smothering yourself jn it! Before taking aloe as a drink, please check if it’s suitable for you if you have existing conditions or are taking medication as the flushing capabilities of aloe could flush your medication out too. Children under 12, pregnant women or those breastfeeding should not drink aloe juice. There’s lots of information on the Internet, but if you are in any doubt then please check with your doctor before taking.

We do have several aloe plants here at the finca – the hot dry conditions here are perfect!

Lots of modern lotions and potions copy what plants do – so why put chemicals on or in your body when you can use the original, pure, natural ingredients? I know what I’d rather do!

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!

Living an isolated life

We recently watched one of our favourite TV programmes – one that inspired us to make the move we did – Ben Fogle’s New Lives in the Wild, and watching it again inspired me to write a post about living in isolation.

Now we’re not as isolated as some people on that program – we just decided that was a bit too much for us when we looked at some properties that really were remote over here. You start asking yourself questions like, one if one of us had an accident or got really ill … or what would I do if the unthinkable happened and I ran out of milk for tea 😱. Our finca gave us the perfect mix of being away from society, but 5 minutes in the car or a 15 minute walk puts us in the heart of the village (which is home to just 400 people!).

Since the Coronavirus pandemic hit, people all over the world have had a taste of living an isolated life even when they live in the middle of a city, and some of the friends we talked to were amazed at how good it felt – getting off the hamster wheel of eat, sleep, work, repeat. Having more time together as a family has been a great experience for many, although I appreciate that financial worries and fears about the pandemic have overshadowed the benefits for lots of people. I will also give a shout out here to parents working from home whilst home schooling their children – hats off to you. The Valium prescriptions should be free of charge for you!

So, how did it feel to spend 24/7 with your partner? I watched my parents back in the UK, who have been married for nearly 58 years, go through a range of emotions – pulling together and being supportive, bickering, out and out shouting, and then the ‘we have to get out we’re going crazy!’ It was quite a process to watch! They usually have pretty busy lives, Dad with his bowls several times a week, mum meeting up with friends for coffee etc, and then mum does drag dad out a couple of times a week for a walk. To suddenly feel like prisoners in their own home was hard for them both.

But this is the life that Roger and I specifically chose. Yes, we go shopping once a week and see other people occasionally to wave to when they’re working on their nearby fincas, but we spend 98% of our time here on the finca, with just each other, the dog and the chickens for company. Some mates pop over very occasionally for a cuppa or some lunch, but we don’t feel the need to constantly have friends over or meet up every other day! The thought of ending up in an expat Thursday night whist club fills me with absolute dread!

Don’t get me wrong, there are the occasional days where we get on each other’s nerves a bit – it would be hard not to, but the key is good communication. It does help that we are actually best friends as well as being husband and wife. We understand each other where so many people just don’t get us – I don’t think either of us ever really fitted into modern society. It always felt a bit like I was a piece of jigsaw puzzle that was being hammered into the wrong place in the jigsaw – ‘you WILL fit in here’ – and what you end up with is a mutilated jigsaw piece!

We also respect the fact that now and again we both like a bit of time on our own, and we’ll go off doing different jobs round the finca, meeting up for a cuppa mid morning! Neither of us mind a bit of quiet – we don’t feel the need to be talking about stuff constantly – being able to sit in companionable silence is wonderful. My favourite part of the day is in the evening, sitting in the roof terrace with a cuppa – talking about what we’ve achieved that day and what we plan to do tomorrow. And then to just sit … enjoy the scenery and the sounds of the countryside getting ready for bed … and the swish of the fly swat for the zillionth time 🥴

When we need to make decisions we do it together, and if one of us is really convinced that something needs to be done a particular way then the other tries to respect that and go with that idea (although we are both capable of pulling ‘that face’!) We’re working towards the same goal here – if we didn’t pull together it just wouldn’t work. But bouncing ideas off each other is invaluable, and we do know each other well enough to know what the other would probably hate – there are times when Rog starts the conversation with ‘I know you’ll say no, but …’

We’ve had a few friends and family from the UK to visit – we enjoy seeing people but we do both find that after about 3 or 4 days we’re thinking, go on now, off home with you – that’s enough talking! We have got into a rhythm here – I won’t call it a routine – rhythm is a much better word for it – and having visitors definitely disrupts that. And now and again for a few days it’s a nice disruption. For people that knew us in the UK it’s quite mind boggling for them just how different our life is now.

Maybe we’ve just got a bit antisocial 😳 We had definitely reached the point of being so tired of peopling – it can be exhausting can’t it! Worrying about what people think, what have I done now to upset them, why don’t they just leave me alone – you know how it goes. I read a fantastic quote recently that I have really taken on board – if you feel like you have disturbed someone, then don’t disturb them again (ie. if someone is being an eejit then let them get on with it, it’s their problem, not yours!) – once upon a time I would’ve worried about this stuff – not now.

We do still do some peopling – talking to our families and friends on video calls regularly – we actually have the time now to have longer and more frequent conversations. The video calling has certainly helped our parents come to terms with our move, and I feel that we have actually got closer to our kids – which is funny, moving 1500 miles away! Some people who were friends have dropped us like hot potatoes – and that’s fine, everybody’s circle of friends changes throughout life – the trick is not to get upset about it – everyone is on their own journey.

Living an isolated life isn’t for everyone, probably not for most people to be honest, but we love it – the feeling of true calm and peace is priceless.

Working outside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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?