Saturday 28 January 2023

Blue and grey

This photo was taken from the office window on Blue Monday, the 16th of January.

Do not be fooled, though: it would have been a completely different story if I'd happened to look out of the window just a handful of minutes later - or earlier for that matter - as it was just a brief intermezzo in an otherwise total washout of a day.  In fact, the band of dark blue sky at the bottom was courtesy of an encroaching army of angry rainclouds.

The mercury, which had still been flirting with double figures the week before, had taken a tumble to just 5°C and would drop even further as the week progressed. However, we were blessed with a brief reprieve from the eternal rain with a string of dry and - heaven forbid - sunny days. Wonders never cease! 

On Monday and Tuesday, the handyman and his helper continued assembling the IKEA furniture at the office, most notably the kitchenette, which was still very much a work in progress in the photo on the top left. Needless to say, this came accompanied by the necessary hammering and drilling, with the additional soundtrack of aimless whistling, which is bound to drive me mad at the best of times. Thank goodness I'd had the forethought of bringing my headphones!

 The ordeal was also slightly redeemed by my new office chair, which not only looks the part but is the epitome of comfort as well.

Other highlights that week included the news that a huge Think Twice shop - the 5th one in Antwerp - would be opening around the corner from my office at the end of the week. Obviously, I went to have a sneak peek during one lunch break, when they were still busy putting the finishing touches to the shop's interior (top right).

Then, on Wednesday night, we finally put an end to our dithering and booked a couple of nights away at our favourite B&B near Bruges in February. Admittedly, we did have a little push in the back, details of which will be revealed soon. Yes, I know, I do like to keep you in suspense!

The rain returned with a practice shower during our commute home on Thursday, which ended with a fiery sunset just as we were taking our exit from te motorway. 

During lunch break that day, I'd wandered to the soon to be losing its status as nearest Think Twice shop to see what their new collection, which always follows one of their sales periods, had in store. I actually gasped when I spotted this fabulous Diolen frock, which I couldn't grab from the rails fast enough.

We woke up to this on Friday morning, thanking our lucky stars that we didn't have to brave the commute into Antwerp that day.  But although it didn't last, and thaw soon set in, the snow would be replaced by sleet for most of the day.

In fact, we ditched our plans to go on our usual Friday charity shopping trip, as it was an utterly wet and miserable day, with the temperature barely above freezing point. 

On one of the rare moments when the rainclouds were refuelling we stepped outside for outfit photos. I'd quickly thrown over my fluffy white gilet - last seen worn by Angelica - to which I'd pinned a teal flower corsage. Both items were picked up from a bargain shop in the village many years ago.

Then I took a deep breath, bracing myself against the cold, and removed my gilet to properly show you the dress I was wearing underneath. The things one does for blogging!

Vintage C&A, this wool and acrylic blend dress was a Think Twice find almost exactly a year ago. Although its body is lined, the sleeves aren't, so that I have to layer a long-sleeved tee-shirt - in a matching colour, obviously - underneath to combat itchiness. Definitely not a hardship in these temperatures! 

I pinned the ruffled and slightly pesky collar down with a brooch of multi-coloured stones found pre-blog on a flea market in Carmarthen, Wales and added another flower corsage, in white felted wool. The latter tied in with the black and white necklace, last seen in my previous post, and the chunky white plastic ring. At my waist, a wide, unstructured burgundy belt with  a translucent round plastic buckle.

The snow, which had briefly turned our garden into a miniature Winter Wonderland first thing, had all but gone by now. but I managed to take a snap of its last vestiges. Shortly afterwards, the heavens opened again and drove me back inside for the rest of the day.

Much to our relief, it was clear and sunny when we got up on Saturday morning. With forecasted highs of just 1°C, and plans to make the most of the dry weather to go for a walk, it was imperative that I dressed warmly once more.

