Not So Smart

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Enjoying some January sunshine – the dogs are more interested in the passers by

I love technology don’t you?  I love being able to talk to my mum in the UK and I adore surfing the internet.   I started online grocery shopping more than ten years ago and love the fact that I can order from UK in Spain.   I was one of the first franchisees to embrace creating email newsletters for my Rosemary Conley customers and at one stage sent out a daily newsletter.  I learned to upload photographs from our old camera, published a couple of videos on You Tube and created spreadsheets by working out how to do it myself.   Despite a few frustrating moments and knowing that there is far more that a computer can do that I am aware of, technology has made my life better. I have a couple of stumbling blocks though; remote controls of which we have far too many and as I am rarely in the house alone I forget which blasted control does what and end up messing up all Steve’s careful programming.  “It’s easy, let me show you” says Steve, a phrase guaranteed to make my blood boil.  “I know it’s easy” I seethe back at him. “I just can’t remember from one solo viewing opportunity to the next”.

The greatest stumbling block and gadget that has made me feel really old however has been the Smart Phone.  A few years ago I was duped into upgrading my basic mobile phone to a Smart Phone which only escaped being thrown through a window on several occasions by supreme effort on my part as the frustration I felt when trying to operate the darn thing has only ever been equalled by my experiences as a teenager in the 70’s trying to create a hairstyle utterly unsuited to my hair type, age and hairdressing ability.  The touch screen of the smart phone highlighted a previously un-noticed intention tremor which meant that texting, previously a simple and speedy operation became a error littered and occasionally lengthy nightmare.    I called people unintentionally, opened screens I didn’t even know I had and generally couldn’t cope.  When we came to Spain, the exorbitant cost of continuing to use an English contract meant I gratefully returned to a basic mobile phone with which I have been able to phone people and text quite happily and even use predictive text in Spanish – get me.

In the last few months however, Steve and I have thought hard about whether technology may be leaving us behind and how, if we didn’t get a smart phone now and learn how to use it, we might be faced with the situation of being excluded from various aspects of cyber life including transactions in shops or the internet much as users of cheques as opposed to debit cards struggle these days and then have to face a learning curve of such steepness that we would find it too difficult.  Having decided to ahead with the project we did some research, Steve on the internet and me with my young Spanish students who were very helpful if a little patronising, suggesting a phone with big numbers would be a good idea.  We decided on a phone and I set off to the mobile phone shop where I was able to buy a phone for Steve who only wanted a pay as you go deal and then asked about an upgrade for my phone using my existing contract or similar.   Yes, this was possible was the reply along with a lot more information to which, thinking I had understood I replied “Si, si”.  As I signed all the paperwork, Helen, who was with me, asked about the cost of the contract as the specific price hadn’t been mentioned.  To my surprise, I was told an amount that was higher than I had asked for and thought I had agreed to and in my usual passive manner I said OK and left the shop feeling bamboozled.  Once I got home there was, shall we say, a discussion and I returned to the shop to say that I had made a mistake and wanted to change the contract to a lower tariff.  This is not possible.  Once you have signed the paperwork you cannot change to a lower tariff.  You can of course change to a higher tariff immediately if your mistake has been to ask for too low a tariff.  I returned home with my tail between my legs but following further discussion I went back to the shop for one last try.  I was told to ring customer services and managed to speak to an English speaker who told me that I had a beautiful name, asked me if I was having a good day and that I had a commitment to the contract and it couldn’t be changed.  I appealed to the shop assistant to try on my behalf and after a conversation with someone, presumably a manager, was told I could change the tariff after 24 hours.  This being a Saturday we asked if we could come back on Monday morning for the same girl to change the tariff and was told yes, claro (of course).

I had a feeling that being told to come back was just a way of getting rid of us (me, Helen and Steve who had accompanied us for the third visit) and that the return visit wouldn’t accomplish anything.  Sure enough when we arrived on Monday morning we were greeted by a different shop assistant and were told that the original girl didn’t work until the evening.  Grrrrr.  We tried to explain the situation to no avail.

I did have one more try at sorting the problem out when I returned again having discovered that the SIM from my old phone wouldn’t fit the new one and was told that yes, I could lower the tariff but it would cost 50Euros.   Lesson well and truly learned.

On the bright side, I now have a smart phone and am learning to use it.  The screen doesn’t seem as sensitive as my first smart phone and I am finding it fairly straightforward to use.  I even took a few videos of yesterday’s carnival procession and hope to work out how to upload them later today.  We have organised a tutorial session with some friends this week so hope to avoid any frustrating situations and I am looking forward to becoming more knowledgeable and confident.

