Sunday, November 23, 2008

Horses and nuclear waste monkey suits

Hello all. Been a while. No excuses except it's been well cold here at night and as our internet access is outside and we've been staying huddled together inside, no blogs. But today is different. It's Sunday morning and the sun is shining bright in a cloudless powder blue November sky with this as my view across the Amieira valley here at Bacelo. Sweet.

But before I update you on what's been going on here in The Shire, just took the following fly on the wall video of the kids 10 minutes ago. Every morning they are up before 6 off up the hill at 7.30 to catch the school bus at 7.50, have classes all day from 9 to 5, then get back at 6.30, do their homework, eat dinner, share the stories of their day and collapse exhausted in bed by 9. So on Sundays they can have a lie in. Bless their cotton socks. We are very proud of them. They are learning so much so quickly and are growing physically and emotionally as a result. Well done kids. Keep it up. You are stars.

Hello from the kids on a Sunday Morning

November has been pretty full on. Von and I have been working together Monday to Friday on restoring our first house down at Moses. We got all the easy stuff out of the way in the first 6 weeks - clearing the house, creating the internal wooden structures, laying our first roof, laying our first floor and rendering all the walls with lime. Now we are into the harder phase which will require outside expertise - electrics, plumbing (picture here is of Senhor Lucas installing the pumps and tubing into our new bore hole which is 300 metres up the hill from the house) hot water water system (thermodynamic panels from a company called ENat), hand crafted double glazing and pine staircases (from a lovely carpenter called Senhor Dias), railings for the internal veranda (an ironmonger in Oleiros) and a handmade wood burning stove (from Guillierm in Esteiro). All of which have been arranged and now we wait to see this last phase unfold while we lay more floors, finish the rendering build the kitchen and paint. So if all goes to plan over the next 4 weeks, we'll be able to move in for Christmas. Yaaaaay.

Anyway here's a couple of videos to update you on the work.

Nuclear waste factory monkey suit

Our first floor: slate dust topped

The weekends here in the last month have been quite hectic. We had a farewell party by the fire at Moses for Ian and his family as unfortunately Merle had to return early to Germany for the unexpected death of her mother there. Guys we hope you are all OK and your journey has not been too painful. Following weekend Shanti B and her great friend Emma from Ireland camped with us down at Moses. Emma taught us how to express the joy of life in just one phrase that we've been using every day since. WOW!!! I LOVE....(insert anything you like here - this place, that word, the bigness, fires, synchronicity, etc etc etc etc). Thanks Emma. You can come again anytime you want. (You too Shants of course, no invitation necessary.)

Last weekend we visited the National Horse Festival in Portugal's capital of horses - Galegã. It was a wonderful chance to experience another dimension of Portuguese culture. Horses and their devoted human companion admirers. The town has some exquisite architecture that we've seen elements of before but not on this scale. Streets and streets of gorgeous old buildings with hundreds of horse stables inside courtyards hidden behind the street frontage of the houses. And in the centre of the town a magnificent corral where all the horses were on show, either jumping or just trotting around the circumference. Kids, adults, intrepid horse enthusiasts the lot of them. Splendid. We'll be going again next year. Definitely. On Saturday night we stayed in Lisbon again so we wouldn't have too far to travel on Sunday for Josh's last cricket game of the year, played, of course, in delightful sunshine all day with the usual blend of multicultural languages from India, Pakistan, South Africa, England and Portugal ringing in our ears. Von has a tale to tell of that day coming soon....

One final thing to mention is that after 6 weeks of being pretty cold at night we finally have had this wood burning stove installed in our room at Bacelo. And what a difference it's made. Although the days are still sunny and hot, the evenings have been bitter when the wind blows. So thank you to "Tom and Jerry" for buying and fitting this stove for us. Toasty.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Anniversarying with the King of the Swingers

One day, back in the life of the jungle, many animals lived together, some in blissful harmony, others engaged constantly in the fight to stay alive. One special animal grew up there and managed to discover the secret to life. And shared it with everyone he met with generosity of heart, humour and a cascading backdrop of monkey music. His secret was simply to enjoy the bare necessities. His name, of course, was Balloo.

