Sunday, 9 August 2020

Cool for cats

We're right in the middle of a heatwave at the time of writing. The temperature has been gradually creeping towards the high thirties since Tuesday and I'm currently taking shelter indoors as I feel as if I'm about to spontaneously combust whenever I attempt to take a step outside. It's bearable until late morning and well after 9 pm, but in between our little heat trap of a garden is a no-go area. Plants are wilting before our very eyes and some are slowly but surely burning to a crisp. I've brought my laptop downstairs where it's reasonably cool and I'm sat here writing this post in semi-darkness, as we are keeping the blinds down for most of the day.

I know some of you relish the heat, and I do wish I could bottle up some of our excess degrees and send them off to Vix who, I'm sure, will receive them with open arms!

We had a general rehearsal of what was to come on Friday before last, when the sun was out in full force and the mercury gleefully soared to well over 35°C, making it the hottest 31st of July since 1943.

I initially dressed in this pink vintage sun dress, trimmed with real broderie anglaise and sprinkled with clusters of flowers. To counteract all the pinkness, I added a white, yellow and green plastic bangle (a recent charity shop find) and yellow belt. The purple necklace, in its turn, tied in with the lilac flowers in the dress's print. The opalescent purple brooch isn't vintage but has been with me since before my brooch collecting days. Unbelievable as it may sound, it came from H&M.

By lunchtime, Jos made sandwiches and we once again drove to the picnic area at the water tower. 

As we'd planned a nature reserve walk afterwards, and I didn't want to go bare-legged or shouldered, I changed into something more appropriate. The jumpsuit, which was a UK charity shop find last year, fit the bill perfectly.

After we'd eaten our sandwiches at the shadiest of the picnic tables (visible behind Jos in the photo on the top left), we made the effort to climb up to the platform for a glimpse of the Atomium. Judging from the information panels pointing out the landmarks (top right), it should have been visible somewhere behind those pesky trees!  

Then we drove to Terhagen for a walk in yet another nature reserve. The village of Terhagen is where Jos grew up. It was smack dab in the middle of brick-making country and, in fact, some of the paths we walked along skirted the very place where once the tiny hamlet called "De Wildernis" had been.

We followed our map and the walking signs through what has now truly reverted to wilderness. Apart from a man on a bike and a single other walker, we didn't meet a soul all the time we were there, so that we could safely remove our masks, which would have been rather superfluous here.

A closer look at my Phase Eight jump suit, with its sweetheart neckline and cap sleeves. In spite of the fact that it fits me like a glove, it was extremely comfortable to wear, without any clinging whatsoever. I didn't even sweat in it very much. My accessories consisted of a red woven belt and a multi-coloured lacquered wooden necklace. Oh, and my sunglasses and hat, which obviously were a necessity in the glaring sunshine and heat.

We'd envisioned walking under a shady canopy of trees sheltering us from the sun and all went as planned until we came to a subsidiary of the Sahara: a huge and unforgiving sandpit, which - according to the walking signs - we would have to cross. The sun beat down relentlessly and the sandy soil added its two pennies worth by reflecting the heat, so that it felt like being assaulted from both sides. As I was wearing my Clarks Cloudsteppers on my bare feet, the fine sand kept sloshing over the tops and burning my feet.

I know we should have turned back but I was adamant to have a look at the half-drowned dredger left at the side of one of the ex-clay pits turned pond. 

It was the thought of a cool non-alcoholic beer back at home which kept us going. Once there, with our last bit of energy we dragged the enamel tub we keep in the shed into the kitchen, filled it with ice cold water pumped up from the well and ... ah, utter bliss!

There was a considerable and welcome drop in temperature on Saturday, the first of August. Helped by some overnight rain, the thermometer stuck to the mid twenties, with a mixture of sunshine and clouds throughout the day. 

Most of our garden's plants seemed to have survived the previous day's heat unscathed and I was delighted to see that the flower buds in our Sea Holly were starting to show their true colour.

We were on double cat-sitting duties that weekend, both at Jos's eldest daughter's house and his son's.

My outfit choice of the day consisted of the Cassis dress I'd picked up at the charity shop the other week, over which I threw on a lightweight garment I'm keep at the ready on the back of a chair. Charity shopped in June 2019, I think this is what is called a haori. Correct me if I'm wrong, Sheila!

