Thursday 28 April 2022

Green thoughts in green shades

What fools we are to think each year that April will be well-behaved for once. But no, it turns out that once again she hasn't been able to make up her mind which season she actually belongs to. Starting with snow and barely above freezing point temperatures on her very first day, she has by now treated us to a couple of mild Spring days as well as a handful of summery ones. But then there were those bright sunny days which came accompanied by tempestuous winds, with a distinctive nip to them which wouldn't go amiss on an Autumn day. 

There has been a distinct lack of April showers, though. In fact, rain has been mostly conspicuous in its absence, depleting ground water levels and leaving nature - and our gardens - dusty and dry. 

We'd just passed the month's half-way mark on Saturday the 16th of April, and the sun was out in full force from the word go. With forecasted highs of 17°C, we had every reason to spend time outside. I was determined, however, to make the most of the 4-day weekend and squeeze in some jobs I'd been procrastinating on.

Such as making a start with the biannual wardrobe changeover!

Always a daunting task best tackled in batches, I took a deep breath and started by thinning out my long-sleeved dresses, folding them away and filling the empty hangers with short-sleeved ones. 

I'm casting a critical eye over everything while I'm at it, making piles of the things I'm no longer wearing, either to be redonated to the charity shops or to be sold on our local flea market which I'm hopeful will be happening again this year. Decisions, decisions!

I had help, obviously, although Bess is quite a bit more paws-on than Phoebe ever was. I had to rescue several dresses I'd temporarily put out on the bed from being cat-handled and it was all I could do to prevent her from running off with one or two of the belts. Then the pile of empty hangers got her interest, so I let her fight them for a while, until she caught sight of my dressing gown which I'd carelessly forgot to hang up. Look at that cheeky face!

By lunchtime, I called it quits, leaving the rest for another day, whenever that will be.

We were lured outside by the siren call of the garden centre, so we walked down to our garage and, before hopping into our car, took advantage of our garage's white painted brick wall to make outfit photos.

Green and red were the main ingredients that day on which no less than three items in my outfit had their very first outing. The most recent of these were the red Kiarflex shoes charity shopped the previous week. The other two being the skirt - a Think Twice find last Autumn - with its eye-confusing green and off-white pattern, and the green and white striped blouse charity shopped back in February. 

In spite of the day's sunny outlook, a brisk wind coming straight from the east made me grab this grey tweed blazer. A charity shop find in October 2018, it was the fabulous embroidery, although sadly on one side only, which cinched the deal. To its opposite lapel, I pinned a blowsy red flower corsage to balance things out.

More red was added with my vintage Scottie dog brooch, glass beaded necklace and ring. 
At my waist, one of my stretchy black and white chevron belts, its round buckle echoing the circles in my skirt's pattern.

Although ostensibly our visit to the garden centre was prompted by the need to buy some wild bird seeds, I knew there was no way I would be able to make it past the plant displays.

Apart from two pots of Sweet Peas and a hanging Pelargonium, these three perennials made it into our trolley. 

Ever since our recent walk in the park in Boom, where I posed in front of some Euphorbias, I had a hankering for one, opting for Euphorbia amygdaloides 'Purpurea', which has acid-yellow blooms and contrasting reddish-purple foliage. It's currently gracing our passageway table - where it is able to preen itself in the mirror - until I've found it its permanent spot in the garden.

We also picked up some more solar lights, including four small stake lights to line the garden path and  two hanging metal baskets, in sunny yellow and orange.

The best thing is that we hardly spent any money, as we'd saved enough on our loyalty card to pay for most of our purchases!

Back at home, I pottered around the garden, doing some odd little jobs, while Jos busied himself with the solar lights, hanging the baskets from the brackets holding up the rusty enamel advertising sign. The latter was a freebie from our opposite neighbour during the first lockdown in April 2020. It might be a bit worse for wear, but then again it's 90 years old, dating from 1932.

As you can see, our garden is inundated with Honesty (Lunaria annua), which has self-seeded all over the place. I need to thin them out before they completely take over the garden, but I'll wait until they have finished flowering. Their violet flowers are such a cheerful sight!

We couldn't wait for darkness to descend that evening to see all the new and existing solar lights in action. Isn't it magical?

Uncharacteristically, Easter Sunday was a sunny day with the mercury climbing to an unheard of 19°C.

Determined to wear all the out-of-season clothes I bought over the Winter months, I picked the dress I'd snapped up at half price in the January sales. Although it was part of the Winter collection, I considered it far too thin to wear before the temperatures hit the double figures, and even now I was wearing it with a vintage slip layered underneath and a cardigan on top.