I was determined to wear the Finnish Arola skirt I bagged in the Think Twice sales earlier this month. Although there is no purple in its slubby stripes, I instantly had this colour in mind to accompany it on its first outing. So, out came a thin knit purple polo neck jumper, a high street buy I've had for so long that I would have forgotten its providence if unaided by its label. Matching purple opaques, and we're done. 

Or not quite, as accessories maketh the outfit! 

I started with the moss green suede belt - an old charity shop find - which ties in with some of the skirt's stripes. There is a modicum of green among the grey and white stripes, even if the camera seems to have a problem picking it up.

More green was added with my ring and Miracle brooch, while I picked up the orange of the skirt by wearing an orange wooden beaded necklace.

Oh, and in case you hadn't noticed, I was wearing a pair of forest green calf length suede boots, which were a cheeky retail buy last Autumn. Too delicate for the undoubtedly muddy walk we had in mind, for which I changed into the old pair of chocolate brown ones I usually wear for the purpose.

The sun was shining brightly in a Winter blue sky when we set off to our chosen walking destination, Den Brandt, one of the pearls in Antwerp's crown of parks. It's part of a cluster of parks which lies to the south of the city centre, and which goes under the collective name of Nachtegalenpark (Nightingale Park). The sculpture museum, Middelheim, is also part of this cluster.

As usual, we entered the park via the picking garden in front of the neo-Gothic Villa La Chapelle, built in the late 19th century. The Gautam Buddha at the back of the garden has been here since 2004. At the time of our visit, his offerings included a handful of sea-shells, a plastic orange and red striped beetle, a mini Buddha and, most intriguingly, a car key!  Additionally, some kind soul had adorned his hairdo with a beaded bracelet.

The gate leading into the garden of the villa was firmly closed this time, so that sadly there was no chance of a repeat visit to the lovely Flora. Still, we called out her name so that she knew we remembered her. 

After climbing the flight of steps into the park proper, we continued along an uphill path lined by majestic trees. All of a sudden, the sun disappeared behind a layer of clouds and the landscape was cloaked in a thin layer of mist.

Emerging from the trees, a beautiful reed-edged marshy expanse opens up and, with half-closed eyes, it isn't hard to imagine one in the depths of a wilderness instead of in a popular city park.

Here and there, there were remnants of Friday's flurry of snow. The carpet of leaves was sugar-coated with rime, while a miniature snowman was slowly but surely melting away on a fallen log. One of the park's gently giants was no more, passed away in 2022.

We usually skirt the heart of the domain, which is dominated by its romantic castle and the sweeping lawns at its back, as this is many people's preferred sunbathing, picnicking and exercising spot. On this day with its less than perfect weather, it was completely devoid of people, which obviously created the ideal photo opportunity.

The wooden hump-backed bridge was treacherously slippery, so that we had to hold on to its railing while crossing it.

Originally built in 1790, the castle was renovated in the 1870s in late-classical style. Nowadays, like most of its ilk, it is a venue for events and parties. 

The fountain sculpture in the castle's French garden is by German sculptor Walter Schott. It is officially called the "Three Graces", although I do prefer its alternative name of  "Dancing Nymphs". It was purchased by the city of Antwerp at the 1910 World Fair in Brussels and placed in the garden for the park's opening to the public in 1911.

Just at that moment, the sun decided to have another go at piercing through the layer of clouds. Only half-succeeding, it cast an eerie glow over the tirelessly dancing nymphs. They must have been feeling the cold in their flimsy dresses but seem to be eternally grinning and bearing it.

From the castle terrace, there was a view of the ornamental gingerbread cottage in the distance, shrouded in mist and mystery.

So, even if we were aware of the fact that it looks quite disappointing up close, when its neglect cannot be ignored, we made our way towards it. Still, it managed to look suitably enchanting, its roof garlanded with  icicles. 

With one backward glance to the mist-swirled lake, we walked back to our car where, no sooner had we rejoined it, the clouds parted and made way for blue skies and sunshine once more. I bet the weather gods were laughing behind our backs!

Joining Nancy's Fancy Friday link-up party!

