Sunday, November 18, 2012

Welcome Oufa, a general strike in Spain, a chocolate Christmas tree, the girls in Cubillas de Santa Marta, Oli running in Valencia and other stories.

Sunday 18th November 2012

Welcome Oufa, a general strike in Spain, a chocolate Christmas tree, the girls in Cubillas de Santa Marta, Oli running in Valencia and other stories.

My beautiful girls Oli and Suzy near Valladolid this weekend

Good morning my friends this sunny Sunday in November.

How has your week been?  Mine has been busy but productive I think.  

On Monday our new living in home help, 29 year old Oufa from Morocco was coming and I had arranged for Zena, our Ukranian cleaning lady but also friend to come and show her the ropes.  However Oufa (pronounced “wafa”) rang to say she would be late as she had to go to the Moroccan consulate.  I thought that was rather a negative sign but had no choice in the matter.  In the end she arrived just as Zena had finished cleaning.  The good thing was that Oufa would be starting in an immaculately clean house which she would now only have to maintain clean rather than start all over. 

I had imagined she would not eat pork but was surprised to hear she does not eat red meat because she doesn’t like it and only eats chicken.  I then heard that the chicken has to be what is known as “halal” or permissible chicken.  My knowledge of halal is limited and I get it mixed up with the Jewish kosher way of eating, so I looked it up and here is the definition: “Halal is anything that is legal or lawful for Muslims. In terms of meat, this can apply to what kind of animal is used (not pigs, for instance) and the way they are killed: an animal must be healthy, the butcher must make a recitation dedicating it to God, and the jugular vein, carotid artery and windpipe are cut with a single swipe from a sharp knife. As with kosher meat, the idea is that the animal dies immediately and the blood drains away”.  So, yes there is a similarity to Kosher as I had suspected.  I, of course respect this completely but it does pose a problem in that she cannot always eat what we do and so far I have done all the cooking where meat is concerned, leaving her to concentrate on looking after my Father, cleaning and ironing which she excels at.

So far Oufa is doing a grand job.  She is a trained assistant nurse which is great for looking after my Father.  And so far I like her and I think that has something to do with my maternal instincts – I sort of tend to mother her.  But also, that’s maybe because of the good chemistry.  Oufa is sweet, efficient, discreet and quiet but talks if you talk to her.  So far I have found out she was born in a village near Marrakech and is one of 10 brothers and sisters (7 girls and 3 boys aged from 42 down to 24).  Her mother married and had her first child when she was 15 and her husband was 17 years older.  Oufa’s Father who worked hard to keep his big family, was a trader of sorts but sadly died a few years ago.  Oufa has a boyfriend living in Paris who works in a shop with his uncle and is thus able to travel to Madrid occasionally to see her.  She keeps in contact with him and her family with her iPad.  She speaks French and Spanish as well as her native tongue and is keen to learn English.  I told her to ask my Father, the best language teacher to be found, to teach her and I think they have already started their lessons. I’m glad to see she is a modern girl. For the moment she is by far the best living in home help we have had, although it’s early days.  So welcome Oufa and I hope you are happy with us.

On Monday too Olivia’s boyfriend arrived to spend part of the week with her here.  Next week, they will be working together again in Valencia.  They really enjoyed the experience last week and Olivia grabs any chance to be sent to Valencia by her programme and will also be working there over Christmas, although I was thankful to hear that she will be with us on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

On Tuesday I was up early to go and do a blood test with Suzy, one of the tests we have to do for our annual gynecological MOT so to speak.  I hate blood tests, not because of the needle but because you have to do them on an empty stomach and I am the sort of person who wakes up in immediate need of breakfast.  Thankfully there weren’t many people in the clinic and we were soon able to go the cafeteria next door and have breakfast.  My breakfast at home is always dukan – which means oat bran porridge and coffee. But on Tuesday I changed habits and enjoyed a toasted croissant and my very favourite breakfast food, a “porra” – sort of deep fried waffle but sausage shaped.  It sounds awful but is delicious.  This, my friends, was our breakfast.  Suzy, being a healthier eater had toast with olive oil and tomato and fresh orange juice, something I can’t stomach so early in the morning.