The dress came with a self-fabric belt, but I thought it looked a million times better with one of my stretchy ones. Isn't its buckle spectacular?

I used different shades of green for my accessories (brooch, necklace and ring) and I was wearing opaques in the palest of greens. You can just catch the tiniest glimpse of it in the above photo.

Visiting an indoor flea market might not be the obvious choice for such a gorgeous day but we wanted to pay it at least one visit before they close down for the Summer months in June. We hadn't gone for a browse there since its October edition, which was the first one since all events had to be canceled due to Covid-19 eighteen months before.

The Easter holidays and the sunny weather had somewhat conspired against it, though, as there weren't as many stalls as there used to be. Sadly, for those stallholders who had made the effort, the number of browsers was rather disappointing as well. Not that it bothered us, as it meant we had plenty of space!

It was a joy to wander among the stalls like we did in the olden days, although, clearly out of habit, it took us several aisles before we made our first purchase. At Tanja's stall - one of our favourite sellers - Jos pounced on the late 1960s transistor radio, still in its box and complete with all its accessories (top right). Meanwhile, at the same stall, I fell for the Nutbrown egg poacher for our kitchenalia collection, which Tanja kindly threw in for free!

A set of six vintage plastic Emsa plates was waiting for us at another of our favourite stalls, Ilona's. They'll be perfect for having breakfast or lunch at our little garden table.

It's almost a given that I'm adding to my brooch collection when visiting this market, and this time was no exception. The cameo brooch on the left, with its unusual cobalt blue background, as well as the cute plastic mushroom brooch on the right, were both from the same stall, yet another one of our favourites.

The 1930s brooch in the middle was found on a random stall in the final aisle.

Easter Monday saw a repeat of Sunday's weather, although it did take a while to warm up to the forecasted 19°C. 

Wandering into the garden, I was pleased to see that by now quite a few of the fat flower buds in our Clematis "Guernsey Cream" were in various stages of opening (top left and bottom right). At the time of writing it proudly bears at least ten large cream with a tinge of green flowers. It's supposed to flower from May to July, so ours is definitely an early riser!

There's a profusion of bluebells as well, the pink ones next to the bench being the first ones to flower. I love the pop of bright yellow supplied by their nearest neighbours, the Cowslips.

The afternoon was spent sprucing up the small paved area at the back of our garden, which we rather grandly call the courtyard. While Jos tackled the tangle of Ivy and Virginia creeper and swept up the leaves and other debris accumulated in its corners, I checked over the pots containing the remains of last year's annuals, discarding those which didn't show any signs of life. 

Cleaning the table and chairs, as well as the vinyl-clad top of the old barrel, was next on my list of things to do.

We also removed the as good as dead honeysuckle growing in the bed underneath the bird feeder at the back. It's looking a bit bare now, but I've got plans!

Finally, let's have a look at the day's outfit, although I admit to changing into my gardening gear before tackling those jobs.

Both the skirt and the blouse are vintage and have proved to be wardrobe staples over the years. The skirt, with its profusion of moss green, orange-red, white and brownish flowers, was part of a charity shop haul in March 2019, while the pale green blouse was bought from Think Twice in Bruges while on a day trip for Jos's birthday in September 2019.

While both the brooch and the necklace were second-hand finds as well, the stretchy belt with its hexagonal buckle was a naughty retail buy about a year ago. No regrets, though, as it has been worn and featured on the blog many times in the past year.

So, that's the Easter weekend wrapped up, and with the next weekend being only a regular two-day one, I wasn't exactly looking forward to the week ahead. But I'll tell you all about that in my next post!

Saturday 23 April 2022

April blues

It seems I got a case of the April blues earlier this month. 

Don't worry, though: I'm talking about clothes and not about my state of mind! When I was compiling the photos for this post, I couldn't help but noticing I'd been wearing a lot of blue recently.

Let's start with this dream of a dress I wore on Sunday the 10th of April. Could there be anything more Springlike than a blue dress sprinkled with white flowers, emulating blossoms on a blue-skied Spring day? 

Picked up at Think Twice back in the mists of time, the dress, which zips up at the front, comes with a wide pleated skirt and a tie collar. Add to this the advantage of its long sleeves, and it's absolutely perfect for those days when the temperatures haven't quite caught up with the time of year.

Sunshiny yellow was added with my King Louie cardigan - a charity shop find, obviously - as well as the brooch I clipped to the dress's tie.

