PYO Garden

Hello there!

Following on from last week’s knitting sampler, I was going to show you my Mum’s embroidery sampler today. But I’m keeping that for later.

Instead, I’m taking you along to a Pick-Your-Own flower garden. It’s just outside our village – 10 minutes cycling at most. You can borrow a spare bicycle, if you like. All we need to do is adjust the saddle to your height and we’re good to go.

Through the tunnel underneath the ring road, left and left again and we’re in a lane leading past several farms.

A short stop to say hello to a few grazing cows. Hello girls!

Hop on again, cycle two minutes more, and we’re there.

‘Have a nice day’, the sign says. ‘Open 24/7’. And ‘Relax’ and ‘Enjoy’, too. And that’s exactly what we’re here for – to just relax and enjoy this beautiful spot for a few moments.

The owner comes up, apologizing that there isn’t very much to pick anymore at the end of Summer. I reassure her that it’s fine. We don’t need a huge bunch of flowers. Just being here is a treat in itself. And I can see that there are enough flowers left for a posy.

Besides, there are loads of ornamental gourds as well.

Displayed so attractively. And so many different shades, shapes and sizes.

Basking in the sun, on the very last day of Summer, the garden is filled with butterflies…

…bees and buzzing.

I can feel my heart-rate slowing down already – just what I need.

For me, it works like this: For a while I’m chugging along nicely. Then work/life gets busier, I speed up, am immensely productive for a while and think I’m doing great. But I start forgetting to take breaks, to exercise, and to relax intentionally in the evenings. And suddenly I’m not feeling so great anymore.

It’s an old familiar pattern. Nowadays, it usually isn’t too long before I recognize it, fortunately. And I’m better at thinking of ways to slow down again than I used to be.

So, that’s why we’re here in this PYO garden today. Let’s enjoy it a little more.

Everything shows that a lot of loving care and attention has gone into the garden. It’s not just the flowers and plants. Hidden between them are a few lovely surprises, too. Like this adorable chicken.

Well, it’s time to head for the wooden shed, where the secateurs, the guest book and the money tin are. It’s painted black as many traditional outbuildings around here are.

Inside, the same loving care as in the garden is apparent. It’s in the small, whimsical details.

Now, let’s hurry home, before the flowers wilt. I’ll quickly put them in a vase and put the kettle on. I hope you have time for a cuppa? I’d like to show you something else I did to slow down and relax – I cast on a simple pair of socks.

For me, sock knitting is one of the most relaxing things to do, especially using self-striping yarn.

I’m making these for a friend’s Birthday in early October. I haven’t knit with this yarn before and am not entirely convinced it’s suitable for socks, although it is sold as sock yarn. It’s Rellana Flotte Socke ‘Ariana’ – a single ply yarn with ticker and thinner (some really, really thin) bits here and there. Very soft and slightly fuzzy.

I’m giving it a try because of the beautiful colours. Time will tell if it’s a wise decision. My friend won’t mind being a guinea pig, I’m sure. If the socks shrink and felt, I’ll knit her another pair (or two).

Well, that’s all for today. Thank you for visiting. And with everything that’s happening in the world right now and alongside everything else you’re doing, please remember to rest, relax, knit (if you’re a knitter), and look for things to enjoy.

August Blues

Hello!

I thought of skipping my blog this week. Sometimes I just don’t know what to say, and nattering about knitting feels totally irrelevant. Rising numbers of covid cases almost anywhere in the world. People losing their homes and children going hungry as a result. People shouting that it’s all a hoax. And then the devastating explosion in Beirut…

How to live in the face of disasters like these? Sometimes, I just don’t know.

It doesn’t help that we’re going through another record-breaking heatwave. I can’t see it as anything other than a sign of rapid climate change – another disaster in the making. I’ve always struggled with hot weather anyway. As temperatures rise, my mood plummets.

One of the best things for me to do when I feel a knot in my stomach, is to go cycling. On hot days first thing in the morning.

I often take my camera with me. It helps me get out of my head and focus on my surroundings instead. And I often follow the same route. Without camera it takes me 30 minutes, with a little longer.

First I cycle through ‘our’ woodland. There are already some early signs of autumn – mushrooms, acorns and blackberries.

As soon as I leave the wood, I come to a school for animal husbandry, hay for their horses stacked high.

On the other side of the road is a small farm with some sheep and cattle. There is a young calf suckling with its mother and another one having a snooze.

There are cornflowers in the field next to it.

Taking photographs as I cycle along also helps me to slow down, which is a good thing in this sweltering heat, too.