Last year, and joyously again this month, we’ve had the great privilege to meet and hang out with Balloo in person, reincarnated in the form of a man from Hereford and his most cool mate and tribe currently holidaying in the nearby abandoned village of Eiro do Miguel over the mountain on the slopes of the Rio Zezere. His human name is Ian Huntingdon, his mate is the inimitable and gorgeous Merla, their two stunning daughters are Evie (12) and Anna (18), Anna’s perfect beau Oli (21), and an old friend of the family, Roger (age and origin unknown).

It was our 14th wedding anniversary on Wednesday. To celebrate, the Winter clan took a long weekend trip to Lisbon with the tribe of Balloo, the King of the Swingers. The 10 of us camped in Monsanto park 15 minutes ride from the centre of the city. Had dinner in one of the quirky old café restaurants in the heart of Lisbon’s Fado district made memorable for the moment when the owner, shortly after taking our orders for fish of the day, strolled over and pulled out of the boot of his old Mercedes, a sack of freshly bought, and probably caught, fish to cook, along with veggies and the eggs for dessert. We climbed and wandered through the capital’s charming streets lined with once grand now slightly dishevelled, tall old stone framed houses dripping with the past and present tapestries of a culturally rich Lisbon: centuries old wobbly limestone cobbled streets; colour filled walls occasionally splashed with sections of those typically Portuguese hand painted tiles; antique black railinged window verandas, from which residents’ laundry hangs cheek by jowel with large canvasses beautifully illustrated with an eclectic mix of sketches and paintings for the latest public art exhibition.

For the weekend’s finale, Ian and Merle arranged a surprise gift for their tribe to thank them all for their previous fortnight of hard labour clearing the land in Eiro do Miguel – tickets to see the Thievery Corporation at the Coliseu. They invited us to join them and what an experience it turned out to be, especially cos it was the first big gig for Josh and Eli, who watched the spectacle of the audience as much as they did the musicians, drummers, singers, rappers and dancers on stage. A most cool way to finish celebrating our 14 year heavenly journey of a marriage dripping with love, romance, adventure and family.

Thank you Balloo and crew. And thank you Lisbon. There’s only one Lisboa. And it’s awesome that this weekend it’s felt that it’s become ours. Our Lisboa. We’ll meet again soon.

Restoration Update: In the pursuit of beauty...

Back at the Moses ranch, River and I have been in full flow, rendering, solving problems, mending, fixing, restoring, more rendering, waiting for wood and materials to arrive, choosing the appropriate heating and water systems to buy, more rendering, but surrounding all of it, is the magic of being able to use our energy and imagination to create. We are so thankful we’ve been given the chance to do this thing with our own hands. These last 2 weeks we’ve been able to move beyond the purely functional tasks to embrace a far more creative process that imprints our own stamp on the function. Using our hands to sculpt the plastering on the walls and over the bedrock, to carve the eucalyptus beam we chain sawed, planed, sanded and heaved into position to support the bedroom floor, to select the prettiest slate lintels for remaking the doorway of the old clay bread oven, and to roll huge boulders into place for the borders of a water channel gutter at the back of the house. It’s just one big art attack (for those of you who’ve ever watched kiddies TV). We are hand sculpting our house and filling it full with romance and love along the way.

As you can tell we’re feeling all loved up at the moment. Not enough time to tell you even half the stories happening here. Just know it is rich. As Merle says, “dripping” with the gorgeousness and fullness of life. School, shopping, building, friends, neighbours, dinners, coffees, passing chats, even the drives and walks to and from these things. Everywhere you look, every landscape you stumble across, every task necessary, every problem solved, every single moment is a an experience to be cherished and treasured because it will never be experienced in that particular way again. Just like the enchanting, colourful, historic and steep streets of Lisbon, we are the tapestry upon which something magnificent and unique is being woven.

And did I mention the sun is still shining hot here? No? Desculpe. It is. Just the icing, or the cherry, or the cream, or all of it on the whole home baked wedding anniversary cake of a life.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Learning Portuguese ‘The Easy Way’ - by Josh

Hello, Óla, Ciao, Hola, Bonjúr and any other ‘hi’s’ that I’ve missed out just started school and going on overload with the amount of Portuguese going in and not coming out of my head decided to make a little space and write down whats been happening down here in the Floresta das Pinheiras (forest of the pines).