The somewhat haughty Abby was awaiting us at Jos's son's, where obviously we took advantage of their fabulous staircase photo studio.

I accessorized the dress with one of my favourite stretchy belts - I've lost count of the number of times I wore it in the last couple of months - as well as a shell necklace, a circular brooch with flower embroidery, a pink plastic ring and a wood and purple shell bracelet.

Everything but the belt and the Tamaris espadrille wedges were second-hand buys.

On duty again on Sunday at Jos's daughter's house, where we had to feed the two cats and replenish the drinking water in the bird cage.

I'm head over heels with the magnificent tiles in their hallway! My red and cream sling-back shoes are an old sales bargain, which I keep forgetting about and which I should definitely wear more.

The black cat is called Lies and is a substantially thinner and friendlier version of Phoebe. She came downstairs to greet us, while the tabby cat I've forgotten the name of was too much of a scaredy cat to come out of hiding. It seems we were lucky to catch this brief glimpse of her at the top of the stairs.

I'll never forget finding this vintage butterfly sleeved dress at a charity shop on my birthday back in 2016, and when I checked my blog to make sure I got the year correct, I saw that I found the sun hat I was wearing for our walk on Friday on the same day!

Once again, we made use of the fantastic light conditions and staircase at Abby's headquarters. The lady of the house sat watching us disdainfully  and then decided she had better things to do, like making her toilette!

The butterfly brooch I pinned to my dress was feeling quite at home among the profusion of flowers. 

I kept to a cream, black and red colour scheme for the rest of my accessories, which included a long beaded necklace, a zebra striped bangle, a red beaded bracelet and a cream, black and red abstract poppy ring.

What with all the cats, we almost forgot we have one of our own to keep fed, watered and generally treated like royalty. There's nothing she loves better than snoozing in the garden!

Well, that's it for now. Tales of how we survived the heatwave will be told in my next post.

Until then, keep safe and as sane as possible. And fabulous too, obviously.

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Goodbye July

Before I get off on another one of my ramblings, I would like to report that at the time of writing I'm feeling a whole lot better and the wobbly episode of the last two weeks or so seems to have subsided somewhat.

We are also heading straight into a longish heatwave - I'm wilting already at the mere thought - but that will be for a future post.

For now, I'm taking things up where I left them, which is on Sunday before last. My journal tells me we slept late, until an unheard of 8.30, then had eggs and soldiers for breakfast, after which I washed my hair. Oh, what exciting lives we're leading!

The overnight rain had left a somewhat cooler day in its wake, but it was still warm enough to wear short sleeves for most of the day.

I bought the top I'm wearing in a charity shop during last year's UK holiday. It's from the Betty Jackson Black label for Debenhams and although it's 100% polyester, it has a cool, silky feel.

I combined it with two of my post-lockdown charity shop finds, an exotic flower printed C&A button through skirt, and one of the Les Cordes necklaces I picked up during our most recent trawl.

The belt was charity shopped as well, while the green-backed Cameo brooch was a flea market find. In fact, only the green shoes aren't second-hand. They are an old retail buy from a local shop.

For once, there wasn't much forward thinking involved in my outfit, it all came together quite naturally, and it was definitely an A+ in the feel-good category!

Among the silver pennies in our honesty, which you can see on the bottom left of the outfit photo, a handful of new, tiny purple flowers have appeared out of nowhere (top left), while the bees keep flocking to the Chocolate Cosmos still flowering prolifically in its pot.

While having breakfast, I noticed a stripy little snail going for a slide on our stone cat's head, making its way towards the poor thing's eye. Of course, I just had to nip outside to take some snaps!

The rest of the day was spent doing some lazy pottering and going through the contents of yet another sitting room cupboard. Nothing even remotely exciting to show you, so instead I'll treat you to some more of the art which is dotted around Dove Cottage. 

The common factor here is that these were all charity shop or flea market finds.

We had to take this framed 3D embroidery of a peacock from the wall to photograph it properly. In its daily life it resides in a dark corner of our dining room, where it is illuminated by an uplighter lamp in the evenings. Being a fan of all things peacock, it caught my eye in a charity shop several years ago.

