Tuesday, 22 June 2021

The heat is on

Hello there! We've just come down from a heatwave with sizzling hot highs of 33°C. Now I do know that some of you relish these kind of temperatures, but anything from the high twenties onwards is making my brain go liquid and my body languid, and I can feel myself slowly but surely turning into a sloth.

In the days which are the subject of this post, temperatures were only just starting their ascent towards the dreaded 30°C mark, but they were still quite bearable in hindsight. Our bedroom was still relatively cool and we were still sleeping under our Summer weight duvet, albeit with one leg dangling overboard whenever it got too sticky. 

Before I plunge headlong into this post, however, I 'd like to thank you all for the well wishes on the receipt of my first jab. My way of posting, switching almost seamlessly between the here and now and the recent past might have caused some discombobulation, though, as some of you seemed to be under the impression that I was talking about my second jab. This, I'm afraid, will only be on the 9th of July!

From the future to the past again now, as this is what I wore on Thursday the 10th of June. That day we were treated to temps of about 26°C, accompanied with a welcome light breeze and a smattering of clouds.

Thankfully, the mystery bites, whose itchiness had been exacerbated by sitting under a sweat-inducing hairdresser's cape on Wednesday, had benefited from the cream I'd liberally applied to them overnight. Phew, what a relief.

Those on my legs had all but disappeared by now, so that I could epilate my legs without any discomfort. I even applied mint green polish on my toenails! No closer look, as I must be one of the world's clumsiest nail polishers! Time to get out my sandals, starting with my super comfy red suede Gabor ones, which were a sales bargain a couple of years ago. 

This vintage dress always puts a huge smile on my face. Not just because of its tomato red colour or its delightful floral pattern. Obviously, I'm head over heels with its flattering silhouette and fluttery butterfly sleeves. But the main reason for that huge smile is that the label has my name on it: Lady Ann! How lovely is that?

A sage green flower corsage was added to keep the blowsy roses in its pattern company. The wooden zebra striped bangle was part of a charity shop haul in October 2019, while the plastic green and amber bracelet was an old retail buy.

Both my ring and swirly pendant are made of glass and both are holiday souvenirs, the ring picked up at a market stall in Bruges in 2019, and the pendant at Scolton Manor in Pembrokeshire in 2012.

Sauntering into the garden after breakfast, I was delighted to see that all five Oriental poppies had now opened, offering fierce competition to the delicious jewel colours of the two-tone Lupine spike at the opposite side of the garden path. 

Next to the bench, the first of the tiny but fiery flowers had appeared in the Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’ we brought back from the garden centre in May.

Having pruned our Hydrangea to within an inch of its life, it seemed to take a lot longer than usual for its first flowers to appear, and when they finally did, they remained tiny for the longest time. The warm weather following a period of prolonged rain must have done them the world of good, though, as look at them now! This is one of our oldest additions to Dove Cottage's garden and still going strong after all these years, delighting us with its frothy acid green and delft blue flower heads each Summer.

Another old favourite is our "Honey Baby", a deliciously named dwarf honeysuckle, at the very back of the garden. This is not its best year, though, as it needs a lot of dead wood removed. The abundant foliage to its left belongs to Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum), which arrived in our garden uninvited, courtesy of the bird seed we scatter in Winter. 

That afternoon, we went to meet grandson Cas for the very first time. His parents only live a matter of minutes from us by car, and in fact I've already taken you to their house a couple of times when we were looking after their cat, Abby. She even features on Cas's birth announcement, although we're not quite sure she's very keen on having to share attention with a tiny human!

Demonstrating the ventilating properties of butterfly sleeves on a hot day!

Friday, my final office day of the week, was quite a busy one, and with the 26°C we were once again served with, brain melt had already started creeping up on me. Needless to say, I was exhausted by the end of the day. With the heat trapped in our little walled garden, we had to wait until the worst of it had passed before quenching the thirst of our pots and hanging baskets at about 8.30 pm.

On Saturday the 12th of June, we woke up to a cloudy day and a reprieve from the hot temperatures, at just 21°C.

Browsing my wardrobe, my eyes alighted on my favourite jumpsuit, an irresistible high street buy in June 2018. I'd been on the lookout for a jumpsuit for quite a while by then, so I jumped - pun intended - at the chance when I spotted this one in a shop known for its fast and disposable fashion. It was exactly what I was looking for and I never once regretted my purchase, which has been getting regular outings ever since. Let's call it fast fashion worn slow!

