Category Archives: Family

Last Week’s Gallivanting

It is still summer, English way of course! More clouds than sun with occasional rain. It did not stop us from making good of warm months though.

We did some tripping into a countryside and made use of our renewed National Trust membership. We went to Stowe for a Sunday walk. I saw it last time in winter and I got thrilled with its rolling landscapes in the summer with sheep grazing around. The gardens were lush –  we actually found a few mushrooms (edible ones) – it always amazes me here in England, that  the art of mushroom picking is long gone.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Last week we did a long planned trip to Wimpole Estate – once owned by daughter of Rudyard Kipling and then gifted to National Trust after her death. It consist of the main house, farmyard and parkland with walled gardens. It showcases how such an estate like this was set up and worked. Therefore, you are able to visit the lady and lord of the manor house and how the housekeepers and other staff were living and working. Moreover, you can see some of the animals that were kept on the estate: pigs, mighty Shire horses, cattle or sheep etc.

I was impressed the most by the walled gardens: the abundance of colours, textures and smells. Having a summer in the full swing, there is a plenty of fruits already and the volume of flowering plants was simply stunning. There was a whole array of purples, reds, blues, yellows and air filled with the buzz of bees. Again, I admired skills of gardeners who created espaliered fruits trees: that combination of sculpture and usefulness. With a backdrop of the old red bricked wall, it brings home why British gardens, especially those of Victorian and Edwardian era are so admired and inspiring.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Wimpole Estate is surrounded by beautiful parkland with a lake and folly ruins thrown in for good measure. Children enjoyed a lot the visit to a farmyard, especially they were keen to learn how to milk a cow and watching piglets feeding with a fascination.

On the rainy day, we  drove to Tring to visit Natural History Museum – it is a branch of the famous London one. This museum was created by Walter Rotschild, whose family lived nearby. His primary interest were natural sciences and studying animals, so he kept on collecting new specimens from all over the world until he dedicated himself completely to this. Eventually the size of the collection required to hire a few dedicated scientist to help to catalogue it. It was the one of the largest collections of that kind in the world and it turned into a private museum by the end of 19th century. It was given to the public on his death in 1937 and became a part of London Natural History Museum.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Because it was a miserable rainy and windy day, the museum was packed up to the rafters with families and a few artists sketching away animals. The butterflies collection was astonishing along with beetles and odd ensemble of pet dogs. Tring museum has a vast assembly of birds, so all birdwatchers should visit for a valuable lesson.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Last, but not least on Sunday, we ended up in Kew Gardens. The place my visiting sister wanted to see, so we braved it on the weekend in the perfect weather. Despite the volume of people, the gardens were magical and enchanting: I know it is man arranged setting, but it looks like Nature’s work only. We discovered the Princess of Wales Conservatory with its carnivorous plants, orchid gardens and fruiting bananas trees. We did the Tree Top Walk and it turned out to be nerve wrecking experience for the Big Son. The walkway was bursting with the visitors and that caused the structure to tremble and sway like the ship on the open sea. Experience was funny and bizarre, youngsters enjoyed it, some adults did not.

There you go, we were gallivanting last week.

On H&S or When you’re Officially Grown Up

Our 14 year old teenager got himself a big 58” frame bike: he and the bike are very tall – runs in the paternal side of the family. Being tall I mean.

Becoming a new owner to a second hand Boardman bike was a bit of palaver. Since Saturday he managed to strangely lock in a chain into a wheel (professional repair required) and got super puncture in the (puncture proof) kevlar tyre. We start to think he should play a lottery with his peculiar luck!

Having learn to repair punctures for a good while now and doing that for the whole family already, he went off on foot (no bike) tagging along his younger brother, to the nearest Halford shop to purchase a repair kit. We already ran out of tube patches for this month – that luck again!

Halford sells tube repair patches, we all know it. Well, Big Son returned home empty handed: I thought they were out of tube repair kits as well, what a bummer!

“The kit contains a solvent, Mommy, and they didn’t sell it to me because I’m too young”. Apart from him being obviously vexed and still with no bike to ride, I was gobsmacked. “What??” I asked.  True: because the kit contains a solvent, he was not allowed to buy it. Too dangerous. Yup, repairing the tube puncture is dangerous business, you parents!

I am, really; when did we allow some ridiculous regulations to take over the commons sense instead?!

I was once quite baffled by a notice in a local gymnastics club’s kitchen: no under 16s are allowed to make themselves a cup of tea from a hot water machine. Most of teenagers are quite capable of doing it without suffering any burns. I found it silly: being overly protective and treating nearly adults like babies.

Shaking my head. Making our task of bringing up independent and responsible young men, who are learning life skills, like small DIY jobs, so much more difficult.

Am I alone in thinking that it is one absurd rule?!

 

Back Home to the Watery Skies of England…

It is been a few weeks since the last post because we were away in France and we experienced technical troubles. Anyway, holidays is the time to let things loose, to unwind and let stories unravel. We returned enriched by experiences, nicely bleached by sea, sun and wind, and brought along plenty of memos to rejoice when the weather turns skies grey.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Although I am hankering to feel a sea breeze again, I am thrilled with the most exciting thing we brought back: we met with a couple of local French salt producers. Moreover, we secured our first batch of the fleur de sel de Guerande along with the sea salt called Sel Gris. The boxes of salts travelled back with us to the UK and are ready to get posted to the connoisseurs of salt. How wicked is that?!

At the moment we are gearing up towards an opening of our online shop, and in the free time I am flipping through the photos, sorting out the treasure trove of sea shells and glass shards, and recalling even more precious gems: stories and people we came across there. It was a privilege, pleasure and such an inspiration to meet welcoming French, Breton and German Paludiers for a good measure. There is not a bad memory I have came away with and that unique wild piece of coast of Brittany definitely get a hold of my heart. I shall be back soon!

I am anxious to see how things will unfold while I am planning and working on the new ideas. You could never guess where one chance visit and discovery could lead you. We spent a week in Sarzeau a couple years ago and definitely wanted to return. The house was a new house with all the mod cons but unfortunately that was taken off the rental market. That though turned out to be a turn of luck.

Michel Roux Jr presented the Craftman’s Dinner series and in it highlighted a smoked salmon that was done with Fleur de Sel de Guerande. When we researched the area it turned out to be just down the road from Sarzeau and houses were available for short term rentals. We took a beautiful place right on the cliff top and spent the first vacation there getting to know the rugged coast and enjoying the taste of the local natural salt in almost everything from pastries to watermelons.

When we tried it on scrambled eggs, we were hooked. Scrambled eggs never tasted so good. Since then we have been cooking with that initial stock we brought back and for a few lucky friends, the taste of food salted with Fleur de Sel is now a must-have.

This year we returned for more and plan to bring this extraordinary taste back to the UK for more friends and hopefully new customers.

Merci Beaucoup Cote Sauvage, Batz sur Mer et Guerande! Tres tres belle presquile!

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.

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.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.