STITCH LINES...... Ramblings on life as a quilter, stitcher, traveler, gardener and lover of books, cats and fine chocolate....

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Back to the Books!

No, I'm not talking about the return to school, but rather getting back to my love of reading.  What have you been reading lately? For the last two months I have been struggling, off and on, with Sarum, by Edward Rutherfurd. After reading (and LOVING) his New York (click here for that short review), many told me that their favourite Rutherfurd novel was Sarum so I soon found it at a used bookstore and picked it up for my "Must Read Soon" shelf. I started it just before my trip to NYC in late June, knowing I would need a book I could get engrossed in for the long bus ride. My seatmate was reading The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani (also on my To Read Soon list) and I was getting into Sarum, which covers a vast span of time in the history of England. I have to admit, it has been a struggle. I don't think it compares to New York, in my humble opinion. Granted, part of the problem is that I haven't been reading consistently. I have left it alone for long stretches during my busy summer. I didn't touch it between the New York trip and then leaving  for Prague several weeks later, reading it only on the flights to and from, and haven't touched it much since... I guess that doesn't help. Out of 1033 pages, I am at pg. 371. Is that far enough, do you think, to "call it"? How far do you read in a book that you are unsure of, before you give up on it? I think I'll give it another go, and see if I can get into it, but after another 100 pages, if it hasn't really grabbed me, I'm movin' on... There's too many other great books waiting for me...

My friend Barb loaned me The Light Between Oceans by M.L.Stedman a few days ago and I have swiftly devoured it. Another great debut novel - I can't wait for whatever Ms. Stedman writes next! It's a story of choices and consequences, tragedy and thought-provoking questions. Although it does not have the happy ending the reader would ultimately hope for, it is so very well written and the characters so well developed and real, I could not put it down. Stedman's skilled writing is beautiful, full of description so that one feels they are right there on windy Janus Rock as the gulls reel overhead and the waves crash upon the rocky shores. Love, anguish, a little mystery, atmosphere, symbolism and plot twists, this book has them all!
Set in remote south-western Australia, it's the story of a young man, Tom, who returns from WWI and seeks employment as a lighthouse keeper. He soon secures work on the small island of Janus Rock and along with his new young wife, they begin their isolated life there with great dreams of starting a family. Those dreams are soon shattered by two miscarriages and a stillbirth, but then a tiny miracle arrives by rowboat. The heart-wrenching decisions that ensue send their lives into a spiral of both happiness and heartbreak, changing lives forever. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and would recommend it, for sure. I think it would be a great choice for a Book Club too. So what are you reading these days?

Peace,
Linda

"If a book is well-written, I always find it too short." ~ Jane Austen

Friday, August 30, 2013

Late Summer Busy-ness

Yes, I'm still here. I know some of you are wondering... Sometimes life just keeps you busy. Late August and early September just seem to always be crazy busy for me... I thought I'd better "check in" so you could see that I'm still upright and breathing! I've been occupied with many things - pickles, jam, finished off a quilt (binding and sleeve), Laura's move, getting ready for some classes, etc. etc. Shown here is my Peach Jam, yesterday's "product" - you can click here for the recipe. Can't show you the finished quilt yet as it's going into a show shortly; as soon as that's over I'll post photos. I'll be back here more regularly real soon, I hope...  Until then...

Peace,
Linda

"Being busy is better than being bored..."  ~ Tabitha Robin

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Oranges in the garden

It's high time I got back to blogging. Life has kept me busy lately, and my blogging has had to wait. Well, I'm back. Although I have one or two more posts I'd like to do to finish off our Prague adventure, it's not going to happen today.
It seems like forever since I've been in my garden taking some photos so I did just that today. Right now there seems to be a good amount of color- orange being one... You know that orange is NOT my favourite color, but I do tolerate it in the garden! So  here is what you might see if you visited my garden today: lilies, nasturtiums, California poppies,   Red hot poker (Tritoma), coneflower (Echinacea) and butterfly weed (Asclepias).


