Monday, December 26, 2016

On the rampage at Zara and last minute preparations for Christmas, lorry terrorist attack in Berlin, time with Suzy, annual festive dinner for friends at home, our family Christmas and other stories.

Monday 26th December, Boxing  2016

Our family photo on Christmas day after lunch with our cracker crowns on.  
Good afternoon to you all.

I do hope you are all having a great Christmas.  Ours is going to be interrupted this year as tomorrow afternoon we are flying to Cuba and won't be back until 4th January.  I didn't write this post yesterday as I wanted to include all the stories about our family Christmas time in this one blog post before we left for Cuba. You will be in store for a special post on our trip there when we come back.  So watch this space till then!

Let me start from where I left off. It was Sunday 18th December.  I was up really early as usual and couldn't believe it when I saw Suzy walk into the house at 09.30 after a whole night out partying with her ex school friends from St. Michael's.  Oli had got back at 1.30 from her school reunion.  As you see they are very different girls when it comes to partying hahaha. 

We had a quiet family day.  It was a joy, privilege and pleasure to have both girls with us. Suzy was up for lunch but had her breakfast though hahaha.  Later that day the girls would be meeting up with their group of friends, "la manada", (the herd). 

Monday morning was "weighing day".  I was awake at 5.50 (poor me) but soon felt wide awake as I stepped on the scales and saw that I had lost yet another kilo this week. That's a total of 12.4.  No wonder all the clothes at Zara, etc, fit and how rewarding it is that they do.

Meanwhile Suzy was off to the doctor to do lots of check ups while she is here. She has a lot more faith in the Spanish health service than the British one and I don't blame her.  Once I had done my walk and she was back we went on the rampage at Zara.  Or rather we went to do the last minute Christmas present shopping.  However I needed a little more rewarding before I bought presents for other people.  I far prefer the Zara at the Centro Oeste shopping centre in Majadahonda to the one at Gran Plaza.  I seemed to like everything they had and ended up buying an embroidered pair of size "40" jeans. I have always wanted embroidered jeans and just love these. I now have 4 pairs of new jeans; more than enough haha.
My lovely new embroidered jeans from Zara
What I was really looking for were evening dresses and I found them.  As soon as I saw the gold sequined tunic dress in the picture below I went for it. It's beautiful isn't it?  I would wear it on Christmas Day.
The lovely sequined party dress from Zara
I couldn't resist this little black lace and velvet dress either and would wear it for the dinner at home on Tuesday night when Julio and Fátima came.  When I looked, I saw they only had XS's and S's left.  Just in case, I tried the latter on and guess what? It fitted.  I was ecstatic because not only did it fit but it looked great.  I think I will wear it in Cuba for New Year's Eve there.
The little black lace and velvet dress from Zara
Once my appetite for new clothes at Zara was satiated, I concentrated on buying the last few presents for family and friends which included this lovely jumper, also from the Spanish fashion store, Zara.  This one was for Olivia.  I love it and hoped she would too.  Generally, unlike with Suzy, we have the same taste in clothes.
A Zara jumper for Oli for Christmas
Whilst Suzy and I were on the rampage at Zara and buying other presents at the shopping centre, poor Oli was at the dentist having an implant put in.  She joined us once she had finished and the poor girl, clutching and applying an ice bag to her face, arrived just as we were finishing. She could hardly talk and was in no mood for shopping. We did, however, make it to Carrefour to get some more provisions for home and were back late for lunch. She was better later in the evening and was able to join us on the walk. It would be the four of us with the dogs for a change and again I thought how privileged we were to be together for once. We had to have a selfie of course and here it is.  I put it into a Christmas photo frame from one of the endless seasonal photo apps.  
A Christmas photo of the 4 of us on our walk this week
But soon Eladio and I were left alone.  Oli went off in the evening to pick up Miguel who was arriving from Valencia.  Suzy went off to to stay the night with her bosom friend and fellow dietitian, Elena.  The four of them would have dinner that night at her place. 

