Tuesday 31 December 2019

Old and New Year Ditties

The year is tiptoeing towards its end, the clocks tick-tocking away its final hours.

The calendar on the wall, once as fresh-faced as a newborn, has lost all but one of its pages. Like a  tree that lets go of its leaves in Autumn, it marks the dying of the year.

Its final page, which only 30 days ago announced, with much fanfare, the start of that whirlwind of a month, December, has gotten wrinkled and dog-eared with use.

We have come full circle again in this strange man-made concept of time and like the trees that have shed their leaves, we are taking time to pause and reflect and, eventually, renew.

I'm  hopelessly nostalgic at the best of times, but never more so than at the end of December, when we're on the cusp of another year.

This is a time to reflect and count one's blessings. To be maudlin and shed a tear or two. To mourn the past year and its losses and to rejoice in its gains.

Traditionally, this is a time for fresh starts and new beginnings.

A time for New Year's resolutions you know very well will never be kept - even recalcitrant me is making them subconciously.

My Christmas Eve outfit:wearing 1960s shift dress accessorized with assorted charity shopped bangles, 
a vintage brooch and a necklace, ring and pair of rosebud sprinkled tights once bought from the high street. 

Be kinder, be a glass-half-full kind of person, be less afraid of change ... the list is endless but in the end I cannot change who I am. And what's more, do I even want to? 

And why, oh why, even wait until this symbolic date to make changes if you really want to?

“Every moment is a fresh beginning.” ~T.S. Eliot

Jos's Christmas Day outfit, featuring a green waistcoat from a vintage shop in Welshpool 
and his best pocket watch which used to be belong to his eldest brother

To be in good health and to live in the moment: that's about all I am wishing for. I do not ask for much. It's the little things that make me the happiest.

The world outside our window seems sapped of colour, at first glance grey and unappealing, the leafless trees reaching up their gnarly bare branches to the sky.

They do not ask for much either, just another year will see them right.

Another Spring for their saps to rise, their buds to grow, their leaves to unfurl. To blossom, however briefly, on the mildest of May days.

 Another Summer to provide shelter under their shady green canopies.

Another Autumn to put on a fireworks display of turning leaves, for birds to feast upon their berries and seeds.

Another Winter to lay dormant, their tangle of branches and lacework of twigs silhouetting against an ever-changing sky, a place of rest for the restless birds.

Yes, we have come full circle again, and in a handful of hours we'll lay the old year to rest and raise our glasses - our cups of kindness - to a new one full of hopes and dreams, wishing that at least some of them come true. 

My Christmas Day outfit: vintage maxi dress worn with a symphony of faux pearls, consisting of a vintage 
Christmas wreath brooch and a necklace from the high street. Charity shopped sparkly teal cardigan 
with another vintage Christmas wreath brooch pinned to it. The ring was another high street find.

So, I am starting the year with a ray of hope for the future year, a glimmer of Spring to come offered by this small clump of delicate Snowdrops caught on camera in a local park only a couple of days ago.

Nor will I then thy modest grace forget,
Chaste Snow-drop, venturous harbinger
of Spring, And pensive monitor of fleeting years!
~ William Wordsworth, from "To a Snow-Drop" 

Happy New Year!

* The post's title is borrowed from Christina Rossetti's poem of the same name, dated 1853

Friday 27 December 2019

Bah Humbug and all that

Long time readers of my blog may have guessed that I'm not exactly the hugest fan of Christmas.

The main culprit is my loathing of the over-consumption which more often than not tends to accompany Christmas. To add insult to injury, I'm working in the city centre which, having to deal with the hordes of what I call the Christmas Zombies in the weeks leading up to the day, makes it hard for me to get into any sort of Christmas spirit. OK, I admit it: my name is Ann and I'm a bit of a Scrooge!

It didn't help that Christmas wasn't exactly a huge affair in my childhood home, just a quiet family gathering, enjoyable but leaving no lasting impressions beyond those faintly rose-tinted nostalgic ones inherent to childhood memories.

