All good things come to an end…

All good things come to an end…

A few sad farewells this month. Alas, we had to say a final goodbye to our dear Jussi, just one month shy of her 14th birthday. How she survived all the illnesses, allergies and operations up till now is a mystery. One thing is for certain: we will have some more cash to play with now we no longer have to fork out for vet’s fees (Betty, apart from being caught in a javali trap, is never ill). This is the last photo we took of her, in a favourite place: under the table (in case anything falls on the floor).

We’re not entirely sure how Betty feels about being on her own. She and Jussi never really got on but somehow I feel she preferred to be top dog rather than being solo dog.

Jussi was certainly a well travelled dog, she came camping with us on various Portuguese trips, as well as a number of times across the border to Spain. She loved the water, and once Richard taught her how to swim, there was no holding her back: lakes, rivers, the sea, town fountains, village washing pools and wells… she made a bee-line to all of them especially if it was hot. She didn’t like the heat, and she wasn’t so keen on long walks either!

We miss her terribly but we certainly don’t miss stressing if a door has been left open and she’s sneaked out to eat something that will give her a tummy bug. She ate everything, however disgusting. The only thing she turned her wet nose up at was, bizarrely, lettuce. The most innocuous and insipid of food items would be left in her bowl untouched.

Another adieu is to Casa Azul. Yep, we are (sort of!) moving. No, not to our new house but to a rented house, both quite near the river and its wonderful ecovia, and to the new house. It’s the only way we can get on top of the officialdom that is slowing the whole process down, if we don’t pop into offices on a regular basis nothing will happen. We have very mixed feelings about this: leaving Casa Azul, our home for 12 years (the longest by far either of us have lived anywhere) is going to be very sad but new opportunities are around the corner and we are excited to live in the north and to discover a whole load of new places.

We will particularly miss our walks with the changing face of the countryside each month, the fields of flowers for dyeing, the orchids and the bird song. The hens, before you ask, are to have a new home.

So linked to all this is the inevitable: this is our last blog post! 308 posts have been written about our journey and it’s been great having people following us along the way. We do think that we will have a blog about the new place (and we will put that info here) but that realistically won’t be for a while. So, so long and thanks for all the fish!

Jackie, Richard and Betty x

April, come she will

April, come she will

April brings asparagus to the veg patch, nightingales to the tree tops and colour to the countryside. And yes the cuckoo, although not really my favourite bird. Actually, I was beginning to fret about the nightingales. They always come by the first week of April, usually by the 6th. So when that day came and went without a tweet I hoped nothing was amiss somehow. It wasn’t until the 10th that we heard one off in the meadows somewhere one evening but nothing close by. However, there are a couple down in the valley now, again a first. So although they are not singing when I open the chickens in the morning or put them away at night their song in the valley is just marvellous and makes the dog walk even more enjoyable.

The garden is not without song, that’s for sure. It seems even noisier than normal, mainly the blackbirds, robins, chaffinches and blackcaps in the morning. Not having seen anything of the wrens which had made their nest outside the top door we mistakenly thought they had gone elsewhere until we realised that they had just been hunkering down on eggs. We were really looking forward to seeing the little ones fledge but they went one morning while walking Betty.

The asparagus deserves some kind of medal, I have to admit to not taking such great care over their bed but despite the neglect the shoots are coming through thick and fast. Richard had a go barbecuing some and they were delicious.

The earlier orchids are on their way out, and are being replaced by bee orchids, and woodcocks…

mirror orchids and epipactis lusitanica

and plenty of others. So small and yet so charming.

The garden has appreciated the wet and dry spells and is also a riot of colour:

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Which reminds me the purple leaves of ornamental plum in the background here makes a lovely blue dye so must get the dye pots out again.

In the courtyard it not only looks nice but smells nice. In fact late afternoon you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d walked into the ground floor of a department store so strong is the perfume from the orange blossom and jasmine.

