Posts Tagged ‘garden’

If I thought for one minute that things would be back to ‘normal’ when we came back to England, how completely deluded I was.

I suppose, it depends on your definition of ‘normal’, but ours (well, mine) was working from home, kids at school, same old same old just with fewer sunshine and beer breaks (booooo!)

I guess I was partly right.
I was also dead wrong!

After a shaky start with Jake in (or not in) school, we settled into something that works for us for now. Jake does 2 hours (ish!) of Maths in the morning and then 2 hours currently learning coding or 3D design in the afternoon. He’s signed up to a great Maths website that he seems to be getting on with OK (after trialling several) and he’s working his way to starting GCSE Maths study, alongside English next year or soon after.

Exams weren’t in our initial plan, but then Jake decided he wants to do plumbing. That’s all well and good but he’s going to need him some GCSE Maths and English passes to get into college and so that’s what we’re working towards now. Whether it’ll be next summer or after that, I don’t know, but it’s a target and, much more importantly, an ambition. That’s quite huge for us actually. It’s certainly not even in the ballpark of what we’d have expected Jake to show an interest in, but hey, world needs plumbers!

So we have a sort of plan for Jake. That’s good.

And so on to Eliot.

He settled in well at school. He’s a social sort and made plenty of friends. And that’s all well and good but… it’s difficult to know how to get down how things went in my head but I think it boiled down to two words: Parents’ Evening.

Eliot was excited for us to come and especially so because the first teacher we were seeing was the dance teacher and he was loving dance, having been asked to join the lunchtime dance group. So we trotted along to see her and that’s about where it all started to unravel. The one thing she had to say, which seemed to take up her EVERY last word about Eliot and dance, was homework.

I mean, honestly. Homework??
Now, I have a beef with homework at the best of times, but seriously? In Dance class?

I expected to hear the same from every teacher but didn’t really. Lots of how Eliot is a ‘very sociable and popular child’ but he ‘needs to focus more’, is ‘very easily distracted’ and should ‘concentrate in class’ and blah blah blah yada yada.

Quite honestly, what they want is for Eliot not to be Eliot but to be some good little worker bee to line up with the rest of the hive and enable them to churn out one more obedient sheep at the end of year 11.

No. Thank. You!

Eliot has never been the best in school. Anyone who knows him will know this, but he’s not stupid. Not by a long shot, and school was making him seem that way. It made him feel incapable and dumb and, coupled with the fact that he was so very clearly 4 years behind in the important parts of Maths and English from being in Portuguese school, it didn’t bode well for the long-term.

He may not be academically gifted but the boy is clever and he needs to see it. We needed to get back to basics and school wasn’t doing it.

My brain coped with about one more week of school and then it spontaneously combusted and, after a long heart to heart with Eliot (who was very mature in his reasoning for staying in school as well as being out of it) we de-registered him too.

It’s been a rocky start but we now have some sort of thing going. We found an absolutely awesomely fantastic maths website called Maths Whizz which is perfect for Eliot. It assesses as it goes and has been brilliant at filling in some really fundamental gaps in his knowledge. We’ve lots more to do but the fact that I’m even managing to get him to do an hour each morning on it during school half term speaks for itself!

It’s quite ingenious really.

If I could find an equivalent site for English, that’d be even better! Currently, we’ve worked on Nouns and used the free Grammaropolis Nouns section as an aid. It was a bit of fun but rather too childish really. Not quite what we’re looking for and I’m undecided whether we’ll pay to use the rest of the site. It worked, I suppose, but I’m still looking.

Meantime we’re still bouncing back to nouns every once in a while and I’m tackling his spelling (which is , quite honestly, atrocious. Partly due to not being educated in English for 5 years and partly due to the only reading/writing he had done in that time being picked up from chatting online: definitely NOT the place to learn!)

So anyway, it’s an hour of Maths, 15 minute break and 30-45 mins of English each morning – the important academic stuff – and a less structured couple of hours in the afternoon doing science or something more fun! He’s doing well with it so far and I’ve been amazed at how quickly he’s responding to learning this way. I can see huge progress already and, perhaps as importantly, HE can see real progress and achievement. It’s measurable in his Maths and it’s lovely to see.

That’s huge too.

So, I’m juggling my days with helping Eliot in the mornings and fitting work in before that, during the boys’ lunch break and after 3 when they’re both finished. It’s tricky sometimes but it’s working and it’s definitely beneficial.

What else?

That’s all so big that not a lot else has gone on really. Nik went back to Portugal for a week for the Jerez MotoGP (the git – we all went last year) and I had a very long weekend away at Wendy’s when we both went to Nottingham for 3 days to see John Barrowman Live. It was great!

See how close we were?! Second row!

We ate lots, drank lots and loved the show! Music was great and John is a great entertainer (and very, very funny!)

It was a fab weekend!

Oh, other news. We’re having solar panels fitted to the house. Slight irony really that we’re having them fitted here after living nearly 5 years in a country with a zillion hours more sun, but we were looking at financially viable ways to provide us with more economical power and this is the first step.