Many of the flowers along my route at this time of year are blue. Or is it just that my eye is drawn to them? Along a ditch I squat down to photograph what I think is tufted vetch.

One of the most beautiful flowers of this season, if you ask me, is the harebell. It grows in clusters along my route. There is quite a bit of wind, making the delicate flowers dance, and it takes a lot of patience and concentration to get a good, sharp picture.

The harebells have slender stems and small flowers, but not as small as the sheep’s-bit below. From close up it may seem like quite a big flower…

… but it is just 1 to 2 centimetres in diameter. There’s a clump of them at the top of this post that gives a better impression of their size, I think.

Getting home, an hour or so later, I feel better. I haven’t solved any world problems, but I don’t feel hopeless and powerless anymore. There is always something I can do to make things better. And I realize again that there is still a lot in the world that is beautiful and good, and that small and seemingly irrelevant things can make a big difference to a day.

It’s too hot for knitting – another thing that is making me edgy. But cycling along, I thought of a dear friend of mine. We exchange e-mails every Sunday. Recently, she wrote that all she feels like doing in her spare time when it’s so hot is spinning and reading.

That reminded me of some spinning fibres she gave me a while ago. Merino wool in a gradient of blues with some white Tencel mixed in. I know that spinning those lovely fibres will also help to lift my mood.

Well, those were my thoughts for this week. Thank you for reading. I hope that you are all safe and as well as can be. And for those of you in the grip of the same heatwave, I hope this weekend will bring some rain and relief.

Summer Break

Hello!

These two simple swatches are all there is to show you of my knitting at the moment. I have plenty of knitting plans and ideas, but it’ll take a while for them to transform into something bloggable. So I thought, Why not take a break? A nice, long summer break! I can certainly do with one. How about you?

Now, before you think that my blog will come to a standstill, that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that I’d like to take a break from talking about my knitting. I’d like to take us on a few outings and write about some other summery things. Mainly knitting-or-other-crafts-related, of course.

I don’t know exactly what it’s all going to look like, and I can’t guarantee that my knitting won’t sneak in here and there, but I hope that it’s going to be fun and something to look forward to every week.

To start with, I’d like to take you on an early morning walk and share a recipe.

Imagine that it’s 7 a.m. We’ve just had a quick breakfast and are still slightly groggy and grumpy, feeling like, ‘Do we really need to get up this early on our day off?’ Then, seeing the sun slanting through the trees, and breathing in the fresh air and the mixed smell of pine trees, sand and heather, all the grumpiness is gone. Aaaaah, it’s so good to be here!

In some places, the ground is carpeted with crowberries dotted with many, many small dewy spider’s webs.

Can you see them? Here is one from close up.

There will be small black berries on the plants later in the season, very bitter when eaten raw. The plants also give off a slightly bitter, but really nice and tangy smell.

And here, on a dead tree trunk, is something giving off a not-so-nice smell:

It’s fox’s spraint. (Forgive me for being so weird to photograph fox poo, but I think it’s really interesting that they deposit it in such a prominent spot.)

Oh, and look, aren’t we lucky today? There, in the distance is a roe deer mum with her kid…

… strolling and grazing along the path. I don’t think they’ve spotted us yet, but we won’t be able to get much closer without being noticed.

And here are their hoof prints, one big and one small:

Aww, that was so sweet. Now, before we head back, let’s just enjoy the peace and quiet for a while on this lovely bench with a dead branch for a footstool.

The wind is soughing softly through the pine branches above us.

The sun is rising in the sky, but our bench is in the shade of the big old pines, so we won’t get too hot. I could sit here all day, enjoying the peaceful view…

… but I shan’t, because I promised to share a recipe with you, too. It’s my recipe for Very Healthy Oat Squares. I make these every other week. They keep very well and are ideal snacks to take on walks and other days out. Why not bake a batch of these (or of something else if you have a sweeter tooth) in preparation for next week’s outing?

Here are the ingredients all set out.

Very Healthy Oat Squares

For a 27 by 27 cm baking tray, makes 16.

Ingredients

  • 200 g thick-rolled oats (not the finer porridge oats)
  • 200 g wholewheat pastry flour*
  • 100 g sultana raisins
  • 50 g currants
  • 50 g dried cranberries
  • 8 g speculaaskruiden**
  • 3 g salt
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil + a little extra for greasing
  • 250 ml cold water or a little less

* Wholewheat pastry flour is more finely ground than ordinary wholewheat flour and is available from most healthfood stores.
** This is a typically Dutch spice blend available online here and there. Gingerbread spice mix is not entirely the same but a good substitute.