School at Escola Básica e Segundária Padre António de Andrade has been tiring but fun. We’ve been taking the carinha (minibus) at 8:00; starting school at 9:00; getting a fifteen minute break at 10:45 to get a snack from the school bar; eating lunch at 13:00; starting lessons again at 14:15; doing more lessons until 15:45 then we stop lessons for the day and go home at 17:30.

I’ve learnt so much already after just a week (some things I'm not aloud to write on the internet) but funnily enough I don’t know what it is that I’ve learnt. After 15:45 I do some of my T.P.C (trabalho para casa (work for home)) with my colegas in the biblioteca (library) (surprisingly I haven’t had much T.P.C this last week only homework for Ciências Das Naturezas (Biology) and PLNM (for me only: extra Portuguese) and matemática (for those of you who aren’t English its mathematics).

School (dare I say it) is great. Ellie is in the Quarto (4º (4th)) ano and I'm in the Sexto (6º (6th)) ano. I’ve only got twelve people in my class (6 boys 6 girls) 5 are 12 and the rest are 11. Some subjects (like maths) I’ve done 2 years ago and others (like biology) are new things to me.

This last week pai e mãe have been working on Moses to get it ready for moving in before Natal (Christmas). Just now (its 20:07) we got electricidade (electricity) down there from a guy called Lucas who works at the school as well as being an electrician. We’ve got a temporary kitchen and the wood for the telhado (roof) and the chão (floor) of our walkway.

During the feiras (holidays) I was getting more and more nervous everyday but now I’ve started I don’t know why. Probably because I didn’t know Portuguese I didn’t know anything about the subjects or the putos in my class. We went to São Pedro de Moel on the coast and we had loads of people come (6: Caroline, Jon, Maya, violet, grandma & Papops) and basically just chilled out for 3 months.

The last time I went to school was 18 months ago and the time I had with my parents was one of the best times of my life and to give that up is always very difficult but things never last forever and it was time to leave that behind and learn Portuguese.

At this moment in time it is 20:51 20 de Septembro de 2008, Mother is moaning that she wants to go to bed while laughing her head off and saying she’s tired while messing about and saying things like Ellie and Josh can put up a stand in Oleiros with rent-a-goat; Ellie’s being a smart-arse and saying things at random like driving a 4x4 golf cart around the place and about horses eating our houses and donkeys sleeping with dad in bed; dad is lying in bed being as quiet as possible; Angel’s sleeping thinking what idiots we are; Moses is lying outside sleeping in the rain for begging; Slinky is either lying in my bed or playing in the rain; Daffy & Dodo the Delicious Duo of Dumbo Duck Dudes are sleeping in the chicken shed; and I'm writing this. And at this moment in time it is 21:05 and Joshua Krystian Maffezzoni Winter nº8 (number 8) turma B (class B) ano 6º (year 6) is going to bed. Boa Noite!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Dragonfly Passing Through - by River

“Wherever the River flows, life will flourish…Where the River flows life abounds…the River itself, on both banks, will grow fruit trees of all kinds. Their leaves won't wither, the fruit won’t fail. Every month they’ll bear fresh fruit because the river from the Sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.”

Ezekiel 47 : 8 – 12 mais ou menos

Thanks Shanti B this one has gotten me through some tough times here in Our Zion.

But the last month has been fabulous why? Cause I have finally figured out all I have to do in this place is just flow. Keep on flowing River.

Memphis and I moved here for so many reasons with so many hopes and dreams and many of them seemed to be coming to pass. But the biggest one of all had not yet happened. Falcon Bear and Effie Starlight had not yet started school. School was more or less a topic avoided as I don’t think any of us dared express our hopes about how it could be. I think this lack of resolution encouraged me to see this as an extended holiday that I could (however difficult it maybe) walk away from if Falcon and Starlight weren’t happy at school. Big tension!

I think we may have been able to continue home schooling if we were in England where the children could still have easy access to other relationships and clubs and so forth. But here, the only way to make relationships with other children is at school.

Well! It has been four weeks at school and I could never claim to speak for Starlight and Falcon’s internal feelings but from what I have heard from them and what I have seen, school has been a little bit of what we all hoped for and therefore a wonderful thing to have happened in our lives.

