Saturday, January 08, 2011

The end of Christmas, the girls in Amsterdam, awful colds, bad weather and our Christmas Part 2

The girls and their friends Juli, Rocío and Ana on Kings' day in the morning, 6th January

Good morning my friends.

I have had a break from my blog and didn’t write last week so here you have a bumper edition to enjoy, the story of our Christmas part 2. But as I write, Christmas is over which is very sad as it means we all have to wait a whole year until it comes again.

The girls left for a long weekend break in Amsterdam with Rocío on Kings’ Day (6th January) and have left the house feeling very empty. It felt even emptier yesterday when Olga took all the Christmas decorations down, the most terrible sign of the end of Christmas for me. I always put the decorations up but never ever take them down as I find it just too depressing and sad.

I have been following the girl's travels via Rocío's photos on Facebook and can see they have bad weather too.  However I do not doubt that they are having a great time.  They are staying at a great bed ad breakfast in the Jordaan area called Maes which has some fantastic write ups in the guide books. Here is  picture of my girls in a typical street in Amsterdam.
Oli and Suzy well wrapped up in Amsterdam today. 

The view from the girls attic bed and breakfast apartment in the Jordaan neighbourhood in Amsterdam
The 3 of us left here all have bad colds. Eladio got his when we went to León on 23rd December to pick up his Mother. I then caught the same bug and now my 91 year old Father has it too. The cold just doesn’t want to go and gives us sleepless nights with huge coughing bouts. Eladio wears thick fleeces and sits by the fire and hasn’t left the house for days. The big mistake was not having the annual flu jab he and my Father have been having ever since Daddy came to live with us. This is my Father’s first cold since he’s been with us and I sincerely hope the after effects are less unpleasant than ours.

To top the nasty cold which won’t go away we are experiencing bad weather. The sky is dark and the clouds give way to rain most afternoons. I go for our walk on my own each afternoon and yesterday my lovely rainbow coloured umbrella from the Moma Museum in New York was turned inside out twice because of the wind. As I walked yesterday, I remembered the name of the song “Mad dogs and Englishmen” and thought that I was a bit of a mad Englishwoman, braving the weather over the hill at the top of the street and on my own. I did not encounter a single living creature, not even the usual rabbits who were probably huddling in their warrens. I also remembered an equally famous line or rather idiom: “come rain or shine” as I walked in the rain and wind. It sums up my attitude to my daily hour’s walk which I never give up whatever the weather. It’s one of the staple ingredients of my diet and one of the secrets to its success. Believe it or not I have lost 2 kilos over Christmas whilst most people have put on that much or more. That makes me very pleased as I broke it a lot on the 3 main occasions and even ate chocolate, the most forbidden of “fruits” but still I lost weight. I now have just a few grammes to lose to reach my target of 64.2 and soon will be on the much easier “consolidation phase”. However I am considering losing a couple more kilos before that starts.

Meanwhile I can’t stop buying new clothes and seem to want to wear something new every day to show off my new figure. I have yet to shop in the sales but on every trip out of the house in the past 2 or 3 weeks I have bought something. I now have a huge collection of those very fashionable, and even more comfortable short thick woolen pullover cum dresses which I wear over leggings. They remind me a bit of the hundreds of woolen dresses my Mother used to make on her machine but which I never liked to wear because I was overweight. Before the diet I hated buying clothes as nothing used to fit, except clothes from the extra large section at H+M which I always hated. I now buy size S at H+M and size M at Zara when it used to be XL at the latter if there was an XL and if it fitted which mostly it didn’t. I can now wear my daughters’ clothes and they can wear mine! Now my obsession is with clothes and not food, hahaha. On our walk in the evenings I used to think mostly about what we would eat for dinner and now I think about what I will be wearing the next day. By the way my friends, my New Year’s resolution this year is to stay slim and never get fat again. I can only hope and pray that it will turn out to be true. Those of you who know me well will know that I can have huge or no will power and nothing in between. So cross your fingers my will power lasts me through my New Year’s resolution. I have a feeling it will, but watch this space as they say in modern English these days.

