Sunday, February 19, 2017

Projects and Puppies, Panoramas and Pigs

The news from the States continues to make my head spin; imaginary terrorist attacks in Bowling Green and Sweden being reported by the White House staff and even the President - and I just learned that the House of Representatives has passed an NRA-backed Bill that legalizes the killing of bear cubs in wildlife refuges. I wake up each day believing that this-will-be-the-day that somehow, someone will have stopped this hand basket ride, but no, it just gets worse. And each day I am torn between rage and the deepest sorrow I have known.

And so I will pull back, again, and focus on what is right in front of me, and for a few minutes I will bring you along on this journey that offers so much beauty and peace, far away from the madness.

Our new neighbors' new horse (and Mulhacén)
Sam gets some love from our neighbor's puppy and her visiting sister

This week we enjoyed a hike that provided a restorative day with good friends as we walked for hours up and down hillsides through forests of cork oak and orchards of almonds and figs. The views of the Mediterranean were not as promised, but instead there were trees emerging from the fog, and distant bells that became cows as we walked near to them. It was a day above, and at times in the clouds, and it was lovely. 

An olive tree emerges from the fog

Looking towards home from the Sierra de Contraviesa

Some hobbled horses among a herd of free-range cows

Almond blossoms just beginning

Sam and Rich having a short rest

Sam has several projects going including a wall of shelves in the storage/utility room. 

An entire wall of shelving

On Thursday several neighbors gathered to help move a heavy piece of equipment and then we sat on the terrace enjoying coffee, cookies and conversation. 

Our new Belgian neighbor, our British neighbor, our Spanish neighbor and Sam moving the shredder

Manuel continues to build stone walls on our property, shoring up terraces in a way that will last far in to the future of this land. 

Dry stone walls (no cement) defining the terraces on our land

And yesterday Sam participated in a mantanza, or pig slaughter. He decided that if he is going to eat pork, then he should understand all that is involved. The whole thing was conducted as humanely and respectfully as possible, and he took photos, but I decided not to post any here.  I went later in the day and instead took photos of the peacocks that live on the same farm.

A proud peacock

I am taking a couple of weeks off from the blog. We are going to pick up our first set of "kids" who are coming for a visit.  Andrew and Lisa will fly into Madrid and we look forward to sharing our new life with some of our family. I'll be back in March to share some of that with you.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Adventures in Shopping

When you move to another continent and only ship a few basics from home, it is inevitable that shopping plays a major role in the first months of your new life.

After divesting of the bulk of our belongings in the States we determined that never again would we have so much stuff that required so many decisions. We sought a simple life with possessions that were for using, not for show. I wanted a table where anyone could sit, whether the neighboring shepherd, or a family with young children, and there would be no worries of scratches or other damage. I pictured a couch that would invite relaxation without worrying about the leather, and I wanted dishes, rugs, and decorations that we would enjoy, but be able to walk away from if that was needed.

Thank goodness for IKEA. I blogged months ago about our big trip to IKEA and the delivery of the bulk of our furnishings.  Since then we have returned several times for additional items, some large, but mostly smaller things like pillows, blankets, lamps, etc. 

IKEA overwhelms the sensitive shopper. We arrive with a strategy and once through the doors it is a bit like trying to win one of those survival shows. The urgency to get what we need, (without discovering items we have never considered, but find tempting once we know they exist) results in increased heart rates and frequent hot flashes and occasional moments of snapping at each other; and that's before we put anything into the cart!

Finally everything on the list is located, with only a few extra items thrown in (who wouldn't want ultra-cool storage containers or collapsable bins for recycling?) Then it is time for the check out.  I don't understand why the belt where you place your items is so tiny at IKEA, but we manage.  Sam unloads while I hurry to the receiving end with my pre-purchased IKEA blue bags and madly load the products as they are tossed towards me by the cashier. 

Pushing the cart out the doors always causes us to release a long breath with the relief of having survived the experience, our relationship still intact.  Loading the car is the next challenge, but Sam is gifted when it comes to packing so I stand aside until he gets it all arranged in a way that prevents jostling, and then we are done!  Each trip to IKEA we imagine taking time to visit old-town Malaga, or have lunch at a beachside restaurant, but once we get it all in the car we only want to get back home and we end up in a focused drive barely noticing the beautiful miles of Mediterranean coast just to our right.

