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News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

No Thanksgiving but plenty of fiestas

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Thanksgiving in the USA is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November and commemorates the event that Americans commonly call the ‘First Thanksgiving’. This was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in 1621. This feast lasted three days, and it was attended by 90 Native Americans, according to an account written by Edward Winslow, and 53 Pilgrims. The New England colonists were accustomed to regularly celebrating ‘thanksgivings’ — days of prayer thanking God for blessings such as military victory or the end of a drought.

Of course it is a particularly American tradition that is not followed in other countries outside North America but Thanksgiving Day prompted one of my nephews, Scott, to send a message to my blog site. He wrote: “I’m looking forward to visiting you both next year. Uncle could you do a piece on harvest festival, thanksgiving and what they may do in Spain. x.”

Spain being a predominantly Roman Catholic country, religious harvest festivals take place in the churches .

However, outside churches, the Spanish love a fiesta – take a look at these:

Throwing ripe tomatoes about may seem a bit strange but that is what happens at La Tomatina which has to be one of Spain’s craziest festivals. Ever since 1944, on the last Wednesday of August in Buñol, Valencia, between 11:00 a.m. until 1:00 pm, people take part in a tomato ‘war’ called the Tomatina.

September is a good month for celebrating various grape harvests, as well as the wine made with those crops. If you like sparkling wines and Cava, the nearest the Spanish get to creating a wine like Champagne, then you might enjoy a visit to Catalunya’s Cava week (see picture above).

Among the various Autumn festivals, there is the Jerez de la Frontera´s Fiestas de Otoño. Three weeks dedicated to sherry tasting, horses and flamenco. Also the Fiesta de San Mateo in Logroño (which is the heart of La Rioja, Spanish wine country) they celebrate the grape harvest with a big festival. Traditional Spanish party style at its best.

In September, the city of Barcelona celebrates its biggest fiesta, the Festes de la Merce. This is a huge festival with folkloric parades, fireworks, dragons and giants. This would be a great opportunity

As we get into October, things quieten down a bit. The month’s biggest day is Día de la Hispanidad This nationwide fiesta, though, has nothing to do with harvest. Instead it that commemorates Columbus’s landing in the Americas but not in the land that would eventually become the USA. Columbus never set foot there.

 

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Around and about

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So many of you have been asking about the environment here in our part of Spain that I thought that I had better answer your questions in a post.

Our home is in the province of Almeria in southern Spain, between Costa del Sol and Costa Blanca but, thankfully, nowhere near the popular tourist destinations. We are in a small community of about 30 or so properties (I have never counted) in a valley completely hidden from the main road. There is a village in walking distance and a town some 8km/5m away.

The market is only yards from the sea.

Lisa shows the market is only yards from the sea.

The climate, as by now you must be aware, is sunny. It is said to have 330 days of sun here every year. As such, we are surrounded by palm trees, oranges and lemons grow just down the road from our front door and there are a variety of plants that grow well in tropical climes as well as some desert ones.

Agriculture is one of the major economies with melons and lettuces being two of the major crops. Near us, it was fascinating to see, just last week, people working for a local co-operative arrive and harvest a field of lettuces by hand.

We are in an area where desert meets the mountains and sea. Indeed, we can be on a Mediterranean beach in 10 minutes. Most of the rivers are dried up but they occasionally flood when the rains come. The wettest month of the year is September and the worst of winter tends to be January and February.

That's me, wearing sunglasses by the Mediterranean.

That’s me, wearing sunglasses by the Mediterranean.

Average temperatures reach their peak in August with highs of 30˚C/86˚F but occasional days of 35C/95F are not unknown. At night the average low temperature is 22˚C/62˚F. Spring and autumn temperatures are more moderate; they go up to about 23˚C/73˚F and down to around 12˚C/53˚F.

November’s average high is 20˚C/68˚F but, in fact, yesterday it reached 22˚C/62˚F. The nights, however, are quite chilly with average lows of 10˚C/50˚F.

This morning, Sunday, we visited a market in a nearby town right on the Mediterranean. The stalls were set among palm trees (see main picture), the sky was blue and the sun beat down. The temperature was 23˚C/73˚F; another glorious day. Did I mention it is sunny here?

 

 

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Washing machine, doctor, car and cats

pooka prissy

Right on time, just before 6pm, the doorbell rang. It was the man delivering and installing our new washing machine that we bought only the previous night.

I told him exactly where it needed to be installed and left him to carry out his work. He made a couple of trips back to his van but he worked quickly and it was not long before I could hear water both entering then draining from the machine as the installer tested it. He arrived at the door and handed over the various booklets, saying the user manual was only in Spanish and Portuguese, not English. However, he explained the operating procedures to Lisa.