Monday 23 January 2023

On the move

January's second week brought a string of wet and miserable days, culminating in a stormy Thursday,  when the rain lashed against the office windows all day and the wind tugged at my umbrella on my way to and from work, trying its best to blow it inside out. I'd come prepared though, having had the presence of mind to carry my storm umbrella, but it was still a bit of a struggle not to be carried up and away, Mary Poppins-style.

The week, with the run-up to the office move on Friday, continued to be full of hurdles. The electrician only finished his job on Thursday afternoon. At that moment, there was still no sign of the handyman we'd engaged to assemble the IKEA furniture and who was supposed to come on Wednesday. Then it transpired that our bosses had forgotten to contact the IT guys, who were meant to work their magic once the equipment had been moved on Friday. The latter only came to light on Wednesday, when we asked at what time we could expect them.  As by then they were fully booked for Friday, they were only be able to come on Monday, as a result of which we'd be losing another half day of work.

I always had my suspicions that moving on Friday the 13th wasn't the brightest idea!

Anyway, I'm backtracking to Wednesday the 11th, when the weather gods had apparently overslept and forgot to turn on the rain machine in the morning. As it was still dry, with the odd sunny spell, by lunch time, I fled the chaos of the office for a spot of second-hand shopping.

My first port of call was the vintage per kilo shop, where I was seduced into purchasing two frocks. The first of these, a blue floral hand-made affair, was missing one of its buttons. As those which were still present were of the boring variety, I didn't really mind, as I knew my stash of vintage buttons would be able to come to the rescue. I think these black and white moulded flower ones couldn't have been better suited.

I was instantly transported back to the 1980s when I plucked the second dress from the rails, falling in love with its red and blue pattern on a speckled grey background, its row of asymmetrically placed blue buttons and its gathered sleeves ending in deep cuffs fastening with a row of three buttons.

From the vintage per kilo shop I walked to the nearest Think Twice one, where sales prices had dropped to € 4, and I found this wide blue, burgundy, green and yellow tartan skirt. Unfortunately, my camera and the ongoing dark and dismal weather conspired against showing its colours to full effect. 

On Friday, moving day had come at last and it was every bit as chaotic as I'd feared. The handyman arrived just before the moving guys did and, while the latter were bringing over the curated contents of the temporary office next door, the former managed to assemble one IKEA desk and two office chairs before rushing off to another job elsewhere in the building, promising to come back on Monday. They were all gone by midday, leaving our desks adrift in an ocean of boxes. After eating the sandwiches Jos had lovingly made for me that morning, unpacking the contents of my desk and putting everything in its right place, I decided to call it a day and go home. 

The rain, which had held off until mid-afternoon on Friday, returned with a vengeance and presented us with yet another rainy and windy day on Saturday the 14th. Not even the fairly reasonable 12°C shown on the thermometer could redeem the utter miserableness of the day. 

Having finally finished the book I'd been struggling with since the Christmas break, I started book # 1 of 2023, The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory, which had me hooked from page 1. I somehow lost my reading mojo last year, but I'm determined to do better. If only I didn't fall asleep after half a page while reading in bed!

By now, even Bess was getting fed up with the continuous rain, as it kept the birds from visiting the feeder hanging from the awning just outside our back door. She is, by the way, one of those rare cats who doesn't make that typical "ekekek" sound when spotting birds or other wildlife. She just watches them raptly, eyes big as saucers, from the kitchen window.

When the rainclouds finally took a little breather after lunch, we quickly put on our coats, grabbed an umbrella and walked to the garage to pick up our car. 

Then, before dashing off to the charity shops for a rummage, we made use of the communal garage's white painted brick wall to show you what I was wearing that day.

You've already caught a glimpse of my skirt, an old favourite from Think Twice in a grey wool-blend fabric criss-crossed with red, green, white and yellow stripes.

My multicoloured striped jumper, originally from New Look, was charity shopped, as was the mustard long-line cardi and the black and white beaded necklace. The black stretchy belt with its square buckle was last year's high street buy, while the delightful grey cat brooch with its orange ears and eyes, was a gift from Kezzie when we met up in Antwerp in February last year.

