Sunday, 5 July 2020

Down leafy paths

If it weren't for the green canopy of the birch tree across the street, the sight that greets me when I'm glancing out of my window today could very well be that of an Autumn day. With a leaden sky as a backdrop, the birch tree's branches are swaying like windscreen wipers at full speed, the blustery wind rustling its leaves. Intermittently, the wind is joined by showers. The raindrops pattering on the skylight behind me are enough to make me shiver and grab for my cardigan.

What a difference with a week ago on Friday! With the thermometer clocking a stifling 32°C, it was a question of un-layering rather than layering. First wearing of this handmade cotton maxi frock, an end-of-sales bargain at Think Twice at the tail end of last Summer.

With its flattering white on navy diagonal stripes and smattering of flower clusters featuring pops of fresh green, there was no need to add a belt. The length was just right for me as well: its original owner must have been as vertically challenged as me! 

I kept my accessories to a strict minimum, adding just a longer beaded necklace, repeating the blue and green and adding brown as an accent colour, and a large green butterfly brooch.

The weather forecast was looking quite dire for the day, promising torrential rain and possibly 3-centimeter hail stones for the afternoon. Not wanting to be caught out in such inclement weather, we made our weekly trip to the garden centre by mid-morning.

The quest was for some Pelargoniums or annual Geraniums to replace some of our patio plants which were doing poorly. The pink Dahlia which had been shining brightly on our kitchen window ledge turned out to be riddled with leaf miners. Then, one of the plants I'd knocked off the crate, and which initially seemed to be unharmed, wilted and died within a couple of days.

But unless I walk through the garden centre's greenhouses blindfolded, I cannot help but be seduced by plants which aren't on my shopping list.

I'd hardly walked in when I spotted pots of well-developed Astrantias (top left and bottom right). This perennial, commonly known as Masterwort, has long been a favourite of mine. The Dutch name for them is Zeeuws Knoopje (translated as Zeeland button), a reference to its resemblance to the collar stud buttons worn by farmers in traditional Zeeland costume.

Commonly, the plant bears white pincushion flowers, but I fell in love with a reddish pink variety when visiting Hadspen Gardens in Somerset - nowadays the grounds of a boutique hotel - back in 2001. The one I got is called 'Abbey Road' and although it isn't the 'Hadspen Blood' variety cultivated in Somerset, it bears a close enough resemblance.

I also succumbed to Physostegia virginiana 'Summer Snow' (top right) and a plant bearing fluffy, pink tinged spikes which apparantly is a a kind of Salvia.

We did buy Pelargoniums as well, of course, including a vibrant red one to replace the poort Dahlia. Their red flowers almost match the red Snapdragons which are now in their second flush.

Another addition to our garden is a plaque won by my paternal grandfather for his allotment back in the 1950s. It had been pining away on a shelf ever since we brought it home from my parents' house, until I thought it would probably feel more at home amid the plants in the garden.

Of course, the forecasted calamitous weather didn't make it to our part of the world, remaining close to the French border and creating havoc in Belgium's west country only. We only got a couple of lost raindrops by the end of the day.

Saturday morning and it was still hot and sticky with temperatures in the high twenties. The sun had been joined by some clouds with which she kept playing a game of tag. 

The sky darkened with a promise of rain, but then the sun got the upper hand again, so we took a chance and drove to the leafy park in the nearby town of Boom (the "oo" pronounced like the "oa" in roam) to stretch our weary limbs.

Another sleeveless cotton frock was worn for the occasion. Yet another Think Twice find, it has established itself as a firm hot weather favourite in previous Summers.

With its funky green, white, pink and orange pattern, it was a lucky € 4 find back in June 2017.

As always, I accessorized it with orange and pink. My Clarks sandals - bought on a hot day in Shropshire in June 2018 - were perfectly comfortable for walking, although not the best choice for a nature walk as sticks and stones had to be removed at regular intervals.

If the park we visited the other week was unkempt, this one was even more so, giving the impression of unbridled wilderness. 

I even managed to photograph a flower fairy who, judging from its sad little face, didn't seem too happy about being exposed.

The park has a natural playground, which had only just been re-opened after the Covid-19 restrictions. It's supposed to be for children up to 12 only, but as nobody else was around I couldn't resist trying the tree stump stepping stones.

