Category Archives: Family

Summer Solstice 2017

Over the years we grew our own family tradition to mark and celebrate the passing of the Summer Solstice. On this longest day of the year, our bunch will get out of our beds very early to catch the sunrise, wherever we happen to be.

Batz sur Mer St Michel Beach

It is the promise of Summer and its long warm days and evenings and adventures ahead, but for us it is also the start of the new family year. We do look back and total the 12 months that passed: all good happenings and misadventures; things we planned and accomplished; the plans that got changed – as they do; life’s lessons; shortcomings and ageing.

While time is relentless and the calendar makes a full circle, life keeps on going: just looking at the pace our children are growing brings home the truth that there is lots of noise around and so keeping the bunch tight together and straight and narrow is paramount.

The last few Summer Solstices, we spent on the Brittany south coast, which is one of our favourite places: tranquil and picturesque with a wild rocky coast. The Atlantic Ocean with its tides in and out, is a perfect illustration of Nature and Life’s rhythms. Even, when there is no sign of sun for the Solstice’s dawn, it may well bless you later. You just need to get up and turn up for the spectacle.

Batz sur Mer coast

I ponder what changes and challenges lie ahead of us until the next longest day, but with summaries and new plans and hopes taking shape, there is no time to beat yourself about shortcomings. Be aware of all, be robust and vigilant, make your own luck and enjoy the life that sun brings.

Please enjoy some photos of our trip so far.

 

Dunes Batz sur Mer

Windmill La Falaise Batz sur Mer

Salt Marshes Batz sur Mer

Printemps est ici!

I am glad for Winter to be over and the more sun and warm days that have arrived. Again we said our goodbyes with Marzanna and let her take the Winter away down the river waters.

I am excited to see young nettle shoots, I admire this stingy plant for it is so versatile: a herb, a cooking ingredient and source of fibres for fabrics. I am definitely itching to try cooking with them soon, I would like to try a nettle soup and a nettle bread. I happened to find a recipe for a nettle beer, olden days beverage as well. Now I need to put gloves on and go gathering.

I tried my hand at baking sourdough breads and embarked on making my own starter. I am still learning, we got very encouraging results: a rye bread was pretty close to breads I remember from my childhood in Poland with thick crunchy skin, moist dark inside, very aromatic and very moreish. One thing is sure: it requires patience and understanding that a sourdough bread is quite a temperamental creature. I will keep you posted shortly with a journal of our bread journey so far.

Spring is bringing our garden to life – herbs are ready for picking, alpine strawberries are already flowering, though it is too cold to expect any fruits as yet. Bees are busy with lobelia and apple trees are in the bloom as well, even rosemary bush is flowering.

In the autumn, Big Son and I started learning French at a weekly class and I am hoping to be able to speak more while in France over the summer.  The incentive of being able to strike a chat at a market is helping with birthing pains experienced. The feeling of excitement mixed with nervousness, as French holidays are approaching fast. But the class is fun, though work is serious if you want to make a progress.

Easter came and went, this year it was a low profile affair. We did not cook or bake too much as we planned to too see the World Endurance Championship in Silverstone. The race came to Britain to give us a glimpse into the historical 24 hours race that takes place every year in Le Mans, France. Silverstone’s race was six hours only, though even that was feeling long. I enjoyed the start, the roar of all cars taking off together and quickly the cars got split making it not easy to follow the race.

After spending some time on stands right opposite the pitstops, we took on leisurely walk along the track. Weather was kind enough, but hats and gloves were a must. Following the track allows you to experience the race and view the cars in all different angles and turns. While a radio commentary was constantly being broken by cars racing past, we saw many fans turned amateur photographers staking out vantage points to take photos. The day was good, but we cut it short to return home in time to tune into F1 race live broadcast from Bahrain. Lewis did not win this time.