This was the breakfast I had with Suzy on Tuesday after our blood test

On Wednesday there was a general strike in Spain against the austerity cuts; now known as 14N.  It was the second since the new conservative government came into power and one of many that were held across Europe this week.  It didn’t affect me really, except that my Father’s Daily Telegraph was not printed the next day.  It’s difficult to tell how many people took part and whether it will be affective or not.  It is however a warning to the government and to Europe that people are tired of the crisis and cannot take much more. 

There was a general strike in Spain on Wednesday

You often think that the uprising of people doesn’t make much difference but that is not true in the case of the evictions – the big news in Spain.  Because of the mortgages given out right left and centre by immoral banks to people who are now not able to pay them because they have lost their jobs, there have been up to 400.000 evictions in the recent past and many protests although it was not until 53 year old Amaia Egana jumped to her death from her fourth floor home in the Basque country as bailiffs came to turn her out of her home, that the issue, already top news, went to the top of the political agenda. Thank goodness, now, the government together with the socialist opposition, are working on a solution to this terrible consequence of the current crisis.  The worst thing about the evictions is that people are ousted from their homes and not only lose them but have to continue to pay the debt which of course they cannot pay. I can only heave a sigh of relief that we paid off our mortgage some 25 years ago but at the same time worry that with the current climate our children will probably never be able to buy their own property. Wow, how life has changed and not always for the better.

Evictions are a big issue in Spain at the moment and behind every one there is a personal drama to be told
 On the day of the General Strike I went into the office for a meeting with my PR agency and found the roads pretty empty.  Later that day Eladio went to his tutorials at the UNED University and at the first one no one turned up.  However he did have at least 7 students at the second tutorial.

Meanwhile I went for the daily walk on my own.  Inspired by Olivia who in turn is inspired by her sporty new boyfriend Miguel, I installed a sports monitor on my Samsung Galaxy S3 called Runstatic.  Thus for the first time I was able to see how far our walk is, how long it takes and how many calories I burn daily.  The result is 4.25km in 0.53h and 212 calories.  Not bad for a woman my age, especially as we do the walk nearly every day. For my English friends that’s about 2.6 miles walked at an average of 3mph.

Do you use Runstatic to measure your running or walking?  I do now.

On Thursday my latest parcel from Amazon arrived, a couple of books but also the dvd of the film “ Karol, the man who became pope”, I wrote about last week.  I had seen it on the TV but missed the beginning.  Eladio wasn’t keen so I watched it in English on my pc and was disappointed to see that I had ordered only the first part, not the second, “Karol, the Pope, the man”, the story of Karol Wojtyla’s life from when he is chosen to be the Pope.  I couldn’t find it on Amazon but was delighted later to come across it on You Tube and watched all three hours of it in a couple of sessions. It’s amazing how the story has touched me and I don’t consider myself religious and I am not Catholic.  However, he was an extraordinary man.  Eladio, who knows much more than I, later pointed out to me that in actual fact Wojtyla was quite regressive and that the church had not really benefitted from his time, unlike the more progressive Pope John XXIII.  Be that as it may, I still found the story fascinating.  My Father enjoyed the film too, the story of Wojtyla’s life before he came pontifice, yesterday and today.  I later told Eladio that my Mother had always said my Father looked like the man and that is very true. 

Pope John Paul II.  My Mother always said my Father looked like him.

In the afternoon Suzy and I had an appointment at the Quirón hospital to do a breast scan.  I also had to do a mamograph.  With the blood test and these test results we have an appointment with our gynecologist at the end of November for our annual checkup. The mamograph is quite an unpleasant test where your breasts are squeezed by a nurse in an awful contraption but the breast scan is less unpleasant, apart from the cold gel they put on your chest and the ticklish feeling you get from the device that rubs it.  I asked the doctor who did the scan if everything looked ok and was happy to hear it was.  So it looks like I’ve got the all clear this year. 

Suzy was in a rush that day as she and Oli were going away that afternoon to spend two nights with their friends, Elena and María (also sisters) at a small boutique hotel called Pago de Trascasas in the tiny village of Cubillas de Santa Marta, some 25km from Valladolid.  