Here's a look at my brooch, a pink raffia sunflower which emulates the flowers on my frock so well that it always seems to be the obvious companion.

Boom's triangular shaped town park is laid out along the banks of a meandering brook. It used to be part of a larger wood which was turned into a 27-hectare park back in 1925.

In the heart of the park, the brook ends in a couple of murky ponds. There's talk of a complete overhaul of the park, which will eventually involve cleaning the ponds and restoring them to their former glory.

In fact, restauration has already started at the town end of the park, where there's a series of ornamental, so-called French ponds surrounded by and decorated with stunning groups of sculptures. We wanted to walk all the way up, but as restauration is in full process, there was no access to this part of the park.

Opposite the park is a magnificent Art Deco school building built between 1926 and 1930, and which happens to be Jos's old school.

After catching a glimpse of the empty ponds over the hedge surrounding the domain, we made our way back to our starting point along the paths on the other side of the murky ponds and brook.

It was then that the first raindrops started to fall. Nevertheless, with the the park's leafy canopy acting as a giant umbrella, we still managed to eat the waffles we'd brought while sitting on a bench.

The temperature had dropped considerably by Sunday morning and the overnight rain had given our garden's long-suffering plants a good drenching.

As it was still far too wet to plant out our new acquisitions after breakfast, I decided to wait until the sun had warmed things up a bit. Instead, Jos and I divided the task of giving the ground floor rooms a thorough dusting between us.

The dress lucky enough to have got an outing that day was a a full-on floral one with the most delightful butterfly sleeves. The belt I cinched my waist with is the second one from my recent accessory shop splurge during lunch break. I find myself wearing this kind of elasticated belts a lot these days, so you can expect to see this one at regular intervals. Needless to say, it was the buckle which made me add it to my shopping basket.

Other accessories included a yellow beaded necklace and a big flower-encrusted vintage brooch.

Eventually, I did make it into the garden to allocate the new plants their rightful place into the borders.

Only just in time, it turned out, as the heavens rained down on us again soon afterwards.

And that, I'm afraid, would be our lot for the next week. A typical Belgian Summer!

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Hot days and heirlooms

Can you believe we've made it to July? I certainly can't, especially as I'm writing this on a grey and rainy day, which doesn't really match the date on the calendar.

In spite of the fact that we've been living in a kind of vacuum due to the pandemic putting our normal lives on hold and playing havoc with our routines, the months haven't exactly passed at a snail's pace.

On the contrary, whole chunks of time seem to have vanished into thin air, the weeks speeding by at an alarming rate.

In my last post I left you on Sunday before last, so here I am at the start of yet another whirlwind week.

I'm swiftly skipping Monday, which was a hectic office day, keeping me busy all through lunch break and leaving me exhausted by mid afternoon. Catching up on all those emails and having to deal with the inevitable problems while keeping up with my routine jobs isn't exactly a walk in the park.

But with my in-between Tuesday dangling like a carrot in front of me, I managed to make it to the end of the day.

With the mercury on the rise, it was a balmy morning we woke up to on Tuesday and, with all the cotton frocks I'd ironed on Sunday, it was like having a whole new wardrobe to choose from.

This 1970s handmade cotton dress came from Expo 58, a vintage shop in a town about an hour's drive from Dove Cottage. Selling everything from housewares and decoration to clothing and accessories, it is a delightful shop well worth a visit. The only thing keeping us from visiting it more often in normal circumstances is its relative distance from where we live.

The dress, with its frills at the sleeves and yoke, is a delight to wear on a warm Summer's day, and look how perfect the white piping on the sleeves and yoke are lined up!

The carved bangle (which is plastic and not Bakelite) and green bracelet were both charity shopped while the beaded necklace and the poodle brooch were retail buys. I can't remember where I got the necklace as I've had it for eons, but the brooch is from the same shop where I bought the owl brooch featured in my last post.

We had our fruit and yoghurt breakfast outside in the courtyard, then sat chatting and enjoying the garden with cups of coffee (Jos) and ginger and lemon tea (me).

You can see the honeysuckle in full bloom behind me, attracting bumblebees and hoverflies by the dozen. Our newly planted Agapanthus seems to be thriving too, and so does the dark pink Cosmos we got from the outside garden centre the other week.

