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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

Sightseeing Where You Live

Here’s a truism for you: emigrate and they will come.

One of the things about being an expat is the number of visitors you receive in your new home. Be it family or friends or some vague acquaintance who quite fancies a cheap holiday abroad, emigrate and the visitors will come.

Now most of the time this is lovely and can be a fine excuse to pretend to be on holiday yourself. But after a time you realise that you can no longer uphold the pretense of being on an extended holiday and you have to acknowledge that you are in fact living in the place and have a life there and all the inescapable daily drudgery that that entails. You cannot always be at the beck and call of every visitor.

Los Lagos, Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Lago Enol, Covadonga. Perhaps the most famous spot for sightseeing in Asturias. Image courtesy of Pelayo Alonso Huerta

The most useful tool we have found to defuse this situation and bridge the possible mismatch of expectations between holiday- and home- maker is our annotated map. We are currently on our fifth (and already increasingly tattered) copy of the Michelin road map of Asturias, on which we have labelled up an array of attractions across the region, complete with driving times from home and other useful information. Visitors with children? Why not check out the dinosaur museum, 30 minutes drive, free on Wednesdays, with a great playpark, cafe and a lovely beach alongside. Culture vulture? The Niemeyer Centre in Avilés is a must visit – the building alone is spectacular and their arts programming is vibrant and internationally relevant.

All our favourite beaches are marked, from tiny coves to exposed surf breaks. For walkers, bikers and climbers we highlight some great itineraries. For anyone on their first visit to the region we recommend a trip to Covadonga and the Lakes  to take in the magnificent, quintessentially Asturian views from the mountains to the sea.

Thus our visitors can pick and choose what most appeals to them and can self-direct their own sightseeing. But that´s not to say that we leave them entirely to their own devices. Depending on schedules (and quality of relationship!) we, of course, do our fair share of hanging out together. With some guests in fact it´s all about the hanging out and very little about the sightseeing. When grandparents come, for example, all they really want is some time with their darling boy. In which instance we consult the annotated map ourselves to remind us of where some good local restaurants are and we dash out the door to leave them to their bonding.

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The view from the top of our hill, to the Picos at sunset on a winter’s evening. Every day I walk to the top of the hill with the dog and every day the view that awaits me is different, depending on season, time of day and quality of light. I love it.

In all honesty, the most telling sightseeing we share with visitors is often the simplest and the closest to home. The views from our garden as we share a meal and a glass of wine. Sharing a dog walk up the lane is a lovely opportunity for a chin-wag as well as to spy the profusion of wild flowers that fill the hedgerows and to gasp at the views from the top of  the hill, with the jagged, snow-capped Picos mountains in one direction and the wide Atlantic ocean in the other.

Sunset from home

Sunset from home

These are the views that mark my everyday. They are the views that still cause me to catch my breath despite having lived with them for over seven years. Changing light and weather can always throw up a new vision that has me running back inside for my camera. They are the sights that tell, in a large part, the story of why I live where I do and why I love where I live.

This post was written in response to the prompt ‘sightseeing where you live,’ courtesy of The American Resident and her ‘Love Where You Live’ Linky. Click the badge below to read more posts on the same theme.
The American Resident

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

Idyllic

I was just sorting through memory cards full of photos that I have yet to organize or do anything with, when I came across this one. I took it on the 8th March at 8 am (The wonders of modern digital photography triumph over my innate forgetfulness.) That means I was on my way to the school bus stop with my son. The simply stunning morning light made me forget the usual morning scurry and sent me dashing back indoors for my camera. (Child abandoned on the street, swinging his rucksack in the air.) Sometimes the beauty of nature really does just stop you in your tracks.

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Just as I was wondering how to catalogue this snap and musing on how I might use or share it somewhere, the daily prompt from WordPress popped up in my reader. Idyllic. It seemed perfectly in step with my response to this photo. I clicked through and discovered that the prompt related more specifically to what your ideal community looks like. How it is organized and how community life is structured. What values does the community share?

Then it struck me, this photo shows exactly what my ideal community looks like. It’s a  community based in nature and shaped by nature. A small community but with strong ties. On the horizon you can see the small cluster of houses perched atop the hillside, mirroring our own hamlet, dwarfed by the scale of the mountains behind and the expanse of green stretching between tiny, scattered villages. It could feel lonely but it promotes a depth and strength of connection between neighbours that doesn’t naturally occur in places, such as cities, where you can maintain a lofty self-reliance and independence.

The Spanish refrain goes: ¿Quién es tu hermano? El vecino más cercano’ meaning, your closest family is your nearest neighbour. This is never truer than when you live in a small community in the country. We rely on each other in a myriad of ways, both practically and socially. From borrowing a pint of milk rather than making a 20 minute trip to buy one, to sharing a cup of coffee and a chat on an otherwise solitary day.

Even our water supply (the very staff of life!) is community managed. This means periodic village meetings, the occasional Saturday morning spent clearing brambles on the hillside where the pump-house is or, in times of emergency, days spent chasing and fixing leaks in the pipework. I’ll be honest, sometimes it’s a worry and sometimes it’s a drag but it teaches me a darn sight more about personal and environmental responsibility than paying a quarterly water bill ever did!

So there you have it. My country idyll. Just right for me right now. But what about you? What’s your idea of an idyllic community? And are you lucky enough to already live there?

The local water board in action last summer. That'll be all of us then!

The local water board in action last summer. That’ll be all of us then!

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.