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180 ˚C (fan oven 160 ˚C)
  • Put all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl
  • Stir in 2 tablespoons of sunflower oil and grease the baking tray with the rest of the oil
  • Gradually stir in the water. Try using a little less than the 250 ml at first. The mixture should just stick together and should not be soggy at all. If it is too wet, the oat squares won’t keep as well
  • Knead through (by hand or using a mixer) for a minute or two
  • Drop the mixture onto the baking tray and, using wet hands, distribute it evenly and flatten it
  • Tidy the edges (ragged edges will become brittle and burn)
  • Cut into 16 squares and bake for 35 minutes
  • Remove the baking tray from the oven, transfer the squares to a wire rack and leave to cool before storing

In an airtight container, kept in a cool and dry place, the oat squares will keep up to two weeks.

Enjoy!

Reed

Hello, and an extra warm welcome today! I sincerely hope that you are in good health and able to cope with life’s stresses in this strange and scary world we suddenly find ourselves in. And I also hope that you get all the support you need if you have health problems or are struggling with this new reality in any way.

I’ve been wondering what to do, here on my blog. I had planned to write about the area where I found the inspiration for a new knitting design, but it all felt rather futile under the circumstances. I could write about how the pandemic impacts everyday life here, in the Netherlands, instead. But how would that help?

After giving it some more thought, I’ve decided to stick to my original plan. I’m not a doctor, nurse or other healthcare professional. I can’t help anybody in that way. What I hope I can do, is offer some comfort, inspiration and cheer through my words, pictures and knitting. A breath of fresh air for everybody cooped up at home and something different for worried minds to focus on.

Would you like to join me on a short virtual tour of ‘our’ wetland?

We have the great good fortune to live close to two National Parks. To the North-East there’s a large area of woodland and heath. (For my regular readers: that’s where the flocks of sheep live.) And to the South-West there’s a wetland area.

This is, in fact, the largest lowland bog in Northwest Europe. It is ideal for cycling – there are miles of bicycle tracks and meandering narrow roads.

At this time of year, this open landscape can be rather bleak, with chilly winds. But one cloudy and windy day, about a fortnight ago, I braved the elements and took some photographs.

In summer the area is overrun by tourists from all over the world. Normally there would be some shivery visitors around taking selfies even in March, but now, with Covid-19 forcing them to stay at home, it is deserted.

The canoes and the soundless ‘whisperboats’ are waiting for busier times.

I could tell you about the picturesque villages, the crocheted curtains behind many windows, the various types of windmills, or the birds, flowers and butterflies, but I’m keeping all that for later. Today, I’ll focus on the landscape, and especially on reed.

Apart from lakes, canals and wet grasslands, there are extensive reedlands, often right behind the houses.

Mowing takes place in winter, and in March much of the reed has already been mown (right half of photo below). The rest will follow soon or is left as it is for the birds and other wildlife.

A statue in one of the villages shows a traditional reed worker taking a break.

Nowadays, the work is done with modern motor mowers. Then the reed is tied into bundles and stacked along a waterway…

… or in the corner of a field and covered with plastic sheeting…

… to be collected with a tractor and trailer or transported over water on a flat boat:

Not surprisingly, many houses around here have reed roofs. The oldest thatched houses are very small – tiny houses avant la lettre.

Most of these are now rented out as holiday cottages. On the outside they look exactly like they did 100 years ago, and they do still have an original bedstee (a bed inside a sort of cupboard), but otherwise they have all mod cons.

There are also some fairly modest new houses with reed roofs…

… as well as more luxurious ones:

Although I’m happy with our own house, and wouldn’t want to move at all, I always love looking at other people’s houses, especially if they’re as lovely as these.

I did say that I wouldn’t talk about birds today, but I just have to show you these storks I saw on a nest:

Many people around here provide storks with nesting places in the form of wagon wheels placed on high poles, or on a dead tree as here.

Just as I was heading home, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. Standing in the nippy wind, looking out over the shimmering water surface, with a couple of graylag geese in the foreground, a cormorant primping its feathers a little further away, and the sound of other water birds in the distance… a moment of bliss.

One of the inhabitants of this reedland (not in this photo) formed the inspiration for my new knitting pattern. I’m busy finishing everything and hope to tell you more about it soon. For now, take care and stay well!

Oh, and if you’d like to read more about this National Park, do visit the official website.

Ordinary Autumn Days

Most of my days are ordinary days. And November is, perhaps, the most ordinary month of the year. Nothing special seems to be happening.

I’m fine with that. It makes me appreciate the little things in life more. Like the meadow saffron on our window sill.

The bulb was a birthday gift from my BFF, and it has given me flowers for over two months. It’s finished flowering now, and we’ve planted it in the garden, along with many other bulbs – snowdrops, miniature daffodils, crocuses, winter aconites and purple and yellow dwarf irises.