Falcon I think wanted to find like minded boys to hang out with. So far he seems to have found boys who want to talk about sport. Be willing to listen to him and think about the importance of being kind to even the smallest creatures. He also wants to be around boys who have ambitions and want to talk about going to University and they have even been talking about going together since one wants to be an architect and the other two want to be photographers. And he has found that: a sense of place, companionship and people who show the desire to learn.

Starlight I think wants to be able to express her individuality. She is not afraid to be her own person and I think she wants to be recognised for having the special tender accepting love of life that she has. She had that recognition in her early school life in London and I think being her own person and being recognised as that is important to Starlight. It helps her feel safe to shine. And she is shining. She is often the first one to get ready for school in the morning and walk up the hill. She gets her stuff ready the night before. Goes to bed without messing around too much and is ready for her day. I remember Andy and I constantly saying to the kids “Just get up and get ready for your day and then you will be ready for whatever it brings. “ But she never listened and now she is doing it all on her own. She is fabulous.

I think Memphis, Big Daddy Penguin as he is, wants the children to be able to stay children a little bit longer and just enjoy the process of growing up and learning to take responsibility for themselves. Watching them walk up that hill every morning at a quarter to eight, we can see they are well on their way.

For me, I want the kids to want to learn. To learn from everything and everyone. To be around us enough to want to learn from us. To be with other people fuelled up by taking learning seriously and enjoying it. But I also want them to be safe, not safe from bad days and low times and from generally feeling pissed off and frustrated, those times come to us all. But safe from the separateness that is so much a part of life in London. I want them to feel deeply connected to the Earth around them and everything in it. I also want them to still be willing to fly free of everything and work it out for themselves a lesson I think they will retain from their life as city folks. All this learning and experiencing requires a lot of great people in your life. Your family, your extended family, your families’ friends, your teachers, your peers. It’s easier if the majority of these people are good people, willing to give you some of their time, willing to be themselves with you and willing to teach you. That is what I had when I was growing up and I want that for my kids. They had some of that too in the Metropolis and now they can have a different experience of good people here to help teach them about this time in their life.

In many ways I jus couldn’t get stuck into our home at Moses until I had seen that my children were safe at school. But now Memphis and I are putting down roots. It has been great!

We have been working together alone for the last four weeks and so at first we were really scared without Sunshine or someone else who had actually done this before. We also wanted to do it ourselves, a confidence that we would not have had without Sunshine’s help and for which I am truly thankful.

But alone we were, so we looked at each, sat down and just looked at our home, alone and ready to begin. Memphis looked at me and said, “Ready to begin River” and I looked at him and said “Let’s go Memphis”. I think the names help, its like watching a story unfold. Andy and Von are fairly set as who they are but Memphis and River are highly adaptable new beings who would know how to tackle any situation. The good thing about having been here without building the house for so long, is that we have spent a lot of time doing research on just about everything to do with house building. While we were demolishing parts of the three houses and also visiting hoards of other local derelict buildings, we were able see how these old houses were originally put together, piece by piece. So that’s what we are doing with the first house, rebuilding it section by section.

In the last two weeks we have had a great deal of encouragement and advice from our neighbours, and a special thanks has to go out to some people who have come and really gave us a boost; Senior Lucas for sorting out our electricity so smoothly. Senior Julio and the bore hole guys who drove up in their fantastic 1950's van and just dug the bore hole in a day, gave us lunch and shared their wine with us. Finally, our architect, Phillipe, I am gives am always so relieved now to see him walking down that hill. He is mostly quiet, listens beautifully, gives us things to think about that we never would have and usually leaves us one piece of style advice. This style advice is the best, it reminds me that these stones, clay, straw, sand and lime are coming together to form a building, so keep your eye on the big picture. I find myself working harder now wanting to have something for us to show him so he can test us on it. So we have the advice of some experts to help us but ultimately we are on our own.

It’s wonderful I have loved it so far. We have hiked up and down our land looking for Eucalyptus to cut, skin and lay as beams. We have sifted huge sacks of clay from our land and hauled them down the hill on our backs and than hiked up again. We have carried hundreds of planks of wood down the hill and up the stairs and round the corner and careful you don’t bash into the god knows how old terrace. We have lugged stones and laid stones and cut ourselves on stones. We have hauled sacks of cal (lime) and barrows of sand down the hill only to carry it up the stairs in heavy black buckets. We have been made cold by the wind, wet by the rain, overly hot by the sun. We have assembled all these materials and made all this effort to create a room that will be our bathroom, a ground floor that will be the kitchen and Moroccan lounge, and today I have been digging trenches and laying stones to create what will be our water channel around the house while Andy has been building a stone box for new bore hole. And we are doing it, and I am loving it.