I mentioned charity shops, but we actually only visited one. I left Jos in the cafeteria with a cup of coffee and and a book while I happily browsed the clothing aisles. The two long-sleeves blouses on the left are all that remained in my basket after a trying on session, as I sadly had to leave behind a gorgeous blue tweed skirt, which was slightly too snug, and a Morris & Co. x H&M tunic/dress, which turned out to be bit on the roomy side.

After joining Jos, I made one more foray, into the bookshelves this time, where I happened upon another Philippa Gregory.

On our way home, we stopped at the pet shop for cat food. At the same time, we checked out their display of scratching and climbing posts, as it was clear that Bess was missing the excitement provided by the Christmas tree. She started investigating the post we brought home as soon as we put it down next to her old one and is now happily using a combination of both. What's more, we got it for a bargainous price as it was the last one in stock, plus, being an ex-display model, we didn't even have to assemble it! 

We woke up to sunny spells on Sunday, but it was quite stormy, which made it feel much colder than the 8°C it actually was.

I picked this charity shopped vintage dress because of its generous wool content but ditched its self-fabric belt complete with Bakelite buckle in favour of this olive green leather one. More olive green was added with the vintage beaded necklace, which was another charity shop find. The burgundy ceramic leaping deer brooch was a flea market find, its colour tying in with the dress's pattern, as did my chunky ring.

You'll have to take my word for it, but I was wearing olive green opaques as well. 

Layered on top was a greyish green "hairy" cardigan from Belgian label Thelma & Louise, which yet again was charity shopped.

Blue skies still reigned when we set off to our chosen destination, Middelheim, late morning. The icy wind chill factor made us do a detour to Dove cottage after making outfit photos at the garage, so that I could exchange the coat and scarf I was initially wearing for significantly warmer ones. Consequently, it was almost 11.30 before we parked our car near Middelheim's main entrance.

With the art park currently in the process of a reshuffle, which is expected to be finished by the end of the year, more and more empty plinths appear with each visit and it is rather disconcerting to find some of our favourites missing, even if only temporarily.

The guy on the bottom right was still in his usual place, part of a row of busts you meet when walking along the main avenue into the park. Admittedly, he seemed to be quite confused by the appearance of what is looking like a work-in-progress (top left) and the strange object (top right) suspended from the trees nearby.

The metal scrolls on the bottom left have been living in the park for an eternity, and as far as I know they are still in the same position. Unfortunately I cannot tell you their name or creator, as I forgot to take note and I wasn't able to access the online collection.

The strange elongated creatures on the bottom left are an enigma as well, but the peep-hole sculpture (top left and bottom right) is called O Indio e a Suassuaparà. Dating from 1951, it is by the Italian-Brazilian sculptor Victor Brecheret (1894-1955).

Nobody was home at No. 3 of this make-believe street, which obviously is another work of art. Its name is Surroundings (1972-73) and its creator is the Italian artist Alik Cavaliere (1926-1998).

My camera must have snapped hundreds of photos of the Braem Pavillion over the years. Designed in 1963 in Organic Brutalist style by Renaat Braem, who is considered one of the most important representatives of post-war architecture in Belgium, it was inaugurated in 1971. 

The sun was doing her usual disappearance act by the time we finished our walk, and the wind was getting wilder by the minute, so that, just like the girl called April (1959) by by Belgian sculptor Mark Macken (1913-1977), I had to hold on to my hat!

Thursday 19 January 2023

A new chapter for the old castle?

I'm almost back to my usual blogging schedule, it seems, as in today's post I will be regaling you with what we did on Sunday the 8th of January!

Once again, the forecast had been indecisive, talking of sunny spells in the morning followed by  showers in the afternoon. If we hadn't been feeling so sluggish, we would have gone for a walk after breakfast before things were expected to go pear-shaped again. 

However, what with the upcoming office move at the end of the week and all the extra work this would entail, I was being more than just a little grumpy and jittery, which made accomplishing even the tiniest of tasks an impossibility. 

