Saturday, July 27, 2019

Postcard from Prague

Prague is such a beautiful city, filled with amazing architecture at every corner. Spires of all sorts stretch to the heavens against a cloudless blue sky. 

View from the Charles Bridge towards another bridge not so far away.

Such a pretty and interesting decoration over a building just off of Wenceslas Square. I love the beehive in the centre and the pale blue background.

Wonderful details.

Just a quick post - there is much to explore! Today we're off to a tour of Castle Hill and a classical music concert later. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Summertime, Summertime

On summer mornings, the days stretch out luxuriously with hours of delightful possibilities. There are few things I really have to do and many things I'd like to do. By evening I find that the day has sped by and I have little to show for it. Instead I seem to drift through the days, puttering here and there, tidying a drawer or two, picking raspberries and making a bit of jam, sewing, or sitting and reading a book. And I'm not at all concerned with the lack of list ticking. 

Every morning and most evenings, I wander through the garden, admiring, pulling a weed or two, and wishing the tomatoes would hurry up and ripen. The hydrangeas are glorious this year, large bushes with heavy blossoms that are lasting a very long time due to our cooler summer.

For the past few days I've been occupied with company of the very best sort. There have been hours of holding a sleeping bundle against my chest, singing the songs I sang to my own children and my other grandchildren, and the delight of looking into her beautiful eyes. 

This morning, before I took them to the ferry, we had a little photo shoot. Iris is at her best in the morning, and this morning she was stellar.

Watching my children with their little ones brings me much joy. I see love and delight, mingled sometimes with frustration, as is the case with all parents. I see wisdom and respect and I am so pleased with the varying parenting styles they have chosen.

Isn't Little Miss I's hair a hoot? We call her Miss Tiggywinkle sometimes, as we did her cousin who had similar hair. 

I planted several new-to-me dahlias this year and one of them is Cafe au Lait, seen above. I had hoped to grow them in large pots, but this one wasn't very happy, so Tim transplanted it recently. I think the pot contributed to short stems because the next blossoms will have longer ones. This 10-inch bloom is floating in a bowl and is such a lovely creamy colour. It's also home to an ant, I see in the photo. 

Television here is something usually indulged in on the weekends. However, when I eat lunch alone, I sometimes tune in to one show or another. Last week I watched Lidia's Kitchen on PBS and she showed a great recipe for tomatoes. I adapted it considerably and will share below. The plum tomatoes were grown in a local greenhouse on a small piece of land near to our home. 

Crispy Baked Tomatoes

7 ripe plum tomatoes
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup Panko bread crumbs
2/3 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons snipped fresh chives
1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
1 teaspoon minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes, if desired
more olive oil for drizzling

Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and remove the core and seeds.

Place the tomatoes in a bowl and pour the olive oil over. Toss with your hands to thoroughly coat the tomatoes.

In another bowl combine the bread crumbs, cheese and seasonings. Pour over the tomatoes in the bowl and again with your hands, toss together.

Place each coated tomato half onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Fill with the crumbs remaining in the bowl. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes. The tomatoes should be meltingly soft and the topping crunchy. Enjoy!

Friday, July 12, 2019

Monet, Colour, and Choosing Paint

"Water Lilies is an extension of my life. Without water the lilies cannot live, as I am without art." (Claude Monet)

I recently went searching through photos for something (and I found it), but was enticed down a rabbit hole with photos from our trip to France and the UK in 2016. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Giverny where Monet lived, gardened, and painted. 

"I must have flowers. Always and always." (Claude Monet)

The garden was a riot of colour. Roses, poppies, sunflowers, agapanthus, phlox, hollyhocks - all the lovely flowers mingled together in generous beds between straight paths that led round to the house. 

"Everyday I discover more and more beautiful things. It's enough to drive one mad. I have such a desire to do everything; my head is bursting with it." (Claude Monet)

Although most of us would think a pink house with bright green shutters garish, it fit perfectly in Monet's garden. 

"Color is my daylong obsession, joy, and torment." (Claude Monet)

Most of the walls in Monet's house are cool neutral whites and pale shades. It was quite startling to walk into the dining room where vibrant, clear yellow dominates. Notice how even the furniture is painted the same colour.  And the red checkered floor. Blue and white tiles. Amazing. This is a room for lively conversation, for good food, for friends and family. One feels revitalized just walking into the space. 

"Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love." (Claude Monet)

The kitchen is a riot of blue and white tiles, turquoise and white cabinets and those shiny copper pots that instill admiration and the desire to whip up a souffle or omelette. There have been a few books published about Monet's appreciation of good food, and how much he entertained his friends at Giverny. 

The photos of Monet's house got me thinking about my own. Like Monet I favour cool, clear colours. I have never liked the beiges and earth tones that were so popular a few years ago. Wherever we lived, if it was possible, I painted walls light and cool. The collage above is composed of photos from the Cotswolds and Wales, and you can see I have a tendency to blue. Clear blues of almost any shade are, and always have been, my favourite.

I even have a hard time taking photos of flowers that are orange or pale peach. They just don't appeal to me like the pink roses and blue delphiniums. Above is a collage of roses from the gardens at Sudeley Castle. I forced myself to take photos of those orange hues. 

This brings me to my current dilemma. Our living/dining room needs repainting. I've been thinking about it for a couple of years. It's very pale blue. When we lived in the jungle of Ecuador, the living room was painted white with the barest barest hint of pink - cool, clear pink, not swine-colour. I've been looking around and talking to paint experts and I think I'm ready to take the plunge.

"Try to forget what objects you have before you - a tree, a house, a field or whatever. Merely think, "Here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow," and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it gives you your own impression of the scene before you." (Claude Monet)

I painted a test splotch on the wall today and I think the colour will work (can't remember the name, but the clerk at Benjamin Moore said it was the palest pink they make). We have the best of guests for the weekend (Baby Iris and her parents) so painting will wait for awhile, but it feels good to start. 

I'm so happy the sun is shining this afternoon after a rainy, cloudy week. Hooray for summertime! 

Linking to Friday Bliss, hosted by Riitta of Floral Passions, where she mentions that Finland has also had a cool and rainy week.  

Monday, July 08, 2019

Boats and Beaches

Just a few years ago our children laughed gently at us for wanting to make plans more than a few hours in advance. "Be spontaneous," they said. So we tried. 

Fast forward a few years. Spontaneity is out the window, as once the grandchildren appeared, schedules ruled and calendars must be coordinated far in advance. 

So when the wind blew on a cloudy Sunday morning, Tim and I looked at each other and wondered if the planned-in-advance boating outing should go ahead. We decided to give it a try -we could always turn back and do something else, if needed. We're so flexible that way, now, you know. 

The wind lessened considerably before we left, but the clouds intensified. "Splat, splat" against the windshield went the rain. It looked like the sandpails and shovels were not going to be needed, after all. We ate lunch on the boat, then set out for a walk, first in the woods, then along the beach. 

We saw a number of Great Blue Herons, a Bald Eagle, a pair of River Otters, numerous Gulls, and a Killdeer faking a broken wing to lure a dog away from its nest. Very few people.

It was a monotone day, grey lightened by splotches of pale sand and yellow-green grasses. We got wet; my hair frizzled, my feet were cold. But boy, did we have fun!

These two cousins ran back and forth amongst the lions (aka adults), hid in the forest, explored the beaches, dammed up a small tricklet of water, giggled and chatted. Riding on an uncle and grandpa's shoulders gave them a wee break from running back and forth. I'm certain they put in quadruple the steps we adults took. 

A brick factory once operated on Sidney Island and evidence is left in the spread of broken bricks on the beach. Someone began piling up a few of them, and our two young adventurers contributed.

Although I'm longing for some warmth and sunshine, I'm learning to find the loveliness present in almost every moment. The layers of sky, sand, and sea on Sidney Spit undulate across the horizon in an ever-changing, ever-fascinating roll-out of subtle colour and dramatic texture.

Linking with Mosaic Monday, hosted by Angie of Letting Go of the Bay Leaf. 

Friday, July 05, 2019

Summer Days at Home

The first week of summer vacation is almost over. It's been lovely, beginning with dinner with friends one evening, a quiet Canada Day celebration with family, and days alone at home. So lovely. I like to stay busy, but this week I've deliberately slowed down. I needed this.

I've weeded and clipped back the garden, cut many bouquets of flowers for the house, and had tea with a friend on the porch.

Our temperatures are cooler than normal and the skies are mostly overcast. I wish it were warmer, but since it isn't, I cuddle up with a blanket to sit outside. The cooler weather is also beneficial for the hydrangeas. They are sensational this year.

