My perfect day

Warm autumn days are perfect for family walks - no need for jumpers or sunhats.

Sunny, warm autumn days are perfect for family outings.

Collecting acorns with Papi.

Collecting acorns with Papi.

The other night I was at the Taller de Habilidades Sociales para Padres – a local parents’ group run by a psychologist where we vent our frustrations, fears and anxieties about raising children.

One of the recent exercises was asking your partner (another parent in the group, or your other half at home) to “interview” you about what you think your most important skills are – self-esteem is a big part of this series of sessions. I am hopeless at these things, as they always make me think more about what I want/would like/hope to do, rather than what I can/already do. “I wish I was more xxxx”, “Why can’t I be more yyyy”, and so on.

All this day-dreaming got me thinking about how my perfect day would be, and I thought it seemed like a fun idea for a spontaneous blog post – rather than the anally over-planned ones I normally produce.

My ideal day would go something like this:

Weekday: Get up when the alarm goes off (rather than hitting the snooze button seven times and getting up stupidly late); shower, wash and blow-dry hair before husband, so there’s enough hot water; get dressed and prepare fresh, delicious, healthy snacks for school rather than the standard dinosaur biscuits. Children are already awake and pleasant-tempered. They get dressed in suggested clothes (three-year-old must dress herself, to astonishment of other mothers at swim class), or choose their own, without objecting vociferously to lack of favourite pants/socks/dress/T-shirt etc, or insisting on princess/fairy outfit/bikini/sandals. They eat breakfast provided without rejecting, spilling or knocking over anything; brush teeth unassisted, find and put on coat/gloves/scarf/hat, each remembers to pick up their bag and any extra items needed for today, get in car. At no point do I get impatient, lose my temper or shout.

While they’re at school, I do the usual food shopping, house cleaning, clothes washing, work at the computer, receiving emails accepting my pitches for articles and offering well-paid, interesting work for prestigious publication(s) with reasonable deadlines, with no hours wasted faffing about on Social Media; perhaps have a coffee with a friend, who tells me about an amazing new potential client.

I'm all for artistic and sartorial self-expression, just not before school.

I’m all for artistic and sartorial self-expression, just not before school.

Collect children, take to activities, park, birthday parties. Older child does homework without need for prompting, chiding or removal of distracting toys (explaining and helping are acceptable). The two children play nicely together, doing creative, constructive play – building, drawing, dressing up. Their father takes part too (now we’re solidly into the realms of fantasy).

The Knights of Flores.

The Knights of Flores – I adore Lola’s princess/lady-knight set, complete with scabbard.

Make healthy dinner – featuring our own home-grow veg* and other local, organic ingredients – which is eaten in its entirety and praised roundly. Older child reads story (in English) fluently to younger child. They have their baths amicably, clean teeth unaided and go to bed when asked first time.

Getting dirty is entirely acceptable, to the utter bemusement of Spanish mothers.

Getting dirty is entirely acceptable, to the utter bemusement of Spanish mothers.

Weekend: Children sleep in till 10am, then get into parental bed for stories and games. Husband makes breakfast for everyone, having already been out to get the papers – scrambled eggs on toast, fresh orange juice, cereal, hot chocolate (there’s a first time for everything). We go for a long family walk in mild sunshine with dog (woods, beach, hills). Identify plants, trees, flowers, animals; learn about history, nature, animals. Father teaches children about local crafts, environment, which berries they can eat (as in the lean Franco years), how to weave esparto grass etc. Getting messy, jumping in muddly puddles and splashing in streams all to be encouraged (waterproof suits, wellington boots and change of clothes advisable). Everyone has a roaringly good time.

Walking the dog is one of Lola's favourite occupations.

Walking the dog is one of Lola’s favourite occupations.


Post-prandial rest.

Post-prandial rest.

Have picnic in bucolic spot with healthy, tasty, home-made food, which children eat in its entirety without complaining or requesting alternatives. Then everyone has a siesta in the shade. Go home (with no squabbling on the back seat), play in garden, have dinner outside (barbeque if it’s warm enough), bath and bed as above. Remember to ask them what the best bit was, what we’ve learned.

Husband and I share a bottle of wine and mull over our lives. It’s been a screen-free experience: no TV whatsoever, for anyone, at any point; and I don’t look at my beloved but dangerously addictive iPhone or computer once. An active, fun, outdoor family – finished off with a decent dash of alcohol.

What’s your perfect day like?


*Our huerta (kitchen garden) is currently a work in progress – we’re still at seedling stage. Watch this space.

How green is your posada?

view of posada from gardenYou may remember that a few months ago we had a short (overnight) visit to a small hilltown in Cadiz – Cortes de la Frontera. We stayed in a cosy little town house, and went for some excellent family walks, which took us close to nature and also to local industry – cork oak trees.