Before we could make up our minds, it was time for lunch. But lo and behold: the sun was still gracing us with her presence! In fact, it would remain dry and sunny all day! Weathermen these days!

The thermometer insisted it was 10°C, which I took as a sign to wear this raspberry red frock sprinkled with a veritable confetti of tiny white stripes and yellow and white dots.

At the event of its first appearance on the blog in February 2019, when I'd stumbled upon it at Episode, a rarely visited vintage shop, I likened its buttons to raspberries. When Kezzie told me in her comment that she thought they looked more like lychees, I could only nod in agreement!

As you know, I'm a creature of habit, but surely there's no better colour than yellow to accompany this dress? This time, I opted for bright butterscotch hues in the form of my charity shopped Zoë Loveborn cardigan and opaques. For some reason my camera always reads the latter as mustard, making them match the belt and the necklace, an old retail buy and a charity shop find respectively.

My mid-century celluloid brooch featuring two Scottie dogs in a sailing boat was purchased at an antiques fair in November 2019.

A quick peek at my No Stress caramel suede lace-up ankle boots, charity shopped back in December.

I only wore them for the outfit photos, though, as they would have been completely ruined if I'd worn them for the walk we eventually dragged ourselves out of the house for.  As a result of the endless rain we'd been having, muddy patches and puddles would have been unavoidable.

The same endless rain, in fact, ruled out several walking options, and in particular those in any of the ex-clay pit nature reserves. After tossing around some ideas, we decided on Hof ter Linden, a domain surrounding a Neoclassical manor house (a.k.a. the castle), which is only a hop and skip away in the next village.

After having parked our car, we proceeded along the cobbled avenue lined with age-old lime trees towards the mesmerizing flash of bright white which was beckoning from its very end.

The avenue of broad-leaved limes (Tilia platyphyllos) historically connects the castle with the village church and doubles as the entrance to the castle grounds. They were planted in 1756 by the then Lord of the castle, Simon-Carolus de Neuf.

I have yet to walk here without reminiscing about my late Dad, who grew up in the village, and for whom the castle grounds were part of his playground. As the castle itself was still very much lived in at the time, the grounds were obviously strictly out of bounds which, judging from his often told wartime childhood stories, didn't seem to have deterred him and his friends.

Perhaps this wise man keeping watch remembers the gang of village boys who used to sneak into the castle grounds and knew its pathways like the backs of their hands? One thing is certain: the lion who was cruelly ripped from its plinth, leaving only its amputated paws and claws, must still have been standing guard at the avenue's entrance.

Once through the wrought iron gates, a magnificent view towards the castle opens up, the white pillared bridge across the moat guarded by two placid lions, whom time seems to have treated much more kindly.

At the far end, they are mirrored by a pair of sphinxes. They are definitely not mimicking the lions' kindly and welcoming expressions, daring one to advance and walk past them without being turned into pillars of salt.

If at first glance the caste is reminiscent of a smoothly iced wedding cake, the cracks in the icing will soon become apparent upon your approach. 

Ran as a conference and events venue until the end of 2022, it is rumoured that, finally, a start will be made with its much needed renovation this year, aided by a grant which will cover about eighty percent of the cost. There may be a new chapter for the old castle soon!

The park which stretches out behind the castle features a pond with gazebo, as well as grasslands and ancient woodland. 

There are more of those stuck-up sphinxes here at the back of the castle, flanking a flight of steps down to the pond. It appears that the one on the bottom left won't be able to look down her nose at us ordinary folks, though!

Several white painted statues on plinths used to surround the pond, but unfortunately these disappeared shortly before the domain was sold to the village authorities in March 2012. Apparently, they were removed by the descendants of the castle's last occupant. After a legal battle, the family was convicted for theft of the statues and other works of art in 2017. By then, unfortunately, at least six of the missing statues had already been auctioned off in France, so that it remains doubtful that they will ever be returned.