PS I was hoping to add a video to the post but haven’t quite worked out how to upload yet……..

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Bless the Weather

A reader of my blog recently expressed surprise at seeing a photograph of me in hat, coat and scarf here in Spain.  We have also had comments from friends saying “I imagine you are lying by the pool this Christmas” which makes me realise that many people think we have hot sunshine year round.  Well, we do and we don’t.  During the winter which is really only December, January and February we can have some very cold weather indeed especially up here in the mountains where snow is not unheard of.  This is our fourth winter here and we have woken up to temperatures of below freezing on a couple of occasions so far and had a few cloudy and windy days where the temperature has been pretty low requiring, for me at least, coat, hat and scarf.  On the other hand, when the sun is out and the wind isn’t blowing the temperature on the terrace can go as high as 26 degrees, but only for a couple of hours and once the sun starts to set the temperature drops dramatically.  The air temperature is cold too and whilst if you are in the sunshine the temperature can be very pleasant, on the north side of the house in the shade, it is perishing.  In 2005 apparently, there was a heavy snowfall in the area and various bars and cafes in town have photographs of the event on the walls.  Last winter, snow caused traffic problems up in the mountains of Alcoi and Ibi which are only twenty minutes from here.

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Snow on the hills in February

Down at the coast the temperatures are much higher.  We are just thirty minutes by car from the coast but we notice the difference if we go down to the shopping centres in Elche or Alicante having set out from here in jackets and jeans, we find people (usually English or Dutch) in shorts and T-shirts.  We took the dogs for a walk on the beach on New Year’s Day and there were people swimming in the sea and yesterday, although it was cooler and windy on the beach it was still warm enough to sit and have a coffee outside in the sunshine. If we go further south to Murcia, to visit Ikea, it is even warmer although it is generally still the Northern Europeans in summer wear, the Spanish are wrapped up warmly from October onwards.  I was reproached by the man in the bank for wearing short sleeves in November on one occasion. Obviously, the further south you go, the warmer it is and southern Spain has much warmer temperatures year round however I did see photographs of a snow covered Andalucia last year.

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Winter sunshine at Urbanova

The big difference in the weather throughout the winter is the amount of sunshine and the lack of rain.  There are very few grey and cloudy days and it often only rains at night.  There was rain off and on the other day and Steve and I were hard pressed to remember a day where we had to walk in the rain during our time here.  Usually, when it rains, it buckets down for an hour or so and then stops.

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After the rain

The weather starts to warm up significantly in April although March can be very nice but it is often windy and cloudy.  There are definite rainy seasons here and April, although warmer, can see a lot of rain.  The countryside bursts into life, the wild flowers bloom and the weeds go mad.  The weather can be gorgeous in May and June, hot and sunny without the oppressive sultry heat of July, August and often September.   The very high temperatures of the summer months are perfect for holiday makers and spending the days lying by the pool and the evenings drinking wine on the terrace.  Working in these temperatures is not so quite so idyllic although the knowledge that a swim awaits at the end of work is a lovely feeling.

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Summer Days

Swimming under the stars is magical and cools you sufficiently to sleep for a few hours.  The reason for siesta becomes apparent at the height of summer when, the intense heat of the afternoon until about six o’clock makes it difficult to anything other than doze in the cool of the shade or our sitting room on the north side of the house.  The apartment bedroom too is faces north and, if the shutters are kept closed during the day, remains cool and comfortable for siestas and restful sleep at night.  Many Spanish houses have only small windows despite glorious views and we have heard many English house hunters dismiss potential houses as being too dark, but keeping the sunshine out of the house in the summer is important.  Many English people have their terraces closed in with large glass windows which must be unbearable in summer but in winter they are lovely warm places to sit.  In fact, during our first winter here when we were trying to save money by only turning on the central heating twice a day (false economy as we have discovered), the warmest place to sit during the day was the car which heated up nicely as it faces south on the drive.

The sunshine is what makes the difference to life in Spain.  Someone once told us that in Spain you never go for more than three days without seeing the sun and the effect that this has on everything especially for me, my mood cannot be underestimated.

That’s what Happiness is:

 

 

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Happy New Year

 

I hope everyone had a great Christmas and New Year and whilst going back to work after the holidays isn’t top of many people lists of fun things to do, I hope you find something to look forward to each day.