On the opposite side of the dining room is another uplighted piece which we had to take down for photographs. Another charity shop find, this stark image of a desolate house among gently rolling hills is entirely composed of wood inlay.

Upstairs, among the wall of heads in our spare room, is this magnificent drawing of an ornately  dressed and hatted lady. Found at an otherwise disappointing flea market, the work contains several dried flowers, particularly adorning the lady's outrageous hat!

I fel in love with the colours and the timelessness of the landscape in this painting when I laid eyes on it in a charity shop many years ago. It is a real painting, not a print, and it is taking pride of place in our bedroom. 

Monday was a moderately busy day at the office, during which I kept checking the news to find out what the National Security Council, which had been in meeting since 8.30 that morning, had in store for us. As I already told you all about that in a previous post, I'm fast forwarding to Tuesday and, in particular, to what I was wearing.

I have reason to believe that this pinkish red textured cotton dress was handmade. With its short sleeves, wide skirt, solid white cotton collar and cuffs and row of white buttons at the bodice, it reminds me a bit of a vintage waitress dress. Again, this was an absolute joy to wear.

I wore a lightweight baby blue and white openwork cardigan on top, and accessorized the dress with one of my lady brooches pinned to its lapel, a black and white beaded necklace and a stretchy black and white belt with tan plastic buckle. Both the latter and my navy shoes were the only retail items in my outfit.

We'd woken up to grey skies, which alternated with periods of sun throughout the day. 

After our usual fruit and yoghurt breakfast, I walked to the chemist and the organic village shop, after which I dusted the hallway and the dining room. I then tied up some straggling Clematis shoots and gave the Astilbe we'd planted and which wasn’t looking too fresh, an extra watering.

In the afternoon, we drove down to the garden centre, as we needed more bread mix. We also had a € 35 voucher to spend courtesy of our loyalty card so, as this would be be last time we'd be able to go in together, we wanted to have a look at some shallow wooden crates we'd spotted on a previous visit.

For years, we had been storing our supply of drinks under the high-legged China cabinet in our kitchen and although we had been using two vintage plastic bottle carriers for some of the bottles, the rest was all jumbled together willy-nilly, which was both impractical and unsightly.

Aided by the voucher, we bought two of the crates, but after we got them home it turned out that, as I'd feared, the 33 cl beer bottles were too tall to fit underneath the cabinet, so that we were only able to use one of them. The second crate is now awaiting a new purpose.

We also bought an Asplenium for the hallway, as well as two more garden plants: an Echinacea 'Green Jewel' and a Tricyrtis hirta, which is better known under the delightful name of Toad Lily. We used to have one of these in our garden before the Big Neglect, and I was overjoyed to find another one, even if it still has to flower. The photo on the bottom left is of the one which lived in our garden sixteen years ago.

As I had a hairdressers appointment for a colour and cut at 8.30 on Wednesday, I went into work quite a bit earlier so that I could check my mails before I had to leave.

Apart from that, the rest of the day was quite uneventful. As people are actively discouraged to come to Antwerp, it was a lot less crowded on the streets when I left the office to go to the pick-up point after work. At one point, I was the only person walking along a traffic-free stretch, where I usually have to slalom between hordes of shoppers.

Thursday was a sizzling Summer's day, with temperatures soaring to about 28°C, so once again we drove down to De Walenhoek, the nature reserve in Niel where we'd been for a walk the previous week. With mask wearing now compulsory in public, we wore ours until we were well away from the car park, keeping them at the ready for when we met other people.

We started our walk from a different car park, where a path soon descended towards this blue lagoon of a lake which we could see shimmering between the trees.

I'd just photographed the frog traffic sign when Jos suddenly pointed to a tiny black frog - much smaller than the one on the sign - crossing the path. Not the sharpest of images as the little creature had the annoying habit of hopping away just as I was clicking the shutter!

This episode made me think of a similar sign we met in Pembrokeshire, which had another, handmade sign next to it showing the real size of the frogs.

Again, we meandered between the ponds, eventually ending up where we'd walked the other week. Making our way back to the car park, we once again came upon some relics from the past, when the area was a hive of brick-making activity. Now, the quietness was only pierced by bird calls and the buzzing of insects. Oh, and the rhythmic tick-tock sound made by my walking stick.