Lush and green are the main words to describe our early Summer garden, the new mingling happily with the old. There's the rambling patch of wild strawberries (top left) and the lush foliage of the trailing geraniums which survived the winter (bottom left), where a beautiful moth, reminiscent of a withered autumn leaf, was resting for the day.

There's promise in the myriad of buds of Scabiosa 'Barocca' (top right) while our non-ribbiting frog is keeping watch over our Lilliput pond (bottom right).

There are yellows and oranges galore as well, including the first of the climbing Nasturtiums I sowed back at the end of April. I'd kind of given up hope they would ever flower ...

Coreopsis, Iceland poppies and Gazania, all providing little pockets of instant sunshine!

I pottered in the garden all morning, while Jos ran some errands, then we had an impromptu lunch of sandwiches with chunks of salami and English vintage Cheddar sitting in the shade right outside our back door. I jumped for joy when I discovered the Cheddar in the organic village shop, as our supermarket only stocks a rather bland variety.

Those are non-alcoholic beers, by the way, Affligem Blond 0,0% and the non-alcoholic version of Brugse Zot: just two of the vast selection available here.

After lunch, I decided to give the dresser in our dining room the once-over, taking the opportunity to rearrange a couple of things and show you some more of our treasures.

The dresser is a treasure in itself, an heirloom from Jos's grandparents. Originally a dark stained cherry wood, it was painted purple by Jos and his late ex-wife when they were first married in the late 1960s, and then stripped to its current bleached wood shade in the 1970s.

Look at those gorgeous details! 

The doily and button wall hanging was a handmade gift from my lovely friend Lynn.

A collection of pocket watches, most of them heirlooms from both sides of the family, is displayed in tiny tissue filled terracotta pots under a sturdy glass cloche.

The 1930s Art Deco style clock was a gift from my friend Inez and is still in perfect working and chiming order.

The wooden trinket dish on the bottom is a bit of an oddity. Picked up for € 0,50 in a charity shop a couple of years ago, it is hand-painted with the flags of the Allies of World War II. The other side bears the inscription Aandenken der Bevrijding, which translates as Memento of the Liberation.

I thought it rather sad that an object of such poignancy and historical value had ended up in the charity shop, so naturally it had to come home with us.

The two antique letter balances were UK antique market finds with several years between them. 

The rectangular glass disk (top left) caught my eye in a charity shop in Belgium's west country last September, while the medal it's holding, a souvenir from the 1958 World Fair in Brussels, was a flea market find. The small enamelled copper dish on the bottom left holds a lady's fob watch we found when we were clearing the parental home.

A collection of old black and white family photographs takes pride of place on the dresser.

The larger frame in the middle holds a photograph of Jos's parents. The smaller, Art Nouveau style ones contain my Great Aunt Josephine and her husband Joseph on the left, and my maternal grandparents on the right.

These two frames, including their photographs, came from the parental home as well, but used to live at my paternal grandparents's home before that. 

On the right is my paternal grandmother with her mother. Her father is in the photo on the left. This rather grumpy looking man in his bowler hat, posed in front of a greenhouse, used to be a gardener by profession. His name was Fonske, short for Alphonse, and this rare portrait of him was always treated with due respect, as we believe he is where I got my green fingers from! 

The mercury kept climbing in the direction of 30° Celsius on Wednesday and Thursday.

The latter's afternoon was spent with a trip to our car dealer, as we have been thinking of buying a new car. Apparently, now is the ideal time to do so, as crazy reductions are being offered to shift their unsold stock. To buy, or not to buy, that's a dilemma.

The dress I was wearing for the occasion is another 1970s handmade one. Its explosion of flowers is joined by pale yellow rickrack at the neckline and near the hem.

I wore a burnt orange beaded necklace, an ivory coloured squirrel brooch and my new belt with it.

Mission accomplished, we took these outfit photos in our garage, making use of the recently repainted "photo studio" for the first time. It was quite hot and sticky in there, so that fan certainly wasn't just for show!

We only ventured outside again when the sun had begun its descent toward the horizon and the heat trapped inside our garden walls had somewhat lessened.

With the last rays of the sun bathing our garden in a golden glow, it is time to say goodbye once more. But don't worry, I'll be back with new adventures in a couple of days.

Stay safe, positive and fabulous!