Happy New Year!  We wish people a HAPPY new year as a routine greeting at this time of the year and receive the greeting back without thinking too much about what it really means or how our lives could be happier.  We make New Year’s resolutions to be slimmer, fitter, healthier or more organised but have you ever made a resolution to be happier?   You may think that happiness is a result of circumstances or fate and that you can’t become happier by willpower but there is a lot of evidence to show that, in fact, you can.

I received the book The Happiness Project written by Gretchen Rubin from a friend, Andrea, when we moved to Spain and I read and loved it immediately.  I have long been a fan of the self help book and this book along with the follow up books Happier at Home and Better than Before have reinforced my belief that not only does the way you think and therefore act have a huge effect on your happiness but that by consciously thinking and acting in different ways your life can change and you can be happier.   Gretchen Rubin’s writing spoke to me directly and I found myself agreeing with her on almost every page; she has a list of personal commandments, eight splendid truths about happiness and a selection of secrets of adulthood that made me laugh and attempt to think of some of my own e.g. “always have a spare”.

I am always surprised and pleased when people describe me a positive person.  I am naturally rather more glass empty than glass full and have a tendency to see problems in situations rather than a positive overall outcome.  There are times when this natural tendency has made me unhappy but I have learned that by changing my approach to life, I can feel happier.  In The Happiness Project , Gretchen Rubin states that  To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth which makes perfect sense to me.  Gretchen’s first personal commandment is to Be Gretchen; in other words, know yourself and build your happiness on a foundation of your own nature therefore one of the main things I have done recently after a period of feeling low is to rediscover and aim to build activities and actions that make me happy, into my life.

    • Practice gratitude. Happiness, they say is not having what you want but wanting what you have. Taking a little time every now and then to appreciate what you have in your life can boost your happiness a great deal. I have a wonderful husband, loving family, good friends, a lovely home in a gorgeous setting, a fit and healthy body, interesting work and sufficient income.
    • Contact with family and friends. In a busy life it is too easy to let time pass without being in contact and to my shame there have been times when I have realised that far too much time had passed since I had communicated with anyone. Over the last few months in particular I have aimed to use the time in the early mornings that I spend at the computer to write emails and to resurrect this blog which had become neglected and with it contact with many people who don’t use Facebook and with whom I was gradually losing contact. I cut down the number of blogs I receive in my inbox that were taking me too long to read each day and making me feel stressed that I couldn’t manage them all. I determined that I would spend half an hour writing an email/letter twice a week and aim to publish a blog each week. Of course there have been weeks when I haven’t achieved this but instead of giving up when I didn’t reach my goal as I have so often in the past, I focussed on the payback and started afresh.   One of my favourite quotes is “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” therefore writing for half an hour means I don’t write long emails but I do make contact and the payback of course is that I get something back.
    • Reading. I love reading, both new books and old favourites that I call comfort reading but when we bought our Kindle Fire which allowed me to easily access the internet in bed, I began surfing the internet last thing at night and not reading a book. After a couple of months I realised that I wasn’t reading any sort of fiction and this had impacted on my happiness level. Reading has always been such a big part of my life and although I enjoyed looking at different web sites and blogs, I didn’t find it as relaxing as reading, I found it harder to get to sleep at night and as I mentioned before, the more blogs I subscribed to, the more stressed I felt if I didn’t clock in at least daily. Once I realised what was happening I went back to books; re-read some old favourites, bought some new (freebie) Kindle books and tried some (and abandoned several) of the many books that we had bought from the charity shop. I don’t have a lot of time during the day to read but my bedtime reading is a rediscovered joy. What was I thinking when I stopped?
    • Gardening. I learned to be a gardener in Frome, first in a shady, terraced garden and secondly at Lock’s Hill where the garden had lots of sun but also a shady corner where I grew ferns and other shade loving plants. After four years at Lock’s Hill the garden was establishing well and looked, to my eyes, gorgeous. When we moved here I anticipated and planned a Mediterranean garden filled with drought tolerant plants. What I didn’t anticipate was that gardening isn’t quite so popular here and many of the plants that  I wanted to include in the garden simply weren’t available. The majority of Spanish people live in apartments in town where they grow shade plants on their balconies or pots of geraniums and petunias.   In their country houses where they spend holidays and summers, the outside space is often quite barren with perhaps a few fruit or olive trees and a vegetable garden. Most towns have a garden centre but not as we know them; garden centres in this area have a reasonable range of plants but often they are plants that require a lot of looking after and my idea of gardening is to plant things that will get on with life without much fuss. Gardening here has been a steep learning curve and I have planted and lost many plants to the harsh conditions. This year I am planning to buy some of the plants I hope will fare better in the garden online from a nursery in France which deals specifically with drought tolerant plants and I am hoping for more success. Gardening makes me happy but also makes me feel bad.
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Spring colour
  • Learning. I love learning new things whether items of knowledge or practical skills. Learning to speak Spanish is a great source of happiness (and frustration). Before we moved here we bought a CD of basics designed for the holiday maker and learned how to ask for directions donde esta el museo?, drinks, dos cafes con leche por favor and more bread tiene mas pan? Our friends who live here in Spain recommended Coffee Break Spanish, a podcast that I downloaded and listened to in the car which gave me more useful phrases and vocabulary and of course, once here we started to learn how the language is actually spoken. I picked up quite a lot by talking to people in shops and I learned some more once I started work however,  I reached a plateau and grew frustrated. I had stopped actively learning Spanish as I was busy working, preparing lessons and generally living life. Steve found an excellent on line course which is helping him learn and more importantly retain the language and I have also started to use this site which is filling in some of the gaps in my knowledge. I have also recommenced downloading Coffee Break Spanish and use my car journeys to listen and learn. The children I teach love to correct my Spanish and my use of the masculine and feminine forms of words is improving. I am on an upward curve again and although there are still times when I have no idea what is being said or how to reply I can have a conversation with my Spanish students . I love it.
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Chatting to Noelia