Before I bid you goodbye once more, here's a look at my outfit.

This dress, handmade in a sturdy but cool cotton, is a masterpiece in illusion. What at first sight looks like strips of broderie anglaise is in fact just part of the print, which also features stripes, checks and tiny yellow-hearted blue flowers. The frilly cap sleeves were perfect to protect my shoulders from the sun.

Picking a brooch obviously was a no-brainer! I added more blue in the form of my belt and beaded necklace. The latter also has opalescent white beads, which in their turn match the ring I'm wearing.

I'll be taking you along on another walk in my next post but until then, stay safe, sane and fabulous!

Sunday, 2 August 2020

Chinks in the armour

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? This quote, apparently  based on a bible verse (Matthew 6:27), was posted by a Finnish Instagram friend yesterday. And while it got me thinking, as of course they don't, quite the contrary I suppose, as a natural born worrywart the act of worrying is not something I can turn off at the flick of a switch.

During the months of semi-lockdown, I found I was able to switch off by keeping myself occupied, thus tricking my cotton-wool wrapped brain into largely ignoring what was happening in the big, bad world outside our home and garden. Spring was in full swing with the promise of Summer ahead. For the longest of time, my brain seemed unable to process reality and, oddly as it sounds, it kept hoping beyond hope that this was all just a nightmare from which, surely, we would wake up anytime soon.

As so far this hasn't happened, and the nightmare continues day after day, chinks have slowly appeared in the armour, allowing negative thoughts to slowly trickle in.

In spite of it all, I seem to be surviving, even if life isn't a bed of roses and my rose-tinted glasses keep get mislaid from time to time. I'm trying to make living in the moment and enjoying the little things my mantra, even if I don't always wake up with a smile on my face. 

A dull cloudy sky was our lot on Friday before last, and the drop in temperature from Thursday's high twenties made me reach for this groovy wrap dress with three-quarter length sleeves. Originally from H&M, I picked it up in a charity shop in June 2019. It must be well over 10 years old and I remember it vividly, as I used to own the dress in a different colourway, all muted greys and browns on white. I always regretted not buying this red, pink and purple version instead, so it was a definite no-brainer when I spotted it on the charity shop rails.

I added a green necklace, which was a flea market find, and secured the dress's wrap ties with a green clip-on hair flower. The brooch, a posy of pale pink flowers, was a retail buy, as was the rosewood flower corsage pinned to my faithful denim jacket, an age-old charity shop find, originally from Mexx.

The wishy-washy weather prompted us to go on a light version of a charity shop trawl, visiting two safe favourites as early in the morning as possible. I'm pleased to report that both shops lived up to expectations in providing a safe shopping experience.

The first shop yielded a floaty Summer dress from Belgian high street chain Cassis, which caught my eye due to its funky print, cap sleeves and three-keyhole neckline. You'll get to see me modelling it on the blog very soon, as I'm actually wearing it as I type!

A book on Art Deco furniture and metalwork found its way into our shopping trolley as well.

The jewellery displays in both shops came up trumps too. There were two rings and a bracelet, a bronze metal butterfly pendant, two cord and painted wood necklace from a Belgian costume jewellery label called Les Cordes and a tiny blue plastic rose brooch. 

I was on the lookout for a lidded glass water jug and for some reason a ribbed glass one with a red plastic lid popped up in my mind's eye. Imagine my surprise when I actually came across exactly what I was looking for in the second shop we visited!

A quick browse through the otherwise uninspiring clothing rails was rewarded with a vintage Dacron polyester dress. Look at that fabulously mad pattern!

We were back home for lunch, after which I retreated to the garden for a deadheading session. It  seems that the remaining Nasturtiums have joined forces in their effort to lay claim to the area next to the bench. They are welcome to do so, as long as they keep doing their set task of covering the pile of dead branches (the remains of our Lilac tree) piled up next to the wall.

We were treated to a sudden, heavy shower mid-afternoon, which saved me the task of watering. 

Instead, my journal tells me, I caught up with blogland and kept checking the news and social media to try and make sense of the new regulations on mask wearing coming into force. A waste of time, it seems, as only in a matter of days this would change yet again.

