The Things Around Me

Tank -- February 16

A stainless steel tank arrived today from China and has taken station in the garage beside Sputnik's dog-house.  Best Beloved plans to start brewing or distilling... or something.

Kitchen Stuff -- February 8

I accumulate it, despite my best efforts.  Someone's giving some away?  I see it at a garage sale or charity shop?  Chances are that it will end up on my shelves.  And now I have a great excuse to keep it:  'my children will be starting households soon'.  Then my reason-voice breaks in:  'but will they really want soup bowls shaped like mini tureens?'.  Still, I can't bear to oust things completely -- 'after all, they're good quality!'  So some have been consigned to the basement (and we all know what THAT means!)

Just looking in the cupboard, I see the white dessert plates that have been in the family for as long as I remember, green plates I bought in Cairo, the pot I use for jam-making, an antique Cypriot copper dish, earthenware yoghurt makers, and a Laura Ashley jug given as a 'thank-you ' when the friend of a friend house-sat for a summer years ago.

Vines, Vines -- February 5

We already have a huge selection of wine grape varieties, but this spring we are planning to add a new variety of table grapes to the Thompsons that are planted below the house:  my friend Sophia, mother of Leo's buddy Theodoros, gave us some prunings of Black Emerald, a tasty dark variety that was developed in Israel and which her mother produces for sale on her farm.  The sticks have been sitting in water for the last few weeks waiting for warm weather and suitable soil to plant them.

Another Corner -- February 2

Best Beloved has a cold, so I tucked him up in bed and lit a fire in the wood burning stove that takes the chill off winter nights in our room.  The fireplace is somewhat lopsided -- the result of several attempts at chimney building, but the Fired Earth tiles around it distract the eye a little.  The chimney breast was supposed to be 'tadelak' a Moroccan method of applying tinted lime plaster and olive to plaster, but the builders put the wrong type of plaster on the wall, so the tadelak never stuck very well.

On the mantlepiece?  A plate from Hebron -- my last one, bought in happier days before the city became a battle ground, photos of Alex from kindergarten and first class, the place-marker stones from Li'l Bro and Bridie's wedding, an origami kite, a broken door holder,  and BB's officer stars.  The Navajo ruglet came from Colorado and the fossil from an art festival in Kapiolani Park, Honolulu.  The wooden box was carved by Andreas Charalambous, a talented carver from Paphos who did a lot of work for the Church.

Bottles -- February 1

Best Beloved and I get through a quantity of wine in a week and I hate throwing out all the bottles (putting them in recycling is tantamount to throwing them away).  When we were children, my brother had a bottle-cutting jig and he used to turn used wine bottles into drinking glasses.  I know that we used them in the family, and I'm pretty sure that he used to sell them and make good pocket money.  Well, I scoured the Net and finally found one.  These are my first attempts at cutting:  not a good success rate, but I am inspired.  

Blog post coming up...

A Favourite Corner -- January 29

My room has several nice corners, but this is my favourite. Gracing the the wall, the handmade English mandola that I bought from Breda Lewis back in 1984 hasn't been played for years. A 'friend' nearly destroyed it in Israel by leaving it to warp in the 43C heat of a shed, but a Nicosia bouzouki maker restored it and I couldn't bear to let it languish in a case. The table – slightly the worse for wear, but there are no fine antiques restorers here – came from my father's house and has been in our family for as long as I can remember.

What's on top? Travels With Charley, which I have meant to read forever; my Greek reading list – although I have abandoned these books in favour of Nykterino Deltio, a crime drama by Petros Markaris, inseparable from a much smaller but infinitely-easier-to-use-quickly dictionary of Sophia's; and Rania Matar's incomparable photographic monograph on the women and children across Lebanese society, Ordinary Lives.

The shelf below includes novels and autobiographies, books which I have read to The Littles before bed and that never found their way back to their rooms, other Greek novels that I 'must get to', my phone charger, an extra pillowcase, and the ball that Best Beloved lies on to stretch the kinks out of his back.

