Sunday 14 April 2024

April fools

At the time of writing, the second of my official three-day weekends has come and gone. You'd think that with all that extra time at my disposal, I'd be upping my blogging frequency, but frankly speaking all I've been doing so far is honing my procrastination skills. Which is why I've still got to show you what I was wearing underneath that Desigual coat on Easter Sunday!

As Spring still didn't get the memo, it was up to me to jog the season's memory, which I did by wearing a dress whose pattern is a veritable tribute to Spring. Or rather, Tribute with a capital T, according to its label. I'm in two minds whether it was a charity shop or Think Twice find, but I'm leaning towards the latter. Whatever the case, it's been in my wardrobe forever, and it was long overdue an outing.

I made use of all its colours for my accessories, which were a mix of charity shop and high street purchases.

Here I am making my plea to the weather gods to send some sunshine our way on the final day of my Easter break. Perhaps foolishly so, as Easter Monday was the First of April, known to all and sundry as April Fools' Day!

And so it was that we could hardly believe our eyes to find our prayers answered. After a cloudy start, patches of blue soon dotted the sky and by midday the sun was out in full force, with the temperature climbing to a balmy 15°C once more.

Our initial plan had been to go for a stroll in Park Den Brandt. After parking our car, however, a glance towards Den Brandt's opposite neighbour, Middelheim Sculpture Park, made us notice an entrance  which we were sure hadn't been there before.

We decided to check it out, crossed the street and found ourselves exploring the part of the sculpture park called Middelheim-low instead. 

Clearly, a lot of work had been done here since our last visit, and it was a delight to come across the sculptures we've gotten to know so well over the years in their new settings.  It's definitely not finished yet and some areas were cordoned off by red and white tape where new grass was sown to repair the disruption caused by the machinery, but I'm sure it's going to look fabulous!

Almost inevitably, we ended up at Het Huis (The House), a half-open pavilion designed for temporary exhibitions and opened in 2012.

For a couple of years now, strange bird calls have been emanating from The House. These are part of a work of art, not surprisingly called Birdcalls, by the American artist Louise Lawler. Using her own voice, she has sounded out the names of twenty-nine well-known artists - a list of which is on one of the walls, above, bottom right - into bird calls.

Here's a sample in case you're intrigued. I can't for the life of me make out which artist's name this particular bird call represents, though.

The sculptures in the park come in all shapes and sizes, and there are some strange creatures among them indeed. 

Why does Strange Fruit always look so sweet? is the name of the mysterious overgrown figure on the top left. Created between 1998 and 2008, it was born from the fantasy of Flemish artist Johan Creten (°1963).

On the top right is Miss Television II (1979) by the Belgian sculptor Olivier Strebelle (1927-2017).

And yes, the chair is a work of art too. I couldn't find it in the museum's online catalogue, so hopefully by our next visit it has been labelled and I'll be able to properly identify it.

Like many of the sculptures, Three Standing Figures (1978) by the French artist Eugène Dodeigne (1923-2015) used to be in the other part of the park, but has found its perfect setting here, in a garden room of their own. The pink blossom in the background added another dimension.

Half-hidden by the green-sprouting branches we spotted the roof and turret of Villa La Chapelle over in Park Den Brandt. The fairy-tale like miniature castle was originally built in neo-Gothic style between 1880 and 1885 as the gardener's residence of Castle Den Brandt, commissioned by the then lord of the castle, Emile Augustin Joseph della Faille de Waerloos (1835-1890).

Always hoping for a glimpse of Flora, we recrossed the road and entered the park. It wasn't to be, though, as the villa's garden gate was firmly closed this time around.

Nevertheless, we extended our walk by a stroll around the park, as was our original intention.

On our way back, we passed the ornamental English-style cottage called De Peperkoek (which literally translates as The Gingerbread), currently under well-needed restoration. By the looks of it, it's going to be quite the transformation. Here's what it looked like when we last passed this way.