Hardware stores have also played a significant role in our new life. Soon after arriving we found ourselves needing everything from power tools to paint, and from door handles to spigots. Consequently we are now familiar with several local hardware stores of varying sizes. The CAMI in Órgiva is a small-town store staffed by women and it seems to carry everything imaginable. The front of the store is stocked with supplies for vegetable gardens and pets and then there are the nuts, bolts and screws followed by wood stoves and irrigation supplies and on and on. Maria, the younger woman is always ready to help us, and with her extensive knowledge she finds exactly what we need. 

Leroy Merlin, a large store much like Home Depot in the States, is in Granada and we made many trips there early on, but now avoid driving that distance if at all possible. We first discovered Leroy Merlin when we were here on vacation a year ago and I honestly think it contributed to Sam's belief that he could live in Spain. He came to life as we wandered through the aisles of light fixtures and plumbing parts. Everything is just a bit different than what is offered in the States and it all seemed very cool. I think it was a relief to know that there was a place to find the items that he would need for home maintenance and improvement projects.

Aki is our latest discovery in hardware stores.  On the coast near the town of Motril, Aki is a rougher version of Leroy Merlin. Not quite as shiny and new, but with many of the same items. We have had several trips there recently for boards and buckets and brackets.  Aki shares a parking lot with Al Campo and that brings me to grocery shopping...

In the many years that I imagined living in Europe I pictured myself purchasing products from the local butcher, baker and cheese maker. And that is possible, but not always practical. Parking in these small towns is challenging as the few small lots are not near any of the shops, so whatever you buy needs to be carried a distance to the car. I have yet to buy one of those wheeled carts with the canvas bag attached that everyone seems to have, but now I understand the need and hope to have my own before long. But for now I have only shopped in local towns for a few supplies that can be carried easily to the car. We have gone to weekly markets for fruit and veggies and occasionally stop at a bakery for bread, but haven't really gotten a well established routine that results in consistently purchasing what we need from small specialty shops.

We do the bulk of our grocery shopping at one of three larger stores.  These stores have parking lots and shopping carts and with our goal of only shopping every couple weeks, it is just simpler than the quaint experience I had imagined.  Carrefour has the largest selection, but it is also in Granada and making that drive has lost its charm. Mercadona is closer, but the selection, while still generous, is limited primarily to Spanish products and occasionally I find a need for something exotic, like Greek olives or imported wine (and by imported I mean, from the North of Spain!) Al Campo has a varied selection and it is convenient because we can park once and do both the regularly needed hardware stop at Aki and also get groceries. 

We traveled to Europe 8 times before I finally asked how to access the shopping carts. I'd look longingly at the nice rows of carts, but they were all chained together and I couldn't figure out how to release one cart from another. Unlike in the States, there are never rogue carts blocking parking spaces, or abandoned with the front wheels on the curb - here they are all nicely hooked together in their allotted location. 

On the first 7 trips to Europe, we used the available plastic baskets and filled them awkwardly to the brim, wondering each time if there was a membership card or such that allowed access to the carts. It turns out to be quite simple. There is a slot on each cart where you insert a coin (50 cents, 1 or 2 euro) and that releases the chain that holds your cart to the one in front of it.  When you are through shopping you plug your cart back into another cart, and out pops your coin.  It is brilliant really as no one leaves stray carts in the lot and employees don't need to spend time gathering up carts. Something so simple, but it works very well.

Still on the topic of shopping carts - the wheels are not the same as in the States.  I am used to a cart that has front wheels that spin completely around, but the back wheels are stationary so that when you turn a corner, the front turns and then the back follows.  The carts here have all four wheels set so that they can turn in any direction which causes a drifting phenomenon and once there is any amount of weight in the cart, it is nearly impossible to turn sharply, but the effort is good for the abdominal muscles.  Shopping is a 2-person effort for us, beginning with the challenge of pushing an unpredictable cart. Once I have any amount of stuff loaded in the cart, Sam takes over the pushing and by the end, one person pushes while the other guides the front end keeping it from taking out other customers or end-of-aisle displays.