I didn’t put on any weight, rather lost some and Christmas sadly is over. When I was a child it was’t over for me until after 7th January as we used to celebrate Russian Christmas too because of my Russian Mother but that is a tradition I haven’t kept up unfortunately. It is strange how the Eastern Christians celebrate Christmas later than the rest. This has to do with their keeping to the Julian Calendar and ourselves using the Gregorian Calendar, as far as I can remember. So how was our Christmas, or rather Christmas Part 2? You will have read about our Christmas Part 1 in my previous blog post published some 2 weeks ago and if you haven’t, here is the link.

I left off last time on Boxing Day. On Tuesday 28th I had lunch with a new found Swedish friend, Mica, who sadly will be leaving Spain to return to her home town in the South of Sweden in the middle of January. We had a great lunch at one of my favourite restaurants in La Moraleja, “Aspen”. Unfortunately it will be our last lunch together in Spain before she leaves and I know that I will miss her a lot at Yoigo. Her leaving, reminds me of my dearest Finnish friend, Anne, leaving Spain in 2005 after working together so happily at Nokia before things turned sour. Mica and I are in a way soul mates, with similar bubbly personalities and an enormous “joie de vivre” so I will miss her dearly. In the old days when you parted from friends, after a few letters, the odd visit or phone call, in the end you lost touch as each one took a different path in life. Thankfully today because of mobile phones, email and Facebook that no longer happens. Mica and I will therefore be able to continue our friendship, albeit virtually. I’m sure too that she will return often to Spain, a country she has fallen in love with, the same as Anne. So I look forward to hosting her here as often as possible. Meanwhile I wish her lots of luck upon her return to her native Sweden, a country, which like my Father, I admire enormously.

Bubbly Mica with her happy family at the Yoigo children's Christmas party this year.  I will miss my new friend
The week after Christmas was full of social engagements and continuing celebrations. They had all been pre arranged and I was damned that our colds would halt any of them. On Tuesday 28th December we had Mar, Mariano and their Chinese adopted son, San, aged 8 for dinner. Dinner with Mar and Mariano, both of whom are journalists, has been a tradition we broke for no particular reason a few years ago. So it was great to renew the tradition and to welcome them back to our house. For San the dinner was even more special because Suzy is his coach and private teacher and he did not remember coming to our house. For us he was the star of the show, and you will understand why when you look at this charming picture of him with my beautiful girls.

Oli and Suzy with beaming San when he came to dinner with his parents, our friends Mar and Mariano.
They were very late and didn’t get here until nearly 11 in the evening, owing to La Vanguardia’s late closing hour. I made vegetable soup with perushki followed by filet steak, potato salad and grilled mushrooms. Dessert for them, not for me (haha) was fresh red berry fruit with Häagen Dazs ice cream. By the way did you know that the name is completely made up and does not come from the original Polish immigrant creators of the company and brand who are actually called Ruebben and Rose Mattus and set up the company in the Bronx (New York) in the early 60’s? I always thought it was a nice family Scandinavian name but apparently it was completely made up. This sort of practice is called “foreign branding” and is done to make brands more desirable. In any case, their ice cream is probably the best mass produced ice cream in the world. I’m sure San agrees as his disappeared from his plate in seconds. Suzy went to bed early leaving our guests as she had to get up at the crack of dawn  for work the next day. It was funny to see how San’s behaviour worsened as soon as she left and to understand the respect he has for her. He is not an easy child to teach and Mar and Mariano say she has done wonders. When she first took him on, he always failed at English. Now over one year later, he gets high marks in this subject. His other subjects are improving too and Mariano thinks Suzy should become a teacher. She has obviously inherited her teaching skills from Eladio but prefers to concentrate on her own field which is not teaching. In the meantime Suzy only teaches to make some extra money but she’s obviously very good at it.

Mar, Mariano and San who came to dinner with us this Christmas
On Thursday we had more guests and were to be 12 for dinner when Javier, Ana and their lovely grown-up children, Ignacio, Laura, Cristina and María visited us. They had never been to our house or met Suzy and Oli so the latter had strict instructions to be with us that night. They protested strongly, arguing that Javier and family were our friends and not theirs, but did as they were told. In the end they enjoyed the evening thoroughly and fell in love with this great family, so close to our heart, as I knew they would. I have written about this family before on our visit to New York where they are living now and where they were great hosts and on our trips to Peñacaballera in Salamanca where they have a house and spend their summers. They have always hosted us so finally on Thursday it was our time to host them and for them to meet our daughters. Unfortunately they did not meet my Father, “Grandpa” or my Mother-in-law, Ernestina, who, being elderly, go to bed very early. For this occasion I made a prawn, salmon and avocado salad, followed by my famous meat loaf and potato pure, finished off with one of the best desserts in the world, home-made apple crumble with vanilla ice cream.