The weather reverted to its usual grey and rainy self in the first week of April which, what with Easter Monday and then my first official Friday off, thankfully was only a very short one, 

This is what I wore on Wednesday when for once we made to effort to take outfit photos after work.

I combined the funky InWear blouse I charity shopped in the weekend with a chevron patterned wrap skirt by the Belgian high street label JBC. This too was a charity shop find, about two years ago.

Apart from my boots and glass ring, which were both retail purchases, everything else was picked up second-hand from flea markets or charity shops.

A highlight of my short working week was the fact that everything was down to € 5 in the latest Think Twice sales. After only recently complaining about the lack of Diolen dresses, I was happy to come across not just one but two on the very same day!

The sturdy fabric bag on the left was found for € 4 later that week, while the genuine leather Italian made clutch-cum-shoulder bag was a € 1,50 charity shop find on the Friday.

A rare visit to the always busy Dutch bargain store Action at the edge of our village for some essentials yielded no less than 4 of my beloved stretchy belts. With their € 2,90 price tag, it would have been silly to leave any of the available designs behind.

The weather on the menu on my first official Friday off - I clearly can't mention this enough :-) - was cloudy and overcast with some light drizzle thrown in, which somewhat tempered the dizzy heights of 18°C shown on the thermometer.

My outfit consisted of two recently charity shopped items, the vintage skirt I scored back in March and the Who's That Girl blouse I found in February.

The cardigan I layered on top is from the line created for women's magazine Libelle, while the belt is from the Belgian CKS label. Both via the charity shop, obviously. My green and turquoise beaded necklace and green brooch were both second-hand finds too.

While we were out in the passageway, we marvelled over the rows of fully developed heart-shaped blooms in our Dicentra spectabilis. What a feast for the eye!

And finally, here's the latest installment in the life of our feline family member.

Lately she'd been spending a lot of time looking longingly through our kitchen window. We were quite hesitant to let her outside, though, particularly since we are living near a busy crossroads. Both her predecessors, Poesie and Phoebe, never made any attempts to venture outside our little walled garden, but we couldn't be sure that our lively, boisterous Bess wouldn't do so either. 

So, we bought her a harness! She wasn't (and still isn't) exactly a big fan of the thing, but her urge to go exploring outside was much stronger.

Here she is on her very first outing, which went very well indeed.

We had a bit of a scare during her second outing, though. After crawling under a shrub and getting stuck, she somehow managed to escape her harness. Much panic ensued from both sides, as you can imagine. Initially she seemed to have disappeared into thin air. Now where could she have got to? But then I spotted her: apparently she had run back to safety inside the house! Phew! 

To be continued, I'm sure.

We'll be going away on a short break in couple of days, so see you on the other side!

Tuesday 9 April 2024

Reluctant Spring

The weather forecast for the Easter weekend had been nothing short of atrocious, so it was with some degree of suspicion that we eyed the sunshine and blue sky we woke up to on Good Friday. At 15°C it felt positively Spring-like, so that I daringly plucked this long-sleeved yet lightweight dress from my wardrobe.

The dress in question was scored for the princely sum of € 2 from Think Twice back in 2019. I remember stalking it in the shop until the girl whose basket it had landed in was discouraged from buying it by her friend, who declared it too granny-ish. Needless to say, I snapped it up the minute she'd put it back on the rails.

Taking my lead from the pink diamonds in its pattern, I added oodles of pink in various shades of the colour, starting with my opaques in a fiery hot pink. My bubblegum pink textured belt with its white metal and pink gemstone buckle has the 1980s written all over it. Unusually for me, I can't remember whether it was a charity shop or Think Twice find and, also unusually, my blog hasn't been helpful in that direction either.

I do remember, however, that my brooch with its pale pink pearls was picked up from Think Twice, while my fuchsia chunky plastic ring was found on the high street. 

First outing for the fabulous lilac cowgirl boots I charity shopped back in October.  Lacking zippers, they are notoriously difficult to pull on, which might be the reason why their previous owner donated this pristine pair of boots in a hard to find colour to charity!