Saturday was a bit of a glum day, on all accounts. No sunshine, no rain, but quite warm and humid, with temperatures of up to 24° Celsius. 

Wearing this midnight blue dress with exotic white and orange flower print - a Think Twice find in July 2019 - went a long way towards improving my maudlin mood. I added caramel coloured beads, an orange plastic ring and an orange enameled brooch decorated with wildflowers.

We were invited to dinner at our friends Inneke and Maurice and initially I didn't feel like socializing but I'm glad I persevered. The evening out really cheered me up and I felt a whole lot better driving home.

Earlier that day, we had another clearing and reorganizing session, this time concentrating our efforts on one of the cupboards in our sitting room. Again, we got rid of some CDs and magazines, which will soon be making their way to the charity shops. 

Anything we are keeping has been relocated to the drawer unit in the spare room.

This included a selection of my primary school exercise books, which I found at my parents' house. 

A cursory glance through some of them revealed that my handwriting has only marginally improved since I was a six-year-old. 

On the bottom right are some illustrations I cut from a fashion magazine for a social studies subject on clothes-making and fashion. I got full marks on that one. The shape of things to come, I wonder?

Next to a lesson on Autumn, I'd taped some Autumn leaves, which are dating back to 1970 and seem to have survived largely unscathed!

There were some of my drawings as well, all helpfully stamped with a date and subject matter. 

These, apparantly, are white mice, drawn by a five-year-old me! Well, how is one supposed to draw them? I actually quite like these and I'm considering framing them!

Which brings me quite seamlessly to some of the art we do have around the house, tying in with Kezzie's Bloggers Art Gallery, which I wasn't ready to take part in at the time.

We have a myriad of wall art and other objects dotted around the house. Whether they are all to be considered Art, with a highbrow capital letter, is questionable, but they are all things which caught and pleased our eye.

Let's start with some framed prints, watercolours and drawings picked up during our UK holidays over the years.

Above is a print of a watercolour painting of Port Isaac harbour by Cornish artist Elisabeth Clarke, which we picked up in a Port Isaac art gallery during our first Summer holiday together in August 1995.

In the same gallery, we bought this small original water colour by artist Rosemary Grattan. Originally intended as a present for my parents, it graced their living room wall for many years until we brought it home when emptying the house.

This charming miniature - it is only 4 by 4 cm - is a reproduction of a watercolour by artist Fiona Odle, and depicts the Vicar's Close in Wells, Somerset.

An Oxfordshire holiday back in 2007 yielded this framed print of the Tom Tower in Oxford by F. Robson (1880 - 1936), which we bought in a small antiques shop in Burford.

This print of a quintessential English garden by Pamela Derry (1932-2002) is called The Droning of Bees and instantly transports you to a garden at the height of Summer, where the buzzing of bees is the only sound you can hear.

A bit like Dove Cottage's garden then, although on a much smaller scale, and when the neighbours are quiet for once!

So, that's it for now. I hope you'll join me again for my next ramblings.

In the meantime, as always, do stay safe!

Thursday, 30 July 2020

But honey pie, you're not safe here

Life's quite a bundle of laughs here in Belgium at the moment! Due to a resurgence of Covid-19 cases, our National Security Council has ordered a drastic reduction of social contacts, shrinking the so-called bubble to just five per family unit for at least four weeks starting today. Shopping is now once again a solo activity and limited to 30 minutes and there are stricter rules for cafés and restaurants. These are just some I cherry picked for you, as I won't bore you with the complex do's and don'ts our country's Security Council have come up with.

But there's more! The Province of Antwerp, where I happen to live, and which has seen a huge increase of cases, is under stringent new restrictions, including mandatory face masks in public at all times and a 11:30 p.m. curfew.

It's not exactly lockdown - as many of us had feared - but as people are actively discouraged to visit Antwerp, it feels a bit as if we are pariahs right now. And all because people - the Covidiots as Goody so aptly calls them - have been acting quite irresponsibly.

OK, deep breaths. Breathe in, breathe out. And again.

Let's have a look at what I was wearing on Tuesday before last, when we were still somewhat blissfully unaware of what was around the corner.