Our oil central heating (we’re off mains gas here) is not cheap to run. We went through 500 litres of oil (about £350-400) in less than 6 weeks when we first moved back in and that was with the heating on 6-10am and 6-10.30 pm. So we were STILL freezing in the office all day! We had to bump the heating down to 2 hours morning and evening instead (did that while it was still cold: mid March, I think) and so now we’re even colder in the office all day but we’re not using so much oil. We’re hoping that, with the solar PV panels, we can run any excess into a storage heater for the office (usual approach is to run it to the immersion, and we may or may not use that option instead) but either way the money we save/earn on electric, we can use towards our oil.

We’ve gone with WeRSolarUK by personal recommendation. We noticed that one of our nearby neighbours had panels fitted (last summer) and he’s said the benefits have been very good. He recommended the company and, even though we did shop around and get another local quote, we were certainly impressed with what WeRSolarUK could offer for the money. I’ll report back with an update at a later date!

We’re also looking at getting out oil boiler replaced with a more efficient one and sorting out our whole hot water system which is horribly inefficient at present.

It’s all a work in progress but it should result in a nicer, warmer workplace without increase in overall cost beyond our initial loan payback. We’ve borrowed over 4 years, but the system should pay for itself in around 6-7 (based on our home in particular) and carries on paying out from the Feed-in-Tariff for 20 years in total giving an overall return on investment of a considerable amount higher than having it sat in the bank!

It’s been a big step for us: borrowing from the bank. Mortgages aside, it isn’t something we’ve ever done. We’ve never had a personal loan as a couple (Nik had one before we met) so it’s been actually quite nice to know that we’re still credit-worthy!

We’ve been spending some time working on the garden here too now that the weather has improved. We had a huge (approx 70ft) Christmas Tree removed that had been in the garden for over 40 years and was causing a nuisance both our side of the boundary and next door. The needles made the garden a mess and the thing was enormous! We got it cut down and spent some considerable time clearing away branches and needles.

Under the tree : Before

You can see how big the job was! The debris filled the garden!

Oh the needles. We have gravel directly beneath where the tree stood and 10 years of needles (since we put the gravel down) had fallen in amongst the stone, making it squashy, dirty and grow weeds! (in the needle mulch itself)

After the tree and branches had all been cleared from the garden (luckily, our garden is very long itself), we set to sieving the gravel. We sieved about 10 square meters of gravel and it’s so much better now. We certainly cleared a LOT of needles! I’d guess about 6-8 big green garden wheelie bins worth! Back-breaking and time-consuming work but it looks SO much better for it.

While the tree itself didn’t shade us from the sun (it did next door though!), it did, of course, cast shadow and significantly obscure the skyline. The difference now it’s gone is amazing! The garden feels even bigger and lighter and much less claustrophobic for having it gone.

Now we’ve got that sorted, we’ve replaced the shed (building new one afforded us both the opportunity to get sunburnt on Saturday!)  and just need to clear the old one and shift the greenhouse off the decking and into its final place next to the new shed.

It’s getting there.

Anyways, that’s probably enough waffle for now.

Suffice to stay we’re still here, and we’re hoping for many more sunshiny days like Saturday!


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It occurred to me that it’s been a while since I posted our initial “balcony garden” photos and I’ve not updated since. Shame on me!

The garden (I’ll continue to call it just that) has been looking great lately. The mixture of warmth, sunshine and rain (yes, in Portugal, we’ve had rain for our gardens!) has been brilliant for it and it’s all leafy, green and flourishing.

Balcony Garden 3rd May 2011

Before we went camping, we invested a bit of time (and money!) preparing the garden for self-watering while we’re away. It had a trial run during our camping trip and worked really well so it’ll be ideal for our England trip in July when it really will need the watering!
This is what we bought. Gardena Holiday Watering Kit (didn’t pay that much for it though!)

The lemon tree’s flowers died down and have started to turn into little baby lemons awwwww! There are new flowers starting too so we should get a good stagger of fruit.

Lemon tree flowers dying down ready for fruiting

Lemon tree flowers dying down ready for fruiting

The orange tree was, I think, very recently pruned when we bought it so it has had a lot of catching up to do in comparison to the lemon tree.
However, it has been showing lots of fresh growth and its very recent buds have just started to open. The smell is heavenly!

Blossoming orange flowers with a fabulous scent

Just a little further along from our trees are our vegetables. 3 sacks of potatoes and 2 carrots sacks.

The potatoes seem to grow at an amazing rate.  Eliot loves examining them every day and they do look impressive. I can’t wait to see these festooned with flowers!

3 sacks of potato plants

The carrots have certainly struggle a little more. One sack is doing fairly well (although I must thin it out a bit. It was planted from a seed strip so doesn’t need a huge amount of thinning but I think it does need a little bit of attention) but the other sack has struggled. It’s possible that, in the early seed life, it has been overwatered (or underwatered?) as the sacks aren’t as good as the potato ones, in my opinion.
I might buy a second pack of seeds and plant a few more.