Eladio and I had dinner alone, then went upstairs to get ready for bed and watch the 9 0'clock news.  We were astounded to see that, unfolding before our eyes was the aftermath of a terrorist lorry attack at Berlin's main Christmas market.  The attack, claimed as carried out by ISIS,  was similar to the lorry attack in Nice in the summer.  12 people were killed and more than 49 injured.  How ghastly!  No place seems safe these days and this is a terrible affront; an attack at a peaceful and seasonal traditional Christmas market where people go to enjoy themselves. We had heard the killer lorry driver had been arrested but it turned out they got the wrong man and that the real killer went on the run.  Anis Amri, aged 24 and from Tunisia was the the most hunted man in Europe until he was caught in Milan on Friday and killed by Italian police who shot him down after he opened fire on them. Now we will never know his motives behind the terrible Christmas attack.  How he managed to pass all the controls from Berlin to Milan beats me. 
The lorry attack at the Christmas market in Berlin
Terrorist lorry attacks seem to be the new weapon of the Jihadists. I suppose that is because they are more difficult for the police to control.  No one is safe these days. 

Later we would watch a new episode of "Designated Survivor".  I was pretty upset to hear next morning that the night before, Oli's latest programme for Telemadrid on good holiday plans for Christmas had been aired and she hadn't told us.  I don't like to miss her programmes I can tell you.  Here is a shot of her on a horse during the programme. Like me, as a child, she never got horse riding lessons. I wonder how it felt up there on the horse's back haha.
A shot from Oli's programme on Monday night that we didn't watch. 
Thankfully I would be able to watch it later online. You can too if you click on this link.

On Tuesday I was up again early.  As soon as Suzy was home, we went off to do more errands.  Suzy is trying to fit as much into her 12 days here as possible, so I see her on and off and try to spend as much time with her as her schedule permits.  That morning, just before lunch, she went to see her childhood friend, "Curry" (really called Carmen) in Parque Boadilla where we used to live.  Curry now has a two year old baby girl also called Carmen.. Suzy remarked how more and more of her friends are settling down.  She also heard that day that Estafanía from the "Manada" and a school friend, was 3 months pregnant.  Congratulations "Tefi".

Once she was back we rushed (the whole week has been like that) to Mercadona for me to get some urgent provisions for the annual at home Christmas dinner that night when my friends Julio and Fátima would be coming.  I did that in a jiffy and soon  I was back in the car again to accompany my daughter to the dentist.  It's funny but her dentist, Alex, was also her school friend from the same class and her very first boyfriend too.  I certainly remember them going out together although it didn't last.  Whilst in the waiting room I sort of wished it had worked out.  I mean being married to a dentist would have been a pretty good match, hahaha.  From the dentist, Suzy drove me home and then was off again, this time into Madrid to José Antonio and Dolores' house to see their daughter Sara and her baby Lucas and cousin Paula.  I would have loved to join them but had to stay at home to prepare the dinner.  Thankfully I had the unconditional help of Salud and even Eladio did his bit, removing the fat from the duck slices I would put into one of the salads hahaha.

I ought to mention too that Eladio was also busy that day.  He went to meet the Mother of a girl he will be teaching after Christmas.  She goes to one of the most famous schools in Spain, the one the King went to and his daughters go to now, Los Rosales.  The "girl" is in her last year at school but has failed most arts subjects.  My very knowledgeable husband will be teaching her geography, history, language, literature, classical culture and philosophy.  He's amazing. I think there is not one subject he could not put his hand to.  These days he is busy getting up to speed with all the subjects, except classical culture and philosophy which are of course his speciality.  I'm so in awe of him.

So yes, back to the dinner.  By 8 everything was ready and the table was laid.  Then it was time to get dressed and made up and prepare the lounges.  I lit all the candles, put soft lighting on, lit the tree and got the Christmas music going, thanks to spotify on some lovely Sony speakers I have. This is what the main lounge looked like. Very "hyggely" I thought.
Our "hygge" lounge ready for our guests on Tuesday night.
But it was the dining room that looked best.