The garden work is done. All we can do now, is wait for spring.

My days are filled with ordinary things, like computer work, housework and reading. This is the book I’m reading now – Circe (translated into Dutch under the same title).

Greek mythology told from the viewpoint of a woman (well, Circe is actually a minor goddess, but still a female). It’s a great read. As far as I know, the ancient Greeks and their gods didn’t knit, but there is some weaving in it. Spell weaving, but also actual weaving on a loom, made by Daedalus.

There’s some knitting woven through my days, too, of course. At lunch time, I knit a few rows on an ordinary sock.

It’s a simple pleasure, easy to pick up for a few minutes and put down again until later.

As I work from home, it’s tempting to stay indoors all day on dark, rainy days.

But I make a point of going out every single day, to get as much fresh air, exercise and daylight as I can, no matter what the weather. Sometimes, when I think of it, I take some pictures of ordinary things along the way.

Now and then, in between the gloomy and overcast days, we’re treated to a day of glorious sunshine. It’s an extra treat when this happens on a Sunday, when we’re able to take a longer walk…

… and enjoy the sun illuminating yellowed moor grass along the water’s edge…

… tufts of moor grass growing in the water…

… and the still surface of a small lake mirroring some birches.

It gets dark early and the evenings are long. Every evening I add a few centimetres to the simple cardigan I’m knitting.

And I finally find the time to weave in the ends of some dishcloths that I knit a while ago.

Ordinary things. Simple pleasures. Nothing special.

Having said all that, I do have something special to celebrate next week. I hope you’ll join me again then.

Autumn Colours

Autumn is mushroom time. It’s a terrible cliché, I know, but it’s true. As soon as it was officially autumn, mushrooms started springing up like, well, mushrooms in the woodland on our doorstep.

Or perhaps I should say mushrooms and toadstools. I keep having difficulty with the distinction. In Dutch we call them all paddenstoelen, which literally means toadstools.

I’ve been taught that mushrooms are, on the whole, the ones you can eat, while toadstools are the poisonous ones. But what if you see a beautiful specimen and don’t know if it’s edible or not? What do you do then?

‘Look, what a beautiful… errr’

‘Hang on a minute, I need to look it up in my field guide first. Yes, here it is – I think it’s a blusher. That’s edible, so, ‘What a beautiful mushroom!’ (Or, wait, it may be a false blusher, which is poisonous, so…)

Maybe other people aren’t bothered by this, but I am. I may have left the translation world last year, but the translator inside hasn’t left me. I’m still very much focused on words.

It’s not just the mushroom/toadstool distinction that’s bothering me. It’s also the word toadstool itself.

On one of our recent walks I nearly stepped onto a toad.

Can you imagine it sitting on one of these fragile stools?

Or on one of these?

It would never work. The only fungus that would hold a big fat toad without breaking that I can think of, would be a cep. But that’s a mushroom.

It’s all very confusing.

It’s the same with some knitting-related words, like sweater, jumper, pullover and jersey. Very confusing.

Ravelry, the big online knitting platform most of you will be familiar with, helps a little. In its vast pattern archive it uses ‘sweater’ (124,663 patterns!) as an umbrella term, and in that category distinguishes between ‘cardigan’, ‘pullover’ and ‘other’. But what about jumper and jersey? And why are sweaters called sweaters?

I don’t know. But there’s one thing that I do know, and that is that it’s sweater weather again. Looking for some inspiration, I bought Kim Hargreaves’ new pattern book – Covet.

Kim Hargreaves started out as a designer for Rowan, but has been working as an independent designer for many years since. I like her designs a lot because they are timeless classics with great attention to detail.

There are 12 designs in Covet: 5 cardigans, 5 pullovers, 1 dress that can be shortened to a pullover (which Kim calls a sweater) and 1 granny square crochet wrap in a bulky yarn. No hats or scarves this time.

I love the cable designs and also the seemingly simple ones in stocking stitch. I’m not a big fan of the new bell sleeves, though, and I can’t see myself or anyone I know wearing the figure-hugging knee-length dress in a very warm wool and alpaca blend knit on 6 mm needles. With a polo neck. Just thinking of it makes me break out in a sweat. Taken literally, sweater would be a better word for this design than dress.

A design that drew my eye immediately was ‘Devote’, a cardigan with a stunning shawl collar.

Beautiful! And it also has some lovely decorative decreases on the sleeves, too. But the shape is not suitable for me, alas. Too short and tapering down to a narrow waist. I could probably adapt it, but this time I was looking for something to knit straight from a pattern.