We always say May is the nicest month for the countryside so we’re really looking forward to seeing nature at its best.

Fab Feb

Fab Feb

There is a goldfinch singing in the willow tree; we can’t see it too well, the unfurling leaves of the quince are in the way. But along with the robin, serin, greenfinch, blackbird (nightingale, but not until April), chaffinch, ring-necked dove, great tit, wren, blackcap, golden oriole and thrush (and perhaps others) it’s one of the birds which we can now identify from their song. Of course there’s also the laughing of the green woodpecker and the drumming of the great spotted woodpecker. No doubt, along with being territorial, the goldfinch is singing because it’s another lovely February day. Like January it’s been a dry month so we really can’t complain that there’s a week of rain forecast.

We have a wren building a nest in the corner of the upstairs alcove. I set up the camera to try and capture its antics on film but it flies in and out so quickly there is only a blur. Some night time footage is clearer.

Unfortunately the nest has attracted the attention of the sparrows and these have been filmed on top of it and peering in, probably thinking of squatting. We know male wrens make a variety of nests before the female chooses which one she prefers but as they have now been lining the inside with some Jussi hair we felt confident it was going to be the des res. We haven’t seen them for a few days though, either the female is in there brooding or they got fed up with the bothersome neighbours. Alas Betty knocked the camera off the bin it was precariously standing on so until that’s fixed we have to keep a look out.

I still sometimes mistakenly call greenfinches, goldfinches. Indeed in the sun they are the most wonderful yellow colour. This little one knocked itself out on the window but recovered soon enough to fly off. After the sparrows we definitely have more greenfinches in the garden than other birds. They fight constantly over the bird feeder.

Our knowledge of birds is expanding beyond those found in the garden. Recent walks along marshlands means we are now able to identify the common sandpiper, turnstone, the different kinds of egrets and that these are black headed gulls, the one on the left is in summer plumage:

We are familiar with flamingoes from our time in Tunisia but these were a delight to see especially as they were with spoonbills (but not in this photo), a first for us:

We also know that this is a leucistic greylag goose (a reduction in melanin and other colour pigments making it patchy):

So from feathers to fungus, these have been spotted on recent walks. On the left is yellow brain fungus, and on the right are earthstars:

Not entirely sure what these are called but they look great:

Otherwise it’s been a fairly quiet month. Jussi seems sort of fine despite her ever growing lumps, I think we’ll only worry once she’s off her food. She certainly hasn’t lost her appetite.

Betty is definitely fine although she seems to spend a lot more time snoozing.

The hens remain quite chirpy. This will be the first year Skittle has only four wives, and Hattie really is getting on a bit now, so we hope that’s going to be okay as we’re rather reluctant to get more. We get two or three eggs a day which is great for us.

Alongside the website we continue to knit and make beer. Let’s see what March has in store.

In the courtyard

In the courtyard

Well, a much nicer January than last year which I had described as ‘grim’. Apart from a few rainy days it’s been sunny with temperatures in the late teens. In fact we had our New Year’s Day meal outside in the courtyard, and most lunches are eaten al fresco. The resident meteorologist says we had 2 days of rain overall.

This means that our morning walks, while exceedingly cold to start with, are under blue skies. The hedgerows are already showing signs of life with the giant orchids leading the way as usual. Not sure what the other flower is yet, a new one for us.

Despite being an invasive weed the Bermuda buttercup is certainly cheering up all the fields and verges. Their bright golden flowers are everywhere it seems this year and then I was rather pleased to hear they are a dye plant. So out came the dye pots and within a few minutes of snipping in the neighbour’s field I had collected a huge bagful of flower heads.

I was not disappointed. The resulting yarn looked like spun gold. I was also motivated to use up some of the old, dried wild madder roots that had been kept in the barn and was pleased with the lovely, if not slightly mottled, coral colour. The ivy berries were less successful. The dye bath was a gorgeous ruby colour, the yarn is meant to turn green. It’s a sort of grey-green, a dull sage, but goes well with the other two.