The dining room all ready for our dinner on Tuesday night
I had made food I could eat whereby I wouldn't have to break my diet too much. The main concessions would be red wine and the dessert (billberries, raspberries, yoghurt and meringue).  I served my guests, ham, lomo, giant asparagus, meat loaf, duck and mango salad, prawns with avocado and a tuna salad with tomatoes, eggs, lettuce and red peppers. Here is a close up of the table for you to see the dishes.
The table groaning with low calorie dishes for dinner on Tuesday night
At 9 or so, my dearest friends Julio and Fátima arrived for our annual dinner at our place.
With my great friends Julio and Fátima at dinner at home on Tuesday
In the New Year we always go to Julio's for another dinner.  We enjoyed a drink of wine with a plate of ham in the lounge before we went through to the dining room and here we heard from Fátima that she has a new job.  We were so pleased for her as her time is up at Nokia at the beginning of January and finding a new job in Spain these days is no easy task.  

You will have noticed on the table there were crackers, which we would pull at the end of the meal. But to begin with we lit sparklers.
Sparklers to start the dinner
When we had finished and before pulling the crackers, we set off the confetti party poppers. I had bought them from a local Chinese bazar type place.  What I couldn't imagine is the effect they would have on our table and dining room.  This is what it looked like afterwards. Thank goodness Salud would clear it all away the next morning so that my Father could have his breakfast on a clean table haha.
The confetti played havoc with our dining room table on Tuesday night
If I am like Cinderella and have to leave before 12 at most events, Julio, starts yawning when it gets to midnight so soon afterwards they left.  We all agreed it was a lovely evening together.  It really was and always is. 

On Wednesday I woke up with a dreadful headache thanks to the wine.  Oh, I shouldn't have drunk it. Wednesday was the first day of Winter but I hardly noticed the difference. 

It was cold but the sun was shining. We have been lucky in Madrid not to have had lots of rain like in the south and south east.  Alicante, Murcia and Valencia and parts of Andalusia have had torrential rain and horrendous flash floods. The images on TV showed a ghastly scene for an area usually so dry. 10 people died in the freak weather which must have taken all the inhabitants by surprise.  My heart goes out to the families and friends of all affected.  
Flooding in Los Alcázares in Murcia
The winter solstice brought with it the the longest night on Tuesday and Wednesday would be the shortest day of the year.  It didn't seem like winter to me as on both my walks I enjoyed the sun.  After the 21st December, thankfully, the days will get longer with more light for us all to enjoy.  A Finnish friend reported there were only 5.5 hours of light in Finland and added "if you can call it light".  Yeah well, the further north you go the darker it is.  Perhaps the best thing about living in Spain is the amount of sunlight we get.  When I lived in dark England as a teenager, sun was something you looked forward to on holiday.  Now I have it nearly all the time and couldn't live without it.  
Wednesday 21st December was the winter solstice.

I don't think Suzy was aware it was the winter solstice.  All she has wanted to do since she got here was to cram in as many social engagements as she could in her 12 days here. On Wednesday she had lunch with a school friend, Aranxa, who runs a successful NGO in India and in the evening she had lunch with her ex "Whitechapel" flat mate, Mónica.  

She had time though to visit her sister Oli after lunch who, of course, was working.  They sent me an unexpected photo of the two of them together.  I love their relationship and wish I had had a sister in my life too.
My 2 girlies together on Wednesday
For me the shortest night of the year was Wednesday night.  Or was it the longest because I just couldn't sleep. I was awake at all hours and up as usual at 6 in the bl**** morning.  I do wish I could sleep longer. I'm not sure if the reason was the tension from watching a new series that night on Netflix, "Sea of Plastic" (Mar de plástico), a highly recommendable Spanish TV detective series set in Almeria where much of Spain's fruit and vegetables are produced under plastic greenhouses by the sea; thus the name of "mar de plástico".