So I got out some of her older books. Even books from years ago don’t look dated – that’s quite an achievement. Earlier this year, Kim let us know that some of her books won’t be reprinted anymore, so if you’d like to add some to your knitting library, don’t wait too long. You can find them all here on her website.

One of my favourite Kim Hargreaves books is Pale, which was published in 2018. There are several patterns in it that I’d love to knit. To start with, I’ve chosen a cardigan pattern called ‘Fair’.

It’s a simple little cardi in stocking stitch, but with a great fit and lovely details, like integrated pockets with rolled tops, a neat button band and side vents. It’s designed for a new yarn – an airy cotton and alpaca blend – that I’d like to give a try. It’s called Alpaca Classic and it looks very light and soft.

Now to choose a colour.

Autumn is the season of oranges, yellows and reds. I love these bright spots of colour in gardens and woods at this time of year.

The brightness of the yellow stagshorn (above) is a sight that makes me very happy. And it’s the same with the orange lanterns of the Japanese Lantern.

And then there’s red, from the bright red of the fly agaric at the top of this post to the deep dark red of these beautiful heart shaped leaves.

These are cheerful accents in a world that is gradually turning brown, but… apart from some shades of red, I never wear autumn colours. They just don’t go with my hair and skin tone. Fortunately the yarn for the cardigan I want to knit comes in many shades. I dithered between several, but finally chose blue (again – it’s my go-to colour).

The yarn producer, Rowan, calls this shade ‘Peacock’, but I don’t think it looks like peacock feathers at all. To my eye, it is somewhere between turquoise and sky blue. Could I call it ‘Autumn Sky on a Sunny Day’? I’m looking forward to knitting with it.

Coming back to the ‘real’ autumn colours, although I will never wear them in large doses, I can see me using them in small quantities, as accents in combination with other colours. I’d like to get out of my colour comfort zone a little and to experiment with them in that way. So last weekend, I chose a few small balls of yarn in autumn colours to play with.

I bought these during a visit to two very special yarn shops I’d never been to before. Now I’m in doubt as to whether I should write about these shops – or yarn shops in general – on my blog.

On the one hand, I’d love to, and I think it could be interesting and useful. For me, it’s about more than shopping and buying. It’s also about creativity, colour, inspiration and meeting like-minded people.

But on the other, won’t it seem terribly commercial, as if I’m advertising for these shops? (Which I don’t want to do – I prefer to stay independent). Will people in other countries want to read about yarn shops in the Netherlands (and some in Belgium in Germany perhaps)? Does anyone want to read about yarn shops at all, for that matter?

I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while, but so far have been unable to make up my mind. If you have any ideas, thoughts or opinions on this, I would appreciate your input very much. Thank you for reading. Have a lovely week and until next time!

Summer Walks Part II – Coast

On a day that was too hot for walking through woods or across heathland, we thought a walk along the coast might be a good idea, with hopefully a refreshing breeze. So we set off for my native Friesland. Our starting-point was the old town of Stavoren (photo above), and our destination was Hindeloopen, another small harbour town. (It was a one-way walk – we took the train back.)

This isn’t the coast as in sea shore, but rather the coastline along the IJsselmeer, a former inland sea that was closed off around 1930 and is now a big freshwater lake. The dykes are still there, and our trail ran right across the top. Well, it wasn’t really a trail, just grass, but you get the idea.

In reality the dyke is much steeper than it looks here. The narrow road on the right is a bicycle track. Nice when you’re cycling, because it’s sheltered from the prevailing wind. But not much fun when you’re walking, because you’d miss the lovely views over the lake.

With a delicious breeze from behind it was an ideal day for this walk. Looking to the left, we saw a choppy lake with some sailing boats.

And looking to the right, we saw agricultural land, with some farms and modern windmills. Completely flat, with endless horizons.

All along the dyke, there were lots of fences with stiles to climb.

The fences are there to confine the Texel sheep to certain sections of the dyke. The sheep are kept company by water birds, like these black and white barnacle geese.

The sheep were not shy at all. They didn’t run away when we came close, like they usually do. We had to step around and over sheep and lambs lazing and grazing on our path. And some of the sheep were downright pushy. When we sat down on the grass to eat our sandwiches, they came begging for a share. They must have been fed by other walkers.

‘Come on, give us some of your bread,’ they seemed to say. And, ‘I really like the smell of that cheese.’ They refused to be shooed away and were so insistent, that in the end we got up and walked on, eating the rest of our lunch along the way.

In the distance we could already see our destination. It wasn’t just a perfect day for walking, but for wind and kite surfing, too.

