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As anyone who has read ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ will know, the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is, of course

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

As of yesterday, it’s also my answer to the question: ‘How old are you?’ (Hence the cake.)

I’m sorry to report, however, that I received no revelatory insights on the occasion of my 42nd birthday. Or at least if I did I must have promptly and absolutely forgotten them. (It’s a possibility, there was some celebratory gin consumed.)

I did have a very lovely day though. Which has got to be almost as good as unraveling the mysteries of the universe, right? An afternoon spent with good friends, eating good food, sharing good conversation and with a gang of children running about entertaining themselves. Flung together at the last minute, it really was one of the most relaxed and enjoyable birthday celebrations I think I’ve ever had.

Maybe this getting old thing isn’t too bad after all.

 

 

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Contrasts

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Our sleek black greyhound makes a fine contrast against the snowy backdrop of San Isidro ski station. His energetic charging about belies the few white hairs that are already sprouting in his fur.

Last weekend we nipped across the mountains of the Cordillera Cantábrica to León. At the top of the mountain pass, just over the border from Asturias, we stopped at San Isidro ski station to have a little play in the snow. (And to give the poor old motor-home’s engine a chance to cool down after the long slog up the windy pass.)

The ski station had long since closed for the season and the contrast between the hot, sunny Saturday in May and the deep blanket of snow that still enveloped the mountain tops provided the perfect physical illustration of the bipolar weather patterns of the last couple of months, as we have flipped back and forwards between spring and winter. Even this high in the mountains, at over 1500 metres above sea level, it is very unusual to see so much snow so late in the year.

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As we mucked about and laughed in the sunshine and snow I also couldn’t help but contrast the day with the last time I had been here. 20th December 2008, I ended the day in the first aid centre, with the ski-station’s doctor attempting, unsuccessfully, to re-place my dislocated elbow and putting a provisional cast on to protect my shattered ulna before sending me on my way to hospital. I eventually made it home on Christmas Eve, with a titanium plate and 7 screws in my forearm and a LOT of very strong painkillers in my bloodstream. It’s really no surprise that I hadn’t been back to San Isidro since.

Despite the involuntary shudder that passed through me when I saw the dreaded torture chamber first aid station and as I spied the exact point on the slope where I had been taken out by a snowboarder, it felt good to be back at the scene of the accident, whole and healthy and happy.

Indeed here I am, some 4 and a half years later, in an entirely different phase of my life but a phase that I may never have reached if it hadn’t been for that disastrous day on the slopes. With an enforced stop to all plans and activities for several months (no surfing, no climbing, no diy, no gardening, no writing, no trips) came an enforced pause for reflection and, with that, some life-changing decisions.

And that’s the thing. Even in our bleakest moments there always exists the seed of as yet unknown joys.

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Jack, born October 2009

The American Resident

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Monday Morning Moves

This was how Monday morning was supposed to go: arise refreshed, calmly feed, water and dispatch child to school, hit the gym at opening time (8.30, this is Spain after all), have invigorating workout, return home raring to go and race through lengthy list of tasks. Boom! Take that Monday.

Here’s how Monday morning actually went: arose reasonably refreshed, plonked child in front of his Weetabix while I prepared his mid-morning snack for school, child commented he was feeling dizzy, I dismissed his Monday morning dissembling, child vomited on breakfast table. Arse. Take that Mummy.

So, no school today. And therefore no gym and very little work for me. I am sadly not one of those multi-tasking marvel mothers that taunt my inadequacies you read about in the media. The extent of my multi-tasking this morning has been snuggling the poorly boy in bed and simultaneously fannying on on social media on the ipad. I know. Get me a medal someone.

I rationalize this lack of productivity by telling myself that the continued propagation of the ideal of feminine multi-tasking is plainly anti-feminist.  That, and the fact that I really do perform so much more effectively when I have time and undivided attention to devote to tasks.

Whatever. As I lie here at an incredibly unergonomic angle that I know my neck will pay for later, typing on my laptop, listening to my son’s snuffling sleep breathing and feeling his hand clutching my hair for that extra bit of reassurance that feeling poorly makes necessary, I know that I am privileged to be able to take this time with him. The years where snuggles in bed are demanded will pass all too quickly.