I piled on the yellow accessories, which consisted of a round-buckled belt, a felted flower corsage - another Pembrokeshire holiday souvenir - a beaded necklace and a mottled Bakelite bangle. The latter got the company of a charity shopped multicoloured resin bracelet.

As usual, the day started with an after breakfast wander around the garden. 

All our pots and baskets seem to be in fine fettle. I love how the white Lobelias are spilling over the blue enamel teapot in the passageway, and that Petunia "Picotee Blue" and Sutera "Pink Beauty" are living happily side by side in the old half-basket on the potting shed. 

The pink Foxgloves are brightening up a shady corner next to the white current bush and, in front of the bench, flower spikes have started appearing in Prunella grandiflora 'Bella Deep Rose' (bottom left), which we planted last Summer.

The forecasted hot temperatures of the week to come prompted an impromptu ironing session as I suddenly realized most of my hot weather clothes were still residing in a suitcase in our bedroom. I also repaired a fallen hem in the Lady Ann dress I wore on Thursday. After this flurry of activity, the Cornetto ice cream was a well-deserved treat, don't you think?

This was followed by an afternoon nap in our bedroom, the napping being done by Jos and Bess, while I lay reading the final chapters of my book.

The temperature stepped up a gear on Sunday, reaching 24°C. Taking advantage of all the ironing I'd done on Saturday, I dressed in my beloved curtain couture maxi skirt, a Think Twice sales bargain in June 2019. Not only is it my most-worn maxi skirt, it accompanied me on our UK holiday later that month. Here I am wearing it on a most wonderful day spent in Bridgnorth, Shropshire.

The short-sleeved cotton top - also fresh from Saturday's ironing pile - was charity shopped last Summer and was a delight to wear, even if it tried to escape from the waistband of my skirt a couple of times. Not even the recently acquired stretchy belt with its hexagonal buckle could keep it in check!

Further accessories were a string of orange wooden beads and another bangle and bracelet duo. The bangle was part of the same charity shop haul as the one worn with my first outfit.

I took this photo in the relative coolness of the morning, with some of my profusely flowering pots on the old barrel at the back of the garden in the foreground. Behind these, an out of focus melange of white Lavender and Red Valerian (Centranthus Ruber), with the abundant foliage of the white currant bush in the background. To its right is one of the baskets hanging from the awning outside the kitchen, proudly displaying its deep indigo Petunias. Such floral extravaganza is making my heart jump for joy!

The rest of the day was spent doing some light pottering and reading, finally finishing the book which still resonates with me. So much so that I'm having a hard time starting a new one. Definitely in my top three of this year so far.

Now, before I wave goodbye once more, here are the terracotta pot and hanging basket I planted up the weekend before. 

The vintage terracotta pot harbours only one plant, but what a spectacular one! This is Petunia "Night Sky", its gorgeous purple flowers with white speckles reminiscent of a starry sky.

The basket also has a variety of these speckled Petunias, this one called "Pink Sky". You can just catch a glimpse of them on the right of the basket's other inhabitants, a red and yellow Calibrachoa, also known as Million Bells.

I will be back with more heatwave woes, outfits and garden updates in a couple of days. 

Once more, do stay safe, sane and fabulous out there!

Thursday, 17 June 2021

Twice bitten

Friday the 4th of June was V-Day! V as in vaccination, not victory, although I was feeling quite victorious after getting my first jab. As I've already told you, all went well and I did not suffer any side effects to speak of.  Also, to give credit where credit is due, I was very impressed with how smooth it all went, given that organizing all this must have been quite challenging. All the volunteers were friendly and helpful too and my own personal "jabbing guy" certainly wasn't lacking a sense of humour!

On top of all that, I was incredulous but obviously very chuffed to read that Belgium is currently the fastest country in the European Union when it comes to the number of vaccines administered per 100 inhabitants. I'm almost ashamed of being so scathing and skeptical of our country's vaccination strategy a couple of months back!

Here I am, one day later, on Saturday the 5th of June. The slightly painful arm I'd woken up with was more or less back to normal by late afternoon. 

After having rained quite heavily overnight, we were left with a cloudy day and decidedly cooler temperatures of  around 18°C.

The gauzy fabric of the vintage dress I pulled from my wardrobe wasn't nearly sufficient to go it alone, especially as only the skirt part is lined. I was wearing a camisole underneath - as much for coverage as for warmth - but still needed a cardigan when I stepped outside.