After I left home, I didn't really do anything special for Christmas for years, and in fact it was only after I met Jos that I started putting up a tree of my own, enthusiastically at first, but only after much coaxing from Jos as the years went by.

This year, we put up the Christmas tree on Friday the 13th. The date was purely coincidental, by the way.

I was home early that day, so before proceeding with the task at hand, we briefly hopped into the garden for some outfit photos. As you can see, I was wearing totally un-Christmassy colours. So there!

It had been another one of those interminably grey days, so I had to fake a bit of sunshine by wearing lots of yellow. My whole outfit was based around the blue Diolen dress I'd pulled from my wardrobe, its print a mixture of huge yellow hued flowers with two borders of sea shells near the hemline.

More yellow was added in the form of a long-line cardigan, opaques, a round buckled belt and one of my ever-growing collection of beaded necklaces. The blue of the dress was repeated in the glass beads decorating the flower stems on my Art Nouveau style brooch.

Before the pleasurable task of decorating could begin, we had to assemble the fake tree we've had for nearly 20 years, a good quality one bought from a local garden centre.

The next hurdle were the fairy lights, which we usually struggle with, but once these were in place, it was time for the boxes of baubles to come out of storage. Most of our decorations are vintage, some of them heirlooms from Jos's family, while others have been picked up from charity shops and flea markets over the years.

The little wren - one of a pair bought from a garden centre many years ago - and the squirrel - an irristible charity shop find - are modern, but more than make up for this in cuteness.

Top left and bottom right are permanent scenes from Dove Cottage, which really comes into its own during the dark Winter days.

I hadn't been feeling all too well on Friday, putting down the stomach cramps and nausea I had to either a bug or tiredness, but whatever it was, by Saturday any discomfort had disappeared without a trace.

We were off on our usual charity shopping trip, and this is what I wore. The red wool-blend skirt was a recent Think Twice find and scouring my wardrobe for the perfect top to wear with it, my eyes alighted on this black floral print blouse. This was a Think Twice find as well, bought several years ago.

Made from a velvety fabric, I'm a fan of its bishop sleeves, deep V-neck and its slight peplum, making it ideal to wear untucked. And then there's the fabulously cheerful floral print containing every colour under the sun.

Spoilt for choice I opted for a lilac belt to accentuate my waist, a blue chunky ring and green beads.

The day's shopping trip wasn't the most successful ever, but I still managed to find this vintage bouclé jacket in scrumptious berry shades, its broad shoulders possibly indicating its 1980s origins.

I couldn't wait to wear it, so that's what I did for yet another edition of our favourite flea market on Sunday. I pinned a yellow felted flower corsage to it, found in a quirky shop in Narberth, Pembrokeshire, and wore a purple mohair charity shopped beret. The sage green faux fur scarf was an impulse buy from a local supermarket about two years ago.

I was wearing one of my favourite dresses, another black floral one, its print featuring orange, lilac, green and white. It has got a solid black cowl neck and cuffs as well as a wide circle skirt, which I've twirled on the blog once or twice before.

At my waist, another lilac belt, a shiny vinyl one with an oval buckle. On top, a green cardigan, its shank buttons added by me, replacing the originals which I didn't like. The floral brooch is another old favourite.

Just two weeks after the previous edition, the flea market wasn't even remotely filled to its full capacity, and it wasn't all that exciting. Still, these gorgeous wooden Scottie dog bookends caught my eye and insisted on coming home with me.

I selected some cards of large vintage buttons from our friend Ilona's stall. At € 1 per card, she virtually gave them away for free. This was a special price for me, as the cards were marked between € 3 and € 5 each. Isn't she a sweetie?

It will probably come as a surprise, but these two brooches were the only ones I found. The only affordable ones, I should add, as some stallholders' prices are beyond ridiculous, telling me that a particular brooch is "old" upon seeing my horrified expression.