As I said, we took this Easter easy in terms of food extravaganza. We planned and executed a plan of getting Alban Buns form St Albans Cathedral. We meant to try them for some time, but it was so popular that in past years, we were usually left empty handed. As you could see, this hunt was successful and we returned home loaded. Alban buns are said to be the predecessor of hot cross buns, created in the middle ages by the 14th century monk. The recipe is kept secret and every year during Lent until Easter Monday, buns are available at the Cathedral (if you are lucky). Each year different local bakery prepares the buns. These buns are spicy in a very good way, enriched with cardamons and currants and the cross is made with a knife without piping. Serve it warm with butter, it is very filling indeed.

April is the month to go on a bluebells hunt and we did exactly that in our old neck of woods in Hitchwood Lane. The place is fully blue and air is filled with scents of flowers. It is a very magical time of a year and passes quickly, so remember to make time to experience it. The English bluebell is a native species that is being threatened by the Spanish garden bluebells and it is illegal to collect them for sale. Enjoy the spring guys!

Buy a Bitcoin

Finally we got around to buying a Bitcoin.

Now it seems like the time lost was money lost too. When the idea was first floated the price of one coin was less than £600, two months later, it’s above £800. Hesitate and lose.

Saying that, I am not going to put the house on Bitcoin. I think of it as a speculative spend and also the best way to get into cryptocurrency.

BigSon did his research and Coinbase came out as the best choice as a place to buy Bitcoins. He registered an account about a week ago. We hit a snag on the ID verification step because neither from the browser application, which we accessed on a Mac and on a PC, nor the mobile app, were we able to upload an ID photo.

I wrote to Support but no reply to date. A search revealed that the ID Verification on Coinbase is an issue and lots of people have gone to other sites as a result. Count us in.

We went back to the drawing board and came up with BitPanda and set about registering an account. It went smoothly. I got Google Authenticator which worked easily on the secure login process. Bitpanda can sell you Bitcoins and also store the record of all your account transactions in what is called a wallet.

Before buying the coin I got advise that it is best to keep a hardware wallet which gives you, the owner, more security than the one kept online by BitPanda or whichever seller you choose. So there was a delay while I ordered a Ledger Nano S from France. It got here after four days and by that time we were ready to buy our first Bitcoin.

Although we had an account registered with BitPanda, we weren’t able to purchase a Bitcoin until the ID Verification was done. BitPanda uses IDnow who get in touch with you via Skype and take photos of you and your ID during the call. We set an appointment time and on the dot, they called us. That did not take long and soon we were able to make the purchase.

Google Authenticator is needed again to verify the Bitcoin buyer. When we tried to pay, the transaction kept failing and the notice on BitPanda is in German. These days that is not so much a problem as you can easily do a search and get a translation so it was more of a laugh than a full stop. We had no clue why it was failing and soon gave up for the evening. Turns out there was a SMS on my phone from my bank asking if I am aware of such a transaction to another country and all I needed to do was reply YES or NO.

Back on the trail that same night, we finally were able to get the Bitcoin. From the BitPanda account you can see the value of the purchase as a credit.

We immediately plugged in the Nano S and transferred that value to the stick which acts as an account in itself. It is plugged into a computer and you can see the details of the account on the screen while navigating the page through buttons on the side of the memory stick.

After a while you can see the value has been transferred to your hardware wallet and when you check back in Bitpanda, the balance is now zero. It acts exactly like a transfer from one account to another. You get to secure your accounts on a private memory stick which is not only in your possession but is also secured with access credentials set by you.

It has been a long winded process with a lot of what looks like a palaver especially for a newbie. Everything looks like a step to undo what you have previously done. Thankfully BigSon was involved and for him this is as easy as a TV remote control.

It’s been a while…

It’s been a while since the last post and the blog has been silent. We were away in France and intentionally offline. It was very exhilarating and enjoyable to recap on time together, time alone without a white noise, book time and wonderful walks along the Cote Sauvage. Or simply watching sea and boats disappearing over the horizon.

We did discover a few good things in France again. We fell in love with Sel de Guerande and rock hopping. The ferocious sea breeze can be sometimes too mind blowing.