First wearing of one of the skirts from the never-again charity shop we visited the week before. Originally from H&M, it has an elasticated waist with ties at the front. Quite contrary as I am, I tied them in the back, tucked in the ends and wore a red belt on top.

The red and white floral blouse is from the Belgian Wow To Go label, but charity shopped as well. And while I can't remember where the blue and white beaded necklace came from, I know exactly where I found the brooch with its embroidered posy of Gentians. It was part of a haul from a Carmarthen antique centre on a rainy June day in 2018.

The pale yellow Gador shoes were another charity shop find and only worn for the photos.

It was Belgium’s national holiday, 21 July, and we didn’t go anywhere, nor did we do very much at all.

After washing the face masks we'd been using that week, I thought I'd offer you a glimpse of part of my growing mask wardrobe. The one on the far right was handmade by Jos's daughter An - there's another one which is not photographed - while the rest were shop-bought.

Although the sun had decided to grace us with her presence for most of the day, it was a bit windy and chilly, only warming up towards the evening. 

Just in time for my daily watering session and plant inspection. Look at all that gorgeous pinkness and purpleness going on!

Some of my pottering that day included photographing a selection of brooches for Wednesday's Instagram post. For many months now, I have been treating my Instagram followers to weekly installments of my brooch collection. I might be doing a retrospective blog post for you one day.

Feeling a bit of a fraud for not participating in Kezzie's Bloggers Art Gallery that day, I photographed some of the art we have around the house - which I will be including in a future post - starting with some brooches, which I'm sure can be considered art in their own right.

On the left are two of my modest collection of intricately crafted micro-mosaic brooches. 

The Arts & Crafts brooch on the top right might be one of my oldest and most cherished, while the 1940s one on the bottom right was hand-painted on a piece of war-time fabric.

Swiftly skipping Wednesday's office day, the sun was out in full force on Thursday. With the thermostat cranked up to a sizzling 27° Celsius, we intended to enjoy the day to the full and spend it outside and away from home.

After Jos had returned from his hairdressers appointment and subsequent food shop, we made a couple of sandwiches, grabbed a soft drink, and returned to the water tower for an impromptu picnic.

As it was a clear day, we'd planned to climb the steps up to the viewing platform again for a glimpse of the Atomium in Brussels. Unfortunately, we found our plans thwarted by the arrival of a Dad and  his two children, who'd apparently had the same idea. Initially we decided to wait but we gave up in the end as they seemed to be staying up there forever.

Instead there's a quick glimpse of my short-sleeved cotton dress with its funky print of navy, green and lime triangles on a white background. I hadn't been wearing any rings for a while, but I thought my blue plastic flower ring went just perfect with the dress. As it's plastic, there was no need to remove it for hand washing each and every time.  I also added one of my collection of floral brooches.

Our picnic was followed by a quick dash to the nearby supermarket to get a couple of things our local shop had run out of. 

After dropping off our perishable purchases at home, we drove down to a nature reserve in Niel, a small town about 10 kilometers from where we live.

This tranquil wooded domain interspersed with picturesque ponds is another one which was established on some of the former clay pits the area is rich in.

We used to go there quite often until the reserve fell out of grace due to the many illegal fishermen who were often barbecuing their catches at the side of the ponds and leaving lots of litter in their wakes.

Now, peace and quiet reigned, and we only met a handful of people on our walk, most of whom were walking their dogs.

We meandered through the 60 hectare reserve, veering off the main path towards the first of the ponds which lies behind the ruins of one of the former brickwork buildings.

There's a fishing club to the left here, dotted with quiet-as-mice fisherman trying their luck.

Here, our walk continued along a narrow wooded path, until we came to yet another pond, its surface mirror-like perfection. 

Here it's easy, if not to forgot, then certainly to push our perils and predicaments to the backs of our minds for a handful of soul-resetting minutes.

And there were benches to rest our weary feet, or at least dangle them in my case, all with wonderful views to stop and stare at.

How can a Summer's day be so perfect and sad at the same time?

A relic of the past awaited us at the end of our walk, when we came across one of the little trains which were used to bring clay to the brickworks. Always ready to seize a photo opportunity, I'd climbed aboard and sat down in the little saddle seat before I could think.

It's a good thing we're all carrying hand sanitizer these days!

Do be careful out there, and stay safe, my friends!