Monday, 23 August 2010

Cooking From an Early Age

I always did a lot of cooking and baking with my children and the other children that seemed to spend most of their time at our house. When ever everything got to be too much, we would bake a batch of cookies or something. It used to drive my mother crazy because she was a very neat organized person and she would rather send us to the garden and clean up the mess. I always felt that if we had some fun first then the cleaning up wouldn’t be so bad and the children would be more likely to pitch in.
By the time Jessica was nine she was making and selling cakes to the bars in the village and they were very popular. Every spring, when my parent’s garden was at its best, they would have a cocktail party and invite everyone. It was their one party of the year. My mother didn’t cook so they rarely had people over for a set dinner unless my dad was making it. I catered the party every year with my little group of helpers. We would set up an assembly line and started turning out the best and most different tapas anyone had ever seen. We usually had between five and nine little girls at our house at one time. They loved making the hors d’oeuvres and listened to their favourite music and laughed the whole while they were assembling all this tasty food. During cooking we would talk about how to measure and what kind of food is good for you and what is not, where different foods came from and how to eat everything but not too much of anything. It was great fun and a learning experience as well as teaching them social skills. When the food was ready they all changed into Flamenco dresses and passed the food around and chatted up the guests. The party began to make a reputation for itself and Jessica started getting a few catering jobs. She even got the job of cooking and serving at the opening a large new law firm. She only charged the cost of the ingredients and gave the host the shopping receipt but it started taking up a lot of my time because I had to take her to the store, light the oven and deliver her and a few friends with all the food to some destination then pick them back up again so after a little while we stopped doing it. It was great fun and a treat experience for all the girls and a treat for the guests. Now Jessica is a fabulous baker. She makes special, to order, cakes ranging from sheep to princesses and wedding cakes; she also has a great line in cookies.
Most children love to eat sweet things and junk candy. If you start them out young enough you can convince them that raisins and dried fruit are candy and call corn ‘little packets of sunshine’. This system works until they are about in first grade and then they see what the other children have and they want it, but hopefully they will have had a good start to life and may even continue to prefer fruit and vegetables over sweets. My son Daniel is like that, he started out life only wanting fresh fruit and vegetables and never liked candy. He would take a bell pepper and some carrot sticks to school and this was his preference, he still to this day prefers healthy food over junk food and still doesn’t like candy.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Computers and Science