We were advised that it would be a complete waste of money to purchase a tumble drier because clothes that have been washed and spun soon dry in the sun. We took that advice and did not buy a tumble drier and so earlier yesterday we bought a folding clothes airer. Other advice came from a neighbour who warned us that we are living in a hard water area that leads to lime scale build up, so it is back to the shops tomorrow for some water softening/limes scale reducing tablets.

I remember writing previously about Lisa’s bad leg and today, at last, it was seen by a doctor at the local health centre. He immediately sent her to see a nurse to have it redressed. Tomorrow she has to go there at 11am when, we hope, she will be given an antibiotic as well as having it dressed again.

The health service here is one of the best in the world and always seems keen to treat any problems straight away. It certainly steps, if not giant strides, ahead of the UK’s NHS.

Our new car is a joy to drive, with plenty of space inside. It is surprising just how quickly and easily I have adapted to driving left hand drive cars on the right hand side of the road. I find that I am just as relaxed driving in that way as I used to be when driving on the left in the UK. And that is something I had been doing for 45 years. The next item we need to buy for the car is a folding ramp to enable my electric power wheelchair to be loaded and unloaded easily. That will mean Lisa can relax a little and my independence will be enhanced.

Our cat flap is now in full use, particularly by Prissy. She absolutely loves going in and out of the house and it is great to see her stretching and rolling in the sun before leaving our garden to explore her new domain.

The purely rural surroundings are a pure delight for both cats. There is much beauty here. At night from the window of our spare bedroom, the area takes on a magical, almost ‘fairy grotto’ appearance; it is so very pretty.

Sorry that today’s post has been jumping about, from topic to topic, but sometimes that simply cannot be avoided.

 

 

 

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Thanksgiving: Delicious meal and more

 

argentine steak

Yesterday was the fourth Thursday in November which, as all Americans know, is the day they celebrate Thanksgiving; a federal holiday that commemorates the ‘first thanksgiving’.

One day during the fall (autumn) of 1621, four settlers were sent to hunt for food for a harvest celebration. The Wampanoag heard gunshots and alerted their leader, Massasoit, who thought the English might be preparing for war. Massasoit visited the English settlement with 90 of his men to see if the war rumour was true.

But it wasn’t and the Native Americans realized that the settlers were only hunting for the harvest celebration. Massasoit sent some of his own men to hunt deer for the feast and for three days, the English and native men, women, and children ate together. The meal consisted of deer, corn, shellfish, and roasted meat, far from today’s traditional Thanksgiving feast.

Being so far away from the land of her birth and now in Spain, Lisa was not ready to cook a traditional Thanksgiving dinner so I decided that we’d go out for a meal and, having made enquiries, we headed off to Garrucha. There we found an Argentine steak house serving both Angus and Hereford beef. For the benefit of any non-Brit readers, both these breeds of cattle – Angus and Hereford – although now bred in Argentina, are British and are renowned for providing top quality beef.

All meat is cooked over charcoal in the restaurant itself, not hidden in the kitchen. While we sipped sangria, we both opted for the special mixed grill which is a sharing dish for two people, comprising steak, spare ribs, chicken breasts and Argentine sausage, served with chips (fries to my American readers) and salad.

We both chose it to be cooked rare, which is exactly what we got. Cutting into the steak, I was absolutely delighted to see blood on my plate. That is just how a good steak should be.

We followed this with a dessert of traditional Spanish flan and, lastly, with cortado. This is an espresso cut with a small amount of warm milk. The word cortado is the past participle of the Spanish verb cortar, meaning ‘to cut’. In Spanish-speaking countries, a cortado is similar to the Italian caffè macchiato, where a small amount of warm milk is added to ‘cut’, literally ‘stain’, the espresso.

The whole meal was a delightful experience and, Lisa felt, a truly fitting celebration of Thanksgiving.

Before going inside the restaurant, we popped into a nearby electrical appliance store that had been recommended to us by a neighbour. There we placed orders for a washing machine that is being delivered and installed on Friday evening and a range cooker that is scheduled to arrive on Thursday evening next week.

The cooker in our new home really needed replacing and we thought it best to get a new one now and get it installed correctly right from the start.

Cat news: Prissy and Pooka have both ventured outside on Thursday and explored a ln the UK, Pooka had not gone outdoors for the last two years, so her ‘expedition’ was great to see.

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New life, new home and new car

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Before I say anything else, Lisa and I would like to wish all Americans, especially members of our family, a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Well our first full day in our new Spanish home promised to be a busy one and so it was.