Alex's Room -- January 27

Alex didn't want a party 'of the kind you guys would approve, anyway'.  He just asked for his cheesecake, and a couple of his friends showed up and had dinner (and cheesecake) with us.  They were still there when I poked my head in to say goodnight:  Stellios clowning in a foundling pair of shades and the hat that Mili and Phil brought back from Vietnam, Andreas relaxing out of uniform on a few days off from the army.  Check out the room decor (please disregard the cracks -- maybe I'll discuss those in a future blog):  applique hangings from the markets of Cairo -- one a really finely stitched picture of Horus, the other a whimsical kid's pillowcase side by side with Heavy Metal posters, a French advertisement for Cognac, and (above the gargoyle candleholder) a caricature that I picked up in Amsterdam -- portrait of Infant Alex and me.

Cheesecake -- January 25

Alex turns 18 tomorrow.  He's hard to buy presents for.  Contingent on passing his driving test the day after his birthday, he will be presented with the keys of the car with which we induced him to pass his IGCSE's with a mean grade of B, but other than that, he says that he's not particularly interested in presents... except a Cheesecake.

I make a good New York style Cheesecake.  Bridie and Lil Bro insisted on it at their wedding, and on other special occasions I have been known to turn one out.  Alex's 18th birthday qualifies as a Special Occasion and he kept reminding me about it, so this afternoon I settled down to work.

Here are the 'before' and 'during' pictures. The 'after' will have to wait until tomorrow.

Brief Interlude -- January 24

The weather wrought havoc on the verandah, but although yesterday was sunny and we all enjoyed the warmth (see Sputnik there, chowing down on his fossilised Tyrannosaurus bone -- thanks, Eliza, for that piece of description).  I didn't get around to cleaning up the mess, and today, am glad I didn't:  there's more weather on the way!

Stuffed Memories -- January 22

This is Flipper.  My father bought him for me before I was born, and he has been a part of the family ever since.  He used to squeak, but now is silent.  His mouth used to be orange felt, but wore out and was recovered several times during my childhood.  He spent my teens and most of my adulthood in a box in Hawaii, but when BB and I visited when Alex was a baby, we found him and took him home with us.  I purged the house a few years ago, but couldn't bear to throw him away:  "Somebody else take this and put him in the bin,"  I said.  "I can't face it!"  But Sophia rescued him, and he now sits on her bookshelf.

I was so glad to see him there, and will never consider parting with him again.

Creams & Salves -- January 21

The cold weather has been playing havoc, with hands and lips becoming chapped and even a hint of chilblains.  So we had a hand and lip salve session in the kitchen this evening.  Zenon helped with grating the wax and Mili came to learn the recipe.  I will blog about this properly in the coming week, but wanted to share our achievement:  three jars of mint lip balm and three of geranium hand cream.

Captive Owl -- January 18

Zenon spends Wednesday afternoons in the pottery studio of Avgoustinos (Ninos) in nearby Yerouskippou.  Ninos has decorated the outside with an unusual frieze of rejected items, and filled the inside with light, life, and creativity.

Empty Web -- January 16

My spider friend has gone.  When I fed Stumpy this morning I saw that the web was torn, and that several small flies had been trapped but not 'processed'.  Uneaten snacks.  The cycle continues.  I enjoyed her companionship for weeks.

The Basement -- January 15

The Basement... 

The Winery at one end full of the paraphenalia of fermentation, bottling, corking. Shelves run along the back wall loaded with suitcases full of clothes, boxes of papers, slide and negative files, old kitchen equipment which I am keeping against the days when my children will set up their own houses... and the tools – in a permanent state of disarray. You can find mosaic tiles here – and glue, and grout, and wooden plaques on which to create your designs. The chain saw lurks beside the wardrobe with the extensive collection of power tools. Our old Tae Kwan Do belts share a box with curtain fabric and other remnants. Another box holds electrical supplies, another paint brushes, rollers and trays... A pirate costume hangs in the corner. Salmon rods and a spear-gun share the opposite corner with a board from Morey Boogie. Oh, look! There's the mousetrap. I had wondered where that had got to.

I must get in here with my organising hat on some day, but until then it's easier to leave the door closed.

Drains -- January 14

To think:  I was almost stuck for a subject today.  Then the kitchen drain backed up -- again.  I think that the culprit is the long distance and low fall between the kitchen sink and the outlet to outside.  Four packets of Flup (how I hate that stuff!), three litres of hot-hot water, and some energetic plunging later and we seem to have it cleared.  For now.  Since massive drain problems earlier this year, I have been scrupulous about what goes down the kitchen sink, but I think it's time to plug the outlet and fill the pipe with acid.