My dad was an engineer and scientist inventor plus several other occupations to difficult to spell or understand. He was a brilliant, warm person that every body loved. He always remembered the small details that make such a difference. He started working on designing bio-medical programs for computers, when a computer took up an entire room and you had to program punch cards for this monster to read. One of my father’s inventions was the intensive care monitoring unit which took the place of about ten nurses having to check in on open heart surgery patients. They could observe their patients twenty-four hours a day, and it was all recorded, from monitors around the hospital. Everything started in this huge room with a computer that filled it. To know exactly how his invention would work he had to participate in a lot of open heart surgeries and heart lung by-passes. I am sure that if there had just been an exam to become a heart surgeon my father would have passed with flying colors. He loved his job. He also invented things after noting those things that the nurses would complain about, that they didn’t have or didn’t work properly and dad would just come home to his little workshop and whip one up. They all ended up being successful and went on to be sold to companies like Johnson and Johnson, but because my father worked for IBM he never got any of the patents or the money because he, and what he did, belonged to the company, but he did it just to cheer up a nurse or make a big difference in how things worked in the hospital. Like I said, he loved his work. On my thirteenth birthday I took three friends to the hospital to show them a computer and to see what my dad did. Besides being impressed with the computer, he had made punch cards with all of our names on it so the computer could read it and then put it up on the monitor, and also a spread of pastries and a birthday cake. That is what I meant by little details. It was really quite exciting for the time. Next was a tour of the hospital where we were merrily greeted by everyone. I felt so proud to be his daughter. The first stop was to watch chest tubes being removed from a lady, not quite what a thirteen year old expects but it was fascinating. Every room we went into in the hospital, HAPPY BIRTHDAY BARBARA would pop up on the monitor. We were all so impressed. How did the computer know we were there? Who was pushing the buttons back in the big room with the computer in it? We had a wonderful and educational birthday followed by a trip to the old fun house in San Francisco. We were living there at that time. The only thing my father liked as much as work was a good fun park. He finally did invent the Intensive Care Monitoring Unit and it was installed in San Francisco and then New York, then on to Russia and finally to Spain which is how I ended up here. Madrid was building a state of the art new hospital called Ramon y Cajal and my father had to come to oversee the installation, but after five years here the hospital was still never completed, too many saints’ days I guess. The best part was that the invention was a huge success. In my parent’s spare time they started to tour Spain and fell in love with the country and knew they would one day retire here. Then they discovered Mojácar and my mother sent my father straight back to Madrid to pack up the house while she found something here. I think they probably found the best property and house in the area and we are still here except my father who sadly passed away about nine years ago. My father learned perfect Spanish but no one could understand him because his vocabulary was way beyond the local farmers and to make sure his grammar was correct he used to speak slowly to make sure he got it right, but they didn’t know the grammar either, as a matter of fact this is where they speak the worst Spanish in Spain. He found that a bit frustrating because in Madrid he did fairly well with all the doctors and IBMers. We were great friends and spent time together almost every day and I would help him with what he called the ooffy chores that my mother would set out for him for the day. He did all the shopping because he used to love to talk to all the people and stop and get an ice cream. They used to only sell ice cream from July to September but he finally talked one ice cream parlour into keeping it all year long. Now everyone has ice cream all year long. I miss my father very much; he had such a quick wit and fantastic sense of humor.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The Unequal Struggle

We live in the smartest part of town and are surrounded by wealth, but can’t find a euro to take the bus to the shop because the car just broke down. We have already gone through the penny jar and things are looking pretty grim. We are not material people yet we are surrounded by antiques and even old things in the garden that are worth a lot of money. Yesterday my husband had to wait for the family chicken to lay her egg before he could even have breakfast. The neighbours don't help. It is a hard time for most people now and we are at least lucky we have things to sell to get by. Even though we are not getting a fraction of what the things are worth they need to go and we need the money. The bank and the phone company seem to think that if you don’t have money now you are sure to have twice as much tomorrow. I don’t know how they figure that because if I don’t have it today the chance of me having twice as much tomorrow is ridiculous. When you do get a bit of money to pay a bill the bank won’t pay it until you pay them what you owe them first. There are certain things that we could never sell because of the sentimental value but other than that we need it to fix up the house after the fire last summer and plant new trees. We lost over five hundred that are not coming back.
My husband is being sued by some monsters who ripped off his business some years back and are now seeking fresh mischief against him. Spain has an odd and erratic justice system (ask García Lorca, or Ruiz Mateos or Judge Garzón if you don't believe me) and most people caught up in it can expect years of worry and stress.
We have slowly gotten rid of all the animals because between vet bills and food they were a luxury we couldn’t afford. We found great, loving homes for them all. It is depressing but I really don’t mind because what counts is family and I have the best, so if we have to sell a few things to get by so be it. I feel much better today because we sold a painting yesterday that paid off all of our debts and left a little to spend. If we sell a few more paintings we will be well ahead. We have a vast collection of art because Lenox has supported almost every artist to pass through Mojácar and some of them gave us a painting in return for his support and generosity. We have had an offer from a Mojaquero to buy all the Fritz paintings for a fairly good price and it would see us through for a long time but he is a malicious, corrupt man and I don’t think Fritz would want him to have the paintings plus he just ripped us off on a land deal we sold for Lenox’s cousin. We took care of Fritz his whole life, and loved him like family, now he is taking care of us and I think he would want it that way but we have to draw a limit, we would not sell one of his paintings to someone he wouldn’t approve of. It has to be someone who will love it as much as we do and is not just in it for the buck.
We would like to start a new phase of our life and leave Mojácar hopefully to live a quite life near the grandchildren where we can write and work in the garden and I can ride. Riding has improved my health so much and I know I will get better if we can just get out of here, so we don’t need the hundreds of paintings we have. We want to start fresh and just take the special things with us to start our new life. So if all this stuff that has been being collected has to go, so we can go, I think it is a good idea. Each painting has a special history to it but the history and memories will stay with us. That is one of the reasons I have started writing besides it is good therapy for me. We are not materialistic people and most of this stuff either Lenox’ parents brought over from England or the wicked step-mother bought at some point. We will keep the things with good memories attached and sell the rest to make a new life, like the Randy Newman song says “You and Me Babe”.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Donkeys in the Old Days