Javier and family who came to dinner to our house this Christmas too.
After dinner we drank one of the two wonderful bottles of Moët Chandon champagne our guests brought us. Ana collects the corks from special occasions, so of course we gave her ours and look forward to seeing her collection one day, including the cork from the lovely dinner last week. I have to add we drank the after dinner champagne in the sitting room with the fire place. Eladio had put so many logs in that the room was near boiling temperature, a lesson we have learned for the future. I hope it didn’t send our guests off earlier than they had planned.

The next day we were heading off to León to spend New Year’s Eve, as always, with Eladio’s family. My Father and the girls stayed at home, so there were just 3 of us in the car, Eladio, myself and his Mother. That day I was to break my diet for the second time this Christmas which meant we could stop off at the Palacio de Bornos winery in Rueda, the area where the best white wine in the world comes from. Here we enjoyed a glass of wine with a plate of ham and half a plate of chorizo with delicious freshly made bread sprinkled with olive oil.

Eladio and his Mother when we stopped at Palacio de Bornos in Rueda on our way to León for New Year's Eve
That was at midday which meant that when we arrived in León I was not really hungry for the lunch my sister-in-law, Pili, had prepared. Nor was I able to drink the wine or eat the tapas my brother-in-law, Andrés invited me to at the bar near their flat. In any case it was lovely to be with them and their grown up kids, Paula and Mario and of course their very special dalmation, Trébol.

Andrés, Pili and Trébol on New Year's Eve in the afternoon at their flat in León.
I have to admit here that I actually prefer animals to babies. It’s something I’ve always known but only really realised on this visit. I had plenty of opportunities to take photos of the newest offsprings in the family, Diana, Roberto and Ana’s one year old daughter or Bea and Alvaro’s toddlers, Liam and Noa. I admired them at a distance but never once offered to hold them and of course took no photos, whereas the rest of the family was queuing up to do both. On the other hand I must have taken a dozen of Trebol. Does that mean that I’m not maternal? Well maybe not as much as other mothers. Of course I adored my own babies but for some reason other people’s babies don’t do much for me. It’s not that I don’t like children, I do, but they have to be at an age I can engage with them and have normal conversations. I’m sure of one thing though, that I will adore my grandchildren from day one. Meanwhile whilst they are nowhere near on the horizon, I continue to enjoy Trébol and of course dear Norah.

Trébol, Andrés, Pili, Paula and Mario's lovely dalmatian dog who I am completely in love with.
In the afternoon, whilst Eladio tried to sleep off his ever worsening cold, I went for a very long walk with Andrés and Trébol on the banks of the Bernesga river. I soon learned that Trébol is a much better behaved dog than Norah. He enjoyed most of the walk off the lead, something which would be impossible with Norah who would run off to chase rabbits and probably never come back. The walk was to work off the food intake at the Bodega in Rueda as well as Pili’s lunch but also to work up a new appetite for the New Year’s Eve dinner which was to take place at Yoli and Isidro’s house, Isidro being Eladio’s youngest brother. Yoli and Isidro live in a big house on the outskirts of León with their daughters Laura and Alicia (our god daughter) and have recently converted their garage into a party room which was perfect for the 24 of us celebrating the New Year.

Eladio and I on New Year's Eve in León.
Eladio’s family is a family who love to dance and at most family events they dance to the accompaniment of another brother, Alejandro, who learned to play the accordion as a child. He is probably pitch perfect but never ever had music lessons.
Alejandro, Eladio's brother, always provides live music for dancing at the family events, as he did on NYE this year.
 Unfortunately neither Eladio nor I are any good at dancing, although we did try one slow dance so as not to let the side down, but soon returned to our seats. We were the first to leave, at about 1.30. We seem to go to bed earlier and earlier these days and of course I get up very early, often at the crack of dawn, so at 1.30h we were yawning for our sleep. Never a good sleeper, especially in a bed which isn’t mine, I was surprised to actually get a reasonable night’s sleep. On New Year’s Day I was also to break my diet, so breakfast was a luxury and I enjoyed toast and butter for the first time in months.