According to our weather app, it was fairly certain that it would rain at some point in the afternoon, so I wasted no time in donning my gardening gear and planting up all the Spring flowers we'd brought back from the garden centre on Sunday.

Same as I did last year, I filled the green enamel cones - which quite possibly started life as lampshades - hanging from the potting shed with cheerful tête-à-tête daffs, while the half-basket they are flanking were planted up with purple yellow-hearted Primulas and red double-flowered daisies or Bellis perennis.

A pink variety of the aforementioned double daisies joined a selection of pansies in the hanging basket suspended from the awning, while more cheeky-faced pansies got the company of some blue grape hyacinths (Muscari) on the little table in the passageway. 

Next to it is the tiny mosaic glass pot I'm holding in the outfit photos. Originally the home of a solar light which has stopped working long ago, I treated it to some leftover pansies.

Although there was still no sign of the forecasted rain after lunch - but thinking a shower could only be imminent - we opted for a wee rummage at the local charity shop.

Before I show you the day's spoils, however, here's what I found at Think Twice during one of my lunch breaks that week. Isn't this vintage madras plaid and denim dress just fabulous?

Unlike the weather gods, their female counterparts in charge of the charity shops have been on their best behaviour lately. For some reason, they keep offering me skirts, which I'm gratefully accepting.

First up is this colourfully striped viscose knit skirt from EDC by Esprit. Angelica is modelling it for you with both tops I found on the same day. The moss green short-sleeved jumper is by Hema, a Dutch chain store which can nowadays be found on most Belgian high streets, while the funky green and tan shirt is by the Danish InWear label.

That day's two other skirt finds are both vintage and are probably leftovers from the infamous Retro Day which took place earlier that month. The white, blue and yellow floral one shows all the signs of being handmade. They will both be joining my Spring and Summer wardrobe.

Speaking of which, with the rain eventually making an appearance on Saturday, I decided to make a start with my biannual wardrobe changeover. Unlike Sheila, however, I haven't finished it all in one go, nor did I take any photos of the process. 

So, how about a look at my outfit instead?

Both the grey, black and rust plaid circle skirt and the black floral blouse were found at Think Twice, in September 2022 and November 2017 respectively. 

I picked up the pops of rust and orange with my Jackpot cardigan and beaded necklace, both of which were charity shopped. My brooch is a vintage flea market find while the belt, which after many years is now sadly on its last legs, was purchased from Forever 21. Their shop in Antwerp has long gone and has now been replaced by ... Primark!

After putting a pile of my warmest Winter frocks to bed and replacing them with the first batch of short-sleeved Summer frocks, surely I deserved a treat? Honestly, these indulgent mini eggs from Leonidas are our only nod to the Easter Chocolate Extravaganza!

We were hoping for an improvement on the weather front on Easter Sunday, but sadly another gloomy day turned out to be our lot. Never mind that the mercury once more climbed to a reasonable 15°C, we had a hard time dragging ourselves away from Dove Cottage's cozy confines.  So, wasn't it just our luck that it started drizzling the minute we'd decided to make the effort!

Still hoping for the best, we drove to the park near the charity shop in Duffel where, in spite of the ubiquitous road diversions, we managed to reach the recently re-established car park without any hiccups.

We frequently used to go for a stroll here before or after our rummages at the nearby shop, often bringing a picnic in season. However, due to extensive roadworks this was only the second time we'd been here in well over a year. The last time was in January, when we walked through a crunchy layer of snow and watched the ice-skating antics of the resident waterfowl.

Same as we did back then, we took the winding footpath around the park's largest ponds, only to stopped in our tracks when the footpath turned out to be completely submerged by floodwater. If you squint, you can spot the bench and litter bin lining the flooded path in the middle of the photo on the bottom right.

There was nothing for it but to return the way we'd come, or trudge through the grass (above, top right) and walk to the point where we were able to rejoin the path. We hadn't been in this part of the park for years and had almost forgotten about the baby stone circle. Nothing prehistoric about it whatsoever, it's fairly recent and commemorates some kind of village milestone.