Here’s a little video of the poorly one busting some moves on a happier occasion last weekend to cheer me everyone up on this Monday morning.

Please note: this may seem like a cheap and lazy use of some cute footage of my son on which to hang a blog post. It is. Did I mention he also vomited in my shoe this morning? #heowesme

Springtime, Fully Loaded

Just as one swallow does not a summer make, one sunny weekend away in the campervan doesn’t necessarily mean that our springtime has really sprung. But two weekends on the bounce? Well, now you’re talking.

Being the unpredictable, adventurous souls that we are, this weekend we packed the van and headed off to……drum roll please…..Teverga! Ah, but there is more to this valley than may have met the eye of my blog readers thus far. Saturday we headed straight to the Puerto de Marabio, a high mountain pass with stunning views, a little hermitage, great walking and biking tracks and, you guessed it, some great rock climbing too.

Puerto de Marabio

Puerto de Marabio

Further irrefutable confirmation of the arrival of spring lay all around us, despite the presence of snowy caps on the very high mountains in the background. Spring flowers carpeted the meadows and poked their heads joyously out of every available nook and cranny.

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The hillsides were speckled with blossom laden trees and the stark nakedness of their wintry branches was softened as nature began to dress them once more. Here’s a picture of a tree I photographed in its autumn finery at the end of November now displaying the latest spring-summer greens.

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Another season, another windy day

I guess in reality winter has been relatively short-lived here, the harshest of the weather only really kicking in in mid-January, but it has felt long enough and we are all glad to be returning to a life spent more outdoors.

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Another weekend, another chance to play in the dirt

Another day, another place to sleep (when not running and/or getting into mischief)

Another day, another place to sleep

Another Sunday, another cave-based siesta. Somebody just woked up! This playing outdoors sure is tiring.

Another Sunday, another cave-based siesta. Somebody just woked up. This playing outdoors all day sure is tiring.

Happy Springtime everybody, and happy Earth Day too!

Linking up to Country Kids at Coombe Mill. Click the badge to hop on over and check out lots more family fun in the outdoors.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

A Sunny Weekend in Los Valles del Oso

Finally, last week, spring decided it was time to be properly sprung and then rapidly proceeded to catapult us full pelt into summer. With temperatures forecast to be in the high 20s over the weekend there was only one thing for it: load up the autocaravana and hit the road.

As time was short (and our van painfully slow-moving) we decided on a brief trundle just as far as the valleys of Quirós and Teverga, south of Oviedo city. The ‘Valles del Oso’ or valleys of the bear as they are known. (And yes, they do actually have some bears there.) It’s a great spot for family days out, has some world class sports climbing and some great places for overnight van camping. So that’s all our boxes ticked then. Who needs to travel further afield when you have all this on your doorstep?

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Clear blue skies, with one rather odd shaped cloud, above a high snowy peak in Quirós last weekend

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The carpark at Entrago, Teverga as the sun came up on Sunday morning. Very popular with climbers and families from Oviedo and Gijón there are always plenty of children to play with at weekends here. It´s a great spot for free van camping with newly built toilet and shower block, water and waste facilities, a football pitch, and kiddies’ climbing wall as well as being alongside the Senda del Oso path and in the heart of the Teverga valley. Oh, and there´s a couple of bars and restaurants just round the corner too. Perfect.

Saturday we spent at the very family-friendly crag of Quirós, at sector La Selva. With plenty of trees providing shade at the foot of the crag this was the perfect place for a very hot day. As well as preventing the many children there from burning the trees also provided some unroped climbing opportunities for them.

This year we have finally abandoned the baby back pack and Jack is managing the approach to crags (mostly) under his own steam. I can´t tell you what a liberation this is! The last couple of years it has mainly fallen to Richie to carry the backpack with Jack, an increasingly heavy, and oftentimes wriggling, load. Meanwhile I have been playing my part by carrying up ALL the climbing gear. So that´s a 70 metre rope, a couple of harnesses, 20 or so metal quick draws, shoes etc. Oh, and probably some food and water too. Not to mention a few toys and perhaps some sun cream. I think what I´m trying to say is it´s been HEAVY. Especially on the steeper approaches, where I have on occasion found myself huffing and puffing and bent forward like an old crone. Now that my load has been lightened after such a long time it feels almost like I can breezily levitate uphill. Winner.