I was also wearing a yellow belt and tights, but you'll have to take my word for this, as they are all but invisible in the photos. The plastic, turquoise-rimmed flower brooch, was a flea market find if  I remember correctly.

My boots, which I bought from a local shoe shop back in November, have been on constant rotation ever since. This is the pair I wore for traipsing all over Bruges, to give you an idea of their level of comfort.

In continuation of Saturday's walk in the park, which had been a definite boost to my health, both mental and otherwise, we drove down to our beloved Middelheim shortly after lunch.

As variety is said to be the spice of life, we entered through the so-called Artist's Entrance (top left) which I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn is another work of art. It was created by Dutch artist John Körmeling in 2012.

Hardly anything is what it seems here, although I'm quite sure the intriguing yellow feather I spotted in the grass was purely accidental.

From the entrance, we walked through a grassy field towards the park proper. 

A handful of artworks are scattered across the field which is punctuated by some low-stemmed trees, now proudly displaying delicate, pink-hued blossoms.

We tried to guess the age of some of the sculptures we walked past, guessing correctly that these two were created in the 1950s. A giveaway, really, as these couldn't have been more Mid-Century.

On the top left, Les Murs ont des Oreilles que la Maison ne Connait pas, by Belgian sculptor Reinhoud d'Haese (1958), and on the bottom right, Six Persons by Italian sculptor Luciano Minguzzi (1957).

Even these engraved benches are part of an art installation, called Backwards, by William Forsythe and dating from 2018.  There's a 4th bench, instructing you to walk 5 steps away, but someone was sitting on it. Let me tell you that these are quite impossible to accomplish, even the ones with just 5 or 7 steps!

Forsythe gained international recognition as artistic director of the Frankfurt Ballet from 1984-2004, continuing his work as a choreographer until 2015 with the Forsythe Company. He is considered to be one of the most creative innovators in contemporary ballet. Since the 1990s Forsythe has designed installations, which he calls “choreographic objects”, and which have been exhibited in leading museums around the world.

Yellow LED lights popped on the minute we entered the architectural sculpture (1986-1990) by Bruce Nauman, called Diamond Shaped Room with Yellow Light. In the artist's own words: "The bright yellow light can dazzle you just as you enter. Colour and form are confusing. You don't want to stay in this room for very long." Well, I certainly didn't, but managed to bump my head on the concrete lintel on my way out. 

On the bottom left, the perforated bronze sculpture called Envelope (1996), by Tony Cragg (UK).

Once again, I wanted to be a piece of the action, by replacing the sculpture which usually stands here (bottom right) but was currently on loan. It was only later that I found out the sculpture was a nude!

Before crossing the street and making our way towards the castle café, we rested our feet for a couple of minutes on the built-in benches of the picturesque thatched little building which used to be the park keeper's cottage, and which goes by the romantic name of Aubette. Dating from the late 19th Century, it was restored to its former glory in 2016.

Before calling it a day and returning to our car, we enjoyed our customary cappuccinos and a hefty slice of cake (mine was chocolate mousse) in the museum café.

It was back to business as usual on Monday! Much to my relief, work hadn't been too busy during my absence, so that catching up was a doddle. Still, there were a couple of annoying issues which took the fun out of my working week. I made the most of the sunny weather to go for head-clearing walks during my lunch breaks. It was when I was taking a shortcut through Mango - the shop conveniently has two entrances at opposite ends - that I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of this glorious pair of floral, wide-legged, organic cotton trousers.

Eventually, Friday, which was the start of the long Easter weekend, rolled along. The weather forecast was looking more than promising and we had plans aplenty, starting with a charity shopping trip on Friday. It had been two weeks since our last one, and frankly speaking I was starting to get serious withdrawal symptoms!

Did we find anything? All will revealed at the end of this post. But first let me show you what I wearing. And yes, the colour blue played a starring role once again.

It had been far too long since I last wore this vintage belted new wool jacket, so out it came to accompany me on our after-shopping stroll in the park. I pinned a pale pink felt flower corsage to its lapel and wore the swirly striped multi-coloured scarf I charity shopped back in February.

Frothy blossoms and lawns full of cheeky little daisies were headlining that day, with clumps of red tulips providing the support act.

A light breeze tempered the 16°C indicated by the thermometer, so I was glad I'd opted for this blue and white short-sleeved jumper, closing with a row of three white shoulder buttons. 

Both the jumper, charity shopped last Autumn, and the floaty pleated skirt with its zebra-esque pattern, found on the same day as the scarf I was wearing, received their very first outing.