I loved how lush and green everything was, with pools of colour provided by pink and white blossomed shrubs and trees, the first of the bluebells and the last of the daffodils which were leading a handful of wayward tulips a merry dance.

I thought I'd just throw in my two cents' worth with my Desigual coat, fluffy pink scarf and red satchel. All charity shopped obviously!

One of the Egyptian geese who rule the roost here was watching us from the railing of the humpbacked bridge, daring us to cross it. 

Then he or she thought it was better to be safe than sorry and with an almighty splash took a dive into the water and paddled to its home on the island in the middle of the pond.

By then, it had started drizzling again and we had only just made it back to the car when it started pelting down in earnest. Another lucky escape!

Would Spring finally have sprung on Easter Monday? You'll read all about it in my next post. Oh, the suspension ...

Thursday 4 April 2024

Life, actually

For once, the weather gods were on their best behaviour at the start of March's penultimate week, when we were treated to a handful of sunny days, with temperatures ranging between 15 and 18°C. Wasn't it just our luck, though, that these occurred in my working week rather than at the weekend?

So, how come that I was able to pose for outfit photos in the garden in the middle of the day on Tuesday?

Well, I'd taken the day off as I had a dental appointment smack dab in the middle of it. 

Due to a traumatic dental experience in my twenties, going to the dentist has always been a big deal for me, and I'm the first to admit I'd been a bit remiss in my visits lately. To make matters worse, my dentist has semi-retired, closing her practice in the village last Spring. Apart from the near-impossibility to register with another one as the far majority doesn't take any new patients, there's the not unimportant issue of finding a dentist that gets me and whom I feel comfortable with.

So, when one of my molars started playing up back in February, and I had unsuccessfully tried to contact a number of practices in the area, I called my former dentist in desperation. Much to my relief, she was happy to tell me that she was still working two days a week in a group practice in a nearby town. The catch was that I had to wait six weeks for an appointment. 

I'm now without an upper molar, the one at the very back on the left side which, much to my surprise, turned out to be a wisdom tooth I didn't even know I had. Anyway, good riddance to the pesky tooth!

As for obvious reasons I wasn't feeling too inspired that morning, I thanked the fact that I'd had the forethought to assemble a couple of outfits during the weekend, and opted for this symphony of grey, black, lilac and a dash of fuchsia.

My grey and white wallpaper print dress - yet another Think Twice find - is brightened with splashes of  turquoise and fuchsia on its collar and hem. I echoed the latter with my beaded necklace, and then layered a lilac cardigan on top. The white and grey plastic swallow brooch I pinned to it is vintage and an old flea market find. 

My opaques were matching the grey of the dress's pattern, while I added a black stretchy belt at my waist for contrast.

As the afternoon was my own, I took a leisurely stroll into the village, running an errand and going for a browse at Zeeman, a Dutch chain store selling mainly textiles at bargain prices. Most of the stuff they sell is surprisingly good quality, but nevertheless my friend Inez and I insist on dubbing the shop L' Homme de la Mer to give it that certain je ne sais quoi!

After the day's ordeal, I thought I deserved a treat, so this chunky cream cardigan embroidered with tiny flowers and leaves came home with me.

In spite of the less than perfect weather, the jungle garden is doing extremely well. At least these days of endless rain have been good for something!

After offering just a handful of its heart-shaped flowers in its first year, the Dicentra spectabilis a.k.a. Bleeding Heart in the passageway border is now making up for lost time (top left), while our ancient white current bush is promising a more than decent crop (bottom left) by early Summer. Never mind that most of the juicy fruits will probably be pilfered by the resident wood pigeons ...

Almost engulfed by an encroaching army of ivy, one very daring snake's head fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) is proudly displaying its chequered bell-shaped flower.

It was back to the office on Wednesday, which turned out to be the last in the row of Springlike days, the weather reverting to its usual grey and rainy self on Thursday.

Tired of being in a rut, we booked a couple of days of pampering at our favourite B&B in Beernem near Bruges in the third week of April (not long now). In order to get ourselves into the mood, out came the walking maps and guide books, although I've got a feeling that Bess wasn't exactly sharing our enthusiasm! 