The following week was my last full working week this year and after a relaxing weekend, which I'm skipping for now, there was one more day of work on Monday 23 December.

I couldn't wait to get away from the crowds on Monday afternoon, even if they do not much trouble me from my vantage point on the 5th floor. On the bottom left you can see Antwerp's cathedral tower covered in scaffolding and decorated with a lighted Christmas tree. The photo on the bottom right are the fairy lights in one of the trees at street level, as seen from one of the office windows.

And then it was Christmas Eve, the first day of my longed for holidays.

My Mum used to host Christmas Eve, and after she passed away, we kept up the tradition with my Dad. Now that they've both passed away, it's just dinner for the two of us.

The table was laid with my parents' best dinner service, a wedding present back in the late 1950s. The tablecoth, which used to cover the dining table when I was growing up, is making an appearance as well, while the cutlery used to belong to my paternal grandparents.

And even if it triggers bittersweet memories, it always fills my heart with joy to be able to use these family heirlooms.

So, another Christmas has come and gone, and the ghosts of Christmas past have been laid to rest for another year. 

The Scrooge in me cannot wait for normal service to be resumed, but in the meantime I am making the most of my time off by not doing very much at all.

See you soon!

Sunday 22 December 2019

The house of books

Is that the holidays I can see up there?

You bet it is! Tomorrow is my last working day of the year (yay!) and it certainly couldn't have come any sooner. I'm feeling tired and drained and my brain is in a muddle and I'm looking forward to some time off without anything much planned, our diaires blissfully empty except for Christmas Day and New Year's Eve.

In fact, we already made a start this weekend, trying to ignore the fact that Monday we'll have to get back on that hamster wheel one more time.

We did a spot of light charity shopping yesterday and today I'm writing this blog post, even if its subject is two weekends ago, with the impending holiday only a blip on the horizon.

As you can see, red was still on the menu that Saturday! 

The delightful diagonal pattern of the dress, which has been a wardrobe stalwart for many years, combines shades of blue and turquoise on a white background, and I think it just calls out for a pop or two of red.

These pops came in the form of a charity shopped tie-necked cardigan and beaded necklace and a pair of high red boots. These were a retail buy from way back and originally had some very bothersome frills and straps, which were carefully cut off by moi! There, better!

The dress's turquoise was repeated in my beret and opaques. And I wore not one but two brooches: a large carved celluloid one, repeating both red and blue, pinned to my dress, and a tiny floral-themed metal one which I used to fasten the cardigan's tie.

We spent a happy hour or two browsing two charity shops and, in spite of the fact that I only found a handful of things, it was time well spent even if just for the relaxing properties of a good rummage.

The thin magenta jumper has a bit of sparkle in its weave, and a triangular inset at the collar. It's from the French mail-order company 3 Suisses. Seeing the label made me think of my Mum who used to order from their catalogue all the time when I was growing up.

I'm always checking out the belts, which in this particular shop are jumbled together in large box. For € 1,20 this wide woven belt was mine.

My final find was this unworn pair of wellington booties in a purple tartan pattern, which will come in handy to venture outside in the garden when it has rained or - god forbid! - snowed. So much easier to pull on and off than my tall floral wellies.

Sunday was another day like today, dark and dismal and with lots of rain. The perfect excuse to stay indoors and indulge in some reading and pottering.

But no excuse for not dressing up! I was wearing one of that week's sales bargains picked up for € 4 from Think Twice, and as soon as there was a break in the clouds, we were out there to take some outfit photos.

The cozy wool and polyester blend dress was deadstock with its original tag (Made in Austria!) still present, its print featuring green, red and orange squiggles on a beige background.

The granny square bag was another € 4 find on the same day and its colours seem to compliment the dress perfectly. 

I added my orange, elastic backed belt and a teal beaded necklace. My fused glass ring, which is again repeating the dress's colours, was from a market stall in Bruges back in September.