Against the big blue sky, Hindeloopen looked very small, with its church and the houses with their red roofs huddled behind the dyke. And, in fact, it is small now, with under 900 inhabitants. In the 17th and 18th centuries, when the lake was still a sea, it used to be an important harbour and trade centre, with three times the number of people and a fleet of around a hundred ships.

It’s nice to imagine merchant ships leaving and entering the town via the lock (photo below) that is now used by pleasure boats. On their outward-bound journeys they would be filled with gin and wool. And coming back from Scandinavia and Russia they would be carrying wood.

We slowly strolled through the old town centre and saw some monumental merchant’s houses – a sign of great wealth in earlier times.

There was a museum, too, as well as several shops selling local traditional crafts. Hindeloopen is renowned for its decorative painting style, with garlands and stylized flowers on a red, green, blue or cream background. Here are several trays and a ‘butte’.

A butte is a traditional travelling case used by seamen for their personal belongings. I think it’s a thing of beauty and would like to own one someday. But as it’s all handmade, it has quite a hefty price tag. It’s not that it isn’t worth it, but it isn’t an amount I’d spend on a whim.

I came home with some more modest souvenirs – two pieces of fabric and two postcards.

The fabrics are inspired by some of those used in the colourful traditional costumes of Hindeloopen. I don’t know what I’m going to use them for yet, but I’ll think of something.

One of the cards shows some of the typical decorative painting on a wooden platter. And the other shows a woman in traditional dress. (Unfortunately the postcard doesn’t tell us who the artist is.) In the painting, the fabrics are simplified to solid colours. In reality they would be flowered and checked, in mainly red, blue and white. There’s an picture of a complete costume on the town’s museum website.

And what is the woman doing? Knitting – what else?

Summer Walks Part I – Heathland

For me, one of the best ways to relax is walking. Fortunately I have a husband who feels the same way, so we spent large parts of our Summer Holiday this year (and any other year) taking long walks. Woodland walks, coastal walks, riverside walks, city walks, but most of all heathland walks. The heather is in bloom this time of the year and it’s glorious!  

As I wrote in a previous post, heathland needs to be grazed. Otherwise it would be overgrown with trees in no time and disappear within a few years. Usually this is done by sheep, whose cropping and munching is a peaceful sight.

But sometimes cows are recruited to do the job, especially highland cattle. I think they are beautiful, with their big horns and their shaggy red coats.

I prefer to keep a respectful distance, but during one of our walks other walkers and their dog didn’t give the cattle a second glance and just barged on, right between a bull and his harem with their calves. This seemed to agitate the bull, and instead of continuing to graze, it suddenly charged across our path.

I held my breath, but nothing happened. As it turned out, the entire highland family was just as peaceful as sheep. All they wanted to do was go for a swim together.

We live in a small country, and our nature reserves are comparatively small, too. This means that long walks are hardly ever exclusively nature walks. They almost always cross some farmland as well. I don’t mind, really. I even like it. Some less intensively farmed land can be very beautiful to walk across.

Besides, I love looking at farmhouses and their outbuildings.

They often have lovely flower and vegetable gardens. The vegetable garden of one of the farms we passed was a riot of colour.

So, so lovely.

And on some farms, there are animals to admire as well. On one farm we saw some magnificent long-haired Dutch Landrace Goats.

And on another a big, big spotted sow with a litter of piglets.

It’s so good to see them rooting about outside, with lots of space and freedom. The piglets were incredibly lively, inquisitive and cute.

Taking photographs for my blog makes me look at the world with different eyes, and appreciate my surroundings even more. Sometimes my camera seems to see more than I do, and I don’t really realize what I’ve seen until I look through my photos at home.

Take the photo below, for instance. We were walking along a grassy path when I spied something in the distance, very far away. Judging by the colour and the shape of the ears, I thought it was a roe deer. Roe deer are not an uncommon sight, but still worth taking a picure of.

When we came a little closer, the animal got up and raced away. At the time I thought, strange how small a roe deer can look from a distance, and how short its legs look in the grass, but didn’t give it  much thought.

Looking through my photos at home, I realized that it wasn’t a roe deer at all, but a fox!

We know that there are foxes around here. It’s something we know all too well, from the massacres they’ve caused among our hens. Twice! (Our chicken coop is now completely fox-proof). But we very, very rarely get to see them. In spite of what they did to our hens, I love foxes. I don’t know why, really. Is it the shape of their face, their big bushy tail or their speed and agility?

One of the best things about walking is taking breaks at spots that you can’t reach in any other way. Quiet, out-of-the-way spots. This was one of the best spots for taking a break that we passed on this walk. A pool surrounded by trees and tall grasses, with the wind cooling our skin and sending ripples out across the water.