Saturday brought four seasons in one day, with a mixture of short-lived sunny spells and showers. We were even treated to a smattering of hail stones, while the temperature took another dive below 10°C.

In a moment of madness, I decided to wear ordinary nylons instead of my trusted opaques, which I rectified when I repeated the outfit for work the next week.

To make up for the general lack of blue skies, I donned this sky-blue dress, which is sprinkled with white flowers. Apart from a wide pleated skirt, it comes with a tie collar which rather annoyingly obscures the buckle of the belt I was wearing.

I added the sparkly peacock brooch found at the indoor flea market to secure the tie's knot, and I'm sure you'll recognize the chunky cardigan I picked up from 'L Homme de la Mer the other day!

The morning was spent pottering aimlessly and keeping an eye on the weather forecast to see if it would allow us to go for a walk. It didn't, so we went charity shopping instead.

The result of my rummage was a handmade black needlecord skirt with an eye-catching abstract white, tan, teal and turquoise pattern ....

... and a pair of greyish green shoes by Think! label, a sustainable Austrian label established in 1991.  A quick visit to their website revealed that similar pairs retail at € 150 and above, so I'm quite happy with the € 5,90 I paid for them.

My final find was this multi-coloured beaded necklace, for which I had to rob a shop dummy!

Sunday was chilly, grey and rainy, with highs of about 8°C, so again no chance of any outdoor activities.

As we thought our garden could do with a colour injection, we hopped into our car and drove to the garden centre after breakfast. 

We brought home a boxful of Spring flowers to be planted in the pots and baskets which live under the awning outside our back door. My initial intention was to already make a start with this, but the weather had turned even worse by the time we got back, so that we just dumped the box in the passageway instead. But not before having been subjected to a thorough quality control, obviously!

Now for a look at my outfit of that day!

My blue and tan plaid skirt was a charity shop find a couple of weeks ago. The blouse I paired it with, and which is from the former Belgian label Wow To Go, was part of a haul from an outlet shop in November 2022. 

Both the necklace and brooch are vintage and were picked up from our favourite indoor flea market at various times, while my King Louise cardigan and Massimo Dutti belt were supplied by the charity shops.

I'll be back with our Easter weekend adventures in a couple of days, as obviously I need to make sure to be all caught up before our little getaway ... 

Hope to see you soon!

Saturday 30 March 2024

Just walking in the rain

From the title of this post, you will probably surmise that Spring still hadn't arrived in earnest as perhaps foolishly hoped for at the end of my last post. In fact, the Thursday I spent my lunch break basking in glorious sunshine at the Botanic Garden turned out to be a one-off!

On my penultimate Friday at the office - according to the calendar, it was the 15th of March by now - the highs of 14°C came accompanied with the customary solid grey skies. The forecasted rain held off until midday, when it started drizzling as I walked around the corner to Think Twice for that week's cappuccino catch up with Inez. And then there was that heavy shower during my commute home. Ugh! Honestly, I've got a bone to pick with the weather gods!

Saturday was yet another dismal and grey day, on which the temperature dipped to about 11°C.

Both the skirt and the jumper had been waiting in the wings for a while, even though it was never my intention to wear them together. The thin knit green jumper with its diamond patterned yoke was still airing after its outing at the end of December, while I had yet to wear the wool and polyester blend peasant-style skirt I found at Think Twice earlier that month. Turned out that, united by one of my stretchy belts, they were perfectly suited!

My woodpecker brooch was joined by a brown plastic owl ring - not properly visible in the pics - and a funky black, white and brown plastic and wooden necklace purchased brand new from Accessorize many years ago.

While taking outfit photos, I suddenly spied a flash of pink out of the corner of my eye. Upon closer investigation, I was amazed to find that the Geranium macrorrhizum 'Czakor' we planted in the passageway last year was already sporting its first flowers. Very precociously so, as it's only supposed to flower in late Spring and early Summer! Courtesy of "the wall", we must have a very favourable microclimate in our passageway.