Although it's not a fav color, orange does add some bright spots to the garden. Earlier in the summer, my brilliant orange poppies really add a pop, but they are long gone now. My last lilies are just finishing as are the Tritoma and the Asclepias. The biggest bloomer right now is the Echinacea - a combo of pink and orange- two colors I would never put together in a quilt, but Mother Nature does it so well in the Echinacea and in the Stargazer lily... She is indeed a master artist!!








Do you look to nature for color combinations for your quilts? I think many of us do, as it seems many quilters are also gardeners. And what better inspiration than nature?! Although we may struggle to put colors together in our studios, Mother Nature seems to do it effortlessly, and it always works! Pink and orange... nope, I couldn't do it. But she does it well...





The Stargazer Lily is one of my favs - I love its deep  rosy petals, but if I was holding the master paintbrush I would never have dipped into the orange to paint the anthers... Maybe I need to take an art course...?


So .. do you have lots of orange in your garden? What about pinks and oranges together?











 Look at this beautiful snapdragon below- the perfect combo of these two colors - pink and orange, all in one! Gorgeous!





 "Orange, a close relative of red, sparks more controversy than any other hue. There is usually strong positive or negative association to orange and true orange generally elicits a stronger “love it” or “hate it” response than other colors. Fun and flamboyant orange radiates warmth and energy. Interestingly, some tones of orange, such as terra cotta, peach, and rust have very broad appeal." ~ from www.sensationalcolor.com


 Since he is sort of orange-y too, I had to include this little fuzzy wuzzy guy...  Isn't he cute? I found him today on the Tritoma leaves.


Peace,
Linda

Is a caterpillar ticklish?
Well, it's always my belief
That he giggles, as he wiggles
Across a hairy leaf.
~ Monica Shannon


Friday, August 16, 2013

Coconut Crunch Dessert - quick and easy!

I'm sure you've been wondering what has happened to me this last week.. no I am not MIA. Life has just been keeping me very busy. I am currently out of town; Laura and I have just made a quick trip to NS to find her a place to live come September. Check. She visited her new place of employment and met her boss and all the staff. Check. She is on track and gearing up for the next chapter in her life.
I am getting together with friends this weekend from my University days...so long ago! lol It's a reunion of sorts with several travelling from around the world to be here. It'll be great fun with lots of stories being re-told and a good amount of laughter, for sure. I'll be back home on Sunday and back to more regular blogging next week. I do still have one or two more posts I'd like to do about our Prague trip, if you will indulge me. Until then- here's a yummy recipe you might like to try....

I haven't posted a recipe for a while so here's a quick and easy - and yummy- dessert. If you like coconut, I guarantee you'll like this dessert - and it's easier than making a coconut cream pie as there is no pastry to make!

Coconut Crunch Dessert

Crust:
1 cup flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 cup slivered almonds
1 1/4 cups coconut
Mix together, and lightly press into a greased 9"x13" pan. Bake for ~20 minutes at 325F, until lightly browned, breaking up with a fork and stirring once. Let cool and divide crumbs, pressing about 3/4 in the pan as a base, and reserve remaining 1/4 for topping.

Filling:
1  3.4 oz. (100g.) pkg. instant vanilla pudding mix
1  3.4 oz. (100g.) pkg. instant coconut pudding mix*
2 2/3 cups cold milk
2 cups whipped topping (Cool Whip) or 1 250 ml. whipping cream, whipped
Beat pudding mixes with milk, then fold in Cool Whip or whipped cream. Spoon over crumb base and smooth. Top with remaining crumbs. Cover and refrigerate.

*If you cannot find the coconut pudding mix, it is likely available at your local bulk food store - I get mine at our local Scoop and Save. 1 package equals about 2/3 cup. Be sure you get the instant, not the kind that requires cooking.