Sure I get really tired and fed up but the occasions are so fleeting and that verse my friend Shanti B gave me has really been an encouragement. My hubby is happy, my kids are happy and I am happy all I have to do is keep flowing like a River. Keep moving with life, keep accepting, keep shifting, keep being in the flow and just work at it bit by bit step by step, Shanti Shanti whatever it brings.

We have had one sad occasion this month, our lovely friend Raquel (here with her Mom at her leaving do last week) has finally left Oleiros to work nearer Lisbon. I am happy for her the work sounds exciting and she can now live in her home in Abrantes and who knows what she will do with all that time that was taken up driving to Oleiros every weekend! But, I am also sorry for too for our little slice of heaven is less brighter without her here. Fortunately Abrantes is only maybe 45 mins away, virtually neighbours in these parts, so whether Francisco and Raquel like it or not we will be making a point of visiting.

At the moment there are the most enormous dragonflies everywhere (yes this is a butterfly because we dont have any pictures of the dragon variety). They seem to perfectly match their surroundings and sparkle them up a bit. There is sky blue, sunshine yellow and grass green ones. I don’t know if Hari’s House is in their flight path but I have seen them quite a lot here. I have seen them at Cocoa’s new house, at Eugenia and João’s, outside our house at Moses, at the school, at our neighbour´s Steve and the list could go on. They are beautiful and where ever I am I have to stop and look at them. I am learning that every now and again, you have to stop whatever you are doing or saying and just watch as the dragonfly passes through. Inside our homes for a spell and then out. Off to see the world.

Digging for water

First thing to say is that Falcon and River have written great blogs. But as usual it takes a while for them to choose their photos and upload them. Josh however has an excuse. He is working well hard at school learning Portuguese at an alarmingly rapid pace. 3 weeks in and both he and Eloise are doing fantastically well their and really enjoying the whole experience. They leave before it’s light and return at 6.30 in the evening still full of life but can only really manage to eat, tell us the stories of their day and then go to bed. Anyway, watch this space, their contributions are coming shortly.

So what’s new? We have a bore hole. 93 metres deep and apparently with loads of water in it. A few weeks ago an old guy from Oleiros, senior Julio, came along to find the best place on our land to dig for water. Good old divination. But instead of a forked branch, he used a metal measuring tape, held so that it formed a stiff triangle in the air. When he walked over a line of water the tape just folded down, then rose again 2 paces later. He did this for an hour or so in various places until he informed us that we have 3 good sources of water underground. We chose the highest point to give us the most number of uses for water – good pressure for our drinking and showering water in all the houses 40 to 50 metres below, as well as a source for all the irrigation and emergency watering systems we want to build. So much easier to start with your primary origin of water at the top – no fussing with pumps and electricity, except to bring it out of the ground then let gravity do the rest.

When Sr Julio bought his mates along on Monday, it was a trifle odd, cos their lorries and machinery could have come straight out of the 1930’s. The 2 videos below show what I mean and also our excitement at the moment the water started spouting into the air, proving the old diviner was bang on. He better have been, cos the ‘no water, no fee’ deal was pretty reassuring.

Der’s sure gotta be oil in dem hills…

Now all we need to do is work out where to run all the pipes to, then employ our trusted local electrician, Sr Lucas, who also works at the school, to sort out the best pump and automatic system to install. Will fill you in when we have any idea what we are doing. Although today I built a cute little stone box around the top of the bore hole, like the ones you see around the top of a well. My first walls constructed in stone. Felt terrific. Gathering long heavy pieces of slate scattered around the place (mined from the road and terrace building work in July) driving them to the top in our jeep, laying them out as 4 dry walls around the top of the bore hole where the tube sticks out of the ground and the old guys screwed a paint can to the top to keep the water safe, then mixing a lime, straw and river sand grout in the cement mixer next to the house right at the bottom where there’s electricity and having to carry 5 enormously heavy buckets of the stuff back up to the top again to secure the structure with a minimal render inside and out of the walls. Took me most of the day and now I am knackered. Yet most satisfying.