The Hostal Pago de Trasasas in Cubillas de Santa Marta where the girls spent Thursday and Friday night

The hotel I think was part of a winery (bodega) which they visited the next day but unfortunately for us didn’t buy any wine.

The girls with their friends Elena and Maria (also sisters) at the winery in Cubillas de Santa Marta on Friday

They took lots of pictures of their visit, my favourite being one of my two daughters at the wine tasting they went to, the one which illustrates this week's post.

Before coming back they also met up with JM, a childhood friend who they have known since they were very small in Montrondo.  He lives in Valladolid and there they joined him for tapas and a short visit of the very elegant Castilian town where some say the best Spanish is spoken.
Meanwhile we were left alone and on Friday morning I took Oufa to do the weekly shopping with me.  I also invited her for a coffee and we had a nice moment chatting together. When we got home I was surprised to find a parcel I was not expecting had arrived.  It was from the girls at my events agency, QuintaEsencia who had sent me a wonderful milk chocolate Christmas tree.  They had suggested for this year’s Yoigo present but it wasn’t chosen. It was an immediate success at home, as you can imagine.  This is the picture I took of it which got lots of favourable comments from my friends on Facebook.  I can assure you it tastes just as good as it looks.

The milk chocolate Christmas tree we are already more than half way through

On Friday too, Eladio and I went out to dinner as we do most Fridays.  This time we went to Gobolem in Las Rozas which is the venue I have chosen for the ex Nokia employee dinner I am arranging on 4th December.  The numbers are growing and it looks like we might even be more than 60 people. Gobolem was the only restaurant in the area which would serve us a buffet dinner which I think is the most appropriate format for so many people and we shall have the whole place to ourselves.  Martin, the owner, welcomed us warmly and we chose the menu with him as we went over the details of the dinner.  The dinner was good and we were pleasantly surprised when at the end Martin said the dinner was on him.  

Saturday was a rainy day.  It rained all day and finally stopped in the late afternoon permitting us to go on our walk with the dogs.  After the walk we had a date at the cinema as I had bought tickets online to go and see the new James Bond film.  Truth to tell I am not a great Bond fan and would far have preferred to see the new José Luis Cuerda film, Todo es Silencio “all is silence” but being a more obscure film there weren’t many places to see it or if there were the showing times were inconvenient for us. So, no I am not a great Bond fan but actually enjoyed every moment of the action packed Skyfall, shot in Istanbul, London, Shanghai, Macao and Scotland and starring not only Daniel Craig but also Judy Dench and Javier Bardem. Both Eladio and I commented later over dinner at Ginos that we had enjoyed it immensely.  If you haven’t seen it yet, you can whet your appetites by watching the trailer here.

Loved the new James Bond film

And today is Sunday.  The first news of the day came from Olivia who as soon as she had returned from Valladolid went off to Valencia with Miguel last night.  They were to be running the 10km parallel race to the Valencia marathon this morning.  I told you Miguel is sporty and he is obviously having a big influence on Olivia’s new found love of sport.  If last week it was swimming in the sea, a few weeks ago it was paragliding, today it was marathon running and I wonder what it will be next time.

Oli and Miguel just before the 10km race started this morning in Valencia

When they had finished the race Oli rang me to say she had done it in just under an hour.  I later looked up the results of the race and saw that the best women’s time was about 32 minutes and the best men’s time was 29.  I asked what Miguel’s time was and was pleased to hear he ran to join Olivia rather than compete. A nice gesture I think.  Who knows, maybe they will both take part in the full marathon next year.

Today being Sunday Oufa would be working until midday and tomorrow will be her full day off.  So I made the lunch whilst she cleaned and then I drove her to the station.  Meanwhile Suzy came home and we had lunch together but without Olivia of course.  We were supposed to be having a healthy meal but I’m afraid none of us could resist a piece of the wonderful chocolate Christmas tree. I just hope we finish it soon and there are no more temptations until Christmas.

As I am finishing this week’s blog post, David Ferrer has just beaten Berdych in the fourth match of the final of this year’s Davis Cup being played in Prague against the Czech Republic.  So far the teams are equaled and it will be difficult for the Spanish team, robbed of Rafa Nadal, to win their sixth trophy also known as the “salad bowl”. I’m keeping my fingers crossed as I sign off here my friends and I hope you are too.