 

Being happy doesn’t necessarily come naturally or easily to some of us but both by making an effort to include happiness boosting activities and in the same way that a healthy body needs nourishing food a happy and healthy mind needs mental nourishment which, for me, means reading uplifting, positive material on a regular basis.   The Happiness Project is a thought provoking read if nothing else and if you feel that your happiness is in need of a boost, I urge you to read it.  Thank you Andrea for sending the book to me – it has made a big difference to my life.

 

 

Missing

In last week’s post I mentioned that visitors to Finca Los Gatos often ask us what we miss about the UK telling us the things that they couldn’t live without.  Steve and I usually laugh and say “nothing” but of course there are things we miss but don’t pine for (except sometimes). Truth be told you can get most things here especially on the coast where there is a much larger ex pat population meaning that the shops are full of British goods.  In Sax I can buy Tetley or PG Tips T-bags (an essential) and if I want to, baked beans.  Ten minutes down the road is a huge Carrefour where there is an entire section with English brands of biscuits, jams and Marmite (which I love but don’t buy very often as it is extortionately expensive), and in Salinas, a small nearby town which has a lot of Brits for some reason, there is an “English shop” run by a British couple that sells lots of things, mostly tins or packets of food that I would never buy and some standard greetings cards.  You can (should you wish to) buy a Daily Mail in Sax and the occasional Take a Break style magazine.

As I said last week, online shopping means that I have access to the majority of shops where I would normally buy clothes and the internet provides us with newspapers (and a whole lot more) so the things that I in particular miss, are very specific.

Here is my list:

  • People
  • Frome
  • Bookshops and the library
  • Marks and Spencer (don’t laugh)

People come first but whilst I miss my family and don’t see enough of them, actually I didn’t see them that often when we lived in England.  More, I miss the knowledge that they, most specifically my mother and sister, are just an hour an away and I could get to them in a short space of time.  The three of us used to try to get together a couple of times a year for some shopping/chatting at Cribb’s Causeway or Clark’s Village and for many years had a pre Christmas lunch and present exchange in Taunton near to my sister’s work.

Before we moved to Spain we made sure that mum could use skype so we are able have a face to face chat fairly often and of course she and my step father come and spend a week with us at least once a year, Kathryn has been over a few times and we have been back to England most years.

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Christmas in Spain with my family 2013

Some of my aunts, uncles and cousins have also come and stayed with us which has been lovely.

I miss the friends that I used to see regularly.  There is no substitute for a chat over coffee after class or walking the dogs together.  A few close friends have been to see us here and I am hugely looking forward to Helen’s visit in January.  I miss my class members, some of whom had been coming to my classes for over twelve years and although I am still in touch with many of them, mostly on Facebook but some through the blog, there are times that I feel lonesome for the regular contact.  I know a lot of people here now both Spanish and English and it is lovely to stop and have a chat in the street or to have an occasional coffee but there isn’t the same sense of ease that comes from having known someone for many years.