Dealing With a Glut -- January 12

Winter is citrus season: our blood orange tree still has at least thirty kilos on the branches, and Mili and Phil have been plying us with lemons and clementines.  Yesterday I went to see Aunty Maroulla who has orchards near Mandria.  "Stop by on your way home and take as much as you like!" she urged me.  I asked when the picking crew was coming.  "If we bring in a crew," she said.  "By the time we pay them we have nothing left.  For now we're telling friends and relatives to take what they want -- maybe we'll get the whole family to help for a weekend and clear the trees, or sell the whole lot to the Co-op for juice.  That way picking's their headache and at least we get something... But for now, take, take!"  Of course I offered my sons and their friends as pickers should the family turn out, and Alex seconded that later.  In the meantime I picked a paltry 10 kilos of mandoras and on my way out Maroulla handed me a carrier bag bursting with mandarines .  "Mix the juice," she advised.  "It's wonderful blended."

So this morning, as rain streamed down the window panes and Metallica alternated with Notis Sfakianakis on my computer's sound system, I squeezed my way through an orange-coloured fragrant mountain.  Vitamin C for all!  (Yes, I do have an electric squeezer, but I never use it. It makes a horrible noise and you have to work much harder -- I prefer the old method.  And I've had that particular tool for at least twenty years.  Sometimes plastic does last...)

Guestroom?  Gym?  Office? -- January 10

If you come and stay with us, here's where we'll put you. It's cool in summer and warm in winter because it's almost completely underground. You are sure to sleep well in the big bed (1.8 metres by two), covered with the hand made aplique spread that I bought fifteen years ago in Cairo – remember that trip, Lee?

I come here most mornings to 'eat my frog'. Mark Twain reportedly said that if you ate a frog first thing in the morning, you could be pretty certain that nothing else that you do during the day would be as difficult. Well, I exercise each morning: frog a la panting and perspiration... That eliptical machine and I get very friendly, but I'm well set up to tackle the rest of the day. Best Beloved bought the machines nearly a year ago: they get steady use from him and me and sporadic use from the others. If you stay with us, as an added bonus, you get a chance to keep fit, too -- 'in the privacy of your own room'!

And Sophia works here. BB set it up as his office, but Sophia occupies it 7-2 studying for her IGCSEs. Of course, if we have guests, she moves out – but takes the laptop with her.  Sorry!

Clouds and Feathers -- January 9

Sunshine and clear skies, this morning anyway.  But fresh breezes brought housekeeping difficulties for my spider friend.

Bad Weather -- January 8

Days of bad weather have turned the garden and fields into quagmires.  We had to cancel a trip to the snow, so I relaxed the usual strict t.v rules for the Littles and their friend, and Stumpy spent his time tightly curled on a kitchen chair.

The Rainbow and the Spider -- January 6

Raindrops on the window sent me scurrying into the back kitchen to delight in the tanks filling. As I watched, water flowed from the gutter, the big red spider who has lived outside the window for the last few months clung to her swaying web, and a rainbow arched across the valley.

Wild Chard -- January 5

Some years ago I bought a packet of Rainbow Chard seeds from Garden Organic in the U.K.  They did very well in the garden and were a mainstay of my veg-box delivery system.  I replanted each year.

But in the days when I ran the garden as a business, I rarely allowed plants to bolt:  once the yield of any vegetable dropped, the plants were pulled out, the earth tilled, and a new round and rotation were put in.  Lots of work...

These days things are different and the garden grows in a more relaxed manner.  I earn little cash from it -- preferring to give away my surplus rather than sell it -- and derive hours more enjoyment simply by watching and letting things be.

Last summer the chard bolted and threw up enormous seed heads as tall as I.  Their weight pulled them over, the sun dried them, and now that the winter rains are falling, rainbow chard is springing up in unexpected places.  