On the return home, we embarked on the house renovations. There was an excitement followed by disruption, dust biting and some inconveniences on the top of sometimes quite stressful moments. The end result as usual was not as perfect as envisaged, but it was a learning curve for us and we are not as idealistic about all the process anymore. One more thing was discovered: builders and internet abundance are not often compatible. Their catalogue from the builders’ supply shop hardly matches Amazon even. Gratefully, we are nearly finished and getting back to so called normal family life, but what’s normal here?!

As the world goes more crazy/beautiful everyday, it has been a challenging but so far a good year. I enjoy the ride so should you.

Here’s the photo diary of what was keeping us busy. Enjoy:

Big Son about to glide

Big Son about to glide

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Mother and Children on OUR rocks!

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View for Morning Coffee

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Bird’s eye view of Batz sue Mar.

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Another glorious sunset

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Decent crop of strawberries and Alpine strawberries

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Petworth Festival Walk through cornfields

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Lavender Farm Hertfordshire

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Morning Ritual

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HDTV

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Our rock garden

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Pepe the Hermit Crab

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Down at the beach

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Every colour story

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Sun going down

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About to board

Cazabon at Belmont

Belmont is a neighbourhood, just east of Port of Spain in Trinidad, bordering the Queen’s Park Savannah, the large central park located at the north end of the city. Belmont is a collection of tight lanes with houses pressed close to their front gates. It is a great place to live and be close to all that the capital city has to offer including the national Carnival that precedes Lent.

IMG_20160409_213656Belmont House in Kent, England, is the home of the Harris family. The third Lord Harris was the governor of Trinidad and Tobago between 1846 to 1853. In Port of Spain today there is Lord Harris Square and in San Fernando, the second largest city, there is Harris Promenade. He was married to a Trinidadian and their son later became a famous cricket captain of England.

I learned of Belmont House through some research done by Mrs FTF on a painter I mentioned to her some years ago, Jean Michel Cazabon. Cazabon is considered one of Trinidad’s first internationally known artists. I’ve always admired his landscapes and I had a book showcasing his work when I lived in Trinidad. It turns out that Lord Harris was a patron of the artist and owned a sizable collection of his work. Many of those pieces are now kept at Belmont House.

With the daughter in Warsaw for two weeks, we took the four-seater Mito for a round trip through Kent. There was a tour of Belmont House early in the afternoon and we were unusually on time after taking the long way around London on the M25 via Gatwick Airport. It was my silent protest to the Dartcharge and a chance to see rarely visited areas of Kent. The rain made the drive slow but the views were great as many parts of the road ran along high valley sides.

We made an impromptu stop at the Beacon restaurant. Everyone was cramped from being curled up the last two hours. The building is located atop the side of a valley that was at the time of our arrival shrouded in mist. The interior was beautiful and as we had the place to ourselves, we all enjoyed walking around taking in the paintings and other design features. The snack was tasty although it was the smallest machiato I ever had. By the time we left, the skies cleared and the view across the valley was truly restful.IMG_20160409_125140

Belmont House was cold so we kept our coats on and with Little One on my back we followed the group tour around the house. It was a tiny group and the entire exercise had an intimate air. The house is small as stately homes go and we appreciated this because we had had enough after an hour, the length of the tour. The group knew from the start we were there to see the paintings so when we got to the room with the largest collection, everyone stopped and insisted I go in first.

A full set of water colours were on display in the master bedroom. Very delicate, very beautiful. To see these views of the island in the late 19th century always creates a sense of nostalgia, especially when you recognise a location. I was allowed to stay back and take in the collection if I wanted to. I declined as I knew there were more in other rooms and the guide was very knowledgeable. I did not want to miss a tidbit.