I knitted Richard a sweater using a lot of the hand dyed yarn that clutters up the house. While it took a lot of skeins there still seems to be plenty left over, especially as I have now added more… He is now co-ordinated with the winter foliage.

Richard too has been using his caldron. Another fine brew again, this time a Vienna lager: “a malty lager with a clean finish” apparently. The sunny weather has meant picking the oranges in the courtyard too. Richard turns most of them into juice, we have litres of the stuff in our freezer. For me of course it’s marmalade season and another batch for the pantry to last the year ahead.

The other January jobs include pruning the plane tree. I always feel a little sad when it has been chopped but it comes back in no time. The leaf buds appearing and unfurling is one of the highlights of spring. Last year we had a greenfinch nesting in it.

He also cut down the willow tree. Their branches are just lovely, many of the farmers grow them to tie up their vines. Before they are pruned they look like small bonfires in the fields. So another attempt at basket making, we found some red branches which were suitable too. The photo makes the basket look a little nicer than it actually is. While I waited a while before using the cut branches I didn’t soak them and those which were then bent for the border were too stiff and a couple split. I should have put the whole thing in a bucket of water for a few days before doing that last bit.

Finally, the knitting needles have been busy with two new sweaters for the little ones designed. One is using an unusual technique called brioche, the other has cables and is in fact an updated version of one of my very first designs. I have eventually joined Instagram if you’re interested: kiddiwinksknits.

February is looking very similar weather wise. While we appreciate being outside we are aware that many are rather anxious. The dams, which not so long ago we were told were all full, seemed to have been emptied and without any rain bodes ill for the summer. We know that a drought has less to do with hot weather and more linked to how wet the winter was. So while we do, sort of, wish for some rain, we are appreciating the outdoor life and the winter sun.

That was the year that was

That was the year that was

So another month goes by, and another year. We finished last December’s blog with So good riddance indeed to a horrid 12 months. 2021 must surely be a brighter, less turbulent year. Not really. A year of more lock downs, a total lack of movement as regards our new house, and a general feeling that it’ll probably get worse before it gets better. We are back in a ‘state of calamity’ and there are yet more restrictions on eating inside restaurants.

The weather in 2021 has been good overall. Once the summer got going it was cooler for us than normal, lower temperatures meant there were no major fire incidences which is always positive, and the autumn and winter (so far) have been bright and sunny. And it has meant we have been able to eat outside a lot too, not only in the our courtyard or garden but also when we’ve gone to restaurants, nearly all the meals we’ve had have been al fresco. This is certainly something that has kept us going.

Today was another marvellous day for walking, something else we have been doing even more of. The countryside around us is lovely, with loads of documented walking tracks for us to explore. And we have yet to meet a single person on any of the trails we have taken.

We take Betty for a long walk every morning still, Jussi a much shorter one. She is doing fabulously considering she had a major operation in January, in fact it is Betty who is more reluctant to get off the sofa in the morning let alone give us her customary bark to get us up.

Skittle is now three and a half and continues to be a more reliable alarm clock. Sadly, we said goodbye to two of the hens, the two youngest which is annoying, but the others seem fine. We have just four now. Hatty, the biggest one in the foreground will be five next spring, but we still get a few eggs every day which is all we need. Having said that today we passed a farm selling free range duck eggs (the ducks were out and about with turkeys, hens, guinea fowl, geese and goats) and we bought a dozen for €2.50. We will start the New Year with those poached on homemade muffins and smoked salmon.

Richard dispatched all of the recent batch of roasties. We were a bit disappointed there too: having decided they were big enough not to be taken by a sparrowhawk and could be let out to enjoy the grass, a mongoose got one of them and we found its headless body in the corner of the field. I hate not being able to let them out so some serious work on the fencing is job number one for January. They seemed fairly happy together in the sun in the safety of the cage though. And we must do some more bird watching, January is such a great time to spot things. This redwing and great spotted woodpecker were on our old walnut tree earlier in the month.