I'm sure neither the wooden disc necklace nor the Bohemian brooch need any further introduction, as you've seen it all before and often enough to boot. The belt used to belong to a dress which is no longer gracing my wardrobe.

Charity shop finds weren't exactly plentiful that day, but still enough to whet one's appetite.

Having become rarer than hen's teeth over the last couple of years, I was overjoyed to find this pale pink lace-edged vintage slip among one of the shops' nightwear rail.

Jos was in luck too, finding a shirt with the grooviest brown and cream pattern.

The red shoes are by the Portuguese Kiarflex brand, which was founded in 1987. They have already been tried and found extremely comfortable, a great alternative to my Clarks Cloudsteppers.

Finally, these two books found their way into my basket.

The Missing Sister is the final installment in Lucinda Riley's bestselling Seven Sisters series, which was published in April 2021, less than two months before the author passed away in June 2021.

Having read all six of the previous installments, some of them offering light relief from the worries of Covid and lockdown, it was obvious that I needed to read this one too. Not wanting to fork out its full price in a bookshop, I patiently waited until it turned up in the charity shops.

As I love poring over maps, and in particular Ordnance Survey ones in preparation of our UK holidays, this puzzle book was a no-brainer. 

The book contains a total of 40 maps with questions ranging from word puzzles, search-and-find clues, general knowledge questions, and navigational challenges, split into four levels of difficulty. It's quite addictive but you'll get cross-eyed from staring at those maps after a while!

Well, that's it for now. What we did during the rest of the Easter weekend will be the subject for my next post. Hope to see you again then!

Tuesday 19 April 2022

A handful of April days

Now that the Easter weekend has come and gone - obviously accompanied by oodles of scrumptious chocolate mini eggs - April has slowly but surely progressed into its second half. Notorious for its fickleness, we have nevertheless been blessed with lots of dry and sunny days so far this month, the mercury on some of them even reaching Summery heights.

With my Bruges travelogue over and done with, it is high time for a catch up of what's been happening here chez Dove Cottage since we came back. Now, don't get too excited about that!

Remember that cold I caught from Jos? Well, by the time we'd made it home on the 1st April, those April Fools had decided to pull a joke on me and present me with the telltale signs of a head full of cotton wool, a slight tickle in my throat and a case of the sniffles.

Deciding to take things easy, I nevertheless spent the afternoon unpacking, uploading my photos and catching up with blogland while Jos was doing a food shop. It was still bitterly cold with highs of only 5°C and an icy wind so, although I was itching to see our garden's progress, I limited myself to a cursory glance through the kitchen window.

I was feeling a lot better on Saturday although obviously not yet 100%. Still, the lure of the garden became too strong, especially when a handful of sunny spells made the 6°C indicated by the thermometer feel warmer than it actually was, particularly in our sheltered little plot.

Apart from our Hydrangea which had suffered some frost damage, everything seemed to be doing well. 

The Bridal Crown daffs I'd brought back from the garden centre a couple of weeks ago had now fully opened their frothy cream and peaches blooms (first collage, top left) and what's more, their heady aroma was greeting us whenever we opened our back door.

I'd dressed warmly in my vintage grey wool skirt criss-crossed by yellow, red, green, black and white diagonals, pairing it with a groovily patterned blouse by the Belgian Wow To Go label, which came my way through a charity shop.

The charity shops also provided the forest green mock croc belt and the green mohair King Louie cardigan, while my floral brooch was a flea market find. The yellow beaded necklace was a gift from my friend Inneke.

Bess was clearly over the moon to have us home and wouldn't leave us out of her sight for days.

However, one of my first tasks was crawling around our sitting room on my hands and knees and retrieving all the toys which had ended up under or behind furniture. To paint you a picture, this involves the use of a flashlight and a child-sized litter picker we'd acquired especially for the purpose of reaching things which have ended up in virtually inaccessible places.

In spite of having reached the heady heights of 8°C, with Saturday’s sunny spells missing it felt a lot colder on Sunday. I felt a bit worse too, which was perhaps exacerbated by the thought of having to go back to work on the Monday.

I still managed to dress up, as this usually makes me feel better, but didn't bother with make-up aside from a quick slick of lipstick before venturing outside for outfit photos.

I hadn't yet worn the green dress with its massive flower print I found at Oxfam last Autumn. It's by the Danish Only label and a mere size 34. This is of course several sizes smaller than my usual size, which just goes to show how random sizes really are. In fact, my wardrobe contains everything from an XS to an XL.