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I miss Frome A LOT.  I lived in Frome for thirteen years which is the longest period of time I have ever lived anywhere so to me it is my home town.  When we moved to Frome in 1997 it was a shabby and run down place with dilapidated but beautiful buildings and many boarded up shops but it had a really great feel.  I remember arriving for our first house hunting visit in 1996, parking in the North Parade car park, walking down the hill into the town and knowing that I wanted to live there.  The three different houses in which we lived in Frome were always within walking distance of both the town centre and the fields which wrap around the boundaries.  Over the years we walked up and down Frome’s hilly streets discovering hidden gems of streets and houses, we delivered leaflets for both our businesses to all the new housing estates and rambled with our dog Doobie through the surrounding countryside and villages.  During the time we lived there Frome became a thriving and vibrant town with many independent shops and restaurants, a yearly arts festival, regenerated brown-field sites and a monthly artisan market.  Filled with familiar faces and places, Frome will always feel like home.

Thank goodness for Kindle.  Steve and I are both big readers and rely on Kindle for a supply of English books.  I especially enjoy downloading free or very cheap books, usually classics and in this way have re-read the entire set of Anne of Green Gables books, Little Women and the four books about the March girls, Daddy Long Legs and Dear Enemy, all of which I read as a child and have recently discovered the books of Gene Stratton Porter that I remember my grandparents talking about when I was a child.  However, I miss bookshops for the ability to browse through the latest fiction releases and for non-fiction.  Popping into either WH Smith or The Hunting Raven bookshop  was a regular feature of our Frome weekend as was a visit to the library to stock up on useful books on gardening, cooking, living abroad and other fascinating subjects.  After I got home from work on Saturday afternoon, Steve and I would wander around town, visit the library and depending on the weather, sit outside the La Strada coffee shop or head home with a cake from M&S or Sagebury Cheese, the delicatessen, and dive into our books. Heaven.  There is a charity shop in Sax which is run by English people and has a book section.  A paperback is 50 cents and we have bought many books here.  The stock tends to be books of a holiday reading genre which, whilst not a bad thing, can become monotonous.  There is only so much chick lit I can read.

Finally in the list of things I miss is good old Marks and Spencer.  From underwear to chocolate shortbread and Christmas decorations, Marks has always been my “go to” shop.  I had thought Frome couldn’t get any better until a small branch of Marks and Spencer opened in the town.  The local branch didn’t have a huge range of products but I used to drift around the shop on a regular basis enjoying the vibe.  Like a homing pigeon coming to roost, I head unerringly for the nearest Marks and Spencer on any UK shopping expedition.  There is even a branch at Gatwick airport and when we arrive there after an early flight I head straight into it for lunch supplies, usually a roast beef and horse radish sandwich and I know I am in England.

I am very happy here in Spain.  There are a lot of things that I don’t miss at all and the blue skies and sunshine that lift my mood on an almost daily basis are one of the main reasons we moved here.  I love my home, my work and the challenge of making a new life here but some days yes, I miss you; family, friends, Frome, the library and Marks and Spencer.

 

 

 

Spanish Chic(a) – searching for style

People often ask us what we miss because we live in Spain and recently two people have asked me whether I miss English shops and English clothes.  The answer is both yes and no.

When we moved here I had clothes for the life I lived in England, most of which I spent teaching exercise, walking the dog or working at the medical centre at Downside (for which I had a uniform).   In the winter I wore jeans and jumpers or occasionally a tunic top and in the summer jeans and T-shirts or if it was especially warm, shorts and t shirts.  I shopped almost exclusively in Marks and Spencer and White Stuff and would wander around Cribbs Causeway and not find anything I wanted to buy.

My first purchases in Spain were from a shop called Decathlon, a vast sports shop that together with sports equipment and clothes, sells clothes for the outdoor life.  I bought two fleecy long sleeved T-shirts and a fleece sweatshirt which I wore with jeans and an old pair of track suit bottoms almost every day.  I wasn’t working, we had hardly any income and were working hard in the house and garden so clothes weren’t really a priority but warmth was as the temperatures dropped and our house revealed itself to be a badly insulated fridge.   In the first six months we were here the shops I went to were either supermarkets or builder’s merchants so there wasn’t much chance of clothes shopping even if I knew where to go.  Sax has only a few small family run shops which I didn’t feel comfortable going into with my limited Spanish, the market had plenty of clothes but nothing had a price on which was daunting and whilst I wasn’t working I didn’t feel able to spend money on clothes, haircuts or makeup and in any case didn’t have any real need for anything new.  A friend took me to a Spanish hairdresser who cut my hair nicely but the salon was in a town thirty minutes away from Sax making a haircut two hour experience.  A couple of cuts from an expat English hairdresser were unsuccessful so I  decided to grow my hair and cut my own fringe.  We did go to Valencia with our friends who live in Spain and discovered El Corte Ingles a large department store like John Lewis, and Natura, a chain of small shops that sells candles, incense and some slightly hippyish clothes that looked great on the hanger but when I tried on a lovely tunic top in a size that looked about right for me it looked, in my opinion, dreadful.    I have to admit that I was starting to feel both frumpy and grumpy.