Cheers everyone until next week. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Looking for a new home help, Obama did it again, Oli working in Valencia with Miguel, chocolate caramel shortcake, a family reunion and other things.

Sunday 11th November 2012

Looking for a new home help, Obama did it again, Oli working in Valencia with Miguel, chocolate caramel shortcake, a family reunion and other things.
Olivia working with her boyfriend Miguel this week in Valencia
 Hello again my friends,

It is Sunday and Remembrance Day and I imagine those of you in England will be wearing your poppy.  No poppies here I’m afraid but Thursday was a holiday in Madrid to celebrate La Almudena, its patron saint and many of us have had a long bank holiday weekend which finishes today.

The week has been very busy, a lot of our time taken up with interviewing candidates to replace Ivanka our Bulgarian home help and it has rained nearly every day. Monday felt like the world was preparing for a Noah’s Arc type flood and on many days of the week it rained so much we couldn’t go for our walk.  So I was not surprised to hear that this morning it was snowing in Montrondo, our beloved family village.  Juan, my nephew is there this weekend and here is a photo he took of the view from his house this morning.  Doesn’t it look lovely? 

It snowed in Montrondo this morning.  I would have loved to be there.

Our search for a new living in home help has not been easy.  Ivanka finally let us know last Sunday that she wouldn’t be coming back.  We scoured the internet and didn’t find much, so decided to place an advert.  I immediately started receiving calls from women from countless countries, mostly South American, also Rumanian, Ukranian and Moroccan.  Some Spanish women rang too which is rare but a sign of the times.  My ex daily cleaner Zena came to clean on Monday and spent 10 hours doing so and confessed the house was filthy and showed me the evidence: Ivanka had been sweeping the floors and putting the dust and crumbs under the carpets!  Apart from interviewing some of the candidates from the advert, Zena brought us a friend, Lubya as did Iskrena – Ivanka’s Bulgarian friend.  The problem with these candidates was that they hardly knew Spanish, although a lot of them could speak Russian to my Father.  In the end we decided on a delightful Moroccan girl, Bashra.  She was going to start yesterday but rang me on Friday night to say she had thought it over and wasn’t coming in the end.  The reason: the house was just too big.  She’s right it’s 600m2 and a huge job to keep clean.  Maybe that’s why Ivanka swept the dirt under the carpets.  So I rang our second best candidate, Oufa, another Moroccan girl (aged 30) and she has agreed to start tomorrow.  I hope she doesn’t go back on her word and that she turns out to be the right choice.

Meanwhile, I have been doing Ivanka’s job plus my own: washing, ironing, cooking but not much cleaning, thanks to Zena’s wonderful effort on Monday but also because I absolutely hate it.  Eladio of course has taken over Ivanka’s part of looking after my Father, taking him up and down to his room on the wheel chair and today he even cut his hair!  I never knew Eladio could be a barber but then I think he can put his hand to nearly everything! What an amazing husband I have.

The week has been dominated by the US presidential elections and it was touch and go until the last minute.  Remember I wrote about Hurricane Sandy last week and how maybe Obama’s management of that crisis would earn him more votes.  It might well have or so I thought when I woke up on Wednesday morning to the news that he had beaten the Mormon Bishop, Mitt Romney by more than 100 seats.  So yes he won and he did it again and I am glad.  He tweeted “four more years” at 8.16pm European time on Tuesday 6th November and posted a lovely photo embracing his wife Michelle.  That tweet has now become the all time number one retweet on Twitter and I was one of the 675.000 people who retweeted it by late Wednesday morning.

I was very happy that Obama won.  This his tweet, the all time number one retweet on Twitter

You can see his victory or acceptance speech here where with great emotion he thanks all the volunteers for helping him during the campaign.  But what I loved most was when he said “I love you Michelle” and remarked too that he was happy to see that so many Americans had fallen in love with her, America’s first lady, too.  I really think that his emotional intelligence is one of his biggest assets, as  is his family. 