The water birds in the distance looked like ducks, but they made curious sounds, not like our ordinary, everyday mallards. I couldn’t see what species they were with my naked eye, so I zoomed in on them with my camera. Maybe I could enlarge them at home and find out which duck-like bird it was that made such soft un-duck-like noises. But no such luck.

I’m not a very good photographer, and I don’t have any fancy photo equipment. So, I ended up with some very blurry pictures, and one that was sharp, but had a beheaded duck on it. As far as duck pictures go, these photos were a total failure.

But then I looked at the rippling water and thought, wow, look at that!

The ripples on the water look just like the texture of my knitted fabric!

This is a close-up of the Sideways Tee that I’m knitting.

When we’re on holiday, we often spend the evenings exploring the immediate surroundings of our holiday cottage or campsite. During our ‘staycation’ there was no need for that. We already knew the surroundings of our ‘holiday home’ through and through, so that I could spend almost every evening, all evening, knitting, reading or working on my crochet project.

I’ve made a lot of progress, but haven’t actually finished anything yet. I need a little more time to finish things up, organize my notes and take pictures before I can show you more.

I hope you don’t mind if I take you along on another walk next time. I’d like to show you a very different part of our country, and some crafty things I came across there, before I get back to some in-depth writing about knitting.

Apricot and Thyme Clafoutis

Hello, I’m back! Well, I haven’t really been away. Just away from my computer and my blog for a while.

We’ve had a really, really nice and relaxing ‘staycation’, with lots of lovely walks, visits to some old towns, cities and museums, and plenty of time to read, knit and crochet in between.

I’d like to tell and show you more, but I don’t know how just yet. I need to chew on everything we’ve seen and done for a bit first. In that sense I am like a cow. I don’t have four stomachs, but I also need to ruminate on things to digest them.

We met this beauty during our summer holiday, by the way. She lives on an organic farm that we passed on one of our walks:

The farmer doesn’t only take good care of his cattle, but also of the occasional passer-by. Between the barn with the red pelargoniums and the hay barn, where you can see a green parasol peeking around the corner, there’s a wonderful cupboard built into the barn wall. It’s filled with coffee, tea, biscuits and all kinds of other snacks. Just help yourself and leave some money in the box. There’s even a bowl of water for dogs!

Oh, there I go again, getting off course. It happens so often – one thing leads to another, and before I know it I’ve strayed completely from where I was going. Well, at least now you’ve had a tiny glimpse of our holiday at home.

What I had planned to do today, was give you a recipe. I may have told you before that we have a flock of hens – 8 hens and a cock to be precise. They are Frisians, and their colourway bears the poetic name ‘silver-pencilled’, which looks like this:

Our hens love tomatoes, corn, worms and taking dust baths. Apart from worms, we try to give them everything they wish for. In return, they provide us with more eggs than we can eat. We give lots of eggs away to relatives, friends and neighbours. And we’re always trying to think up new ways of using eggs ourselves.

The eggs are pure white and fairly small. I use 3 of these for 2 medium shop-bought ones. Some are oval and pointy, while others have a more rounded shape:

(I photographed the eggs on one of the dishcloths I’ve been knitting. More about those in another blog post soon. Or perhaps not so soon. There are so many ideas for posts whirling about in my mind that I don’t know where to start.)

Besides eggs, we’re also trying to use as many herbs in our cooking as we can too. This time I’m using thyme. We have three different varieties in our herb patch. Use any thyme you like – dried thyme from a jar is fine, too. Don’t use too much, though. It can be overpowering in combination with fruit.

The recipe below is for a Clafoutis – a French dessert that is usually made with cherries, but can also be made with plums or other fruit. I chose apricots because I thought they would work well with thyme. (I used canned apricots, because we can hardly ever get any fresh ones, and when we can they are often dry and not very tasty.) Here’s my recipe:

Apricot and Thyme Clafoutis

For a Ø 22 cm pie dish, serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3 small Frisian eggs (or 2 medium shop-bought eggs)
  • 150 ml milk
  • 50 g flour
  • 270 g tinned apricot halves (drained weight)
  • a few sprigs of fresh thyme (or ¼ tsp dried thyme)
  • 1 tbsp butter + extra for greasing
  • 50 g sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • icing sugar for dusting

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 200 °C (fan oven 180 °C).
  • Grease the pie dish
  • Sieve the flour together with the salt and sugar.
  • In a separate bowl, loosely whisk the eggs with half of the milk. Stir the egg-and-milk mixture into the flour little by little to a smooth batter. Melt the butter. Whisk the rest of the milk and the butter into the batter.
  • Distribute the apricot halves over the pie dish (hollow sides down). Pour over the batter and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
  • Eat warm or cold, dusted with icing sugar.