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Every day outfit in 2013

On our first trip back to England I headed into Marks and Spencer with a sigh of relief but didn’t actually buy anything.  I can’t remember why but I think that nothing felt right.  The only thing I bought during that trip was a leopard scarf print which I have since worn to death.

Back in Spain, the weather started to warm up and I unpacked my summer clothes.  Over six months without teaching exercise had taken its toll on my waistline, not to mention other lines and my T shirts and vest tops felt too heavy and clingy for the increasing heat.  Work on the house had largely finished and we found more time to explore the out of town shopping centres and the shops within them.  I had heard of Zara and surprisingly I found a Primark and H&M amidst the unfamiliar Spanish brands.  Faced with too much choice I panicked and only managed to buy a black linen weave t-shirt and searched fruitlessly for some trousers that weren’t skinny jeans or high fashion flares.  In desperation I bought some trousers that when I wore them caused Steve to comment that it looked as if I wasn’t wearing anything on my lower half and I  realised that I didn’t have a clue what looked right or would be suitable for summer.  Most of the shops seemed to cater for teenagers and I neither had the time or opportunity to spend hours trawling the shops.  A friend passed me some English women’s magazines but the clothes featured seemed to be suitable only for a high powered office/social life which didn’t look anything like my life.  The shopping malls are at least thirty minutes drive away meaning I couldn’t easily drift around the shops and I was struggling.  I had started to get some teaching work for which shorts and T shirts were not appropriate and literally had nothing suitable to wear or any idea what or where to buy.

 

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In Valencia wearing ancient shoes and invisible trousers.

At this low point I turned to Pinterest, the online scrap booking site which to me is like a magazine with articles and pictures tailor made for the individual.  Each “pin” leads to a website and I discovered the world of blogs.  I subscribed to many and started to get up early in order to read get through my overloaded inbox.  At first, most of the style blogs I read were written by American women so the clothes and fashions weren’t easily available but then I stumbled on Midlife Chic, a blog written by a lovely English woman rediscovering her style mojo in her late 40’s.  Nikki worked at that time from her home in the north of England and is similarly at least thirty minutes from a decent shopping centre and therefore does a lot of online shopping.  I had a light bulb moment – the cost of P&P to Europe is about what the petrol would cost for a trip to a mall but I could shop from home saving me time and Steve the agony of trailing around the shops listening to me moaning about not being able to find anything I wanted.  I discovered that many familiar brands not only have web sites but European web sites together with rafts of comments on each item regarding sizing issues to help with the fit of clothes.  Many sites also tell you the actual size of the garment so that you can order more accurately.  I didn’t want to order lots of clothes and then have to send them all back if they didn’t fit.  Reading Nikki’s blog gave me an idea of what was currently in style and also more importantly, what might work for someone my age.

Everything started, as they say, to come together.  I have now ordered successfully from M&S, Boden, Woolovers and Next and have bought lots of things from Spanish shops such as Zara, Springfield and occasionally Desigual.  As my Spanish improved I followed the recommendation of a customer and visited a Spanish hairdresser having my hot and heavy long hair chopped off in two stages to its current asymmetric short cut.  For the summer I bought blouses in light and floaty fabrics  to keep cool and even bought a dress.  I loved the look of the statement necklace trend but have never really felt comfortable in necklaces so decided that my version is the statement earring.  Now that it is late autumn,  I love my blanket scarf which I bought over here and can wear with most of my winter outfits including my mega bargain Boden winter coat which I bought at 70% discount at the end of last season and have just started wearing with huge pleasure.  I have finally learned (although I don’t always follow through) that shopping for clothes has to be done in advance of when you plan to wear them if you want the best choice and that having a selection of good quality basics in mix and match colours is the way forward.  I never buy anything unless it goes with at least three other things (or I buy four things) and so no longer impulse buy.  My budget is small compared with some but I make my clothes work for me and don’t form part of the terrible statistic of women who wear 20% of their clothes 80% of the time.