We’ve had a bit of rain recently, not unwelcomed. One particularly sunny / rainy afternoon we saw the most amazing rainbow, the whole arc was visible. glowing against the grey sky .

Perhaps a sign of good fortune for the year ahead, we all need it. So wishing all our readers the very best for the New Year and 2022. Let’s hope it’s a good one this time.

Cold but colourful

Cold but colourful

The countryside around us is always surprisingly verdant for most of the winter as the types of oak, olives, pines and eucalyptus etc around us are evergreens. It was delightful coming across a row of these acers in a village we walked through as we took good advantage of the dry, sunny weather.

The garden is in flower. Well, sort of. Two of our three types of buddleia are putting on a show as are many of the roses, amongst others. I saw a red admiral the other day. And yes, we even have a few strawberries!

Meanwhile Richard has been getting his craft beer kit out again. I think this is a black IPA. He has made no fewer than 35 brews so far and very nice they are too.

Richard has also found time to finish, at long last, the wooden fruit bowl he carved from the fallen cherry tree. It certainly has an artisanal look about it but we like it a lot.

Meanwhile the Christmas cake has been made and is being ‘fed’ on a regular basis. (Am I the only one who forgoes the teaspoon and just sloshes the brandy over the cake each time?) The pud has also been made, only the slightest of hiccups when I realised I must have used self-raising rather than plain flour…

I spent a few hours in the sun cracking open some of last year’s walnuts. Some of them had divided themselves into three rather than two, rather strange.

I have taken the plunge and opened an Instagram account to promote my knitting patterns. I do not enjoy all this new malarkey, something always goes amiss. Not having a smart phone slightly hampered things but now that it can be linked to Facebook I have managed to do that through the desktop. However, the three posts I first put up were taken down immediately as they were against the community guidelines. They give great detail about what that entails (terrorism / nudity / fake posts etc etc but nothing was mentioned about hand knitted tops). I can post successfully through my Facebook page so am sticking to that for the mo (@kiddiwinksknits if you’re interested).

There are a couple of ponds on our dog walks. This one, if we remember to keep quiet on arrival, is a favourite spot for a heron and we can catch it keeping a beady eye out for the frogs.

There are loads of jobs in the garden to do, the asparagus bed needs to be cut down and mulched but it is gloriously golden in the sunshine and I am reluctant to remove it.

On the animal front, Jussi survived an operation in January to remove a tumour, but alas has a few more now and has been on a diet of eye-wateringly expensive pills. They do seem to have helped but she won’t be able to be operated on again so we just hope she continues to be in high spirits, she is well over 13 now, and nothing has affected her appetite as yet.

Betty is slowing down and has become rather soppy wanting cuddles on the sofa, but again she is still in high spirits. It’s a dogs life for her (not).

Autumn is the new summer

Autumn is the new summer

We said in the last post that September was springlike. Well, without doubt, October was summer. It was marvellous: the average high was 25, with the highest reaching 30. And average lows were only 11, and some of the evenings never got below 16 so some lovely balmy evenings.

We took advantage of these nice days with a number of trips to the beach, plus a night away with friends by a lagoon. This entailed eating lots of seafood, walks on the sand collecting shells and flamingo feathers, and bird spotting too.

It also meant the barbecue hasn’t been put away yet and the smell of grilled fish lingered in the courtyard many an evening. We are regulars at the local markets, trying to do our bit to keep them going. There have been quite a few supermarkets open in the region since we arrived and they are taking their toll. However, there is usually a good range of fish, and fruit and vegetables too. (Although it remains a mystery what the Portuguese do with the aubergines, cauliflower and broccoli as we are never served those in a restaurant).

The month ended with some downpours though but despite that it got top marks. The weather has now turned to winter: temperatures have plummeted, the fire is roaring in the living room and the leccy blanket will be taken out of its box soon. So spring, summer, winter in two months… Oh, and there’s snow on the Serra da Estrela!