A beautiful by product of the bore holing is we now have loads of slate dust. Dark bluey grey metallicy slate dust. A perfect material to add to our lime floors to tie in the slate outside with exactly the same colour for the floors at the bottom of the house. We did a test mix yesterday and laid it in a corner next to the exposed bed rock. It’s a sumptuously gorgeous colour and we’re really looking forward to laying it once the final coat of earthen plaster goes on the walls. Will show pictures soon.

Last bit of news is that Josh and I have played another couple of games of cricket against touring English sides. He is now regularly getting wickets when he bowls and loving the thrill of it all. Last week we had the chance to bat together and even managed to be there at the end of the innings, not out. This time though we have proof thanks to one of the tourists. Cheers Tony.

Well that’s all for now folks. Leave a comment or two and let us know how life is treating you all. Night night. I will leave you with this pic of Laurinda who runs the cafe in neighbouring Abitueira, picking us a bunch of ginormous grapes from her back yard. Sweet.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Bathroom Roof Goes On

What a week this was! For two and a half months River and I have been removing an enormous quantity of stuff from the 3 houses at Moses. Walls, stones, wood, windows, lintels, tiles. It’s been quite a destructive phase where everything feels a little chaotic, with piles of the stuff taken out of the houses neatly laid around clearly demarking the place as a building site. But before this week we hadn’t really done any building, any construction. Last week we began with learning to mix mud and setting slates with it on top of the bathroom walls. This week however, was a very different story. Proper construction. Just River and I. And I tell you, it feels fantastic to have finally finished the roof, our first task on the 14 week plan to restore Moses before Christmas.

We had a few hurdles to overcome. First was finding a good supplier of wood and fixing it to the eucalyptus beams. Second, finding roof felt and fixing it to the wooden ceiling. And third buying all the tools we need to do so now and for the next few months ahead. At the weekend we found a great lumber yard on the road to Serta who delivered some tongue and groove pine, which we lumbered all the way to the bottom of the land in readiness to put on on Monday. However it was the wrong type, too slim, and wouldn’t have been strong enough for the tiles on top. So we lumbered it all back up the hill and returned to the sawmill to ensure they delivered the right type, which they did, the same day. Of course we then had to carry the new, heavier wood, on our shoulders, down the hill one more time. This work is definitely growing muscles we didn’t know we had.

What a pair of roofers we are....

Michelle told us about a local place in Estreito that sold a type of roofing felt called Underline. A bit more pricey than the ordinary stuff but the ease of using it with its ‘simple to lay tiles on top’ ridges is definitely worth it. Reusing the original old tiles that Von had carefully removed while my parents were here at the beginning of September, was a most satisfying job. They now no longer make tiles the way they used to. These old clay ones, are all unique. Each one has a slightly different pattern of moss grown over the years but more interestingly has a different curve and shape too. This is cos they were formed around people’s thighs before being kilned. Some are wide and short (made by the thighs of smaller fatter Portuguese) and some are narrow and long (taller skinnier ones). Quite incredible really and it kind of connects you, handling and laying each tile, to another time, another way of living, another world. As a result, the finished roof has so much more innate character than one we could have built with sparkly new uniform tiles. It’s old, it’s gorgeous and we absolutely love it.

Yesterday, we started rendering the bathroom walls too. We tried a mix suggested in the Building Green book, which is 3 parts sand, to one part hydraulic lime, to half part straw. The straw is shredded by sucking it back through an ordinary garden leaf blower and is soaked in water before adding to the mix, so that the lime can extract the water from the straw helping to prevent cracking when it sets on the wall. We’ll see how it turns out but it was a lot of fun plastering our first wall together beneath the beautiful pine boarded, eucalyptus beamed roof we’d just put on.

So today, with a new roof and 2 walls half rendered with just one coat of natural plaster, I feel that everything is possible. To be honest at the beginning of the week I was emotionally fluctuating between a deep contentment in what is already here now and a blind overwhelming panic at the immensity of all the work in front of us. Yeah the journey is more important than the destination and all that, but sometimes the distance to the destination can affect the way you feel about the journey. But you can only do what is in front of you to do. One step at a time. Yes we have many steps to take, but it is still possible to see each one, individually, as splendid in its own right. That’s how it is today with our first roof built with mud, slate, trees, straw and tiles from the land and a little sand, lime, felt and wood bought from round the corner.