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Bubbling up

If working only a two-day week might have given me oodles of time, one thing that hasn't changed is that I'm still lagging behind with my blogging time-line. As a rule, I'm writing about what I did and wore a week or more ago, but where in pre-Corona times my posts were firmly centred around my weekends, almost inevitably including my charity shop and flea market finds, my musings now cover weekdays as well. In my life as it is now, there is little or no distinction between weekdays and weekends anyway.

My none-office days are usually well filled, and I have yet to come across a boring moment. All the same, at the end of a day I'm often left wondering where the time went and what I've actually done with it.

Take Friday before last, for instance. My photographic record tells me what I've been wearing and, as it was a Friday, it must have included a visit to the garden centre. The rest is a bit of a blank as once again I forgot to make a journal entry.

With no further rain clouds on the horizon, and the weather's cruise control set to default sunshine, I dug this green embroidered peasant-blouse from my drawer of Summer tops. With its short, scalloped trumpet sleeves, it is an absolute joy to wear. A sales bargain from New Look about two years ago, this certainly isn't its debut on the blog, as it has proved to be surprisingly versatile. Here's how I wore it in August 2018 and again later that month.  It also came on holiday with me in June 2019, when I wore it to visit Powys Castle.

The skirt I decided would be its companion this time around was a cotton retro print circle skirt I'd found in a charity shop back in December. The black and white necklace was charity shopped as well, while the multi-coloured bracelet was a flea market find.

The stretchy belt, with its funky triangular pattern and mock tortoiseshell buckle, on the other hand, is brand new. It's one of two belts I picked up from an accessories shop in Antwerp during a rare lunch break outing the other week. 

Let's have a closer look at hat skirt, which is something of an oddity.  In spite of the fact that a label has been sewn in, I am sure that the skirt is handmade and that the label is a personalized one. It's got a visible red side zipper and features random felt circles and visible stitching on the front left side only. An unfinished project, perhaps? Whatever the case, it's quirky and I love it. On the off-chance that whoever created this skirt ever reads my blog, I'd love to hear its story! 

Our shopping list for the garden centre that day included a bag of compost as well as some plants to replace the unfortunate Tagetes which the slugs and snails in our garden had stripped down to some sorry looking stalks and one or two droopy half-eaten flowers.

Being a self-confessed plant-o-holic, we bought more than we'd bargained for, but we did get some Pot Marigolds (Calendula) and trailing Wax Begonias, which research ensured me weren't on the slimy creatures' menu.

There were some perennials to add to the new border as well, and I couldn't resist a shorter stemmed variety of Agapanthus, some Ox-eye Daisies and a pot of pink Snapdragons.

I'm pleased to note that the other Snapdragons which are dotted all over the garden have started blooming again after I'd cut them back a couple of weeks ago.

Back at home, I removed the remains of the Tagetes and put them into the compost bin, planting the Calendula in the space they'd vacated in the border. The trailing Begonia replaced the single Tagete which I'd been foolish enough to put in a planter teamed with Echinacea and purple and cream striped Petunias. A week later, and there's still no sign of any slug or snail damage. However, as if to spite us, the gastropods - as apparently they're officially called - have now moved on to the Petunias. Oh dear! 

On Saturday, I took advantage of the morning's cooler temperature to add the perennials we'd bought to the new border, noting that the lavender flowered Clematis had opened its first blooms.

As we expected our first visitors since before our semi-lockdown, I then changed into something celebratory for the afternoon, opting to wear one of my maxis.

I promised Vix first dibs on it in case I should I ever get tired of it, but somehow I don't think that will ever happen.  It's a 1970s Indian cotton Ritu Kumar for Roshafi dress with a quilted bodice and the most massive sleeves and was a lucky find in a charity shop back in November 2018.

My accessories of choice were a multi-coloured wooden beaded necklace, which was another charity shop find. The lilac suede shoes were an old retail buy from C&A, while the pink owl brooch is modern and came from a delightful little shop in Antwerp.

Now that we are allowed to extend our bubbles, it was about time that we met up with our friends Inneke and Maurice. 

We kept our distance as much as possible (in Belgium, this has always been 1,5 meters rather than the 2 meters which seems to be the rule elsewhere), and obviously we didn't hug or shake hands, but Inneke and I couldn't resist having this happy photo taken while sitting on our garden bench surrounded by a riot of flowers.