Second spring

Second spring

We’ve said this before about September: a few days of autumn rain and everything starts to turn green again, there’s bird song (where do the robins go over the summer?!) welcoming us in the morning and on the dog walks, and wild flowers too. It really does feel springlike.

You may remember the awfully cold January and I thought the plumbago had died. However, it’s made a full recovery and is providing some lovely autumn colour in the courtyard:

I mentioned the red / yellow peppers in the previous post. They have all been picked now, many roasted and marinated in oil for some delicious toasty toppings. The chillies have also been picked, some of those dried and others turned into chilli jam. And we’ve had the last of the pimentos padrón, always a winner whenever we’ve grown those.

Those were all the last of the harvest, the raised beds have now been prepared for the winter: the plants pulled up and compost and chicken straw piled on top. There’s a few parsley plants here and there but that’s it for the crops this year.

Having said that the walnuts are almost ready, there are more figs to be picked and the prickly pears have been great so perhaps more jelly from them this year.

Meanwhile we have been out enjoying the autumn sunshine. We’ve had a few trips to the beach for some seafood and we decided to pop over to Extremadura in Spain for a couple of nights with the dogs. This was our only holiday away this year.

The journey was fine but Jussi didn’t settle at night for some reason (all the excitement?!) and Betty decided to bark her way along the walks (all the excitement?!) frightening any wildlife we were hoping to spot. We did, however, manage to see some amazing birds though and back home recently spotted some stags and deer up on the hills.

Portugal has so far this year recorded its lowest number of wildfires since 2011, indicative of the weather more than any success with forest management. We had a long weekend of very high temperatures, those that I always complain about, but otherwise it’s been quite pleasant over the summer months. The morning mists have been with us for a while now, and the waterproofs weren’t actually put away, but fingers crossed for a few more spring weeks ahead.

Au revoir, August

Au revoir, August

It’s been a surprisingly busy month. First up, village news. Only in the last post did I mention how many houses were for sale. Well, the house next door (although there is a field and path between us) not only has been sold but the pool has already been renovated and the sounds of splashing and children’s laughter have been ringing out over the last few weeks. It seems two families have bought the place and are using it, for the moment at least, as their holiday home. It has completely changed the feel of the village, it actually feels alive rather than on its last legs. So a very welcome change indeed.

We have, after all these years living here, decided to do something about the external walls of the property. We have only concentrated on the inside of the courtyard, garden and house; the outer parts have been ignored. Well, we (Richard mainly) has addressed this and now you need a pair of sunglasses when walking past. He’s also given all the other walls a fresh coat of paint too. One day we’ll have a house number to put up…

In the garden we inherited a load of fruit trees. We have rather neglected them to be honest, we do try and prune them but it’s a big job. One of the old peach trees has surprised us with a bumper crop this year. The branches were overloaded with fruit. They don’t look much, smaller than the commercial ones in the market, but are really quite tasty. They have been bottled for the winter days ahead.

We planted new fruit trees as well, many back in the winter of 2010. The pear tree was just a stick back then but is now way taller than me and has given us a great crop this year too. Many of these have also been bottled but we have some cooked in red wine for pudding. I should add that the fruit from both these trees were almost completely bug free. We of course never spray the trees with anything, the birds keep on top of the bugs for us.

Talking of bugs, here is a collection of some recent creepy crawlies.

It’s been a little hit and miss in the veg patch but hurrah! the peppers are turning either red or yellow and are just enormous. Can’t wait to have those. After we stopped eating the fresh runner beans the plants were left to dry and the dried beans have been collected for winter stews. There was about 400g from the 6 plants, not bad. Presumably they can be used as seeds for next spring.

I recently found some of the marvellous rock lichen that produces an interesting purple. I lost patience a little and didn’t wait as long as I should have for the colour to develop but it was good to get the dye pots and pans out again.