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M&S Jumper bought in UK, Next jeans ordered online, Spanish scarf and boots bought locally. Feeling much happier.

I don’t miss English shops specifically but I do miss English shopping centres along with a few other things that I am planning to write a post about next week.

Thank you to everyone who got in touch last week, I hope I have replied to you all and didn’t miss anyone, I love hearing from you all.

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Steve retains his own individual style

 

 

 

The learning curve

PB190784.JPGI have been teaching English and doing English conversation for over two years now; much of my work is with individuals ranging from five and six year olds to adults studying for the Cambridge exams or just wishing to improve their English for business purposes. Generally these lessons are a joy although occasionally the children are not in the mood to study for which times I have plenty of educational computer games for them to play and as a last resort, Hangman which most of them adore. I am extremely fond of all my clients.
Teaching in the Academy is very different. I recently read an article written by an English man who teaches locally and it clarified many things.
Here are a couple of quotes from the article:
The noise level in the classrooms is pretty high and the real teachers who hold my hand in the lessons occasionally make someone change seats or leave the room. I presume this means the youngsters must be misbehaving in some way but I never notice. I do notice the ones who don’t participate at all though. There are several who just stare at their shoes or draw elaborate pictures in biro. There seems to be no expectation that they join in at any level.”
“One thing I have probably noticed about the Spanish Education is the apparent use of books. In the school my role is to model real English so I am expected to talk and listen. I am not expected to work to any particular scheme or pattern but I get the idea that most courses start at page 1, exercise 1, go on to exercise 2, exercise 3 etc. The youngsters are certainly keen, conditioned maybe, to fill in the gaps in the exercises. In fact it seems much more important to fill in the gaps than understand the language that goes into the spaces. This involves a lot of pencil sharpening, rubbing out and the modern versions of tipp-ex. I was told yesterday that I will be given a timetable for working through the various books – you know the sort of thing. By the end of January you will have completed Unit 4. Apparently parents don’t like to see the books that they have paid for not getting filled up with writing, rubber detritus and tipp-ex. Progress can be measured by the number of pages completed.”
When I read this I immediately recognised some types of behaviour that I see in my young pupils. When I started at the Academy I taught a group of six year olds and a group of eight year olds. Last year I had very few resources and a classroom set up for adults. The tables were arranged in one large square with all the children around the outside sitting on chairs with wheels. There was a box of felt tips and a few pencils which weren’t sufficient for everyone which meant that the children sprawled over the table to reach the things they wanted and all shouted at the tops of their voices. With my boss’s permission I quickly bought coloured pencils to replace the felt tips which are hopeless for small children who colour with determination and lots of pressure. I bought scissors, glue and rubbers (which were often chewed) but the children continued to roll over the table to get what they wanted and the noise level remained high. With my low level of Spanish there were times when I felt unable to get the children’s attention let alone teach. The first few weeks were miserable. Fortunately I have a teaching guru at home and after consultation, I moved the tables so that the children sat in twos facing me as opposed to each other, bought more pencils etc. so each table had their own and spent some time with google translate in order to have a conversation with the children about classroom rules and sanctions. We agreed on a few simple rules: Listen and look, stop talking when I am talking, no shouting, no fighting and no running out of the academy. The last rule is because once I started reading about how to teach small children a foreign language I discovered TPR (Total Physical Response) which is a great way to teach verbs e.g. jump, skip, hop and of course run – hence “no running out of the academy”.

