Why Computers Are Bad For You

Dog outdoors, dog lying down, dog in countryside, dog with lead, black dog, labrador cross, German shepherd cross

This morning we were out of dog food.  I had the bright idea of boiling up some pasta.  I popped on the pasta, went out and checked some blogs on the computer.  Then another, then another until…came across blog about dogs,  dog = cooking pasta = burning smell = burnt pasta, burnt pan.  Aaargh!  Fortunately the dog will eat anything, hungry or not.

Cooked a late brunch, scrambled eggs and rosti.  While cooking late brunch prepared soup for actual vitamins later.  Went up and did some work on the computer.  “Something smells good”, said Jae, as he lay down on the sofa looking bored.  Feeling of guilt as I should be playing with Jae in the holidays, doing cool stuff like sailing or surfing which is one reason we moved to the Silver Coast.

I suggested a board game. Jae retreated before I could come up with the sentence “how about some maths homework?”  Went back to work on the computer.

Soup, eating al fresco

Jae returned a while later.  “What’s that weird smell?” he asked.  I leaped up from the computer to retrieve yet another blackened pan off the stove.  Picked out the bits of veg. that weren’t black to try and retrieve lunch.  Unfortunately the children won’t eat anything, even if hungry.

Meanwhile, Jae went in the pool.

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Looking forward to dinner tonight.  Maybe I’ll just go straight for a flambé.

 

Lizard Love

 

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I strolled into the bathroom after lunch to put the freshly washed towels away. It was light and sunny and now we have a shower screen it’s looking very like a normal bathroom and less like a semi-renovation job.

“Kids, come and see this!,” I shouted.

I put away the laundry and peeked closer into the bath tub. A baby lizard was scurrying about. Here’s the thing. I’ve always liked lizards, they remind me of Mediterranean holidays, and because we don’t have them in England they’re quite special and something to call the family about in a highly excited, squeaky voice. The kids raced in and we all peered into the bath at the very worried creature who had probably figured out by now that he couldn’t climb out and escape.

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Er…the actual lizard

My daughter, after several attempts, managed to gather it into her hands and carefully carry him, or her, out into the sunshine and put him out by the wall.

I’m surprised there wasn’t a request to keep him as a pet. I think we’ve all realised that a dog and two guinea pigs is enough for now….oh, and mustn’t forget the stray.

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…mustn’t forget the stray!

International Book Deliveries

 

Boy with chopsticks in nose

I don’t need maths – look what I can do!

Earlier in the year there was a flurry of disappointment among expats everywhere as Amazon decided to change its policy of fees for international deliveries on books and other goods.

So when it was time to order a book or two for Jae who is currently keen on the ‘Young Samurai’ series, I thought I’d better do a little research first. Oh, and I secretly wanted to add in a maths book or two to keep him busy during the summer holidays.

The Young Samurai, The Way of the Dragon

Here’s what I came up with for the ‘Young Samurai’ series: ‘Way of the Dragon’ or ‘The Ring of Sky’, by Chris Bradford, for a standard paperback book.  Prices are for purchase and European delivery (exchange rate for 14 July 2014):

Better World Books – used $9.48, new $22.63. Free worldwide shipping. Total $9.48 (£5.55)
Books Etc. – £7.18 + £3.31 delivery. Total £10.39
Guardian Bookshop – £5.59 + £3.95 delivery per order + £1.00 per item. Total £10.54
Book People – £4.49 + £4.00 delivery up to 0.5kg (£5.00 up to 1kg). Total £8.49
Amazon – £4.89 (new) + £6.60 delivery. Total £11.49

Carol Vorderman maths book

Amazon – £0.01 (used) + £4.02 delivery.  Total £4.03
Alibis.co.uk – 0.80 euros + 5.26 euros delivery + 3.94 euros per extra item. Total E6.06 (£4.83)
Foyles – £5.10 + £5.00 delivery + £1.50 each extra book. Total £10.10
WH Smiths – £4.89. They don’t deliver outside the UK
Waterstones – £4.49 + £7.50 delivery. Total £11.99
The Book Depository – 7.67 euros + free worldwide delivery. Total E7.67 (£6.11)
Ebay (Buy it Now) – £2.72 used + £1.51 delivery.  Total £4.23

Young Samuari, The Ring of Sky, Chris Bradbury

The £0.01 used book that Amazon offered via their used books section came top of the list.  Plus I already had an account with them so didn’t have to set up a new one.  They also offered the maths books I wanted.  I ordered two ‘Way of the Samurai’ books and a selection of maths books, then waited.