The Euphorbia amygdaloides 'Purpurea' (above, bottom left) the geranium is sharing a bed with is in its prime, and so is the Spirea bush in our garden proper, which is displaying its annual fireworks of tiny white flowers. It was one of the first plants we added to Dove Cottage's garden in our first Spring after we moved in, now all of 25 years ago.

I spent the morning doing a couple of minor sewing jobs and exchanging my heaviest Winter coats for some lighter ones. I also filled a couple of bags for charity, as I'd been doing a bit of a clear-out in the last couple of weeks. These we'd planned to drop off at the charity shop in Duffel after lunch and then perhaps go for a stroll in the park across the road.

But although a modicum of sunshine had been promised for the afternoon, the weather gods once again didn't deliver. In fact, by the time we'd finished our rummage in Duffel, they'd send some angry looking clouds our way, which made us continue to the charity shop in Mechelen instead.

Here is what I found, which was nothing short of a skirt-fest.

The red patterned skirt is from the defunct Belgian Who's That Girl label while the blue skirt with its crazy green, orange, yellow and white pattern is vintage. The latter was probably a remnant from the infamous Retro Day which took place earlier this month. Both were found on the rails of the shop in Duffel.

My final find in that shop was the chartreuse paperbag waist maxi skirt, which is 100% cotton and by the Belgium CKS label. 

Pickings were meagre at the very busy shop in Mechelen, but I fell head over heels with the handmade cotton 1980s does 1950s circle skirt, which reminded me of a skirt I owned - and loved very much -back in the day.

We woke up to yet another mind-numbing cloudy day on Sunday. Like a yo-yo, the temperature had bounced back to a balmy 14°C so, when the sun put in an appearance after lunch, we decided to go for a walk. After all, our phone's weather app said it wouldn't rain until after 3 pm. 

It was almost a given that it started raining while on our way to Boom park, but we persevered and drove on, hoping it would just be a blip. 

However, it was still raining when we got out of the car, so we grabbed an umbrella, determined to take a brisk turn through the park at the very least. 

Lack of fresh air had left me feeling somewhat zombie-ish, and my head had more than its fair share of cobwebs that needed blowing away.

The magical sight of a veritable carpet of wood anemones instantly snapped me out of my lethargic state of mind. They even made me forget the rain which was still creating patterns of concentric circles in the park's pond. 

They were literally everywhere, those starry harbingers of Springtime! 

Weeping willows were clothed in fresh lemony greens and marsh marigolds were preening themselves in the rippling surface of the big pond. 

There was plenty of wildlife out and about as well. Broody moorhens were awaiting this year's batch of offspring in a twiggy nest floating in the middle of the pond. We even spotted one or two turtles who were reacquainting themselves with their surroundings after their stretch of hibernation.

It eventually stopped raining so that we made our walk last a little longer. We even found the perfect spot for some outfit photos, using the back of a wooden shed as a backdrop. 

I was wearing one of my favourite Diolen frocks. Charity shopped in January 2017, I was instantly smitten with its bottle green colour and its white, beige and yellow geometric pattern. 

The butterscotch cardigan sporting tan buttons was charity shopped as well, while the faux Léa Stein cat brooch was a flea market find. Exceptionally, my outfit contained not one but two items I bought on the high street. Both the tan mock-croc belt and my necklace came from haberdashery and accessories shop Veritas, the necklace snapped up for a mere € 4 in last Summer's sales.

We had circuited the largest pond and were on our way back to the car park when we spotted more wood anemones ... and more wildlife. We'd seen the white cat several times before on our walks here. How lucky it is to have this park on its doorstep!

Upon spotting us, the bushy-tailed red squirrel promptly scuttled away and, quick-as-lightning, started scrambling up the nearest tree. But I was quick-as-lightning too, as I managed to catch it on camera just in the nick of time!

The rain was back before we'd reached our car and our windscreen wipers were working full speed on our way home, but we were so glad we'd made the effort. 

As for those cobwebs, they had well and truly been cleared.