The man came about the gas cooker and said that it had been installed incorrectly and that he could fit it properly next week, In the meantime he has done a short-term fix meaning that we can use the cooker. Looks like a fairly expensive fix, about 120€ or about £85. Still it is much better to get it sorted and be safe.

Two other major events happened on Wednesday. Firstly, money I had sent to Spain via Currencies Direct arrived in our new bank account here and we finally collected our car – a lovely dark maroon Chrysler Voyager. This is a seven seater, which might seem surplus to our requirements as there are only the two of us but the middle two seats, by the sliding side doors, can be removed. This means that, with the aid of a ramp, we can easily get my new power wheelchair in and out of the vehicle. Perfect.

To be honest, this was just the type of vehicle that I really wanted. Lisa and I had previously looked at many cars on the internet and this was right up there in my favourites. To find it so relatively close to us was just the icing on the cake.

Actually our trip to the bank and car dealer would not have been possible without the generous help of our neighbour two houses away. Knowing of my disability with MS, Jenny was happy to take us to both places and even stayed with us until we could drive away; she did not want us stranded there if anything went wrong.

Chatting away on the way there, we happened to mention that we needed to buy clothes hangers. This prompted her to say that she had just that morning put some aside for disposal and when we got back, having stopped to fill up with petrol, we found a pile of hangers by our door. We still need to buy some but nowhere near as many as we first thought.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that when I offered to pay for the petrol she had used, Jenny would not hear of it and sweetly refused to accept any such payment. I’ll pay that forward one day by doing someone else a good turn like that.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is another sunny day with a high of 68˚F/20˚C, with similar sunny times for the next four days at least. The good weather Is supposed to continue into the beginning of December; it will be interesting to see how it goes as the month develops.

As far as my health goes, the warmth already seems to be providing me with some benefit. I had a very good start this morning but paid for it in the late afternoon as MS played havoc with my balance. Still, I got through that and tomorrow, as the saying goes, is another day.

Actually, I cannot wait.

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A lot done but new priorities appear

Today is our first full day in our new home. Much to do today, including finishing the remainder of the unpacking and finding the right places to put everything away, trying to arrange a firm date and time to collect our car and making some cash transfers.

When I say ‘finishing the remainder of the unpacking’ that is not quite true, lol. That is because, during our shopping trip for essentials on Monday night, we managed to forget hangers. So that means that we cannot yet put away clothes that need to be hung up. Naturally, getting hangers is now another priority.

In the period of transition from North Wales to the south of Spain, something really does nees to be said about the other two members of our family, our cats Pooka and Prissy. They are aged 17 and 9 years, respectively, and must be two of the most laid back cats around.

Let’s take a look at what they’ve been through in recent weeks. October 26 arrived in usual cattery, November 13 reunited with us but not taken home but to a hotel, November 14 picked up by pet courier company and taken to Kent, November 15 taken by van through Channel Tunnel and driven through France where they stayed one night, November 16 driven into Spain and were reunited with us at 2am on November 17.

Of course, they then had to stay with us in our temporary accommodation for a week until we could move in yesterday. They must have been so confused. Now they are getting used to where they live before we allow them outside in two or three days’ time. Already they have been looking out of the windows at the sunshine they have not really seen since they left Florida in 2012.

 

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In new home but much more to do

Bright colours, sun and mountains. The view from one of our living room windows today.

Bright colours, sun and mountains. The view from one of our living room windows today.

Yayy, we are in! Lisa and I today, finally, completed our move to our dream home in Spain. OK, we have been here since the 15th but today was the first day we could move in as the work overran by a few days.

Once again Lisa shouldered most of the work because of my MS but we welcomed the assistance of Eddy and Geoff who were only too willing to lend a hand. By the time my beloved had cleaned where we had been staying, we were really ‘in’ by about lunchtime.

Then came the part where we could work together easily – unpacking and putting everything away. There was too much for the two of us to do in just an afternoon and by 7pm, we decided enough was enough. By then, half of it was done and we plan to finish the unpacking tomorrow.

It is a lovely feeling sitting in our own place in Spain. It may be November but it was sunny on Tuesday with the same forecast for the next four days. You just cannot complain about the weather here.

A couple of guys from a local broadband company came this morning to connect us to the internet. We had a choice of four speeds, depending on how much we were prepared to pay each month. As Lisa and I both use the internet a lot, we opted for the fastest available – 10 Mbps, a bit faster than we had in Colwyn Bay. ‘A bit faster’, no. A whole lot faster than the 2Mbps common there.