Of course walking with a  toddler does mean taking things at a rather more leisurely pace. Jack, Dogly and I made the (usually 20 minute) descent to the car from La Selva in a sedately fascinating hour or so. There were flowers to be sniffed, sticks to be collected, water to be drunk from fuentes and cows and goats to be inspected.

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The ministry of silly walks.

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Eventually we made it down to the carpark by 6pm. At which point Jack insisted on taking out his balance bike for some off-roading action. Only when he was covered top to bottom in muddy splashes, true mountain biker style, after some daring stream traversing was he finally content to return to the camper for tea. Meanwhile his poor mother was exhausted from chasing him up and down the bumpy paths as he gleefully chucked himself downhill at speed. Still, my payoff came the next morning when he slept in until 9 am.

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Climbing at Eléctricos, Teverga

Sunday was spent climbing with more friends at Electricós in Teverga while Jack mainly played with his diggers in the dirt, made letters from twigs and sneaked in a little siesta in a shady cave. That evening we happily trundled home again, all contentedly exhausted from a weekend spent playing outdoors.

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Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Welcome to the Jungle

This week we’re back to school after the Easter break. The whole ‘back to school’ thing is still new to us but any pangs of sadness I felt on Monday morning were considerably lessened by the sight of Jack in a big hug with his teacher and then being bundled on top of in a mass hug from his little buddies. If there is that much love, joy and hugs in the classroom then it can’t be all bad. Forget Ofsted reports, for now I’m happy with a simple Hug-o-meter.

That said, I was just thinking how if a film was ever made about our little life here (I’m expecting to hear from Hollywood any day now, obvs 😉 ) then the soundtrack would most likely be some delightful pastoral melodies (think: la-la-la, tinkly, tinkly, tinkly) right up until mid-September last year, when Jack started school. At this point there would be an almightily loud and dissonant scratch and an abrupt dive into ‘Welcome to the Jungle,’ Guns and Roses style. (Melodramatic, moi?)

While I had previously expressed my reservations about Jack starting school so young (he wasn’t even 3 until the end of October for heavens’ sake!) I now realise that I actually didn’t have a clue about the impact that school would have on us and our lives. And, no, I don’t just mean the early mornings. Although those still do hurt. (Pathetic, but true.)

Of course in reality I totally suppressed the thought of failed to grasp how hard the initial wrench would be for me: the giving up of absolute control over his environment 24/7. Ok, now I sound like a scary control freak. But I’m not. I’m far too lazy to ever be a control freak, trust me. WAY too much effort. No, I’m just a mother who was used to spending all day with my baby almost every day. Being there to protect him, to feed him  to hold him, to love him. As a result, for the first week or two of school I was a highly-strung, snappy, neurotic wreck tad overwrought.

My state of mind wasn’t helped on Day 2 when, aimlessly wandering up the road seeking diversion from the constant gnawing questions in my mind (‘what will he be doing right now? is he okay? is he scared? is he happy? HAVE I DONE THE RIGHT THING?’), I bumped into my neighbour. Not unusual, nor usually a bad thing. Then she told me that her daughter-in-law had just been called down to the school to take her son to the doctors. Why? Because Jack had poked him in the eye.

FAN-flipping-tastic. Day 2 of school and my son was already a juvenile delinquent having sent someone to hospital. And not just any someone but the much beloved and cosseted son of the Arse-iest Lady in the Village, as I fondly thought of her. And I don’t mean the size of her backside but rather the size of her attitude. By now I was feeling even sicker than I had been before. You know the feeling, that nausea that comes from the constant pressure on your kidneys as adrenalin steadily courses through your system, stopping you from sleeping, eating or being in the least bit reasonable.