In the old days donkeys and most other animals were beasts of burden, they all had a job and if they couldn’t do it they were discarded. Donkeys never were given names or brushed or given treats by hand. There was no reason because they were there to work and not for fun or pleasure. Most of the townspeople had land high in the mountains where they would grow food for themselves and the animals and get spring-water to bring home and to deliver to the other townsfolk. It is also where they took the sheep and goats in the summer to find grass and be a bit cooler. The donkey always wore hand-woven grass baskets, two on each side, and the man would ride on the back even if the donkey was loaded to the top, while the women would hold on to the tail and be dragged up the hill. If the donkey were to get sick, home remedies were used as they were on the people that were sick. When an animal got colic, soda water with bicarbonate of soda was poured down its throat, if they had foot problems nitric acid was poured on their feet and covered with rags and an old tin-can nailed to keep it covered or it was burned. If they had lung problems, Zotal or creosote was burned in a closed stable for the donkey or person for that matter to breathe to get better. It does turn your tongue black and make you feel rather ill, but it works and the effects go away with time. For the donkey that wouldn’t move or get up, that happened a lot, a fire was set under it and in short time the donkey was on its feet and ready to go. Because of the distance between towns and the shortage of people I am afraid to say that some of the animals were sexually abused on a regular basis, which is also why there was so much incest among the families. Due no doubt to the incest, many villages have a special disability or tick, or perhaps crossed eyes, or six fingers and toes (as one entire family clan does in our own village); mild deformities or a resemblance between parents, children and cousins, so you can’t tell them apart. Soon after strangers and foreigners started to arrive all of these things slowly stopped and the treatment of animals changed for the better although they still think it is funny to give a donkey a name or feed it a carrot from your hand.
Everyone lives in apartments now and shops in a supermarket so the donkey is slowly dying out. It’s just not much use any more, they shrug. All sorts of programs exist now to try and restore the Spanish donkey. They are wonderful easy-going animals and adorable as babies. With the changes in Spain, the foreigners bought the farmland high in the mountains to make their retirement homes and the locals have no desire to return to the days of hard labor. Everything was on steep hillsides so dry-rock walls were carefully built to make terraces for growing food and building houses. The houses were also built out of dry-rock wall and some of them are still standing while the new homes are falling to pieces due to poor construction and the use of sea-sand to make cement. The dry-rock style only used mud and century plant flower poles to hold the roof. The rocks fit together so well they look like they have been carved to fit but they put them together like a puzzle and collected rocks from all around with their donkeys. There was no wood in this area. My first house and the house where I now live were built of mud and rock and still stand, having had minor adjustments and a lick of paint. There were no roads to the hillside properties - only donkey paths, as were the other abandoned farms in those days, so every rock and window frame was carried on the back of a donkey to build the houses on the beautiful hillsides that the locals abandoned and the foreigners bought for the spectacular views and large pieces of terraced land, plus spring water. Now everything is paved and we have vets and doctors, the beach is full of tiny holiday apartments, bars and discos. The peaceful life has gone in exchange for tourism. In reality, the all-year residents bring in much more money to the community than do the tourists, and they create local jobs as opposed to the tourist who only buys a drink or two before returning to their cheap hotels.