We did hit a couple of snags. I thought I smelled gas. Its LPG, so the odour is distinct. It seems that the cooker we bought with the property had been installed incorrectly. Well, tomorrow, the gas man cometh; then we will know what needs to be done.

The other hiccup is our new backdoor, which was working just fine earlier in the day, now refuses to shut properly although it does still lock. Something else for tomorrow!

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Moving today

Hi, Tuesday morning and we are moving into our own place here in Spain. I’ll be back with a proper post later – assuming broadband is up and running there.

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Busy Monday for settlers

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Ok, Monday morning was extremely busy as Lisa and I, with the help of Barry, managed to open a joint account with a Spanish bank, register with the local medical centre and make our first appointment to see a doctor, take the first steps towards gaining NIEs for both of us – and do some much needed grocery shopping.

Once we returned to our temporary accommodation, we received the news that our new home is ready to move into, apart from some necessary handgrips. This means that we now need to buy some essential items such as bedding, cooking pans and utensils, crockery, cutlery and so on. Because of this, we probably won’t be moving in until Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday but we’ll see how it goes.

We had chosen to go with Banco Popular and were both amazed that the procedures were so convoluted and slow. It took more than one hour, actually more like 90 minutes, before our account number was finally handed over. I appreciate that all banks need to guard against money laundering but that length of time seemed excessive.

Anyway, our visit to the gestoria this morning established that to obtain NIEs we both have to apply in person to the relevant office in Almeria, more than an hour’s drive away. He agreed to make appointments for us but indicated that it was likely that we would have to wait two weeks.

Just in case you are wondering, the NIE is a tax identification number issued in Spain to anyone who is not Spanish. NIE stands for Número de Identidad de Extranjero, which translates literally as Number of identity of foreigner or, more properly, Foreigners’ Identity Number. Spanish citizens have their own cards Documento Nacional de Identidad. The NIE is the equivalent of the DNI but just for foreign residents. Spanish citizens get a plastic ID card but EU foreign residents don’t. So if someone asks either of us for our DNI card, we just need to give them our NIE number.

While out and about this morning, we stopped off for a coffee at a local café. Prices here continue to amaze me. We had three coffees and two enormous pastries and the total cost was just 4.90€. I cannot think of anywhere in the UK where anyone could buy the same quality and quantity items for the same price – about £3.45.

Changing the subject, like the UK, with its wintry weather including snow and temperatures as low as -6˚C/21˚F according to the internet, our temperatures have also tumbled. Here they have fallen to 15˚C/59˚F.

 

 

 

 

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How are we doing? Take a look

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Just a brief update for those who are following the progress that Lisa and I are making as we settle into our new lifestyle in Spain.

My love has an extremely sore leg at the moment but has visited a pharmacy and obtained lots of cleansing swabs, antibiotic cream, dressings and bandages. It started in America and is very painful, especially if touched, but the swelling is at last starting to come down.

On Friday we took our hire car back but this time there was no need to go all the way to Alicante as we had pre-arranged to drop it off at the nearer airport of Almeria. There, we were met by a driver who took us all the way back home. The whole expedition went so well that we got home about 15 minutes before our planned time.

So we are now without a car temporarily. We have chosen one that we want to buy and paid a deposit but there are a couple of obstacles that we need to overcome before taking possession of it. These we are beginning to surmount on Monday morning with the help of a friendly English guy who has lived here 47 years and, of course, speaks the language.

On Monday morning we will go to the nearest reasonably sized town to see a gestoria (pronounced hestoria). In Spain, gestorías are private agencies which specialise in dealing with legal and administrative work. For a fee they look after the various administrative steps involved in getting passports, NIEs, work permits, car documentation and so on. They can also liaise with the Inland Revenue (Agencia Tributaria), so saving their clients much inconvenience and queueing time.

Then it is off to the town hall to obtain a padron for each of us. A padron means that we have been registered as residents within the council’s area. We also hope to open an account at a local bank.

Finally, if we have enough time to spare, we will drop into the town’s medical centre to register with a doctor. Then we should be all set for the next few months.

As far as our new home itself is concerned, the new air conditioning unit was installed today and the last few jobs that need finishing before we move in seem very small and should all be completed early next week. With a fair wind, we hope to move in on Wednesday or thereabouts.

Returning to the subject of driving for a moment, the price of petrol, locally gasolina, is a revelation here with prices at around one Euro per litre. That is equivalent to around 70p a litre, depending on exchange rates, compared with around £1.10 per litre in the UK.  In other words, petrol prices in Spain are only 64% of the UK’s.

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