TV series on Netflix, "Mar de plástico" (Sea of plastic)
If Wednesday 21st was the winter solstice, Thursday 22nd December was one of the most important days in the Spanish calendar.  The Annual Christmas lottery called "El Gordo" (the fat one) is drawn that day. It has the biggest winnings in the world, 2.4 billion dollars.  However the maximum anyone can win is 4 million but there are lots of smaller prizes.  We had tickets and a chance in a million to win but like nearly everyone here in Spain we bought them as it is the main tradition of Christmas in Spain. Chances of winning the first prize "El Gordo" are 1 in 100.000, that is 0.001%. That shortest night for me was spent partly dreaming we were millionaires but, as usual, that was not to be.  When I looked up our numbers after the draw I saw we hadn't won anything.  In a way you could say we had a "fat" chance hahaha. Of course, we shall try again next year. 
A scene from the traditional draw of the Spanish Christmas lottery, "El Gordo".
We didn't win anything but were surprised and happy to learn from the girls that night that one of the members of their group "la manada", Tere,had won a participation in the first prize which is quite incredible if the odds are so low, just 0.001%. Here is her winning ticket and the number of this year's "El Gordo"; 66513.  It's the first time ever a number ending in 13 has won it.

Teresa's sister bought one ticket (un décimo) equivalent to 1/10 of a whole ticket.  The ticket was shared between her family with a total winning of 800.000 euros (600 odd after taxes). Teresa was overjoyed to learn she was to get 100.000 euros.  She has a small baby and will be getting married in 2017 so no wonder she is overjoyed.  Nice that one of the girls' friends won the lottery.

That day I got unsettling news from work. However no way was I going to let it spoil my Christmas, not to mention our upcoming trip to Cuba.  But the day ended well with dinner at Oli and Miguel's with Suzy and Oli.  It would be the first time Suzy was to see their new flat and she loved it.  We had only seen it when they first moved in in the summer and hadn't been back since.  It's very homely and awfully clean as I pointed out to Oli hahaha.  Here we are around their dining room table after polishing off the dinner drowned with lovely wine the couple had bought in La Rioja region recently.
Dinner at Oli and Miguel's on Thursday night.
I indulged in a little wine, breaking my diet slightly I'm afraid.  It was really nice but I woke up with a small headache on Friday morning. Will I ever learn?

Friday came and it was the last day before Christmas.  I had lots of last minute preparations and shopping to do for both our Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day lunch.  It was a very busy day and I was on the go until the evening. In the morning Eladio and I went to the Mallorca gourmet bakery and cake shop which sells all sorts of wonderful food.  Here we spent some of my unused luncheon vouchers.  We usually use them to go out to dinner but as I have been on a diet since the beginning of October I had excess vouchers which would expire in the New Year and the only place to use them apart from restaurants is at Mallorca. Here we bought lots of ready made delicacies for our Christmas Eve dinner, as well as fine olive oil, wine and of course croissants and similar for our Christmas morning breakfast.  
Mallorca, perhaps Spain's finest chain of bakery and cake shops
Salud was away all day on Friday as she had gone to the doctor near where she lives in Toledo and wouldn't be back until late that night.  Thus I had to make lunch that day. Straight afterwards, to avoid the crowds, Eladio and I went to do the last minute food shopping at Mercadona.  We had to make sure there would be enough provisions in the house to last until we come back from Cuba.  

Once home I went on my walk and Eladio mowed the lawn.  The girls were away and the house seemed very quiet.  On Saturday they would be home and the family would be together to enjoy another wonderful Christmas.  Oh how I love Christmas.