I opted for a rich plum colour for my opaques and long-line cardigan. Charity shopped earlier this year it was the latter's first wearing as well. The pale pink translucent beaded necklace and my favourite moss green ankle boots were also provided by the charity shops. The green glass brooch I used to fasten my cardigan with was picked up in a vintage shop in Middelburg, Holland, during our November 2018 getaway. Both the belt and the faux-leather green flower corsage were bought on the high street.

My return to work on Monday turned out not to be nearly as bad as I thought it would be, but by Tuesday I had as good as lost my voice, leaving me with what I can only describe as a raspy squeak. Even Bess look at me oddly whenever I talked to her, as if wondering who that funny-sounding creature was. I generally tried to limit speaking to the bare minimum, which of course is easier said than done. Speaking on the phone was out of the question and each uttered sentence was exhausting, especially as I had to constantly repeat myself to make myself understood.

By Wednesday, I was feeling worse again, and it was even worse on Thursday when, after missing out on several hours of sleep, I decided to call in sick. I didn't even get properly dressed that day, wearing a pair of slouchy trousers (by Essentiel Antwerp, but still!) and a jumper. I lay on the sofa for most of the day, reading my latest book in between naps. I cannot even begin to tell you what an unusual occurrence that is! But at least I got my voice back by then.

Friday was my usual day off but although I did feel slightly better, I didn't do anything more taxing than reading, catching up with blogland and fiddling with photos for my next blog post.

I did get dressed though, my outfit a repeat of one I wore to work earlier. Strangely enough, I hadn't worn this red-based vintage dress for two years and when I finally found the post in which I was last wearing it, it turned out to be another two years since its penultimate wear. So, apparently it's a biennial dress! Not sure why, though, as with its tie collar, bishop sleeves and and generous pleated skirt always inviting a spot of twirling, it's an absolute joy to wear.

I tamed its tie with a turquoise hearted brooch and wore a King Louie cardigan, opaques and plastic ring in shades of the same colour. The grey leather belt ties in with the bits of grey in the dress's pattern.

The foliage of Dicentra formosa a.k.a. Pacific Bleeding Heart has been joined by clusters of tiny reddish flower buds (top left) while the wild area next to the garden bunch is erupting in Spring blooms provided by the first of the pink-hued Bluebells and nodding egg-yolk-yellow Cowslips (Primula veris).

On Saturday - we were the 9th of April by now - I was finally ready to face the world again. The fog in my brain had gone completely, my throat felt much less constricted and my voice was back to normal. Still, and in spite of the rising temperature - we noted 11°C - and sunny outlook, I had to drag myself out of the house for a walk. But I persevered and I was so glad I did, as it was absolutely heavenly to breathe in the gentle Spring air and smell those divine Spring scents.

We'd chosen the park in the nearby town of Boom (pronounced as [boːm]) for our excursion, where we were immediately faced with the dilemma of which of the two Monet-style little bridges to cross. 

We opted for the right one and then took the path skirting the edge of the park, which we followed until we reached the building and garden belonging to a centre for environmental education. There wasn't much in bloom here (although I did admire the bank of Euphorbia I'm standing in front of) and indeed whole parts of the garden were just bare soil. Perhaps the gardens are being redeveloped? I guess only time will tell. There was, however, a brand-new looking picnic table, apparently made from the wood provided by one of the local storm victims.

The skirt I was wearing was an old Think Twice find, in a crepey fabric with a swishy lining. Its pattern has a Mid-Century ring to it, although I suspect is came straight from the 80s. No label whatsoever so this is clearly somebody's handiwork.

I wore it with an ochre thin knit jumper from the Belgian Vila Joy label and a Norwegian style cardigan from H&M, both of which were charity shop finds. The belt, which is the same one I was wearing on Sunday, and the wooden discs necklace were retail buys, the latter bought many years ago from Accessorize, who briefly used to have a shop in the shopping centre near my office.

We took a left turn into the heart of the park, circumnavigating the park's series of ponds and marvelling at the fact that the water was so much clearer than it was before. For many years, the water in the ponds and the brook leading into them was green with algae and gave off an unpleasant musty smell. We often used to pity the waterfowl who nevertheless insisted on making the park their home.

There were carpets of wood anemones, some of them alas on their last legs. They seem to be exceptionally prolific everywhere this year.

One of the ponds was edged with clumps of cheerful yellow Marsh Marigolds, which contrasted most picturesquely with the patches of brilliant blue sky.

Heads completely cleared of lingering fog, we finished our walk and drove back to Dove Cottage.

Our appetites whetted, we took advantage of the continuing good weather to go for another walk on Sunday. But that, my dears, will be for my next post!