The dress's cerulean blue backdrop is enhanced by black and white squiggles erupting in a generous layer of blowsy flowers towards the hemline. This prompted my choice of belt - and one which certainly doesn't need further introduction - as well as my necklace, which numbers fuchsia pink beads among its black sisters. 

Taking it from there, adding a fuchsia pink cardigan and ditto plastic ring was a no-brainer. A grey and white plastic swallow brooch, which is vintage and an old flea market find, was pinned to the former. 

An early morning garden inspection round revealed a hint of blush pink in the first of the Lupine's flower spikes, while elsewhere the Alliums were still looking regal even if their purple florets were slowly but surely starting to fade. 

Dashes of bright yellow are provided by Geum chiloense 'Lady Stratheden', while delicious strawberry and cream swirls are the crowning glory of Dianthus 'Megan'. Both are survivors from last Summer.

Alongside velvety Mimulus, with its profusion of different coloured flowers (top right) and moody Delphiniums (bottom right), which are both recent plantings, there are those garden stalwarts such as our gooseberry bush (top left) which has been rubbing along for years with its next door neighbour, hardy Geranium sanguineum (bottom left).

The sun reappeared on Sunday, bringing along highs of 24°C. While we were having breakfast, we spotted a pair of wood pigeons making their way towards our giant white current bush. After years of practice, they have learned how to almost strip it clean from the inside out. While one is standing guard, the other one lowers herself down into the bush, feasting on the as yet green berries.

I tried to take a photo from the kitchen window but the silly bird had just disappeared from view, and was probably sniggering at me from the depths of the bush. 

It would be curtains for the tired looking pansies and bellis in the hanging basket on the right, as we were off to a local outdoor garden centre for replacements that day

Dress of the day was the cottage garden patterned teal-based one I found at the three-floored charity shop back in May. 

I kept accessories simple, adding an old hessian belt, an aqua beaded necklace from H&M by way of a flea market and a rose-red butterfly brooch which was feeling quite at home among all those flowers!

The eagle-eyed among you may notice that I am wearing the red Gador shoes I charity shopped the other week. 

Back from the garden centre, I emptied the hanging basket and a wall-mounted terracotta pot of its overly leggy and mildewed contents, replacing them with a selection of Petunias and Million Bells.

You'll get to see the finished results in a future post, as by then the sunlight was too harsh to photograph them properly.

It is almost a given that Bess is featuring in the majority of my posts. As suggested by Vix, soon she may even write her own blog post now that she's learned how to type on my grandfather's ancient Corona!

Here she is taking full advantage of her scratching post's new position beneath the dining room window.

We have reached Monday by now which, as an office day, usually doesn't get a mention. However, this one was different as one look outside the kitchen window while sipping my morning mug of lemon and ginger tea was enough to make my heart sing. Our first Oriental poppy had shed its furry shell and was showing off its ruffled scarlet petals for all to see. 

There was no time to meet it up close, which I was only able to do that evening, after work. 

The continuing sunshine had brought yet more colour to the Lupine flower spike, which I was happy to see would be the first of many. 

That day's watering and deadheading routine turned up a tiny snail who'd made herself at home in a Petunia flower. Regretfully, this is just one of many as well. 

Tuesday the 8th of June was yet another warm and sunny day, with the odd patch of clouds, and the mercury climbing to 25°C.

Aided by another round of noisy construction work, involving a succession of concrete trucks coming and going, the gorgeous weather made us seek out the peace and quiet of nature.

I'd learned my lesson and opted for a recently charity shopped pair of wide legged trousers. For good measure I was also wearing a cardigan on top of my short-sleeved blouse. Hand to heart, I swear I only removed it for the photos!

Our destination that day was Walenhoek, a nature reserve in the nearby town of Niel, which is just a 20 minute drive from Dove Cottage. Again, this is somewhere I've blogged about more than once before.

As usual we took a picnic, which we ate about half-way through our two-hour or so walk.

Being a weekday, there weren't many people about, and we had the reserve mostly to ourselves. I think we only met about five or six people in total, one of them a jogger who overtook us - slow couches -twice.

Crossing a cattle grid brought us to the grazing area where Galloway cattle were introduced many years ago. Not that we've ever seen any of these mighty but supposedly gentle creatures.