I’m sure Olivia, as a journalist would have loved to report on the US Elections, but she she was more than happy to be reporting for her TV programme from Valencia this week because it meant working with her boyfriend, Miguel, who was her own personal cameraman.  It was the first time they would be working together although they had met at TVE Valencia where he is stationed.  The photo illustrating this week’s blog post is of the two of them in the TV satellite van which he is in charge of as part of his job.

Tuesday saw her reporting live on an up and coming mega party to be hosted in Valencia for young people.  It was news because of the tragic mega party in Madrid on Halloween when four young girls died.  You can see her report here if you go to 11.38h.

Oli reporting from Valencia on Tuesday

Wednesday saw her reporting on a primary school in an appalling state.  You can see that piece here if you go to 12.08h
Olivia reporting on Wednesday from Valencia
On Thursday I missed her report on a jewelry shop robbery with violence where the owner, a friendly elderly man called Viçent told the awful story of how his shop was robbed and how the robbers attacked him whilst doing so.  We had seen the story on the evening news and were appalled by the violence but happy that he came away nearly unscathed.

Olivia on Thursday with Viçent the man whose jewelry shop was robbed

And on Friday she reported again on the mega party for 8.000 young people to be held soon in Valencia.  You can’t see the video because the report was before 11 and the programme only publishes the video from 11h onwards or a bit later. However I took a photo of her whilst we watched her live and I think she looks great.  Red suits her as it does me:-)

Olivia reporting from Valencia on Friday

Whilst Olivia was away, at least we had the wonderful company of Suzy most days for lunch this week.  She always brightens up our day.  On Tuesday I came to her rescue when her car broke down and went to pick her up from the garage in Boadilla just as she arrived with the tow lorry.

Suzy's car broke down this week.  Thankfully it was nothing serious.

 On the work front, I was in the office on Tuesday for the management team meeting and it was on Tuesday when I bumped into César, an ex colleague from my Nokia days who now heads up the Mobile division of Samsung Spain.  As we always do when we meet, we spoke about other ex Nokia colleagues, all doing well and scattered in different companies in the sector.  I commented that it would be great to have a reunion Christmas dinner and there and then we set a date, the 4th December and I agreed to organize it.  No sooner said than done, I created the event on Facebook, inviting old Nokia Mobile Phones colleagues and to do date nearly 40 colleagues have confirmed, including some favourite colleagues from the Networks Division.  I still have to book a venue and am planning in my head some surprises to jazz up the occasion.

But meanwhile I have to organize the Yoigo Christmas events.  So, on Wednesday I took my new boss to visit the location I had chosen for the employee party.  Thankfully he really liked the Mercado Gourmet Isabela and so did Cristina his assistant.  In fact we ended up having an impromptu lunch there with the team from my events agency QuintaEsencia.  It’s a really original place for a party and I hope the staff will like it as much as I do, not least because the grub is superb.

Thursday was a holiday in Madrid and I spent most of it driving to the bus stop at local shopping centre to pick up all the candidates and ferry them back after their interviews.  It didn’t just rain when I did so, it poured, as I mentioned above that it did most of the week.

On Friday my M+S online parcel arrived with more Christmas goodies.  That got me thinking how nice it would be to visit an English food store outside Madrid called The Food Hall.  I suggested to Suzy we go in the afternoon and she jumped at the chance.  I had ordered some things online from The Food Hall which is in far away San Sebastián de los Reyes tucked away in an industrial estate and had always thought of visiting it personally.  And that we did on Friday afternoon. 

The Food Hall, the English shop Suzy and I went to on Friday afternoon
Here we stocked up with lots of Christmas produce – mainly the chocolate type but I also spied packets of meringue nests.  I took the 8 I found on the shelf and the young Bermudan girl who runs the shop (and their FB page and very well too) commented I had taken her whole order of meringue nests.  They are great for desserts as you can see here.  I asked her if she had any sugar free jelly and she took me to the jam section.  I always forget that people who speak American English (like in Bermuda) call jam jelly.  We laughed at the story.  And, no they don’t have sugar free jelly.  But they had lots of other things included Turkish delight ad walnut whips, my Father’s favourite confectionary.