I quicly threw on this sage green wool blazer, and only noticed later that the lining was peeking out from the sleeves! Well, we did have to act fast, as we expected it to start raining again any minute.

Here are the rest of my € 4 Think Twice finds, starting with a navy dress printed with massive flowers, which made me think of Monica's fabulous massive flower dress and skirt. 

This funky patterned, brown based Diolen shift dress still has its original tie belt finished with tiny gold metal tubes.

Dressing up Angelica with my latest finds is one of my favourite pottering activities, as is playing around with my wardrobe and assembling outfits for the week ahead.

But I also made time for reading, which from the moment I realized I could read, has been one of life's necessities for me. Consequently, I live in a house full of books.

Commenting on one of my previous posts, where I showed you a corner of our sitting room, Veronica said that in her opinion books do furnish a room, and I can only agree with her.

It's the first thing I notice when visiting or seeing photos of people's homes and I find it a bit disturbing when there's no sign of any books, anywhere.

I thought I'd give you a short tour of Dove Cottage's book shelves, starting with the sitting room.

Apart from two sets of 1950s Tomado shelf units full of them, they share space with some old cameras in an IKEA display cabinet I've had for about 30 years, which makes it practically vintage.

But not all of them are on shelves as we're simply lacking in space: there's an old wooden crate piled high with books shoved under our sitting room table!

Our dining room has a wall of Billy shelves, some of them having double layers of books ever since we brought home piles of books I couldn't part with from my parents' house.

The old dresser which used to belong to Jos's grandparents is home to a shelf of vintage paperbacks, which I used to collect. The beautiful doily wall hanging decorated with buttons (top right) was a handmade gift from the lovely Lynn.

The shelves beneath the window were custom made by my Dad, and is holdening gardening and Barbie collecting books.

We are moving upstairs now, where the tall shelf unit on our tiny landing was also custom made by my Dad. We have increased shelf space by hanging another 1950s Tomado unit above it.

To the left is our bedroom, where a row of vintage Penguin paperbacks live on the mantelpiece.

The door to the right of the landing leads to our spare room, which is the same size as our bedroom, which is quite huge. This is our dressing room and home office and I'm sitting here typing this.

It also houses another Billy unit, which has space for some vinyl as well. This unit, and the shelves next to it, are crammed with books, including some of Jos's childhood books, as well as my vintage fashion library.

You've probably seen enough books by now, so I'll end this post with an outfit.

This is one I wore during the week to come, but which I assembled that Sunday, giving it a trial run in the garden where, lo and behold, the sun had made a watery appearance.

It had been a while since I wore this groovilious frock featuring brown, green and orange. For some reason, I wasn't sure about it, but I'm glad I gave it another chance, as it's now a keeper.

The ochre beads were a gift from my friend Ingrid, while the orange cardigan was charity shopped, but both the belt and the ring were retail buys. 

I'm racking my muddled brain but I can't for the life of me remember where the green ceramic Bambi brooch came from. But isn't he or she the epitome of cuteness?

Well, that is it for now, and as my next post will only be after the day, I'm wishing you all a wonderful Christmas, whichever way you celebrate it - or not!

See you on the other side!

Wednesday 18 December 2019

Terrific tartan and perfect plaid

Yet another flea market has come and gone and I haven't even told you about our finds on the previous one! I really must get my skates on! They'd have to be old fashioned roller skates, though, as I used to love to whizz around on them a lifetime ago. Ice skates, not so much, as I had a little ice related accident when I was four years old, ending up with a broken arm and a lifelong trauma.

But I'm blathering on a bit, and if I keep going at that rate I will still be talking about my December outings and outfits well into the new year!

So, back to the first Sunday of the month, when we were all ready to go to yet another extra edition of our favourite flea market.

Here's the wrongly sized cardigan I found at the charity shop that weekend. As soon as I clapped eyes on it and its delicious embroidered flowers, I knew it would be the perfect companion for my tartan pattern circle skirt.