It was with some trepidation that we took a path we'd discovered during a Winter walk back in February, when its rutted clay was frozen solid. Imagining a muddy mire after the recent rains, we were pleasantly surprised to find it bone-dry and very walkable. 

The path meanders between two ponds, and the views we were rewarded with were well worth the slight detour. We even encountered a dragonfly who willingly posed for a photo. Yellow flag Iris dotted the water's edge, contrasting gaily with the blue sky reflected in the ponds.

Our stomachs were rumbling faintly, but before searching out a suitable bench for our picnic, I descended along a slightly muddy path towards the edge of one the bigger ponds, where a stunning waterscape framed by a copse of dead trees awaited.

And here's proof that I was wearing that cardigan. Nevertheless, once again I was bitten and this time it was my left arm the as yet unnamed insects had taking a liking too. At one point, I could feel the sharp pin-prick of a sting going right through my sleeve. I didn't feel anything when that syringe entered my arm on Friday, but I did feel that undoubtedly tiny insect's sting! 

By the time I got home, the tell-tale red welts had appeared, about six of them this time, the worst two being on my left upper arm. It's a good thing I got that cream the other week, so that I could start treatment right away. That is, right after some more outfit photos, as I would need to stay out of the sun once applied.

I exchanged my trousers - which had mysteriously developed a hole during our walk - for a wide flouncy skirt, black with a sprinkling of flowers and foliage in purple, green and orange.

The multicoloured and textured necklace, the pink squirrel brooch pinned to my blouse, and the vintage green and white polka dot peplum blouse itself are all the same as worn with my trousers earlier.

On my feet, the green, buckled Kicker shoes which jumped at me in a charity shop back in March. 

As indicated by my journal, the rest of the afternoon was spent inside, nursing my bites, writing that day's blog post and catching up with blogland.

The latter is what I will do after I've clicked Publish!

Until next time, my dears, please do keep on staying safe and as sane and sensational as possible.

Sunday, 13 June 2021

June bugs

June bug, noun any of various large usually brown North American leaf-eating beetles common in late spring; the larvae feed on roots of grasses etc.

Judging by the above definition, I can safely assume that it weren't June bugs who'd feasted on my leg during our walk two weeks ago on Sunday. What's more, it turns out they don't even bite!

So far, the pesky creatures who'd peppered my left leg with no less than eight angry red and extremely itchy welts in varying sizes, prefer to remain anonymous.

The itching started in earnest on Monday morning, but slathering the bites in Camomile and Calendula ointment seemed to keep the worst of it at bay throughout the day. However, the itching woke me up several times during the night, and the welts seemed to have increased in size by Tuesday morning.

Tuesday the First of June dawned sunny and blue-skied, though, so it would have been a shame to let a handful of insect bites spoil the day. As temperatures of up to 26°C had been forecasted, we decided to go for a walk in the morning while it was still relatively cool.

The viscose lemon and forget-me-not skirt I'd charity shopped the other day was just the right length to keep the unsightly red blotches on my leg covered up. I took the lead from the lemons for the vintage floral pussy-bow blouse in refreshing citrus colours I accompanied it with. 

I added one of my stretchy chevron patterned belts, while the glamorous lady on my scarf clip kept the pussy-bow in check. First outing this year for my trusty Clarks Cloudsteppers! So comfortable for Summer walking. I do live in fear of them wearing out.

For fear of attracting more badly behaved creepy crawlies, we crossed off any nature reserves from our list of possibilities, opting instead for a civilized walk in the park.

Not just any park, mind you! Regular readers might have guessed already that this is Middelheim, the sculpture park I've already waxed lyrical about many times before.

That's Antony Gormley's Firmament III you can see in the background on the top left. 

We just strolled around, taking paths willy-nilly, enjoying the banks of rhododendron, their majestic blooms sadly nearing their sell-by date. 

On the bottom right, you can catch a glimpse of the Bridge Without a Name by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in the far distance.

Somehow, we always seem to end up here at this fascinating polished metal column, a sculpture by Belgian artist Felix Roulin (1975). 

A compact Hall of Mirrors, its distorted reflections offer photo opportunities galore!

We always gravitate towards the Braem Pavillion too. Designed by architect Renaat Braem (1910-2001) and completed in 1971, it is a prime example of Organic Brutalist style.

At this time of year, it is almost swallowed up by the landscape, the surrounding trees and shrubs gently cloaking it in various shades of green.