Meringue nest with fruit and ice cream.  I bought all the packs The Food Hall had

On our way home in the pouring rain, we went to Ikea to buy some Swedish Christmas and non Christmas produce but it was so crowded, Suzy had to wait outside in the car.  Here I stocked up on smoked salmon, various jams, frozen cakes, peeled cooked prawns but unfortunately no Daim chocolate.  I was upset to hear they no longer stock it as it was a great favourite with my Father and Suzy.  Later I regretted not buying the typical gingerbread house which comes in a flat pack, just like their furniture, but I think we had done enough gourmet shopping for one day.

It was too dark and wet for a walk when we came home, so inspired by our visit to the English shop, I decided to make chocolate caramel shortbread to take to the family dinner on Saturday in Madrid at José Antonio and Dolores’ house.  I used this recipe but warn you if you use it, either to double the shortcake ingredients and use the stated quantities for the caramel or for a smaller quantity to use the stated quantities for the shortbread and only half the quantity for the caramel.

And here is a photo of the finished product which I have to add tasted delicious and was very popular, not only at the dinner last night but on my FB page too.

The wonderful chocolate caramel shortcake I made on Friday afternoon

On Friday, true to tradition, Eladio and I went out to dinner. Once again we chose La Vaca Argentina, in Las Rozas where we always feel welcomed by the staff.  When we came home we were delighted to see that the second part of the film about the life of John Paul II was on the television.  We had seen the first part of “Karol: a man who became pope” last week and had thought the film ended when Karol Wojtyla becomes Pope.  So we were in for a happy surprise and watched it fascinated until the end.  The second part focuses a lot on his relationship with Mother Teresa of Calcutta and of course on the attack on his life but also on his illness, Parkinson’s disease which made this universally loved and charismatic Polish pope suffer so much until his very last breath. I must say I shed quite a few tears and the film still haunts me now. And as I write, I have ordered the DVD on as at both sittings we had missed the first half.

We watched part of the second half of this marvelous film on Friday night

Yesterday, Saturday was really the highlight of the week, the only down side being having to cook, clean, wash and iron endlessly.  I can’t wait for Oufa to come tomorrow!  Olivia returned from Valencia and Suzy came for lunch and to spend the afternoon.  My Father remarked at lunch when we ate some of the chocolate caramel shortcake as well as turrón that it felt like Christmas.  I think he was right; it certainly was a lovely family lunch.

We were robbed of our walk in the afternoon because of the rain, so with some time on my hands and feeling a bit sweaty after hoovering the stairs and floors, I decided it was the right moment to have a luxurious Jacuzzi in our bathroom. I rarely use the Jacuzzi but when I do I appreciate it enormously.  To add to the atmosphere, I added some M+S bath scent, played some music from Spotify on my adored Samsung Galaxy S3 and lit the candles.  And this is what my bath looked like.

Preparing for my jacuzzi on Saturday afternoon
Later I got ready to go out to dinner with Eladio and the girls to José Antonio and Dolores house in Madrid where we were to join Pili and Andrés, Isidro and Yoli as well as my nieces Sara, Alicia, Paula and her boyfriend Pedro for a wonderful family reunion.

The younger generation at the family reunion dinner last night

 I took with me some of the caramel shortcake which we call “the bomb” in the family, some of my home made croquettes, a chicken waldorf salad and some great 2004 vintage Rioja wine.  Dolores had gone all out and made loads of food, the best of which was her baked salted cod with red peppers.  She gave me some to take home and that is what we are having for lunch today.

Pili, Andrés, Yoli and Isidro had come from León on Friday night to help their daughters Paula and Alicia to move flats in the same building they are living in and which belongs to my friends Pedro Delgado and his wife Ludi.  The dinner was great although we had to separate the generations as we were 14 for dinner.  In the photo below you can see the men, the three brothers (Eladio, José Antonio and Isidro) and my brother in law Andrés sitting at the lovingly laid table.

The men at the reunion dinner last night
And today, Sunday, I look forward as I write to another cozy family lunch with all the family members present.  Hopefully this afternoon it won’t rain and we will be able to go on our walk.  I also look forward to a little retail therapy with the girls after lunch whilst the men sleep their siesta.

And on that note, I will leave you until next week.  

Cheers till then my friends