And Richard has also got his wood working tools out again. An old cherry tree in the field opposite was cut down last year and he snaffled a part of the trunk. He reckons it’ll be finished in a week or two.

Finally, we spent an evening on top of the local hill watching the Perseids, we’ve had a few trips to the sea, and a pleasant morning spent at one of the many river beaches in the area. Just a shame Richard got water in his ears and was deaf for most of the month. Pardon?

The village

The village

Or should that be villages? When we first moved in there was a lot of paperwork to be done: forms to be filled in, proof of residence to be made, photos taken… we traipsed round various offices together always taking all the documents with us, never knowing what was needed when. It was therefore with some amusement when we got any authorisation, our residência for example, as it seemed we were not living together. We were given different postcodes, one of us is living in the village to the east, Galega, and the other to the west, Chão de Ourique! We are in fact living bang smack in the middle of the two, perhaps the village boundaries go through the house.

Anyway, this was way back in 2010. Although the house may be in two villages it has neither a number nor a street name (the bank manager is always moaning about that). Some of you will remember the council had a village meeting back in February asking for suggestions for names. Last month we received a note from them saying that the proposed name for ours was Rua da Escola (and giving us 10 days to object and come up with something different). Ah, I hear you say: you’ve never mentioned the school. That’s because there is no school. There is a building which was used as the school, D. Elena went there when she was a child in the 1940s, but it hasn’t been used as one for decades. A name is better than no name though and now we wait for our number. (Which might help us to send parcels to the UK; at the moment the customs declaration form has to be done online but all attempts to fill it in fails as the address is incomplete…).

The old school house

D Elena told me that the schoolteacher used to arrive by bicycle. In those days the road was just a dirt track and when it rained heavily he wasn’t able to come as it was all too muddy, especially as people kept oxen which made the road even more impassable in bad weather. She used to complain that she wasn’t allowed to go to the bigger school when she was old enough, as her brothers did, because it was in another village and she was a girl. She had to stay behind.

Which brings us to the next topic: it seems the village is for sale, including the old school house. There are 17 buildings on the west side, Chão de Ourique. Only six of these are lived in: three with Portuguese and three with Brits. Alas, at the start of the month there were seven occupied houses but we had to say goodbye to Ol’ Man River who lived alone at the far end. There is a lamp post in the village which serves as a notice board and as most notices are about who has died it is referred to as the death pole. We were sad to see his name and picture there but at 96 he had had a good innings, as they say. Despite his age he was always quite cheerful, we could often hear him singing, and always asked us what day of the week it was. His house, along with D Elena’s, is to stay with their families, as is another house, but the remaining are either for sale (five of those, I exaggerated a little) or abandoned (three).

Luis’s house opposite is for sale…
…as is the house next door…
…and the one next to that.

There might even be more abandoned houses but as they have no roofs and have become one with nature it’s not always so clear what was a barn and what was a house. I often wonder what the village must have been like when all the houses were fully occupied and the old people who live here now, or up until recently, were children. D Elena used to talk about the past with pleasure until she remembered how hard it was without water and electricity (and the muddy roads) and got a bit tearful.

For sale
Empty since we have been here

Meanwhile the greenfinches in the plane tree in the courtyard have left their home. They fledged this morning having stood on the edge of the nest flapping their wings and tweeting loudly for the last four days. They haven’t gone far, we can still hear them in the olive trees over the wall begging to be fed.

The last word goes to Jussi. Despite being a pedigree Labrador, with a whole string of operations and emergency treatments and medicines under her belt, she has, amazingly, turned 13. I have lost count how many times I thought she wouldn’t make it through the latest saga of illness, including the operation for the tumour at the start of the year, but she is quite perky, for her age at least, although her daily walk is just through to the end of the village and back. Alfredo is still around to shout Gordo! and chuckle whenever he sees her. Parabéns to Jussi.

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