Before leaving we had a date for a coffee with a couple in the centre of León, José and Mari José. They had been Eladio’s pupils when he was a priest in the village of Valderas many years ago. Marí José recently found Eladio on internet and they have been corresponding and now was the time to meet. I had met them once at their wedding nearly 30 years ago, so of course did not recognize them. It was funny to witness and be part of the reencounter after such a long time. For them it was very special, probably more than for us, as they had been the pupils and not the teacher which is normally the case. Here is a picture of Eladio with his old pupils who I think in part married thanks to the fostering of their relationship with events put on by Eladio for his young pupils at the time and for which they seemed forever grateful.

The reunion in León with Eladio's ex pupils, Mari José and José, a happily married couple.
After the amazing encounter, we hit the road again to drive home. Lunch was to be on the way at the Parador in Benavente where we nearly always stop on our way back. Here I was able to enjoy the superb chickpeas (garbanzos) from nearby Fuentesauco, where the best chickpeas in Spain are supposed to come from. If you know Spanish you may well have heard this famous saying: “el buen garbanzo y el buen ladrón de Fuentesaúco son” (roughly meaning the best chickpeas and the best thieves come from Fuentesauco!). I must say they were amazing, not only because of that but also because I hadn’t tasted chickpeas since I started my diet in September. Just look at this plate. Talk about home cooking at its best.

Chick peas with spinach at the Parador de Benavente, wonderful.
The next day, still being the weekend, was spent celebrating the New Year with the girls. As I had decided to break my diet for the whole weekend, we celebrated by going to the cinema and then to dinner to one of our all time local favourites, La Alpargetería where we were joined by Suzy’s boyfriend Gaby. The film we saw was “Sarah’s Key” a remarkable story about the round up of Jews in Paris by the French and not the Nazis during the second-world war but then handed over to the latter of course.  I have since ordered the book as well as another by the same author. As I read a resume of Tatiana de Rosnay’s own biography I realised just how similar it is to my Mother’s or even my own background which made me immediately interested in this author who was new for me. . For those of you, who like my Father, won’t be able to read the link, this is her background: “Tatiana de Rosnay was born on September 28th 1961 in the suburbs of Paris. She is of English, French and Russian descent. Her Father is French scientist Joël de Rosnay, her grandfather was painter Gaëtan de Rosna. Tatiana’s paternal great-grandmother was Russian actress Natalia Rachewskia, Director of the Leningrad Pushkin theatre from 1925 to 1949. Tatiana’s mother is English, Stella Jebb, daughter of diplomat, Gladwyn Jebb and great great granddaughter of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the British engineer. Tatiana is also the niece of historian Hugh Thomas”. Tatiana, curiously for me, obtained a Bachelor’s degree in English literature at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich in the 80’s, a place I spent many a summer and where my parents and Aunt taught. Who knows, we may have crossed each other on Norfolk Terrace or in the quadrangle on our way to the refectory. I think I would like to meet this lady with whom I would have much in common. Meanwhile I shall be enjoying her books and I may even drop her a note one day.

Tatiana de Rosnay, the author of Sarah's Key and with whom I have so much in common.
I haven’t read either yet as I have embarked on the enormously fat new book by Ken Follet, Fall of Giants set in the First World War in England, France, Germany and Russia. I am enjoying it thoroughly except for the battle scenes. That’s a bit like saying you like War and Peace apart from the war scenes, which is actually my case, hahaha.

Monday after the New Year’s celebration, was back to reality. One good thing that happened that day was that I got my hair style and colour back to how I like them after last month’s disaster. Tuesday was another shopping day as I went to our nearby shopping centre, Centro Oeste, to get some small presents for the Spanish Kings’ day on 6th January. We were to be doing the “invisible friend gift” with the girls and their friends, Juli and Rocío who would be joining us for “Reyes” as it is called here. Most Spaniards give their gifts that day so Reyes is really important for them. As neither my Father nor Eladio would be involved in buying the invisible friend presents, I, of course, did it for them. Actually it turned out to be a very good excuse to buy even more clothes at Zara, this time a red sleeveless knitted dress, a long white pullover and a short red cardigan. Of note too on Tuesday we had Oli’s friends Laura and Ana for lunch. Olivia had suggested them eating separately after us but I insisted on us all eating together as a family, pointing out that our house was a home and not a hotel.