The domain originated in the 14th century, when a walled and fortified farmstead was built near the site of the current castle. Unfortunately, it didn't survive the Eighty Years' War (1560-1640) after which it gradually decayed.

In the 17th century, the then owner, Peter de Coster de Jonge, had the building demolished. In its place, he built a hof van plaisantië (court of plaisance) in Renaissance style, a country residence in what used to be the rural belt around Antwerp.

However, this residential castle was also besieged, so that in 1770 there was no option but to demolish it. 

Between 1770-1773, the de Neuf family had the castle rebuilt complete with accompanying coach houses, and an ornamental park laid out. 

The complex is a beautiful example of Neoclassical architectural style and, incredibly though it seems, the castle is said to retain most of its original and perfectly preserved interiors.

Most of the ground floor windows are shuttered so that there's no chance of a sneaky peek, although I once caught a glimpse of these gorgeous tiles through a gap in the curtains.

I have been lamenting the sorry state of the castle's exterior in no less than eight blog posts since I first took you here in November 2016. Hopefully, the impending restoration rumours are true and I can finally share a bit of good news one of the next times we walk here ...

We'd circumnavigated the pond by now and after negotiating the muddy paths we'd arrived back at the courtyard in front of the castle.

The coach houses on both sides have long been sympathetically restored to their former glory, providing a stark contrast with the crumbling castle. They have been turned into a brasserie and a culinary restaurant respectively. I haven't been able to find out what the castle will be used for after its restoration, but I'm hoping there will be a chance of having a look inside at long last!

Heads sufficiently cleared of most of the lingering cobwebs, we walked through the magnificent wrought iron gates and up the ancient avenue, back to where we'd left our car.

So glad the weathermen got it wrong again: just look at that glorious blue sky!

Joining Nancy's Fancy Friday link-up party!

Saturday 14 January 2023

Saturday's pursuits

Long time readers may know that my blog is usually lagging a week or two behind real life. And that's exactly how I like it, I hasten to add. As during my working week there often isn't much time to spare, I find it quite reassuring to have a backlog of subject matter - and outfits - to blog about. 

So imagine my dismay when I found myself all caught up last week! 

What with December's ill-health and wet weather, we hadn't been on any adventures to speak of for the better part of two weeks. I can only be thankful that in spite of the less than ideal circumstances, we'd made the effort to photograph my outfits on most days during the Christmas holidays, as otherwise I might have been obliged to take a blogging break!


By now, I've caught up with these too, so here's what I was wearing just one week ago, on Saturday the 7th of January

The fuchsia blouse with its multi-coloured stripey pattern - my mind boggles trying to describe it  more aptly - is from the defunct Belgian label Who's That Girl, picked up from an Antwerp outlet shop back in November. For its first outing, there was no doubt that I'd wear it with green, so I selected this lightweight forest green pleated skirt from my wardrobe. Like the blouse, it was bought brand new, a bargainous find between Lockdowns during the pandemic.

At my waist, yet another retail buy - naughty, naughty - snapped up for a song at a CKS pop-up outlet on the Meir, Antwerp's main shopping thoroughfare, last October. Both my ring and my boots are wardrobe stalwarts originating from the high street too!

Nothing vintage whatsoever, but at least the rest of my outfit consisted of second hand finds: both the fuzzy yellow cardigan and the necklace were charity shopped, while the brooch was a flea market find.

We'd woken up to dry weather for once and while we were having breakfast we even got a couple of glimpses of that strange phenomenon they call the sun.

I wasted no time in photographing Friday's charity shop finds, starting with a polo neck dress by Who's That Girl's sister label Wow To Go. I was instantly smitten with its groovilicious yellow and navy dotted pattern.

In spite of having an overflowing coats wardrobe, I can't help but peruse the aisles for those standing out among the usual yawn inducing ones. My eye was caught by the grey and tan Prince of Wales type checks of this fur collared beauty, which I was excited to see was Made in Belgium. It needed the addition of a snap at the collar to keep it from gaping at the top, which was a quick fix. Then I spotted the fur hook and eye hidden in the collar itself, offering an alternative for those really cold days ...