Saturday was Christmas Eve, a traditional time in Spain to spend exclusively with the family and that's how we do it too.  Finally we were all together. I had a sudden inspiration on my early morning walk that we could wear Santa outfits that night.  So as soon as I got back, I went straight to my grandmother's wooden chest which is full of fancy dress outfits, to find them.  I immediately tried one on and got Eladio to get into a Christmas Elf tunic too.  And here we are the 2 of us by the tree getting into the spirit of Christmas.  What a laugh!
Eladio and I getting into the spirit of Christmas on Saturday morning
Saturday was all about cooking and being with the girls.  Suzy and I did some of the preparations in the morning but the rest was done after our walk in the afternoon. It was great to be in the kitchen with the girls with carols playing and cooking delicious dishes together.  Meanwhile, Eladio's main task was to light the fire in the TV lounge.  Our Christmas Eve dinner is always lots of different starter type dishes - 10 this year - rather than a formal 1st, 2nd and 3rd courses.  For the record we made and prepared lobster salad, salmon, vegetable loaf from a recipe by Juan Arzak a famous Spanish chef, bacon rolls (a must each Christmas - Oli had 7 of them hahahha), plus various salads. Suzy remarked on how healthy this year's spread was.  I think that has something to do with my diet as I didn't want to make fattening food that night; apart from the bacon rolls of course. This is what our table looked like before we sat down to enjoy the dinner.
Our Christmas Eve table
Poor Grandpa had an upset stomach and was only able to have a very tiny dinner but even so I know he enjoyed the atmosphere, the crackers and even a tiny bit of "turrón" (Spanish type nougat very typical at Christmas).  Here he is coming into the dining room led by Zena, our Ukranian weekend helper who would join us for dinner too.  Being Orthodox her Christmas is on 7th January so this year she will celebebrating 2 Christmases, hahaha.
Zena bringing in my Father for the family Christmas dinner.
And here are the 5 of us around the table in a picture taken by Zena.  As you can see we all wore Christmas outfits.  It was such a laugh. Why did we never think of that before I wonder?
Around the table at Christmas Eve with our Santa and Elf outfits hahaha
The four of us dressed up suitably for the occasion on Christmas Eve

Of course I broke my diet that night but funnily enough I just couldn't eat big portions as I suppose my stomach has shrunk hahaha.  

At 9.15 p.m. we watched the King's speech on the iPad after we had finished eating.  I found it boring and institutional and didn't really listen.  I was far more interested to see Oli's programme which came next on the TV and  which was a special edition of "Mi Cámara y yo" for Christmas Eve.  You can see it too here online. She and her colleagues, dressed in Santa outfits too, were the Telemadrid TV "Charlies' angels" as you can see in the photo below.
Oli and her co-reporters, centre Andrea and right Amaya, in a shot from the special programme on Christmas Eve
Later we would exchange just one present each, saving the rest of them for Christmas morning after breakfast.  We went to bed early in great anticipation of Christmas Day all promising to be up early.

I was up earlier than anyone, as usual, but this time it was at 5.50 a.m. A bit much right? However, I had lots to do.  After feeding the dogs, I had to hang up the girls' Christmas stockings and then lay the table for the family Christmas breakfast, making the coffee and orange juice for everyone.  This is the best breakfast of the year and similar to our birthday breakfasts.  This is what the table looked like.  The first to arrive for breakfast were Zena and my Father.
Breakfast on Christmas morning
Tradition dictates in our home and straight after our sumptuous breakfast it was present opening time.  Everything was ready; the fire was lit and so were the candles and the tree, the presents were groaning under it and the carols were playing in the background.  Here is my Father with Eladio sitting by the fire just before the most awaited moment of the year in our family.

Eladio and my Father sitting by the fire on Christmas morning just before we opened the presents.
The festive fireplace.
The lounge where we would open the presents was looking splendid.  
The lounge before we opened the presents on Christmas morning
Before we started however, there had to be a small photo session.  If I was wearing a santa claus outfit the night before, on Christmas day I was wearing the gold party dress I had bought during our Zara rampage.  And here I am, in it by the tree feeling so happy.
In my gold dress on Christmas Day
We also had to have the annual "official" photo of Eladio and I together on Christmas Day, one we have been taking every year for some time now.  Olivia is our photographer. She didn't want to appear in any of the photos as she was in pyjamas which is how she likes to dress on Christmas morning hahaha.  And here it is, this year with little Pippa, our inseparable little pet.
Our official annual Christmas morning photo. We always dress up for the occasion.
Unlike Oli, Suzy did not have her pyjamas on, so she joined in the photo shoot.  I hope this is a photo she will be able to put in a frame in her room in London to remember our lovely family Christmas and of course her parents.