Wednesday, the day before Kings’ day, I was up early to go and do a tac scan to make sure my mouth is in the right condition for 2 implants I need. I was very impressed with the Quirón hospital in Pozuelo, which seemed more like a hotel than a hospital. My test took place as soon as I arrived with no hanging around and if I had wanted I could have picked up the results the same day. As I also needed a gyno check up, for me and for Suzy, I went to make an appointment eagerly awaiting more efficiency and was rather disappointed to see that the earliest they could fit us in was the 1st April. So, yes efficient, but overcrowded like most hospitals here. Tuesday was a very medical day as I also had an appointment with my wonderful chiropodist in the afternoon at the Cemesur clinic in nearby Villaviciosa de Odón.  I cannot understand why people have pedicures when you can get this amazing treatment included in your health insurance. So once again, my feet are in great condition for my one hour daily walk.

In the evening, known as “Noche de Reyes” (Kings’ night) Suzy had decided to make the traditional roscón (Kings’ cake or bread, a bit like brioche but in the shape of a ring) which is eaten on Kings’ day for breakfast She got the recipe from internet and the difficulty degree was “difficult”. This recipe, like bread, needed fresh yeast and the dough had to rise several times before going in the oven. The recipe said for 8 people but turned out to be for many more. The outcome was extremely successful, 2 huge “roscones” which Suzy was extremely proud of. I witnessed each and every stage as I was taken on as her kitchen help for the occasion. We had also bought one in case the home made effort didn’t work out so ended up with 3. Luckily we were having guests the next day. Apart from Rocío and Juli, Eladio’s brother, José Antonio and his wife, Dolores and their grown up kids, Miguel, Sara and Juan would also be coming as they do most years on Kings’ Day.

Suzy and the giant Kings' "roscones" (cakes) - delicious
We toasted the roscón for breakfast and ate it with butter and jam (and some of us with Nutella!) and it was delicious. And I know that as I also broke my diet yesterday for the last and final time this Christmas. Breakfast was a lovely affair as we were joined not only by Juli and Rocío but also by Ana. The invisible present arrangement worked out fine too. My Father especially the enjoyed the last and final celebration of Christmas yesterday which he was not expecting.

Soon José Antonio and Dolores arrived and caught me in the middle of making their lunch, a truly British one too. I was making, as I had done on previous years, roast beef from the finest cut, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, peas and home-made gravy. You can guess what the dessert was. Yes, you’re right it was “roscón” but this time filled with thick whipped cream. And this is what the table looked like yesterday.

Lunch at home for 12 on Spanish Kings' Day was truly British, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings
We were 12 happy people for lunch enjoying Reyes (Kings’ Day) together, 2 united families and friends, as you can see on this photo below. The day was made easier for me as Olga was at home and so I didn’t have to do the clearing away or washing up. A home help is surely one of the best domestic investments available.

Lunch for 12 on Kings' Day
We all enjoyed coffee together but soon the party was broken up as the girls and Rocío had to leave for the airport. Also José Antonio and family were in a hurry to leave too which left the house suddenly very empty after the big lunch party. Christmas ended really when they left although it wasn’t until the next day that the decorations were taken down.

As I come to the end of my blog post on the second half of our wonderful Christmas, I can see how bad the weather is through the French windows in our study. It is raining hard and although I said at the beginning of my blog that I go for my walk “come rain or shine”, I think only a really mad person would venture out today and I’m not that mad an “Englishwoman” to brave the torrential rain coming down this early Saturday evening.

Let’s hope the weather gets better next week and that our bad colds abate too. Also now that Christmas is over, I am raring to get out for some action and a bit of a change of scene. I have worked through Christmas but haven’t once been to the office. We have spent most of our time nursing our colds and spending the afternoons in the lounge with the open fire reading or watching films when we haven’t been entertaining and now it’s time for some action, or I will go mad. If I didn’t say it last week, I wish you a great year, and if I did say it, then I wish you a great year once again. 2010 was a good year for me, so all I ask is that 2011 be just as good, if that’s not asking too much.

All the best my friends, till next week.

PD the full set of my Christmas photos can be found here on Facebook


Anonymous said...

Where were you raised?

Masha Lloyd said...

I was raised in the UK