...and waited...

…and waited…

And waited.  “When are the books coming mummy?” Jae said every day, several times a day, for twelve days.

I hadn’t noticed when paying that the delivery wouldn’t arrive for another twelve days.  By which time, on the twelfth day, we were off to England.  On the twelfth day one of the Samurai books arrived.  One book between two children wasn’t a good number.  We took one out in the library while in England to pacify the other child.

On our return home the other Samurai book had arrived.  “Hurray!” said Jae.  No maths books though. They wouldn’t fit into our letter box. I broke the sad news.  “Hurray!” said Jae.

Boy outdoors, fresh air

“Hurray – no maths!”

I went to the post office with the card the post man had left.  The post office (correio) only keeps items for six days.  I emailed Amazon.  I will probably get a refund of the product if Royal Mail returns them.  Otherwise…well…phew…luckily I bought some maths books from a high street shop in the UK.  Just in case.

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Quick and Healthy Citrus Spring Biscuits

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This is a biscuit recipe that has evolved from making flap jacks in a hurry at seven in the  morning for the kid’s school snacks.  I like to make them fresh and I really don’t have time to make proper flap jacks, melt butter, weigh everything out, get flour everywhere, that just doesn’t work for me.  Therefore, I use tablespoons instead of weighing scales, because its quicker to grab a spoon and fill it. I thought I’d share my version which I have to say are no longer anything like flap jacks.

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None of the ingredients are set in stone and I suggest you experiment a little.  These are made with oranges because they are in season in Portugal, as are lemons, but in England I would add plum or apple in the autumn, chopped up cherries or maybe a sprinkling of elderflowers in summer, so you get the drift.  Sometimes I add a dessert spoon of desiccated coconut or dried cranberries chopped in half, or sultanas depending on what is in the store cupboard, if I have nothing fresh.

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4 tablespoons rolled oats

4 tablespoons rice flour (you can use ordinary flour, ground almond would probably work too).

1 tablespoon olive oil (of course you can use butter but olive oil is much easier and healthier).

Juice and grated rind of 1 medium orange.  If you are using a fruit that doesn’t contain much juice then you can replace this with milk or cartoned juice.

1 tablespoon honey.

1 dessert spoon sugar – optional.  I tend to add this sometimes as they then go down better with the children.  Half a teaspoon of ginger or cinnamon is a nice addition too.

1 pinch of salt.  Okay hands up, I don’t actually bother with this as I try to avoid salt, so this is optional.

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Combine all the ingredients together.  If the mixture is too sticky add a little more flour.  You shouldn’t need to get out the mixer as it only takes about a minute to combine with a spoon until it has melded into a ball.

Roll out on a floured board (or a large flat plate which is quicker to wash) to about half a centimetre thick and cut with a 2″ biscuit cutter or into whatever size you fancy.  Pop them onto a greased baking tray.  I sometimes don’t even roll them out but pop them into shallow, greased pattie tins.

This should make about eight biscuits but if you want more just adjust the ingredients.

Bake in a pre-heated oven or a halogen oven at 200°C, 400°F or gas mark 6 for approximately ten minutes or until just slightly going golden brown.

Now then, when I came to bake these this morning my halogen oven wasn’t working so I ended up baking them in a grilling machine for 15 minutes.  It seemed to work although not quite as tasty and good looking as usual.  The pictures are therefore of the pre-baked biscuits.

Can’t wait to finally get a proper kitchen and oven.  Sooner rather than later now I think!

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Where’s our Puppy Gone?

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We were tempted by these puppies last year but common sense ruled.

“Dakota’s had puppies!” yelled Zed, coming in from taking Milly on her evening walk and looking slightly windblown with a light drizzle of rain still glistening on his shoulders.  “Who wants to come and see them?  I think we should see if we can have one.”