The present opening session took a good 2 hours and most people were happy with their presents. My Father later said how well organised Christmas had been, that he loved our Santa Claus outfits, the fire, his presents and the Christmas day lunch; a heavily British affair with all the trimmings. I was so glad to hear it.

Soon afterwards, I started on the lunch which was to be "pullet" chicken (pularda in Spanish) with sage and onion stuffing, roast potatoes, various types of veg, gravy and of course cranberry sauce. Dessert would be Christmas pudding, one Suzy had brought from England for us.  I put everything in motion and then left Zena in charge so as to be able to go on our walk before lunch.  The four of us went with our 3 dogs and it was a glorious sunny morning.  It was also quite warm and soon we were peeling off the layers of clothes we didn't need.  We came back to find our Ukranian carer slightly worried about the British lunch she was helping to make.  I took over immediately of course to make both the gravy and the white sauce which I'm not sure she would not have known how to prepare hahaha.

Everyone seemed to be starving, despite our hearty breakfast, and were all tucking in before I even made it to the table.  I told my family that was not the protocol and that we had to make a toast before starting haha.  Here are Eladio and the girls tucking in and my Father too.  He does love a Christmas roast meal like we all do. Thankfully his tummy upset was over. I remarked that he has now lived through 97 Christmases. Wow!
Eladio and the girls enjoying their Christmas day lunch
My Father at lunch on Christmas Day
I wondered what Zena thought of the British Christmas lunch. She wiped her plate completely clean, saying everything was delicious.  She was the photographer for the family photo illustrating this week's post.  She wanted to be in a photo with my Father who, I can see very clearly, she has become very fond of. It's nice to here her speaking to him in Russian on occasion.  
Zena with my Father at lunchtime on Christmas Day
We were very fortunate to have Zena with us for Christmas as she insisted on clearing up afterwards. That was a Christmas present in itself hahah.  So we all gravitated to the TV lounge to watch films. We chose "Love Actually" although I think I was the only one that liked it.  The rest of the afternoon was spent lounging on the sofa together by the fire.  Unlike a typical British home, we do not indulge in any booze, except for wine at meals, nor in chocolates which I didn't buy this year. Suzy and Oli had a visitor; Cristina, a friend from the Scouts. While they entertained her, Eladio and I watched another film, November Man with Pierce Brosnan.

Believe it or not we had dinner that night or rather Eladio, Oli, Miguel and I did.  Suzy said she was too full.  We arranged an impromptu buffet helping ourselves to the leftovers from the night before and each took a plate into the dining room.  Again I broke my diet, but that is understandable on Christmas Day isn't it?

Having got up at 5.50 in the morning, I was pretty tired by the end of the day and we tucked ourselves up into  bed at about 10 pm to watch the latest episode of The Designated Survivor on Netflix.

I am finishing this post today which is Boxing Day.  It was to be our last day with the girls before our trip to Cuba tomorrow.  I went shopping with them this morning to change some of their presents, mostly at Zara where the queues of other people doing the same thing were endless.  There was to be no Boxing Day family lunch as the girls and Miguel were going to a restaurant with the Manada, their group of friends.  Thankfully though we shall have a Boxing Day dinner, just the four of us, our last meal together until who knows when, as Suzy is leaving for London the day after tomorrow.

It feels funny to be preparing for our trip to Havana tomorrow in the middle of Christmas but we are very much looking forward to it. Of course you will read all about it in my next post upon our return.

Meanwhile let me wish you all a fabulous 2017.  I am wishing the same for myself but not sure it's going to be so after the unsettling news I mentioned at the beginning of this post. In any case I shall be positive and make the best I can of the new year.

So my friends and readers, that's it until next year.

All the very best,

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