…the prodigal returns

Back where we came from, reluctant returnees.


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Another year, another Christmas

Isn’t it scary how fast time passes? I remember my mother saying

the older you get, the faster time goes

which, of course, I thought was absolutely mad!

It turns out (unsurprisingly) that she was right. Don’t you remember those childhood days, laying on the floor and staring up at your family Christmas tree, just aching to have those days until the Big Day pass more quickly? How slowly the days of school went, yet how quickly the summer holidays passed?

And now, time seems to go so quickly. The days, weeks and months whiz by. All of a sudden, I’m a year older, and it’s almost the end of 2015. Last year this time, I was pretty miserable, as I had 2 chemo sessions during the holidays – and wasn’t sure what state I’d be in come the next Christmas.

xmas 2015

Way-hey, it’s Christmas!

But here I am, ticking along, doing well. We have our friends’ goodie bags all ready to delivery this evening, and all the gifts are under the tree.

I feel so thankful to be here, to be healthy, and to have my darling husband and funny boxer dogs here to hug and cuddle me. I have a great daughter, a fantastic son-in-law and 2 perfect granddaughters to give me purpose. Hopefully in the future we’ll be spending every Christmas together, which is about as good as it gets.

Merry Christmas!


Changing times

It’s harvest time in Yunquera! The sound of tree shakers reverberates throughout the campo, and you see men setting the nets, or preparing a campo lunch, everywhere. As you drive by the cooperative, you see canastas full of olives, ready to be pressed. It’s a comforting sight – money in the pocket in time for Christmas (if you sell your olives), and your family’s olive oil barrel full of delicious golden oil for the coming year.

When we first moved here in 2003, the mills wouldn’t even be open yet. Why? Well, it was customary here to pick olives when they were all black, which sometimes would be as late as February. This made for olive oil that was golden yellow, and very smooth and soft tasting – the taste that was preferred in Yunquera.

olives

Harvest 2015

We were thought odd, as we would pick the first half of our crop in mid-December, then the second half after the New Year. We preferred an oil that was fresher and slightly greener in taste, so picked when our olives were half green/half black.

This year we have noticed a huge change. Our olives are picked and pressed already – the entire crop picked in November, the earliest ever! I’ve seen loads of farmers doing the same, and the canastas at the mill are full of (mostly green) olives.

Why the change, we wonder? Is the price for olives better this year, so farmers are picking early to get the best price? Is it that farmers here have finally recognised that those buying their oil now prefer a ‘grassier’, greener oil? Is it that local tastes have changed in line with this global preference?

I don’t know, but to me, it shows that even in a remote village like Yunquera tastes and customs regularly change !


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Getting ready for Christmas

We have made a list and checked it twice! The tree is up, the Lujos gifties are made for friends, the presents are mostly wrapped and under the tree.

We have plans to go to Malaga Christmas Eve for a bit of light retail therapy, then some food shopping and lunch, then see the lights. Malaga’s lights are absolutely fabulous – I’ll try to remember to take photos!

Anyway, my friends, one of the jobs today was to do my usual Christmas newsletter, but somehow a video just seemed more appropriate.


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Baby, it’s cold outside!

One thing that comes as a surprise to most people is that it’s not always warm in southern Spain. Or, at least in our little corner of it, it’s not always warm! Or sunny. Or dry.

On the coast, I’m sure it’s  a different story, but here on our mountain, winter is most decidedly here. Last week we had Ark-style rain. This week, it’s dry, but the usual winter story of very windy and cold.

Loading the truck

Bringing olive wood up to the house

The end of this week, it will be colder yet. Highs of 9-11° C, lows of 1-3°. Add to that the wind chill factor, and it is extremely cold!

Now I know that my midwestern family and friends will scoff at these temperatures!

Call that cold?

they’ll say.

To a certain extent, they are right. But the midwest is geared up for cold, and southern Spain isn’t. The houses are meant to keep heat out, not cold, so insulation is not common. We are lucky in that we have central heating and double-glazed windows and doors, but those also are rare!

So we’ll be turning the heating up, lighting the fire early, and bundling up!


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Living in a wealthy village

We live in one of the wealthiest villages I’ve ever seen. Not in monetary terms, but in so many other ways.

We were visiting a friend in the village this morning. We’ve known him for 11 years now, and he has helped us to learn so many things about living in the campo. He knows our land very well – what we can and cannot grow!