I'm picking raspberries and blueberries every few days, both to freeze and to eat now. I've been sewing, but have nothing finished to show at the moment. 

We're planning a trip to Europe this summer and for the past couple of months I've been thinking about how much I would just love to stay at home. However, after this week of quiet and solitude, I'm getting excited about traveling. Most of my sewing is targeted towards the trip - it's hot in Europe and linen will be my best friend. 

Little Iris is almost a month old already. I wish she lived on this side of the water, but we'll see her (and she's bringing her parents) in a couple of weeks. Such a sweet, sweet bundle. 

It's time to fold a bit of laundry, put clean sheets on the bed, and think about dinner. I'm so enjoying the lovely slow rhythm to these beginning summer days. 

How about you? How's summer in your corner?

Linking with Friday Bliss, hosted by Riitta of Floral Passions.  

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Up Close with Nature

Tim and I took a couple of days away on Solitude, our boat. We chugged down the Strait of Georgia to Cabbage and Tumbo Islands, two small pieces of land jutting out of the sea. Many rocky islets, essentially reefs, stretch along the shoreline of larger islands making navigation something to pay attention to. Fat seals lounge on many of these islets, basking in sun or rain, impervious to the weather. 

Everything seems to taste better out in the fresh air. It's like having a perpetual picnic. Unfortunately, on this trip I left the eggs and milk in the fridge at home. One of my friends attributed it to "exhausted teacher brain." Could be. Anyway, I did remember the avocados so we ended up with avocado toast that was very tasty, along with bacon. So glad I didn't forget the bacon! The message on the tea tin is a good reminder to make the most of any situation.

There is a good hiking trail on the larger island, beginning with a forest path, then winding along the shore on a berm between a marsh and the beach. The grasses swayed and rustled in the breeze and Canada Geese looked very at home there. 

We stopped to watch this Swallowtail Butterfly flit from thistle to thistle. 

High in a tree on smaller Cabbage Island a Bald Eagle surveyed the landscape. We heard a lot of noise and when we looked further down the tree, we noticed a nest with two eaglets feeding.

They look ready to fledge as they were not small. One climbed onto the edge of the nest and we wondered if he was about to take off. Instead, he quickly hopped back into safety.

Benjamin Franklin writes, speaking of the United States, "For my own part, I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly." After what we saw on our trip, I have to agree with him. Majestic though the birds are, they are ruthless predators.    

On our first morning out, while preparing breakfast (without eggs and milk!), I heard a ruckus outside. On the shore a murder of crows wheeled and screamed while a Bald Eagle killed a Great Blue Heron. We sat on the boat, transfixed by what we were seeing. With his talons gripping the heron, the eagle used his beak to tear great wads of feathers that flew into the air and landed on the water, creating a trail of grey blue evidence along the shore. The heron fought, but had no chance.
After a few moments the eagle tried to carry off the heron, but it was still too big, so he tore at the flesh until it was a size he could handle, presumably carrying it to a nest with young ones. The above photo is not the greatest quality, as it was taken from a rocking boat with the telephoto zoomed out. 
Later, while we observed the two young eagles in the nest above, we saw another eagle carrying another heron, this one smaller and fully feather, its legs and neck swinging limply as the eagle flew. About 10 minutes later we saw the eagle fly over us with the bloodied carcass, now featherless. We assumed he had gone to the beach to prepare the bird for his young. 
The next morning, I saw three eagles chasing a heron. The heron wheeled and turned in desperation, flying and swooping close to the water among the boats at anchor, desperate to escape. I'm happy to say that the heron survived and the eagles left for other prey.
I enjoy watching Bald Eagles; I'm fascinated by Great Blue Herons. But one is food for the other. It was a sobering experience. Nature is often cruel.

On a happier note, the starfish have returned after being decimated by a wasting disease several years ago. They are mostly purple here, with a few pink ones for variety. 

Sunset over the water. When we are on the boat we are completely absent from life at home, not just physically, but mentally, as well. We become completely absorbed in the moments and the awe of creation. It's truly a getaway, even for just a few days. 

We celebrated Canada Day on the 1st with a barbecue with family. We didn't even stay up for the fireworks! Happy Independence Day to my American readers. 

Living Alongside Medieval History

  Several people have asked why we chose Leiden for our visit to the Netherlands. We've found it's easy to stay in the large cities ...