We raced over to the neighbouring barn.  Dakota isn’t our dog.  She lives under a table next door and belongs to someone in the village.   Whenever she breaks free she bounds over to our house and scampers around with Milly, our Labrador cross.  We don’t actually know her real name but Dakota is as good as any don’t you think? A little black and tan mongrel featured in a previous blog ‘Scruffy and Woofy’.

Dakota

Dakota

We peered under the table at the two tiny, black, newly born creatures wriggling around near their mother in the dark.  I could see two but maybe there were more hidden the other side of her.

“Should we ask if we can have one?” asked Zed. In that moment all common sense went out the window along with the unspoken and disturbing thought that maybe they weren’t wanted and would be drowned.  Home was, after all, a table.

The following morning Zed dashed out with a translated note which said something like ‘If you don’t want all the puppies can we have one?” and left it on top of the table for the owner to find.

Later that day the owner came by.  Zed tried out his Portuguese and after a conversation of sorts managed to establish that there were three puppies, that the owner was having one, another neighbour the other and there would be one for us.  Well, we think that’s what he said.  At one point the owner mentioned ten puppies and reeled off names across the neighbourhood.  Ten puppies?  Eh?  Where were they? What?

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Dakota and her puppies were rehoused in a wooden shack the following day. At intervals I would peek my head around the door and watch them suckling or barging around the room. They were as cute as teddy bears and I couldn’t resist them, couldn’t wait for the day when we could take one home. They were black and tan like their mother.  There was just one little thought bothering me, we could still only see two puppies…not three…not ten…

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Ola, ola!”  shouted a neighbour at our gate late one evening. My daughter translated their problem.  It seemed that the puppies had gone missing. Oh no!  Had we seen them? Knowing that Dakota plays in the garden we wondered if she’d brought them in and hidden them somewhere. Clearly wanting us to be the proud owners.  Were these the neighbours who were having the other puppy?

The following morning a makeshift fence had been put up in the yard.  Outside on the road stood Dakota, shaking slightly. I could hear the puppies whimpering in the shed.  They’d returned safely from their wander but she couldn’t get to them.  Emergency!!  I raced into the house to fetch Zed to help me lift Dakota over the fence. When we got back the dog was already the other side having found another way in.  As they fed and then scampered out to play I wondered whether we would be given the boy or the girl. I didn’t mind which. We hadn’t come up with a name yet. Maybe ‘The Wanderer’?  I bought a tin of puppy food.  Just in case.

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We waited for them to be weaned, visiting them often, holding them, playing with them. They started eating solid food.  One evening my son came rushing in.  One of the puppies had gone!

The following day we watched the carnival parade in town then came home and cuddled the last remaining, gorgeous, fluffy puppy.  Was it ours?  When could we take it?  Where was the owner to ask? More importantly – do we really need two dogs?

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carnival parade

The next morning Dakota was there, bounding happily in front of us as usual.  At the shack there were no puppies left.  Not ten, not three, not two, not one.  They say dogs start to look like their owners and with his light, tan, floppy hair and cute face Jae was starting to look uncannily like one of the puppies.  It clearly wasn’t the sign I thought it was though.

Done hens and ducks.  Tilly the hen.

Maybe a chicken instead.

Ah well.  They have chickens for sale in the Agriloja store.  Maybe a more practical option.  They are for sale next to the cutest floppy eared rabbits though…..

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book cover rivoli

‘The Rivoli Wigwam’ by Alicia Sunday
A fantasy adventure
for 7-9 year olds.

What Can Go Wrong with a Spring Carnival Parade?

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A little butterfly sat on the steps crying.  A sweet ‘mariposa’.  My seven year old daughter was having her initiation into carnival when we lived in Spain a few years ago, parading round the narrow cobbled streets as a butterfly to celebrate the beginning of spring.  Sweets were thrown out of windows.  There was a mad scramble.  Spanish children have been clearly trained from toddlers to dive in and pick them up unharmed while my own little butterfly simply got crushed until I found her, one wing hanging off, in the middle of a group of school friends.

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Winding forward to one February day last year when I dropped my son off at his Portuguese school in fancy dress.  I’d grabbed a mask at the last minute when he mentioned that morning that he was supposed to turn up in a costume.  I waved goodbye as he stood among Snow Whites, Jedi and an assortment of costumes recycled from Halloween, and returned home.  When I picked him up in the afternoon he clutched a bag of sweets he’d been handed.  “Good party?” I asked him.