I fell head over heels for the skirt when I was trying to shake off the New Year blues on the second day of this year by going for a walk around my little hometown. Halfheartedly looking at the festive shop windows which were now past their sell-by date, the skirt was imploring me to ignore my self-imposed rules and principles about not giving in to fast fashion.

In addition, the shop in question was making an early start with the sales, so that any left-over resistance melted away like ice cream on a hot day.

As a nod to the brown flowers nestling between their blue and white sisters, I added a translucent brown beaded necklace and a wide tan belt.

I lost count of the number of times I was told I was dressed for Christmas. Well, maybe I shouldn't have worn my green furry collared jacket on top, and pinned the leaping stag brooch to it, which one of the stall holder insisted was a reindeer! 

We have a season ticket for this flea market which, except for July and August, is being held one weekend a month. This year, there were some extra editions in November and December, and while this might sound like a good thing, there were fewer stalls and, apart from the usual diehards like us, it seemed to be one too many for a lot of regulars.

This particular edition still had a good mix of stalls selling an array of items, from lovingly laid out vintage to haphazardly packed cartons containing everything but the kitchen sink.

Our finds were a mixed bunch as well. The red woolly thing is a jumper and it was my first buy that day. Originally from the high street, I was more than happy to hand over its € 2 asking price. The creamy thing on its right is a vintage slip, for which I paid the same price. They are becoming rarer than hen's teeth these days.

At our friend Tanja's stall, we fell for this sugar bowl and milk jug. Dating from the late 1960s, they are from the Belgian Boch pottery and the pattern is called Argenteuil. We already have several pieces of this pattern, including a coffee pot, so it was obvious that these had to come home with us.

No, your eyes aren't deceiving you! This is indeed a roll of loo paper. A vintage one, obviously. Isn't that packaging absolutely fabulous? This has gone straight into the display on top of our bathroom cabinet, where it is joining another roll from a different brand. For a little peek inside our tiny bathroom, see my post from June 2016. As this is over 3 years ago, it goes without saying that it's a bit more crowded up there now!

From Rita, who usually has a stall back-to-back with Tanja's, came this delightful vintage powder compact, while Jos pounced on the Expo 58 medallion inside its round blue box stamped with the 1958 World Fair's emblem, which came from the same stall.

I'm always on the lookout for cheap 'n cheerful costume jewellery, like these chunky rings and mottled green beaded necklace.

We were already more than halfway through the flea market's aisles when I found my first brooches.

These all came from the same lady from whom I've been buying for years. Pickings were meagre this time, but I still came away with these four.

My favourite and most exciting find of the day came at the very end. Browsing another regular trader's stall, I spied these two brooches hidden away inside a display case. It is thanks to French blogger Solenn (you can find her blog here) that I recognized them as 1940s handmade brooches.

The following week brought us another string of dark rainy days, the rain often increasing in intensity by late afternoon, and resulting in the usual rush hour traffic disruption.

By Friday, the temperatures had taken a nose dive as well, but at least I had the afternoon off so that we could dash outside in daylight for some outfit photos.

I didn't stop raining all afternoon, and I had no option but to make use of my brolly.

In case you are worried, my trusty photographer took these shots standing under the glass awning outside our kitchen door, so that he didn't get wet either!

The cold prompted me to dig out my woollies, starting with the plaid Gor-Ray skirt which was a lucky charity shop find about a year ago.

The gorgeous jumper with its profusion of pink roses is another King Louie find. Both the jumper and the green Mango cardigan were charity shopped as well.

I just love pink and green together!

As they are not visible in the outfit photos, I included a close-up of the jumper's delightful puff sleeves.

I thought the Limoges style ceramic brooch enhanced the old-fashioned romantic vibe of the jumper, while I chose more pink for my other accessories, a string of pastel pink beads and a fuchsia chunky plastic ring.

So, that is all for now, my dears.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to practice my (ice)skating routine in readiness for my next catch-up of outfits!