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This is where we do TPR

Without a syllabus to follow I had to work out how to proceed and at what level for six year olds and eight year olds. There is a vast amount of material on the internet and I did a lot of printing and photocopying and sifting through the many American sites trying to find ENGLISH. I eventually settled on two sites, one American with some strongly accented games but loads of great ideas and the British council which has a site for children and one for teenagers which works pretty well for adults. Lessons developed a pattern and my lesson planning became much easier, the children seemed to mostly enjoy the classes apart from two alpha male eight year olds who spent most of the lessons arguing but I longed for more structure and resources that I didn’t have to spend hours trawling the internet for.
Gratifyingly, this year the majority of the children returned (apart from the two alpha males), bringing their friends and I teach two full groups of six year olds and two groups of eight year olds plus an adult group who are studying for “First Certificate” and intermediate level. My boss is thrilled and my pay has increased. We have found a series of books that have a multi sensory approach to learning and although the children groan a bit when the books come out, being used to books in their schools, they seem to enjoy the exercises although their focus is not trying to work out what to do (or listening to instructions) but to fill it in correctly consequently one of the phrases that trips off their tongues is “can I have a rubber please” – an improvement from “RUBBER, RUBBER, RUBBER” or the Spanish version of the same which was where we started. Pencil sharpening, especially among the younger girls is a splendid time waster and until I spotted what was going on, an opportunity for a competition to get the sharpest point. Several of the girls bring their own pencil cases to class and during the warm up exercise, fiddle about with the contents. After asking them not to followed by telling them off when they did, I now simply remove the pencil cases and hand out pencils when necessary. The groups of eight year olds are largely well behaved and motivated to learn and seem to be making good progress – their attendance is good. The six year olds, some of whom are only just six are a very mixed bunch, some of them were with me last year and know the rules but some are still testing the boundaries. They adore playing “Judith says” and singing along with the songs on the CD that comes with the books. Again, on the guru’s advice I have a system of tres avisos or three warnings for bad behaviour which culminate in being sent to the boss (I haven’t had to resort to that yet) and reward good behaviour and work with gold stars, lots of praise, showing the boss and occasionally, sweets. We have completed the first unit in the books in all four groups and although not all the children can do all the tasks with confidence and some can’t do much without lots of help, they have all made progress. I am debating teaching a Christmas song for a short performance for parents complete with reindeer head dresses. The learning curve is flattening a little but is still fairly steep but most days, I love going to work. Who’d have thought it.

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My Classroom

Autumn at Finca Los Gatos

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Our bowl of shade

Autumn is a gorgeous season here in the Vinalopo.   Mornings start cold and misty; sometimes the town and the line of the river are swathed in mist and you can only just see the castle and at other times the mist comes right up to the wall behind the pool and the mountain behind us is completely covered.  When I let the dogs out at 6.15, they hurtle along the marble drive and then hurtle back before sniffing industriously around the gravel drive.  The mist seems to make whatever smells are around more deliciously pungent than normal.  The sun rises steadily over the mountains to the east leaving us in a bowl of shade for half an hour until it is high enough to light up the whole valley.

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The sun lights up the mountain behind the house

As the sun burns the mist away dew sparkles on the grasses and plants in the fields, the castle and the mountains emerge and by 9.00 when I leave for work the sky is bright blue, the air is crisp but the warmth of the sun is can gradually be felt.

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Sunrise

This year the autumn colours are particularly beautiful although more subtle than the riot of reds and golds I love so much in England that, when the sun is shining, in my view cannot be beaten.  The leaves on our grape vine are turning a soft crimson and beige and are this year, staying on the vine.  Down in the valley different varieties of grape vine turn burgundy, purple and brown and the few trees that aren’t evergreen pines of varying shades of green or the silvery green of the olive groves are holding onto their yellowing foliage.  It is a patchwork quilt of muted colours made fabulous by the  sunshine.

The mornings, especially if you are in the shade are quite chilly and I need a jacket and long trousers first thing. The Spanish of course are mostly wrapped up in anoraks and scarves “que hace frio” but Steve resolutely dresses in shorts and T-shirt adding a token sweatshirt in the morning  unless he is going into the fields to prune the almonds when long sleeves and trousers are necessary to protect him from the scratchy branches.  Come midday the sun is hot and in the UK people would be stripping off and sunbathing.  In fact we can spot a Brit a mile off as they are the ones wearing shorts and sandals in town whilst the Spanish are as previously mentioned wearing coats and scarves.  The differences in temperature are amazing – in the sun it is hot enough to feel uncomfortable in a jumper but in the shade it can be significantly cooler.  Yesterday,  I got so hot whilst out with the dogs that I had to take my shirt off and walk in my vest top wishing I had shorts on rather than the jeans that had been so comforting first thing.

As the sun sets, the temperature drops rapidly and sitting on the terrace is no longer an option, for me at least.  Time to retreat indoors to the warmth of the house where we have just started putting the heating on in the evenings. The work we had done last year to increase the size of the radiators has made a huge difference making the house much more comfortable.  We are revamping the woodburner in the sitting room, replacing the cracked glass and painting the outside.  I have been meaning to do it for some time but the threat of cold weather has brought focus and a new piece of glass has been ordered, the surface rubbed free of rust and special paint purchased.  I really hope to get it done this weekend.

The weather is due to change next week with cooler temperatures and the possibility of rain.  I’m not complaining.