Friday's final purchases were a pair of fuchsia tights for € 0,50, a snip considering they retailed at € 10,95, and a rose patterned locket on a chain.

As a reward for her faithful clothes modelling services, I decided to treat Angelica - who was named after my paternal great-grandmother - to a new outfit. She seems to approve of the groovy brown hued wool-blend dress she is now wearing. Perhaps I should follow her example and do the same as for some reason it has been languishing unworn in my wardrobe for a long time.

Oh, and there's me in the mirror, and somewhere on top of the cupboard behind Angelica is a photo of her namesake taken just before the First World War. Here she is with her husband and two of her children. The little girl is my paternal grandmother, Leontine, who was born in 1910.

I layered an off-white faux fur gilet over Angelica's dress, pinned a teal flower corsage to the latter, and handed her a lacquered rattan handbag with a blue pleated scarf tied to its strap. Now she was ready to go!

I'm sure you won't be surprised that our bedroom, like the rest of Dove Cottage's rooms, is full of thrifted treasures. 

We found the chandelier after a long search on New Year's Eve many years ago. 

The blue vanity set (bottom right) and green Art-Deco brush and tray (bottom left) are UK holiday souvenirs, while the compact and card of kirby grips were flea market finds.

The Art-Deco lady with her gorgeous green dress and pet birds has been residing in front of the mirror on our mantelpiece for nearly twenty years, and she is one of my favourite finds ever. 

Finally, here are some glimpses into my cluttered wardrobe where dresses and handbags are jostling for space, and a peek at my party dishes of chunky rings.

Talking of clutter, surely this is what the word was invented for ... 

This is our hallway reflected in the full-length mirror near the front door. Lovers of minimalist interiors, please do look away!

The rest of the morning was spent dismantling the Christmas tree. 

I don't know about where you are, but it's a tradition in Belgium to leave it up until the 6th of January, which we call Three Kings Day, and which celebrates the arrival of the Three Wise Men.  As it was already the 7th by now, its days were definitely numbered. Bess wasn't too pleased to see her favourite plaything go, though!

Although the sun was still out in full force by lunch time, the weather forecast had promised more rain in the afternoon. Yay! 

But whatever the weather, going for a walk wouldn't have been on the menu anyway, as we were invited by Jos's son and daughter-in-law for a little family get-together.

Still no rain as we were parked outside their front door, which we took as the perfect opportunity to show off my new-to-me coat! I nearly forgot to mention its deep pockets to shove one's hands into!

The main purpose of the family get-together was grandson Cas's Nieuwjaarbrief (New Year's letter).

Flemish children are expected to write a letter with New Year’s wishes for their parents, godparents and grandparents, which is then read out loud in front of everyone.

The tradition originated in the 16th century and was at first limited to the upper classes, who had access to education. At that time the letter was usually written in Latin and in verse. Since the mid-20th century, the custom has spread and is now an essential part of local culture. Despite its Catholic origins, it has been adopted by everyone and currently has no religious meaning.

Today, children start "writing" a New Year's letter in their first year of nursery school, when they are about 3 years old. The text is pre-printed and learned by heart in the classroom, rather than actually written and read. This obviously only starts when they have learned to read and write in primary school. The tradition is kept until they move to secondary school, when they are around 12-13 years of age.

Cas, of course, being only 19 months old, is still way too young to read or even memorize a letter. But no fear, he read it together with his mum, with Cas supplying the odd word, among them one of his favourites: tractor! And no, I haven't got a clue why a tractor would be part of one's new year's wishes.

His reward was the sound puzzle we found for him in a charity shop back in November, and which he loved to bits. Our reward was a choice of mouthwateringly delicious cakes!

True to form it started raining mid-afternoon and it was still chucking it down when we went home around 17.30.

For Sunday, a mixture of sunny spells and showers had been forecasted. Would it be dry for long enough to finally go on that longed-for walk? You'll find out in my next post!