The carrots

In addition to carrots, one of these sacks has a handful of green bean seeds. The first planted ones of these did not germinate at all so I planted another half a dozen about 10 days ago. 2 of these have now sprouted and are growing rapidly, which is great to see (although not visible in these photos. Will take a pic of them in the next update)

All in all, I’m quite pleased with how the garden is doing. In England, we were lucky enough to have a big house with an even bigger garden in which we had a nice large vegetable plot. It’s nice to recreate a bit of that home-grown loveliness here in Portugal, even without the ‘proper’ garden 🙂

Who needs a garden when you have wraparound balconies, eh?

One last pic, just for fun. The balcony our garden is on is actually Eliot’s balcony so he takes great pride in it. Can you tell?

Eliot in his balcony garden

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It’s officially spring! Not that anyone living in the Algarve needs any reminding, of course.

We’ve been making changes here. Some big, some small but definitely significant ones. All signs that we’re here to stay.

Firstly, on Friday afternoon, Nik and I took a drive out to find a new car. Our current car has been great but it just doesn’t fulfil all our needs. We want to get into our camping again, now that the weather is improving so nicely, and for that we need a bigger car. Our little 1.4 Renault Megane just isn’t going to pull our camping trailer!

In addition to this, we really wanted a 7 seater. Being able to fit all the family plus guests in would be a huge bonus for us and, when we don’t have guests, the rear 2 seats can be removed and it gives us extra space for camping gear so we can do shorter trips (weekends, for example) and just fill the car to the roof instead of using the trailer.

Our rather old new car! (VW Sharan)


It is a bit scary to think that we probably just spent the most we’ve ever spent on a car and, at the same time, bought the oldest car we’ve ever bought!

Have you ever looked for a 7 seater in Portugal? Boy, they are expensive! We had a menial budget really but have managed to find one. It’s no spring chicken by any stretch of the imagination but it’s in average condition for its age and it certainly ticked all our boxes. We’re collecting it Wednesday/Thursday (depends when the funds hit our PT bank so we can withdraw the cash) and we’re quite excited. It’s like the start of a new era for us. Just need to get the Megane sold now! Anyone looking for a cheap** car in the Algarve? 😀

**cheap is a very subjective term here where cars are concerned!

In keeping with our new era theme, we’ve also sorted ourselves a garden! Well, not exactly a garden because we live in a 1st floor apartment but, with all round balconies, we have plenty of space to create one of sorts. Eliot’s bedroom balcony is the largest and not used much, except for laundry in the summer, so we chose to use that one for the garden. It’d be nice to have some plants on the main, living room/master bedroom, balcony but it’s usually full with our table, BBQ and chairs so we’ve put everything on Eliot’s for now.

In the UK, we grew a fair bit in our big garden and we really wanted to get back to that so, a few months ago we purchased (thank you, Amazon) planting sacks for potatoes and carrots. Aware that the weather is favourable for much earlier planting in the Algarve, while we were out car hunting, we nipped into a garden centre to have a look. Well, looking was the plan. Then, about an hour later, we exited with an orange tree, a lemon tree and several huge bags of compost for the planting bags! Now our balcony looks great!

We have our trees up at one end

Our Orange Tree (left) and Lemon Tree

And, down the length of the balcony, we have our planting bags. The 3 large black ones have potatoes in, and the orange ones are our carrot planters. We also have a row of green beans along the back of the carrot sacks (we’ll be putting up netting to fix these to in time)

Carrot and potato sacks

Luckily, this layout still leaves me plenty of room for washing to hang at the end too. Good result all round. The only downside is that Eliot is keeping a very close eye on everything and we’re just hoping he won’t decide everything is ready to pick the minute a shoot grows!

In other news, Jake had a very independent day on Saturday. Around midday, one of his school friends, Daniel, called round so Jake could go to his house. Daniel lives in Odiáxere which is about 15-20 minutes away on the bus (about 5-10 minutes in the car, mind you!) It was Daniel’s sister’s 6th birthday party in the afternoon so Jake went with Daniel on the bus back to his house and stayed for the party. He arrived back home at about 6.30pm, having caught the bus back from Odiáxere to Lagos, on his own. No mean feat for an 11-year-old really. His first time ever on a bus on his own, let alone here in Portugal. He’s growing up so fast!

He did miss our impromptu BBQ for Saturday tea, mind you! It’s been a beautiful weekend (daytime highs of about 30C. 40C on our suntrap balcony, resulting in a little sunburn on Sunday!) and we did make a last-minute decision to BBQ on Saturday. Just a few homemade burgers and some thin pork steaks. Perfect for the 3 of us with some bread rolls and salad.

Nik and his BBQ!

It’s definitely feeling spring-like here. Actually, as Brits, it feels more like summer!

I guess it offsets the expensive cars, eh?

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