On the road to Oleiros last night for a celebratory meal, we stopped the car, got out and took a moment to enjoy this exquisite sunset over the surrounding mountains and valleys. What a life this is. We only get one shot at it, and we’re making the very most of it. Yeah baby.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Back to School!

The new season of Autumn has started for real this week. The kids have gone back to school. And they love it. Proper love it. Josh is in year 6, the year he missed when we were on the Poop in Europe tour, so he can learn everything he already knows but this time in Portuguese. In year 7 they will have to study 16 subjects so we thought it best to ease him in gently to a new system and a new language. There are only 11 other children in his class, five older five younger, yet although so few pupils, they still have classroom assistants. You gotta love it here! Eli is in year 4 which is based in another building in the school and is the last year of the younger age groups, so she's a big fish in a little pond. Day 1 she was voted vice president of the class by the other 18 kids in it. They've both settled in nicely and are keen to learn as much as they can. One of our hopes for their 18 months of home schooling on our various adventures was to instil in them a desire to learn for learning sake. Not just to pass tests or to pass through the school system but to enjoy the process of learning. So it's been such a joy to see them both bouncing off to school at 8am and still bouncing when they return on the minibus at 6.30pm relishing the chance to discover more about the world.

Hi ho, hi ho, its off to school we go....

We had a terrific time with Grandma and Papops, my mum and dad, while they we here on holiday. As did Josh and Eli who stayed with them for a week in a log cabin at the campismo de Oleiros. They flew back last Thursday from Lisbon looking much the healthier for 10 days in the Portuguese sunshine. Came back soon guys. And on Friday we took a trip to Coimbra to buy clothes and loads of school stuff. On Saturday we all went down to Albegaria, a little village an hour north of Lisbon where a South African and Portuguese couple, Sandy and Fatima, have made a piece of heaven on earth. A cricket field. Josh and I played and Von and Eli devotedly watched! But it was worth the trip cos Josh took his first wicket in men's cricket. Then another. And then a third. A truly momentous occasion and a fab boost to his confidence the weekend before going back to school. No picies to show but we do have a wee film clip of the cafe there that serves the best ham and cheese toasted sandwiches in the world!

The cafe in the famous cricketing village of Albegaria...

Last thing to say is that "Jerry" has returned to the UK to see her mum and dad. Before she left we all had a rethink on how the renovation work is progressing at Bacelo and Moses. "Tom" really needs to focus his energy on Bacelo so Von and I will be renovating our houses and creating the gardens by ourselves from here on in. We have appreciated their support on the work at Moses since July, especially the belief they've given us that we can do this. Our first goal is to get the house called Moses ready for moving in before Christmas. We have a project plan to that effect and the first few days working together have been really sweet. Sieving the clay we took from the first 2 houses (called Cabeco) earlier in the year and mixing in water with our feet (well Von's feet actually cos I chickened out), then setting in slate with it on top of the walls. It's the way all the stone houses were built in this region years ago and it feels great to be using only the materials we have on the land to kick off the building phase after 2.5 months of demolition. The bathroom roof should be complete by Friday and we'll show you the evidence next week. For now just a short clip to show Von's gorgeous muddy feet in action.

Mud, glorious mud...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Have you seen these grapes…? by River

Here I am finally having a quiet day, the first one in months. I am sitting cross legged at my little table listening to Jazz vocals, at the moment Stormy Weather by Sarah Vaughan is flowing into my body via my ears. It’s a beautiful evening the earth is mellow and comfortable after the first substantial rains in over two months. The air is at its cleanest, sweetest smelling of pine needles, heather and the incomparable smell of autumn ripening fruit. The season at the moment is grapes. Everywhere you look they are hanging hedonistically from voluptuous vines and you find yourself irresistibly drawn to nibbling one or two.

Pergolas of grapes have featured highly in the highlights of this Summer season for me.

It was under a pergola that I sat one day in the village of my dear friend Shanti B and watched the most fantastic (in the truest sense of the word) array of people walking to the last night of a summer fiesta that she and her crew had arranged with the local mayor.

First came her beautiful sister and her twin boys. It was amazing to spend time with her. She was so full of light and laughter it was infectious. It was really odd to meet someone who smiled like Shanti, had the same mannerisms and the same nature, predisposed to joy.