“Yes but we walked around the streets in a parade and where were you?”

“Ah, well no-one told me that’s what you were doing.  Sorry.”  Feeling of inadequate parenting and visions of son being traumatised for life because I hadn’t been there to watch.

Okay I’d missed my son’s first parade but at least he wasn’t crushed in any mad sweet scramble scuffle.

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This year I dropped him off at school in full knight’s outfit and watched the other children happily sporting zorro costumes, pirate outfits and flamenco dresses amid a sea of satin princesses. Ready for the parade they stepped out the school yard.  Then came the rain.  As it came tumbling down the teacher hurried them back inside.  I went home.  Another parade missed.

That was Thursday.  On Friday it was time for the carnival parade to take place in the  main town with all the schools attending. I dropped him off at school then headed into town. I sipped coffee with a friend as I waited in a café, unsure of the exact time, guessing the route. This time nothing would go wrong.  Surely.

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Suddenly groups of people started sauntering down the road.  I grabbed my camera and joined them.  The parade approached, teachers were dressed up too, one in a particularly fine bunny rabbit outfit.  A police car headed up the front of the parade while other police stopped traffic.  The children from my son’s school were dressed as snowmen  They looked fabulous.  Indeed all the schools did with each one having a different theme.  Some were nurses, others scarecrows with straw poking out the bottom of sleeves instead of hands, there were tiny tots dressed as lady birds, a group of spring flowers, Robin Hoods and many others all looking spectacular and well, there’s no getting away from it, just cute.  No-one threw sweets. It didn’t rain.

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I’m happy to say it was a perfect parade.  All hail the onset of spring and sunshine!

5 Top Family Games to Play

Monopoly - Try the Lisbon version

Monopoly – Try the Lisbon version

This winter huddled by the log fire in Central Portugal with rain pelting down on the hills and windmills outside, we’ve brought out the games.  By games I mean good old board games. Here are a selection we’ve enjoyed most that are suitable for all the family from age 8 upwards chosen from the mountain of board games in our cupboard.  It was difficult to choose just five from the traditional favourites such as Chess, Draughts, Ludo, Snakes and Ladders and Scrabble but the ones picked out below are those that we all enjoy.  So I urge you, bribe the children with marshmallows and hot chocolate, get them off the computer and gather in front of the heater.  Unless you’re in Australia in which case a shady spot in the garden.

In no particular order…

1.  ‘Monopoly’.  Yep, no surprises there.  We have the London version but Jae has also played the Lisbon version at school.  For the very few of you on the planet that haven’t come across Monopoly, it’s a game for 2-4 players.  The aim of the game is to, well, make the most money by buying up property, building houses and hotels and collecting rent.  Takes from around 45 minutes to 2 hours.  We became fairly addicted to this game in the summer, see Take a £10 Fine or Take a Chance!

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2.  ‘Articulate’.  This is definitely for older children but you can relax the rules for younger ones and pick out questions they can do.  You need at least four to play and an even number of people.  One person on a team describes a word that the other person on the team has to guess.  It can take an hour or two to get round the board but is great fun.  It can also be a good test of how your kids are doing on the educational front and any gaps in their knowledge.  I was shocked, yes shocked, to find out Jae hadn’t seen ‘The Wizard of Oz’ when he couldn’t describe it.  How did that happen?

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3. ‘Ingenius’.  This is an easy game to play when you’ve had a busy day as it’s not too taxing on the brain and one that younger children can play too.  Match up the symbols to score points.  Takes about half an hour but you can stretch out the length of the game by using more of the board.  From 2-4 players.  My current favourite, wonder why?

Ingenious

4.  ‘Dr Who’.  Yes of course there’s a game.  There’s also a groovy electronic tardis, daleks and counters representing Dr Who.  You have to collect 6 cards with each card representing different time zones while trying to avoid being caught by the daleks.  The game takes about an hour.

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5.  ‘Jenga’.  This is made up of wooden bricks and wins extra points for being durable enough to hand down a generation or two.  After building the tower out of rectangular wooden bricks each player has to take turns pulling out a brick without any of the tower collapsing. A game that’s easy to pack if you’re off camping.

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So if its still raining, snowing or too hot to move, that’s next weekend sorted for everyone!