Enjoy!

The table cloth underneath the oven dish was embroidered by my late Mum. She was a great knitter, too, but she loved embroidering these colourful pre-printed table cloths most of all. For me, there are many good memories attached to it.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed my ramblings and my recipe. And I hope to get back to some serious knitting in my next post, because I’ve received some urgent questions from readers that I need to look into…

Herb Teas and Honey Bees

Hello again! I hope you have some time in your busy day for a leisurely scroll through our garden, a visit to a beekeeper, and a cup of tea and some knitting afterwards. Or perhaps you’re on holiday and have all the time in the world. Wherever you are or whatever your day looks like – welcome!

Today, I’d like to show you a new part of our garden. A part you haven’t seen yet – our herb patch. It isn’t very big (about two by two-and-a-half meters) but I’m very happy with it. Here it is just after we planted it mid-May:

And this is what it looks like now, two months later:

Isn’t it amazing how quickly things grow? There’s parsley, chives, thyme and sage for all kinds of savoury dishes. There’s rhubarb for stewing, nasturtium flowers for decorating salads, and ‘wild’ strawberries for enjoying straight from the plant. I don’t know what to do with the marigolds yet. I could use them to dye some yarn, but what would I do with yellow yarn? For the time being I’m just enjoying them for their cheerful colour.

And finally, there’s chamomile, peppermint and lemon balm. We’ll be making herb tea with those later. But first, let’s get some honey to sweeten it. If we hop on to our bicycles we’ll be at the beekeeper’s farm in under an hour. It’s a nice route along a canal, past some allotments, through a wood, and along a country lane.

Here we are. There are jars of honey and an honesty box at the roadside. We could just grab a jar and head back…

… but it’s much nicer to have a chat with the bee keeper and take a look at the bees. We need to put on a special beekeeper’s jacket with hood first. The bees are very quiet today, but it’s better to be on the safe side.

Do you see the line of trees the beekeeper is pointing at? Behind them there’s a nature reserve, with heather and all kinds of other flowering plants, shrubs and trees where the bees get the nectar for their honey.

The beekeeper deprecatingly says, ‘Ah, it’s just a hobby. My dad used to do it before me, and I’ve followed in his footsteps.’ But to her own astonishment and delight both her bright and her dark honey won gold medals at the London Honey Awards 2019!

Most of the bees are housed in modern beehives:

These are far bigger than traditional hives, or skeps, and it is much easier to collect the honey from them. But she also has some traditional skeps, a sort of upside-down baskets. And even a wooden beehive in the shape of a house. It looks a lot like their own beautiful wooden house:

Zooming in on one of the skeps, the bees can be seen coming in and out of the opening:

It’s that dark clump at the top left. Can you see them?

This beekeeper isn’t complaining, but behind her words I can hear her worries about the threats her bees (and bees everywhere) face. They’re threatened by the varroa mite, pesticides and the drought caused by climate change. Things like this often give me a feeling of powerlessness. Yes, it’s worrying, but what can we do about such worldwide threats as insignificant individuals? Fortunately, in this case, there are a few easy things we can do to help the bees.

Apart from organic honey in jars, this small family business also produces other bee products, like beeswax candles, lip balm, soap, shampoo and so on. There’s more information on their website.

Well, high time to cycle back and pick some herbs.

One of my favourite herb tea blends is chamomile and lemon balm. A small handful of chamomile flowers and lemon balm leaves is enough for a cup or two of tea (dried herbs work just as well as fresh ones). I have a small teapot with a built-in strainer, but any pot or mug will do.

Add honey to taste and enjoy!

Next to this cup of tea is my first dishcloth in progress. I was skeptical about knitting these (I mean, how twee can you get?), but the enthusiasm of two of my knitting group members made me give them a try. And I must say, I’ve been bitten by the dishcloth-knitting-bug too!

Another favourite is mint tea. There are many varieties of mint. Wat we usually get when we order mint tea at a cafe is Moroccan mint, with a fairly mild and sweet taste. The mint in our garden, peppermint, has a stronger taste. It really is more peppery. Two or three small sprigs straight into a mug make a refreshing drink. I like it even during the very hot weather we’re currently having – I just leave it to cool first.

The blindingly white knitting on the needles here is the start of my Sideways Tee. There isn’t much to see yet, but as soon as I’m a little further along, I’ll show you more.

Well, that’s all for today. Thank you for sharing a cup of tea with me!