The eagle-eyed might have noticed that both Inneke and I are wearing the same brooch. She loves owls - she even has a face mask with an owl print - and she'd admired my brooch when she spotted me wearing it on Instagram a couple of weeks back. With her birthday coming up, I walked to the shop where I'd bought it one day during lunch break, crossing my fingers that they would still be stocking these.

I had to queue outside for a while as only two people were allowed into the shop at once, but it was definitely worth the wait, as I managed to snag the last of the owl brooches!

Inneke came bearing a gift for me as well: a gorgeous scarf clip tucked away inside a crocheted lidded box.

A lovely afternoon was had by all, involving coffee and cake and the mother of all catch ups!

As is often the case, I was feeling a bit morose on Sunday, but I've learned to my advantage that once I start tackling a job on my to-do list, I soon start feeling better.

With a heatwave forecasted for the week ahead, I wanted to be prepared and have a choice of lightweight cotton clothes at my disposal.  As most of them were still residing inside a suitcase from which they emerged all crumpled and creased, there was nothing for it but to have a good old ironing session.

Meanwhile, Jos had picked all the ruby red gooseberries, a whole colander full of them, from which he proceeded to make no less than five pots of jam!

I'm leaving you for now with the outfit I wore that day. 

Again, the odd one out was the raffia stretch belt with its round multicoloured buckle, which was the only retail purchase in my outfit. The denim button through skirt and floral cotton/polyester mix shirt were from Think Twice, while the bracelets and the brooch were charity shop and flea market finds respectively. The Clarks slingbacks came from a charity shop in Bridgnorth which we visited in June 2019 and, finally, the yellow beaded necklace was another gift from Inneke.

And then another four-day weekend was over, having passed almost as fast as a two-day one.

With another week in my so-called "new normal" coming up, all that's left is for me to bid you goodbye for now. Please do stay safe and positive, my friends!

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Leaps and bounds

Given the circumstances, life has been coming along just fine lately, rising and falling in the gentlest of undulations. The future may be one big question mark, but as long as I keep taking things day by day, and keep finding pleasure in the little things, I seem to be coping pretty well and taking the unavoidable little ups and downs in my stride.

It was on Monday before last that our single Oriental poppy finally burst into life. Admittedly, it had needed a tiny bit of help as its bud seemed to be stuck in one place, endangering the unfolding of the neatly origami'd flower petals inside.

I was slogging away at the office when Jos sent me a photo of the freshly opened flower with its ruffled scarlet petals.  As its life expectancy greatly depends upon the weather, I asked him to take plenty of photographs, in case I wouldn't be able to see it in real life. I needn't have worried, as it's only starting to lose its petals as I write!

It had been muggy all day and I was feeling decidedly sticky by the time I got home. Before hopping into the shower, I thought I'd go and water the plants, so I stepped outside carrying my watering can, which I'd filled with fresh well water.

The minute I stepped onto the cast iron boot scraper, however, it slid away from under my feet. I dropped the watering can, splashing water all over and, in a bid to maintain my balance, my flailing arms almost knocked over the plant table outside our back door and sent some of the poor plants flying.

Neither the plants nor myself sustained serious injuries, but when I surveyed the plant table, which was basically a decrepit old wooden crate, I had to admit it was time we found our plants a new home.

Scouring both the shed and our basement though, we couldn't find anything remotely suitable to be used as a plant table. In normal circumstances, this would have marked the start of a mammoth charity shop trawl, but as this wasn't an option, I looked at the website of a homewares shop, where I came across some recycled wooden plant tables in two different sizes.

So, on Tuesday, we drove down to their nearest brick and mortar branch and bought both tables, as well as a set of seat pads for our garden chairs and a recycled wooden crate.

It was only when I'd removed all the plants and took away the old crate that it became apparent how much in need of replacing it was!

I had a massive clear up of the accumulated garden waste which had lodged itself between the crate and the kitchen wall, making quite a few spiders homeless in the process. We even had to re-home a tiny wild strawberry plant, which had escaped its mother growing around the corner.

There, doesn't it look neat? There's space for all the plants and more, including those poor plants which were living their lives on top of upside-down flower pots. 