As we were leaving, he gave us a bag of avocados, pears and peaches, and tried to give us tomatoes and peppers as well. In return, we offered him a bag of apples. We also supply him with Bing cherries and walnuts, neither of which he grows.

Winter veg garden

Vegetables at Casa Tyr

This is the norm in Yunquera. In this way, everyone gets what they need.

Our English friends in the village, who don’t own land, are given everything by her neighbour – vegetables, fruit, eggs, you name it. Most people in the village own land, or their family does – so I think that those who don’t have land are regarded with pity, as they can’t grow a thing! We also supply these friends with new potatoes, squash, and other goodies. I also gave her a cherry tomato plant, so she can now grow her own in a small way!

This sharing and trading goes on between neighbours all the time. Whether you like them or not is irrelevant – in an isolated village like this, which suffered greatly in years past under Franco, you relied on family and neighbours, and they relied on you. It couldn’t work any other way.

So you can keep your Mercedes and latest gadgets, folks – I’m happy living here in one of the richest villages I’ve known.

 


Feria!

Once again, it’s feria time in Yunquera! The early October fiesta is the Big One, the main village feria, which also celebrates the harvest.

Not that the harvest (aka vendimia) was much to celebrate this year! We don’t grow grapes ourselves, but our friend Manuel does, as does our neighbour below. The harvest wasn’t spectacular by any means – the grapes small and few – but apparently the sugar content was good, so the wine should be of good quality. You don’t know these things for sure, of course, until the first barrel is tapped in a couple month’s time.

This rather fits into the poor harvest of…well…everything this year. Our garden has produced enough for our winter needs (as well as to give to friends), but it’s been a struggle. The tomatoes were late, and at one point we thought we wouldn’t even get enough to jar. The green peppers were small and few, although the hot peppers were fantastic. The aubergines (aka eggplant) were small, but numerous and succulent; the melons the same. Potatoes, onions and garlic did well, despite the 2 month late start. The green beans didn’t germinate at all, and the sweet corn barely did; yet okra was plentiful! Go figure.

The feria last night seemed to reflect the difficult year. Everything was the same as usual…but not. Everyone was having fun, but it was more of a struggle, as if people were determined to carry on despite their problems. The town has less money to spend, so there was less entertainment. Parents doled out money in small amounts to children keen to ride the bumper cars or merry-go-round – you could almost feel the parental worry as pockets emptied.

Flamenco in Yunquera (photo by kent@imagenary.co.uk)

Flamenco in Yunquera (photo by kent@imagenary.co.uk)

Andalucians are no strangers to hard times, though – the area was punished terribly for their anti-Franco views. They have long memories here in our village, and remember all too well the ‘hungry years’. This attitude probably serves them well during “the crisis”, certainly more so than their free-wheeling, mortgage-carrying city cousins Up North.

We joined in the celebrations last night, saying hello to friends and neighbours. We supported the effort as much as we could with our presence and pennies. It’s all appreciated, and while watching the flamenco isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, we like to show by our smiles and applause that we enjoy their culture almost as much as they do!


Los melones han llegado!

That’s right, you heard it here first – the melons have arrived at Casa Tyr!

We always plant melons, many more than we need, as nothing quite beats the sweet, juicy goodness of a melon fresh from the garden. I grow the smaller varieties – Sugar Babies, Ice box, and so on. The humungous melons that you find in Spain are enough for a family of 10, and not suitable for just the 2 of us. Although having said “the 2 of us”, I really mean the four of us, as the boxer dogs love melon! In fact, you have to keep a close eye on Milo in the melon patch, or he’ll pull one off the vine quicker than you can imagine!

We have tried growing what they call a “Seville melon” here in Yunquera, but we weren’t too keen on those, and gave most of them away. Plain old “water melon” isn’t highly valued in Yunquera for some reason (maybe because they are commonly grown), but we like them.

Hales melon grown at Casa Tyr

Hales melon, cut and ready to enjoy!

This year, I grew what is called a Hales melon, which is an heirloom variety of melon. They are (I think) a type of cantaloupe, and supposed to be the sweetest, juiciest variety around. They have quite a thin skin, so aren’t generally good for shipping, which is probably why you don’t see them in the supermarkets. Lucky us, we can just pop down to the garden and fetch one up for lunch! 🙂

Well, we ate our first one day, and the pundits are quite right – these little beauties are fantastic!