Downstairs, just off the main entrance hall where the last Lord Harris was known to have his afternoon tea, was the best piece, View of Port of Spain from the East

Never Liked Red 911s

This Saturday the family was down to four. Our daughter is in Warsaw with her aunt and grandmother for two weeks. We took the opportunity to use the Alfa Mito and enjoy some driving around the county.
We went to a garden centre to get some soil for our first experiment with planting potatoes in used tyres. These places are well designed to provide an outing with much more than garden stuff on sale. We passed the tea room which was fully packed and focused on our list. Then we headed off to Russell Park in Bedford. It is a wonderful park with near everything a family with children can ask for.
On the way we stopped at Chicksand Bike Park. It is a relatively new facility for off roading. The quality of bikes on view there was thought provoking. There seems to be less and less difference between what amateur weekend riders use and what the professional riders compete with.
The drive took us past the Airlander hangars, two huge green facilities from where the first test flights of this modern dirigible are due to happen some time this month. Big Son has written to the company for test dates but they are unable to commit to any at the moment and advise that he joins the support club.
When we got to Bedford it was very busy around the park and as usual on a weekend, parking was a premium. We ended up next to the ice cream van at the second bridge that crosses the rowing course. You have to provide your car number plate ID when paying for parking. No passing of tickets to new drivers when you leave early! With ice creams in hand, we headed towards the popular playgrounds where all types of climbing rigs are there for children.
The two boys were absorbed in play for nearly an hour before we decided to leave. We walked along the back path of the park and came into a side street where unknown to us, the parking was free. There was a red Porsche parked in that street which caught my ear for two reasons. It was an unusual colour red, not the Ferrari Red which looks out of place on a German car but more a milky red. It was also handsomely optioned with a dark glass roof and black accents stylishly placed across its body. The car looked good.
Then we saw the front boot lid pop open and the only people within range of the car was an elderly couple looking very unassuming. The association was entirely incongruous. True enough they walked to the car, placed their recycled market bags in the front boot and got in with the greatest of ease and familiarity. It was a sight to behold.
It is difficult to completely explain what was so striking about this scene because one can think it is about the car or the couple but seeing the two come together with a utilitarian attitude was quite refreshing and in some way, hopeful. Hopeful for the achievement of a certain level of equanimity.

March and Winter End

The whole of March we just couldn’t wait for Spring to arrive, it seemed to take ages this year to appear. We had a birthday celebration this month and we marked the beginning of Spring with “Topienie Marzanny”.

IMG_20160305_112637Early March, the daughter turned 7 and for this occasion she asked for a strawberry cake and small gathering of girlfriends. We have a local Polish shop selling very flavoursome frozen strawberries. I mixed them with mascarpone and Big Son sandwiched the cake with it and Daughter decorated the birthday cake herself. Girlie Wirlie was very proud of herself and we all enjoyed a glimpse of summer, but as it’s England, on that day it snowed again!

This year, we’ve made the effort to celebrate Spring Equinox. “Topienie Marzanny” is the Polish pagan tradition of saying farewell to Winter on the Spring Equinox with dropping Marzanna into the rivers, so it carries away Winter with it as it flows to the sea. Traditionally children would make a doll with straw, dress it up with scrap cloth or now tissue paper, make some hairdo or head gear, just letting the children’s creativity speak. Then you’d take the doll to the nearest stream or river. Sometimes the doll is set on fire before being dropped into water, but we gave it a skip due to H&S issues.IMG_20160305_135725

The day was sunny enough, the children quickly assembled the doll and adorned it with quite unruly hair made of golden, glossy tape secured with a staple. Girlie Wirlie threw it into river Lea which flows through a nearby village. It was quite quick affair so we hardly caught any photo of it. So that was it: out first Spring Equinox!IMG_20160320_153056

This month the children continued star gazing, with Big Son finishing an online course on the Night Sky: Orion and we all joined the local astronomical society one evening to observe the Moon and Saturn. We saw a close up of the Moon’s craters and a bit of Saturn’s rings which looked a lot like a small line across the planet.

The new telescope is still a fascinating tool to watch night skies or planes landing at the nearby airport. Big Son became very enthusiastic about astronomy, ticking off from the winter and spring sky maps planets he observed. He gets quite upset when cloudy nights prevent him from gazing the sky.

So here we are now, end of March, Easter done and my mother and sister who were here for Easter have now gone back home. I’m looking forward to the warmer days, more sun, more fun and new projects I’ll be putting my teeth in. I can truly say, we deserve to enjoy the Spring! So do you 🙂IMG_20160329_133425