For the most part picking out what we need is fairly straight forward. Occasionally we look up a word to be sure that what is in the can or jar is actually what we want, but usually the photo, or our limited Spanish is sufficient. Each store devotes an entire aisle to jamón. There are huge pig legs hanging in the jamón aisle and I don't know how one decides which leg they want to purchase. The other day we saw some in velvet sacks that were priced at 499 euros for a leg!  

In the fruit and vegetable aisle we pick out what we want and then weigh it and a sticker pops out with the price, which we attach to the bag.  If you show up at the checkout without having weighed and priced your produce, you don't go home with it. In Carrefour an employee does the weighing and stickering, but in Mercadona and Al Campo we do it ourselves. 

The fish counter is impressive with everything from whole octopuses to swordfish, and each store has a nice selection of cheeses. Eggs and milk are not kept cold.  You can find fresh milk in small quantities, but most milk is ultra-pasteurized and sold in 6-packs that have a shelf life of many months. We use very little milk, but we like to have a good supply on hand, so this works fine for us as we always have a 6-pack in the storage room and it won't go bad. Eggs are also sold off the shelf and no matter how modern the store, the eggs have not been washed.  They are stored at room temperature and frequently have chicken poo and a feather or two stuck on them. But the yolks are a deep-yellow shade that I have never found in the States (except from back yard chickens).

Checking out is the final challenge. After a quick "hola," the cashier will ask if we need a bag and how many. Each bag needs to be purchased, but we have carried our own for years, so that part is simple. Sam unloads the cart after carefully plotting the order that will make bagging it all easier, but once the cashier gets ahold of the food I feel like the duck in a shooting arcade. Boxes and jars, cans and bottles come flying at me as I try to distribute the weight in the shopping bags. Each time I am determined to keep cold items together and to spread out the bottles and cans, but within a minute I am just stuffing things any place I can.  One friend said she just puts it all back into the cart and then does her bagging out at the car where there is no frantic pressure.  I think that is a good plan that we will adopt.

Once at the car we get it all unloaded and I sort through the bags for anything that needs to be kept cold and those go into the cooler for the long trip home. We have learned to keep plastic bags in the cooler after a leaky bag of shrimp coated everything on one of our drives home.  Our freezer still smells like shrimp, and not in a pleasant way.

And finally, about citrus fruit - it is the season!  Nearly every trip to town we stop at one of the roadside vendors for a sack of fresh oranges and a bag of lemons. By sack I mean 15-20 pounds of oranges, for 4 euros! There is a woman outside Órgiva who sells oranges and lemons and those have become our favorites for juice.  A man further up the road sells avocados and kiwis and they have been a special treat.  Further up the road there is a man who sells oranges that we like, and he charges 2 euros for a sack, but he is only there on Sunday and we rarely go out on the weekend. 

We are slowly establishing routines.  We know which store carries the best muesli, or where to find ricotta cheese, and that Al Campo has the toothpaste we prefer.  We no longer look for cough drops or bandages at the grocery store as we understand that those types of items are purchased at the Farmacia. A friend recently brought my favorite cold and flu medicine back from the U.K., and when our kids come to visit in two weeks they will bring a number of small items that we have not yet found a suitable substitute for. But after nearly 7 months I think we have the shopping adventure pretty well sorted.

And now a couple photos for my parents and others not on Facebook...

Fresh snow on the hill above us

A recent sunrise on an early morning departure for IKEA

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Rambling thoughts

Today is a beautiful sunny day, but the wind is blowing with such force that we are stuck inside. I ventured out earlier this morning to take my daily photo of Mulhacén, but hurried back in with the wind pushing me towards the house.

Yesterday's daily photo because today it was hidden in the clouds

It has been a typical week.  On Monday Sam went to Órgiva with our neighbor to pick up some fence posts and I followed in our car to purchase a few groceries, get money from the ATM, and pick up the mail.