After her came a few rainbow people one of whom was my teacher for the afternoon (I always meet one at Shanti´s and was waiting for him), Jaia my love I am still unpacking that conversation but what I took away from you was to try to remain as natural as possible and move forward as far as I could in love.

Next came the traditional Portuguese dancers with their black or deep red frocks and white pinafores with white head dresses. I had an interesting experience with them when I needed to spend a penny, pee that is. I went into the ladies and there they all were men and women getting tied up in the last of their outfits. There was a great deal of encouragement to pee in front of them with just a half wall dividing us but that was just too much for me, so off to a more private bush I went.

After them came the Rainbow festival clan, in all their beautiful colours, floaty dresses and MC Hammer trousers. With wild, hair, bare feet and dirty angels faces. The light seemed to shine brighter around their combined energy.

After the Rainbow clan came the sound of drummers, Portuguese rather than African. Down the street came this loud, base chakra vibrating sound, played out by stocky strong shouting men. Followed by some of the villagers and the little kids. It was a very heart warming scene.

As if that wasn’t enough there came a sexy young woman, wild haired, brown and doe eyed on a donkey!

There I sat under the pergola eating grapes hanging perfectly within reach and prepared for a fabulous evening and that it was. Thanks Shanti.

It was under a pergola that I realised that things weren’t really working out for Michelle and the rest of us here and I let go of trying to make things work and allowed the winds of change to have their will. It’s been hard that process, and I have felt quite shaken by it but…

Another highlight of the summer had been having our friends Caroline and Jon and their beautiful girls Maya and Violet with us. We have missed them greatly and it was a joy to have that time together, singing, dancing, philosophysing and just generally enjoying being together. And it was sitting under a pergola of grapes that I realised that time was precious and it was good that we shared so much of it together as it would be sometime before life would give us that time again.

We spent the most youthful long weekend in Sao Pedro de Moel with our dear friend Rachel. We laughed, drank too much wine. We walked around on the coast until 7am. And just generally relaxed. We spent time with a woman I am now calling the Goddess of the Lighthouse who taught me an exercise that I hadn’t consciously tried before and I am now using it. It’s well powerful stuff but in order to know about it you’ll have to come to Zion and talk to the Goddess of the Lighthouse herself. We all left saying we love Sao Pedro de Moel and will be going again next year by the grace.

One other highlight worth mentioning was the annual Summer fiesta of Oleiros. Great fun, like Christmas on a summer’s evening. Dancing and watching Sunshine dance in the early hours of the morning had to be the highlight of that experience.

Now Papops and Dr. Mops are here, Andy’s Mum and Dad. The kids have abandoned us for the weekend, but I think they really are sick of us and are so very excited to have their grandparents in their new town. It’s lovely to see.

It’s been unusual having so many people descend on me in my life. Sometimes people are giving to you and sometimes they are taking. It’s not easy for me and I have been showing signs of wear and tear; the main one being a loss of confidence. I have found myself questioning for the first time whether I am doing the right thing. The undertaking here is mammoth I know but when so many people tell you how brave you are to take on so much work, it has the opposite effect on me because I am not brave or spectacular or special in anyway nor am I equipped for this task. Yet what I do know is that when I am working here taking off roof tiles or removing a pile of rocks, I know that I am working for my life for the life of my family and hopefully for the life of some of my friends. I am no great yoga master or gardener or artist or anything that would equip me for a life such as this. I am an ordinary woman being given the extraordinary opportunity to start again from scratch but having a little wisdom of age. I remember that it’s called Moses. So when the giants of doubt and fear come to catch up with me as they have been doing this month I try to remember this biblical story big daddy Memphis told me recently of when Joshua and Caleb came back from spying for the tribes of Israel and responded to the tales of fear and woe told by the other spies with this. “Don’t worry about those big men and their armies, look at the size of these grapes boys!!”

And I remember that that is my divine mission in life. To rejoice in the fruits of life and let the joys of a fruitful life cast out all fear and doubt and to keep flowing like a River. This evening I am flowing eating a bowl full of grapes that Memphis just brought home after spending a few hours with one of our older neighbours. And I am no longer sitting under the grapevine I am sitting in the evening sunlight gorging myself on the fruits of this life.