Heat Source -- January 4

Cyprus has mild winters, but nights can be cold.  We have wood-fired central heating, and while not making the place toasty, the radiators in each room take off the chill.  We also have a big fire upstairs.  BB maintains that it's wonderful, but I have my doubts.  I think that it's inefficient, although there is no doubt that it adds atmosphere to the place.  No picture of it now as it's not lit.  When he's away, I use the downstairs fire.

We burn our own wood:  the fruit trees and olives that we have taken out over the last few years, and the cypress trees that were thinned from the edge of the field.  They will definitely see us through this winter, and probably into next.

Still in the Kitchen -- January 3

The cookbook shelves, cast-off wineboxes from The Sommelier: above, the 'Taverna Price List' that Best Beloved and I bought on our honeymoon in Rodos and the Kauai Coffee sack picked up for $2 in a Lihue warehouse so many years ago.

The top shelf? Fertile ground for miscellany: books, a pen, a clay figurine that Zenon made at Nino's pottery workshop, a Christmas candle that I bought at the school bazaar, the remains of homemade pot-pourri that filled the sachets of the extended family's Christmas gifts.

The cookbooks: standbys with stained and tattered pages, and rarely-thumbed tomes purchased in passion (never visit a bookshop when you're hungry) but nevertheless remaining pristine. I cook more by instinct than by following recipes, but the books inspire and remind, and many are classics.

The foreground: Leo's sandals, flaking mud... and Stumpy, fresh woken from his nap and asking to go out.

The Kitchen -- January 2

The morning has been a 'work in progress'. The washing of the dishes (some from last night -- and check out the pink and white mug that Father Christmas brought me!) followed supervising Zenon's making of bacon and sausage for breakfast, and was combined with making a loaf of bread (so that he can have french toast for breakfast tomorrow – I refuse to buy supermarket sliced white, but this one looks slightly anaemic), throwing together granola (loosely based on the recipe in Darina Allen's wonderful Ballymaloe cookbook), and squeezing several litres of orange juice (“Nobody's going on the computer until they bring me a bag of blood oranges from the field... And wear boots because it's muddy!”).

Did somebody say that they wanted lunch?

A New year of Blogging?  The Desk -- January 1

In celebration of the new year, and renewed commitment to blogging Family Life in Rural Cyprus, I will be adding at least a page a week with a visual detail of my physical surroundings -- as they are, warts and all, without special tidying, primping, sprucing up or otherwise tweaking.  In order to set the scene, here is my desk -- from where 99% of these posts are generated.

This is the sitting room, on the upper floor of our house.  It is New Years Day, 2012, and a few hours ago we returned home from  New Year lunch en extended famille at Phil and Mili's.  Best Beloved is having a postprandial snooze downstairs, and the others (except Timi and Leo, seen here playing chess) are out and about visiting cousins or walking the dog in the gaps between the squally showers that we have been having all day.


  1. Rachael,

    I'm just loving this - since I've not ever seen your new house. But I've also enjoyed your other photos of your various activities.

    I do remember that trip to Eritrea - and buying the lovely quilts at the market. I got a present for Katya and one for Rick, but nothing for myself! Big mistake. Wonderful how you've used yours on the bed - and with a dust ruffle too! So civilized.

    What I remember most often from that trip was taking off at midnight from the Cairo airport, looking out the window and seeing the full moon reflected in the Nile - what a vision! I think that is a permanent fixture in my mind's eye.

    But there were so many good things about the trip - meeting Mahmoud, seeing Eritrea and Cairo, seeing the East African highlands from the air, all that good coffee - and flan! And not least of all, a great laid-back traveling companion. Thanks for the memories. :)


  2. Thanks for the visit. I haven't been doing a lot of creative writing online lately, but hope to get back to it.

    I really love your site. I've been taking a tour. I stopped here because there's so much to see. I'll visit other areas, as well. This section is so nice because it's like you took me on a tour through your house and your life. I loved it. The photography is wonderful and the snippets about the pictures were fun to read and interesting.

    I don't know very much about Cyprus, but I'm looking forward to learning more as I visit more often. While I loved all the pictures, the ones with the spider were favorites. I like spiders as long as they don't run at me. I love how they create such intricate webs, but they do disappear after a time. The feather in this one was interesting. I wonder how she handled that? BTW your kitty looks like mine!

    You have a wonderful blog. I look forward to visiting more often.