Recently, we had another Saturday night away – on this occasion, we stayed closer to home and went to Alajar, a small pueblo near Aracena. This town is to the north-west of Seville, in Huelva province, about 45 minutes’ drive away. I love the journey with its rolling hills dotted with trees – long, meandering dry-stone walls, fields with clumps of grey rocks reminiscent of those seen on Scottish hillsides, black bulls and pigs roaming happily, ignorant of the fate that awaits them, either in the bullring, or on the chopping block. (Sorry, veggie alert: I don’t do jamon, but I’ll have to mention that the area is famous for its pata negra).

We headed into Aracena town centre, past the famous pedestrianised street full of restaurants, with the little stream running down the middle, which leads to the caves, turned left and headed up towards Alajar. This town, as well as its ham, is also famous for its cork, with one bar, El Corcho, decorated entirely with the stuff.

posada facade

The place where we stayed in Alajar was a guesthouse called the Posada de San Marcos, a refurbished 19th-century village house. But this is no ordinary posada – the owners, Lucy (English) and Angel (Spanish) have installed a ground-source heat pump system, which consists of four bore holes going 140 metres down into the earth, from where the heat is pumped up. The system provides heating, cooling and hot water, making the posada exceptionally environmentally friendly – and it has other eco features, which I’ll explain later rather swamping you with green geek stuff.

The view from the bedrooms is a simple and glorious one – terrace, garden, pool, densely-tree-covered slope. Even better, there’s a trampoline, a sight guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of any child.
garden pool

After our now-customary picnic lunch, we headed off for a family ramble, leaving the town over a beautiful old stone bridge and following a sendero (footpath, or hiking trail if you want to be posh) called Ribera de Alajar. This cobbled path wound between more of those fabulous old stone walls, looking out over woodlands, and with winter afternoon sunshine gently dappling the cobblestones.

shady path

All this was made even more perfect by the presence of both pigs and donkeys. Very friendly, they came up to the fence to greet us – the pigs were snorting and running excitedly, and sounded convincingly like Peppa Pig, to my daughter’s delight.

My daughter was smitten with one of the donkeys, and wanted to take it home with her in the car.

After such an event-filled afternoon walk, children need rapid refuelling, so I provided rice cakes. But by the time the restaurant which we were recommended opened (9.45pm), one child was away with the fairies, tucked up under a blanket in the pushchair, and the other went the same way half way through my delicious but somewhat pricey pistou.

We relished our cosy table by the open fire of El Padrino, not having our own chimenea at home. Like many local restaurants, this place has its own pigs, and its speciality dish, obviously, is pork: presa with a garnish of… jamon. (First-rate, I was assured by my carnivore husband.)

Back at the posada, the rooms were toasty warm, thanks to underfloor heating provided by the aforementioned innovative eco-friendly system. In the bedrooms, flatscreen TVs are hung on the wall next to Angel’s photos of local scenes. As well as taking up no space, they are high up enough to be out of reach of small, smeary fingers (our TV at home is regularly doodled on, thanks to its resemblance to a large board placed at ideal child height).

So with dinner-less children, it was a good thing that breakfast was of the slap-up variety: as well as cereal, we had walnuts from a friend’s orchard, locally made organic wholemeal bread from another friend’s bakery, Lucy’s home-made lemon marmalade and meat spreads (yes, you guessed it – of the piggy variety), and organic honey made by yet another friend – this is a small pueblo and by staying here, you’re helping to support several families.

A new Mercadona supermarket up the road in Aracena is threatening local businesses, Lucy and Angel told us, as is happening across much of rural Andalucia. So her message is buy local – she can tell you where to buy the delicious honey she serves, and where to see a secadero, where the ham is hung to dry.

The posada was (re)built using local cork and sheep’s wool as insulation, and rainwater is collected and used for loo flushes and watering the garden; old doors, beams and tiles from the pre-refurbishment house have been restored and reused – impressive, since it was a wreck when they bought it. Each room is furnished with a quirky, eclectic mix of English antiques and reconditioned local pieces, often rescued from people’s attics – now that’s what I call recycling. Not a hint of IKEA in the place – how refreshing.

This area is very popular with senderistas (hikers), and is criss-crossed with hiking routes. Lucy and Angel have a number of walking maps and guides, as well as their own notes which you can borrow. Being more of the gentle stroll persuasion, we didn’t sample them, but an English couple staying at the posada reported that they were useful and accurate.

This is a great place to go for a hill-town weekend escape – a cosy hostel with a strong eco-edge, home-cooked food (Lucy serves dinner in the posada – meals outside on the terrace when weather permits – and afternoon cakes in their other guest house, Posada de Alajar, just off the main square, on weekends), unspoiled countryside on your doorstep, and pigs galore – in the field and on the plate; live, dried and fried.

My favourite aspect: the wonderfully warm rooms – bliss for those used to a draughty casa de campo with icy-cold marble floor. (Note to self: knock down house and build new one with cork insulation and underfloor heating, then throw away furry slippers, fan heaters and gas-filled radiators.)