We marvelled at the tallness of some of the trees. Can you spot Lilliputian yours truly leaning against one of the trunks? 

The triumphal arch (top left), covered in eucalyptus, is part of a current exhibition called Congoville.  It is called Flowers for Africa: Rwanda, and is a copy of the arch which was erected in 1961 for the festivities surrounding the proclamation of Rwanda's independence.

Back at home, the temperature steadily climbed towards the forecasted 26°C which, in our suntrap of a garden, always turns out to be at least two degrees higher. 

Seemingly happy in its slug-protected planter, the Delphinium's deep indigo flower spikes are rivalling the Alliums in height. Did you know they are commonly called Ridderspoor (Knight's Spur) in Flemish?  I've always delighted in that name. 

We were also overjoyed to finally see the first of the Lupine's flower spikes (top right) making a timid entrance. 

Meanwhile, the Sweet Peas are in full stride, but at the time, there was still no sign of the Oriental poppies bursting into bloom.

That afternoon, with the itching almost driving me mad, I walked into town and got some cream containing 1% Cortisone from the chemist. I'm glad to report this brought the swelling and itching down almost overnight.

Fast forward to Thursday, the 3rd of June. It was a cloudy and humid day, but still with temperatures of about 25°C. 

That morning, we had to get up really early, as Jos had to take the car to the garage for repairs. The previous week, while taking a shortcut on a quiet country road, a stone thrown up by a passing lorry had caused a crack to appear in our car's windscreen, Luckily, it won't cost us anything as we've got full insurance coverage.

While Jos was gone I chucked the things I’d bought at Think Twice into the washing machine and by the time I got dressed, Jos was back with a replacement car for the day.

My outfit for the day consisted of a blue striped vintage dress with pink and purple flowers trailing towards its hem. More flowers were added with my brooch, a vintage one featuring miniature embroidery, and my blue moulded plastic flower ring.

A wooden multicoloured necklace and pink belt - both charity shop finds - completed my outfit.

With the sky looking ominously and threatening rain, we took the replacement car for a spin, checking out a newly opened local pet shop and, almost inevitably, ending up at the charity shop.

Here, I picked up two long-sleeved blouses, a silky shirt in Autumnal colours by Belgian label CKS, and a funkily patterned smock-like top, closing with a row of fabric covered buttons at the back. Much to my amazement, the latter turned out to be H&M.

Browsing the full to bursting shoe shelves, I came across these two pristine pairs. The red ones are flat Mary-Janes by Gador, while the navy ones - which I'm already wearing in the outfit photos - are chunky heeled ones by Tom Tailor. Both were € 4,50, so just a fraction of their original retail price. Oh, how I love charity shopping!

Apart from a couple of scattered drops, the rainclouds passed us by, although it did remain cloudy for most of the day. 

Tiny it might be, but our garden still offers surprises at every turn. We've watched in amazement how the Foxglove which had settled itself in a raised border was reaching lofty heights. When its flowers started opening, we were delighted to see they were white rather than the more common pink. 

Elsewhere, another Foxglove which we actually planted earlier this year turned out to have the most amazing purple-pink flowers, instead of the 'Dalmatian Peach' proclaimed on its label!

Other current garden delights are the various shades of blue of Jacob's Ladder (Polemonium caeruleum, top right) and Campanula (bottom left).

I love how our little plot is slowly but surely turning into a real cottage garden with its informal planting and mixture of colour, form and texture. Here, the last of the evening sun before it descends into the gloaming, is illuminating the view from the kitchen window. 

I'm leaving you now with an enigmatic photo I took with my phone one evening. At first, even Jos had a hard time solving the puzzle, as due to the reflections, the view is both inside and outside, or forwards and backwards.

I am standing at the end of the passageway which, together with the kitchen window and part of the houses beyond the garden, is reflected in the dining room window, where Bess sits looking out.

The two white rectangles just above Bess's head are the window and fan of our front door at the end of the hallway leading off from the dining room. To the right is our 1930s display cabinet, and the houseplant on the window sill, since moved out of Bess's way. 

The orange on Bess's body is the reflection of the Busy Lizzies in the window box outside. The metal structure on Bess's left is outside too, as are the out of focus leaves of the Heuchera on the bottom right.

So, that's it for now. We will be in for a couple of hot days , so if I haven't melted by then I will be with you again later this week.

In the meantime, as always, do stay safe and keep your heads cool!