The church in Órgiva

On Tuesday we had a load of firewood delivered. The previous owner had ordered a truckload for us before we moved in, and that was a tremendous help. But the stack was quickly shrinking and we decided that we would be more comfortable if we got a second load.

Paco arrived about 9:30 in his truck filled with olive wood.

Yay for Paco!

Fortunately almost all of the pieces are the correct length for our not-large stove, so other than stacking, there was little else that needed to be done. The quantity was nearly twice what we had gotten in the summer, so we should have plenty to finish out this winter and get through next winter as well. We have learned that having a well-stocked pantry and a full woodshed are two of the great feelings when you live remotely.


Sunny weather has been the norm for much of the week. There is a particular hike we have done each time we vacationed in Spain and a year ago we did the hike and caught the tail end of the almond blossoms in a small orchard that we pass through. On Wednesday we did part of the hike (the part that did not involve climbing straight up or straight down the cliffside), but were surprised to discover that the buds were still tightly closed on the trees. We will check back in a week or so.

Looking across to the villages of La Taha while hiking

After our hike we drove on to Trevélez, the highest village in Spain, and enjoyed a delicious lunch surrounded by a local crowd. This village gets a good share of tourists, but in January, on the far edge of town, there seemed to be only locals out and about. As we drove out of town towards home we passed a teen-aged girl who was hitchhiking.  We stopped and agreed to deliver her to Pitres, another village between Trevélez and the turn off to our place. She had more English than she was comfortable using, but between our Spanish and her English we managed to keep a conversation going for the 20 minute drive together.

There are signs that spring is just around the corner.  Of course the almond blossoms at lower elevations are a brilliant indication, but even here at 1300 meters we have bulbs beginning to burst with color, small purple flowers scattered throughout the grass, and one of the strawberry plants has a bloom.

Almond blossom

A rose in our yard

These sweet flowers are scattered throughout the field

Hyacinth is blooming

We noted yesterday that the arrival of spring doesn't carry the same relief that it did in Oregon since we have had so much sunshine this winter. Many days we are in t-shirts even though the nighttime temperatures drop near or below freezing. I remember the first daffodils in Oregon - Each year when I spotted the bright yellow flowers, I felt like someone had loosened the grip on my throat.  I knew there would be weeks of rain still to come, but the promise of spring was there and that meant I would start the climb out of my seasonly-depressed mental cave.

This winter I never entered that cave - there has been depression, but because of American politics.  I can't imagine how I would be handling this horrific time in the dark wet days of an Oregon winter.

We will never know for sure what started us on the road that brought us to this place, at this time, but we are so thankful to be here now.

A sunrise photo, just because...

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Long Week and a Short Get-Away

This week we needed a break. Not from the paradise that we are fortunate to call home, but from the increasingly worrisome morning routine of scanning the headlines to learn what happened in the U.S. while we slept. 

So on Monday we went to the coast. After a quick stop for a few items at the hardware store and the grocery in Motril we drove down towards the Mediterranean for lunch. The restaurant is right on the beach and we enjoyed sitting outside in the warm sunshine watching the waves gently glide onto the deserted stretch of coastline. After lunch we took a stroll along the water, stopping to pick up colorful stones as we walked. The swoosh and swish of the continuous waves arriving then filtering through the pebbled shore as they recede, was comforting. We seemed to have the entire beach to ourselves on this warm January day, and it was just what we needed.

The beach in Motril

Tuesday morning we were off early to explore some villages that have been on my must-see list since our trip to Spain in 2008. Our first stop was in the white village of Frigliana set high on a hillside with steep mountains for a backdrop and a view across the Mediterranean to the mountains of Africa. 

View across the Mediterranean from Frigliana

It was a cloudless day and the whitewashed houses were brilliant against the deep blue sky. We started with a stop for coffee and at first resisted the touristy atmosphere. There were several busses and many Northern Europeans and Brits wandering about. But after our coffee we decided to go ahead and explore since we were there. 

The narrow streets that wind up the hillside revealed charming doors painted in a range of pastels. We visited an art gallery and stopped frequently to take photos of colorful flowering plants, village cats, and the postcard-view. It didn't take long to get into tourist-mode ourselves and in the end we found the town to be delightful and worth re-visiting when we have guests to entertain.