The dress I was wearing is neither vintage nor second hand. In fact, I bought it at a sample sale of Belgian retro label Wow To Go many years ago, when I was able to snap up several of their dresses at ridiculously low prices. 

I ditched the self-fabric belt it came with, replacing it with a brown leather one with a tortoiseshell buckle. My other accessories echoed the brown and turquoise colours of the dress as well. There's nothing new here, even my turquoise Miz Mooz sandals were a charity shop find from last year.

It had been another warm and humid day but even though rain had been threatening all afternoon, nothing had happened by early evening, so that there was nothing for it but to wield my watering can again.

The forecast for Wednesday's office day was more of the same sunny but sticky weather, with warnings of heavy rain and thunderstorms in the late afternoon.

At one point, I needed to flee the stuffy office for a breath of fresh air, so some time around midday I donned my mask and took the lift to the ground floor for a walk around the block. I might even have gone into an almost deserted shop and bought two belts which were on sale.

By 4 pm, however, clouds had started gathering and gearing themselves up for a fine spectacle. Sure enough, less than 5 minutes later we were treated to what I can only call a deluge. By then, Jos had already left home and was on its way to our pick-up point in Antwerp. With a strong wind to accompany the rain, there was no way I would have made it without getting drenched, as my measly little umbrella definitely wasn't made for weather like this!

So, while Jos found a parking space a couple of minutes away, I waited it out in the office building's entrance hall, only venturing outside when the rain seemed to have lessened. 

How wrong I was. I had barely crossed the street when it started pelting down again. Briefly sheltering under a shop's awning, I then decided to just go for it, slipping and sliding in my half-open shoes and literally getting soaked to the skin.

Oh, my poor shoes! I thought they'd be ruined, but stuffing them with newspaper and putting them out to dry seems to have done the trick, as they survived unscathed.

It continued raining on and off all through the evening and night, but mercifully the sun was out to greet us on Thursday morning. 

The garden was a soggy mess, but nothing seemed to have drowned. Even our Oriental poppy  survived the watery onslaught.

While Jos was doing the food shop and the sun was working her magic on the garden, evaporating the last of the raindrops, I tackled another one of those little jobs I never used to have time for.

These two small sets of IKEA drawers live on top of each other in our cramped little bathroom, offering room to a myriad of miscellaneous bathroom essentials. As I am in the habit to multiple buy any tried and tested cosmetics or other lotions and potions, some of the drawers were crammed to the limit.

That morning, when I went in search of a product I was sure I'd only seen the other day, one of the drawers got stuck and refused to budge in spite of my swearing. There was nothing for it but to give it a complete overhaul and reorganize its contents, ditching quite a few things which looked well past their sell by date. You wouldn't believe how many lipsticks I've come across!

I also cleaned all my brushes, which live in a small lilac painted tin bucket on top of the units, accompanied by our beloved Pear's Soap mirror.

By the time I'd finished, Jos was back with the groceries and, after helping him unpack and put everything away, he made Thursday's batch of soup.

Then, after lunch, it was time to finally plant up the new border. Digging the plant holes for the Clematis was even more back breaking than we'd envisioned, as there was a big chunk of old Holly root to be removed. There used to be not one but two huge Hollies here when we moved in. Having grown far too big for their boots and generally being a nuisance, we had them felled about ten years ago.

The rest of the planting was straightforward. Apart from Verbena rigida - a smaller cousin of Verbena bonariensis - we added sage, pink Coreopsis or tickseed, and a grassy plant with pink starry flowers called Rhodoxis 'Fairytale'.

The Clematis will have cream and lavender flowers respectively and, as they do like to have a cool root run, I provided some shade with shards of broken planters.

And this is what I wore that day, although I briefly changed into leggings and a t-shirt for the gardening work. No photos of these, obviously!

By pure coincidence, the blue, red and white dress I'm wearing is from the same label as Tuesday's. Again, it is fit and flare, with a row of tiny blue buttons at the bodice.

I accessorized it with a red and white beaded necklace and bangle, a red woven belt and a blue beaded bracelet. A pearly pink-hued brooch was pinned to the dress. 

The hat was primarily worn to hide my hair, which was in desperate need of a wash.

There were three more days left to complete that week, so I'll be returning with further adventures in a couple of days' time.

In the meantime, dear readers, so stay safe, sane and fabulous!