It wasn’t a great time for another neighbour to pick to question my refusal to send Jack in the school transport. First, let me clarify. I had always intended to drive him to school myself for the first week or so. The thought of abandoning my tiny boy at a bus stop and sending him off into the unknown on his own at 8.15 one random morning was more than my heart could bear. I also had concerns over safety as I was unhappy about sending him in a car or bus with no car seat. Like I said, he was tiny. I had visions of him, at best, sliding off the seat as the people carrier rounded one of the many tight bends on the hill down to school. Let’s not even go to the ‘at worst’ scenarios.

I didn’t think it was particularly unreasonable of me to want to personally check out the transport provision before consigning my most precious cargo to it. My friend, mother to another school child from the village, thought differently. Pooh-poohing my concerns didn’t make me feel any better about any of it. And when she made the classic statement: ‘But P’s the same age as Jack and his mother is sending him in the taxi without making a big fuss about it,’ I’ll admit I saw red. All that adrenalin coursing through my system and nowhere to go. Until now.

Turns out it’s not all that easy to think of the Spanish for ‘Well if P’s mum jumped off a cliff does that mean I should too?’ off the top of your head when the top of your head is actually blowing steam. I think I got my meaning across pretty thoroughly however, despite garbled grammar, mangled pronunciation and generalised high-pitched, squeaking.

Thankfully my adrenal glands slowed down their fierce pumping action gradually over the next few days, as it became apparent that Jack was adjusting and that the classroom environment was warm and family-like. I loved that the teacher was happy to chat to parents at the start or end of any school day and that dropping him off in the morning I got to spend 5 or ten minutes chatting with her and some other parents at the classroom door and watching the children doing their thing and finding their feet in there. This rather relaxed, informal approach is a luxury that is possible in such a tiny school; with a total of less than 20 children in two classes.

At pick up one afternoon that first week I also had a chat with the taxi driver on the school run and managed to allay my fears in that respect. While the children did normally travel with just lap belts (the top strap of the seatbelt placed behind them) it was totally fine if I wanted to send Jack with a car seat so that he could be strapped in correctly.

And even Arsey Lady managed to surprise me over the eye-poking incident. ‘Bah….war wounds,’ she shrugged….and, Good Lord!, was that the whisper of a smile I saw round the edges of her mouth? Maybe she wasn’t such a battleaxe after all.

But just as my hormonal systems lowered the alert from red to peaceful green all hell broke loose again. This time it was my friend who thought I was making such a big fuss about the car seat. Her and her husband’s beef started off over the location of the bus stop in the village and ended one morning in a stand-up row with another set of parents over which of their children got to sit in the front of the taxi. Seriously.

Turns out that one of the things they ought to warn you about when your child starts school is that any parent can turn bat-shit crazy as over-protective of their young as a jungle big cat at the least provocation. Oh, and if your child happens to be starting school in Spain, whatever you do don’t provoke a parent in the morning. Spanish parents, on the whole, do not appreciate an early start. (Even less than I do, it would appear.)

 

 

 

The Perfect Snow Storm

By the time the month of March comes around spring is well and truly on the way in Asturias. Winter is behind us and while we can still spy snow on the high mountain tops we have long since had our one annual day of snow cover here in the hills close to the sea.

So you can imagine everyone’s surprise when, last Wednesday, we woke to this:

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And it wasn’t just a light dusting of snow that had fallen overnight. It was this deep:

Don't think anyone will be sitting on that chair anytime soon

Don’t think anyone will be sitting on that chair anytime soon

Or hanging out washing on that line...

Or hanging out washing on that line…

The morning air was subdued and still and not a soul stirred in the village. Well, until the little boy from next door caught Jack’s attention window-to-window.

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Then it was time to dig out our snow gear and head out for some fun.

A snowboarding helmet is obviously a vital piece of equipment for the day that's in it.

A snowboarding helmet is obviously a vital piece of equipment for the day that’s in it.

With no power and no chance of the internet repair man making it for his designated appointment (after a week of waiting for him!) it was destined to be a day of play for everyone. Kudos to our electricity suppliers however as somehow, despite the treacherous weather conditions and our remote location, they managed to restore supply before nightfall.