Narrow street in Frigliana

Wonderful doors in Frigliana

Another beautiful door

Back in the car we maneuvered through the narrow streets until we were on the other side of Frigliana headed towards Torrox.  Several kilometers out of town we found the sign for the village of El Acebuchal. The drive on the narrower-than-one-lane road would have been a white knuckle experience back in 2008, but we did it with relative ease and after about 8 kilometers dropped down into the tiny village.  

El Acebuchal, once an important staging post on the ancient mule-trading routes between Competa, Frigiliana, Nerja and the city of Granada, had been abandoned after the Spanish Civil War. In the summer of 1948 Franco evicted the 200 inhabitants and the Guardia Civil moved into their homes to fight the Republican rebels who had dug into the rugged mountains in the surrounding area. Eventually the village was only a collection of ruined houses and became known locally as the "Village of Ghosts."  Now it has been almost entirely restored by descendants of the last inhabitants and there is a thriving restaurant that attracts visitors to the village. We enjoyed a delicious meal there surrounded by Brits and Germans. Another tourist-oriented stop, but worth the trip.

Lunch in El Acebuchal

A street in El Acebuchal

The waiter discouraged us from taking the 13 km dirt track out the west side of the village, so we returned to the tarmac road the same way we had arrived, and then continued west.  I had decided on a route ahead of time but Sam noticed it was a red and white line on the map. He consulted the key and discovered that red and white meant "Winding and Dangerous."  I thought that sounded perfect!  

We found the narrow twisting road and it did have a few places that were concerning, but compared to what we have gotten used to, it was lovely.  There were even guardrails and we only encountered a few cars in the hour and half journey. I kept pointing to various views only to be instructed to "keep your eyes on the road!" 

The almond trees are starting to bloom and to me there is nothing prettier than the fluffy pink blossoms. 

Almond blossoms


Steep hillsides, terraced and planted with fruit and nut trees were all we could see in every direction. Occasionally a narrow driveway would disappear over the side and we said repeatedly that we would never live there! I can't imagine plunging off the roadside onto one of those drives.

Finally we arrived at our hotel on Lake Viñuela. A find, we were upgraded to a corner room with a lake view in this luxury hotel, for 56 euros. And that included an extensive breakfast buffet the next morning! It was a lovely location and our room was very comfortable. The heated bathroom floor was especially welcomed after our relatively cold cortijo. We enjoyed our evening and a spectacular meal in their dining room. We will definitely return to Hotel La Vinuela.

Our patio and view at Hotel La Vinuela

Wednesday we found another winding road through almond orchards to make our way towards the IKEA in Malaga. It was the end of our peaceful getaway, but we needed to purchase some furniture for the guest room. Purchases made, and car packed tightly we headed back home. Whether we are away for an afternoon, an overnight, or a week, when we pop over the hill and see our cortijo below us and Mulhacén in the near distance, we are happy to be back.

In other news, we have new neighbors.  A young couple from Belgium has moved in with their three horses, a collection of dogs and some cats. They are lovely people and we are happy to include them in our group of exceptional neighbors. They have not yet received the permit to build a shelter for their horses and this week we have had very cold nights, some with snow and high winds. We offered our vacant stable to them and we have enjoyed going out in the morning and seeing two lovely horses looking out the stable doors. 

Fun to have horses in our stable!

Friday afternoon we invited the new neighbors and another neighbor family for dinner. I was making veggie chili and cornbread so I just made more. It was a stormy night but having a houseful of kind people was the coziest atmosphere imaginable. Today we walked across the field to see our neighbors' new puppy and as we walked back home a couple hours later we remarked on the magic of this life. We woke up this morning with no plans but ended up visiting the puppy, staying for coffee and cake and then returning home with gifts of oranges and laurel branches and some Kombucha starter. 

The view on our walk home from our neighbor

There is so much right here to remind us each day that many people are kind, and life is good.

Flowers on a wall in Orgiva

Our hyacinth is blooming!

Just another photo from a recent walk in the neighborhood

Sunday, January 22, 2017


I was going to blog about grocery shopping in Spain, but that story can wait.

This has been a dark week in American and World history. On Friday as the new president was inaugurated, I had frequent bouts of tears punctuated by nausea. I had continued to hold out hope that justice would be served and that he would be stopped. Alas. 

But yesterday I was full of pride as I watched millions of women and men peacefully march for equality, human rights and true justice, throughout the world. I am so proud of the many friends and family members, including my daughter, her partner, my son and daughter-in-law, my niece and my cousins, young and old, who marched in Washington D.C., Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, Boston, Philadelphia, Salem, Newark and numerous other cities. 

My friend Lindy wore the names of those who wanted to march but were not able, taped to her jacket. I requested that she wear my name, and also my mom's name. Because those who marched were representing all women, and we needed to be a part of that.

Lindy's jacket with my name and mom's name

Lindy and friends in D.C.

Heather with her sign in rainy Portland where they anticipated 30,000 and had 100,000 show up!

My daughter-in-law Lisa had her sign ready in Seattle

My niece April marched in D.C.

The link below shows photos of marches around the United States and around the world. The photos tell the story, and it is a beautiful story for anyone who cares about the future of mankind and the planet we occupy.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Two Cultural Events in One Week

This week we had the pleasure of participating in two events that allowed us to learn and experience more of the local culture.

Mid-week we went to Granada for the opening of "The Edge of Forever," an exhibit of photogravure prints. As a part of the opening, architect and Spanish history expert, Rafael Anderson, gave a lecture about the agricultural, religious and political history of Granada and the Alpujarra. As we listened we delighted in the intellectual stimulation, but also in the knowledge that we are briefly passing through this place that has a rich and ancient history. We felt great pride in our opportunity to be present on this land for a relatively short time, perhaps leaving a small imprint among those of so many who came before us. 

In any direction that we look we see evidence of earlier inhabitants; in the terracing that defines the hillsides, in the ancient acequia channels that bring water from the high mountains so that livestock and crops can survive the hot, dry summers. The numerous ruins and stone walls that punctuate the Alpujarran countryside provide glimpses into the lives of those who once lived here. And many of the hiking trails we enjoy were once mule paths used to transport silk, honey and other goods.

A glimpse through the broken door of a ruin

Reminders everywhere of those who lived here before

Friday night we joined our friends and went to the San Antón festival in nearby Soportújar. They picked us up at our gate at 7:45 and we rode together down the mountain to this small village which clings to the hillside. Soportújar has a population of 296, but it is a vibrant community. The festival of San Antón centers around huge bonfires of olive wood that symbolize the burning of any bad luck from the previous year. We arrived before the fires had been lit so stopped in at the town bar for a drink and some tapas. Clearly the central meeting place in town, we entered a festive atmosphere as many others were also beginning their evening the same way. Each time someone entered the bar there were warm greetings called out, and hugs and kisses shared throughout the room. The kids quickly found school friends and were off playing.

By 9:00 the fires were blazing and we went out to the village square to join in the celebration. 

Getting the party started

There was live music and multi-colored strobe lights reflected off the front of the church. Free food (hunks of pork on huge slices of bread) was distributed and a selection of drinks flowed from a seemingly endless supply. 


There was such joy in the faces of those around us and soon many people were dancing. I loved seeing very old couples dancing next to young people and before long a conga line snaked its way through the crowd. 

People of all ages dancing

Conga line video

Several teens tucked behind the shadowy corner of a building where they, tentatively at first, and then more boldly practiced their own dance steps with each other. 

Teens finding their own private dance space (check out the lit-up shoes!)

And all the time the small children played on their own. Our friends' kids are nine and five and for well over an hour we didn't see them at all. But in this community there is no reason to worry as everyone watches out for everyone else and the kids are truly being raised by a village. I wish that words could capture the spirit of openness, joy and kind acceptance that we experienced. 

When we walked back to the car near midnight it was clear that the festivities were just getting started and I suspect that the dancing and celebration went on through the night. 

Delivered back to our gate we walked down the drive with only the light of the near-full moon and billions of stars, some shooting across the sky above us, and once again we marveled at our good fortune to be here.