Peace,
Linda

"Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart."
~ Erma Bombeck

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Personal Photo Challenge - Water

It's time again for Donna's Personal Photo Challenge. This is a monthly challenge with topics chosen ahead of time - this month's topic is Water and next month's is Doors and Windows. The main purpose of Donna's Challenge is to expand and practice your digital photography skills. I have had a very busy month and haven't had made a lot of time for photography other than when I was
travelling. It was on my mind as I was in Prague, and so my photos this month are from that beautiful city. I actually treated myself to a Photography Tour while there, not only to spend some time with a Pro who lives there and could take me to interesting spots I might not find on my own, but also to get some help with just that - digital skills. Although I have been doing photography for years, I am relatively new to the digital camera and still have lots to learn about all the settings, controls and editing possibilities. Night photography was another area I wanted to explore a bit further. And water itself is a fascinating subject. It's like a fire- I can stare at it for hours...
Prague is bisected by the beautiful Vltava River, and there is always interesting "river traffic" to watch- from cruise boats, paddleboats, gondolas, rowboats, and the occasional speedboat to swans, ducks and gulls. There are numerous bridges from which to watch all this activity. And then of course there is the beautiful architecture of this historic city...

I enjoy capturing reflections and this first shot was taken looking towards Prague's castle area. I have not done a great deal of night photography but Prague was the perfect "subject" with the river, castle and your choice of bridges for whichever view you wanted. This shot was taken at around 10:30p.m., one of many as the sky darkened through the evening. I experimented with settings and the time for exposures, and surprisingly got a decent number of good shots. A tripod was a necessity and I used the timer on my camera to trip the shutter. Of course the river was never completely still for a perfect reflection, but I am pleased with the "soft" reflection of lights and the illuminated castle.




Another river shot- this time taken in bright sunlight in mid-afternoon, hand held. I wanted to capture the graceful swans with the famous Charles Bridge in the background. Of course, they don't pose, or hold still, but I am pleased with the composition.








This final shot was taken in the Wallenstein Palace Gardens. I saw the reflection of the nearby green building with red tile roof and the blue sky, complete with white fluffy cloud... the breeze was rippling the water just enough for an interesting effect. I just couldn't resist!!

So there you have it - my three images of water, from Prague. I hope you'll visit Donna here and see what other participants have done with this challenge. And why not consider joining in the fun yourself?

Peace,
Linda

"It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things."  
~ Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook

Friday, August 9, 2013

Czech Eats and Treats

Several people have asked me about Czech food.... I have to be honest and tell you that we really didn't sample too many "authentic Czech dishes"... Czech food tends to be heavy- they love their breads and meats, in particular pork and game (venison and duck were common)..  "Dumplings" are very popular, and they were not at all what I expected. They are actually like a steamed white bread, and are served
with meat and a gravy-like sauce. This photo is of Czech Goulash- chunks of meat in a gravy with dumplings. It was okay, but I wouldn't have ordered it a second time... The vegetable garnish you see, chopped onion and tomato, was a rarity. In almost every case, items are ordered separately and if you want veggies, you order them as a side dish and pay extra. Being a big veggie eater, I was disappointed

in that- never saw a carrot or broccoli, a pea or a bean. Other than salad veggies- lettuce, cucumber, peppers and tomato, vegetables were pretty scarce with the exception of potatoes and cabbage. Many places also charged a "cover charge" for the bread basket, usually 30Kc (about $1.75). Ordering water ("still" water- if not, it comes carbonated) always meant a 250 ml. glass bottle, cool never cold, and it usually was $3-$4. Too bad I'm not a big beer drinker as it was cheaper. I tended to stick with chicken or fish a good deal of the time. We also had pizza a few times, Thai food twice and Chinese once. Lunches for me were almost always a salad or soup.
Laura had sausages one day for lunch- look how many she got!! 9 or 10, I forget which, served with cabbage. She washed them down with a beer... and decided shortly thereafter that it was time to become a vegetarian for awhile...






Czechs also like their desserts- usually pastries. I did try Apple Strudel, and the trdlnik and palačinka previously mentioned. Decorated gingerbread is also a "big thing" there. I came upon this lovely window display - doesn't it look just too beautiful to eat? I didn't have desserts very often as we tended to buy icecream (gelato) frequently to help us deal with the heat. It was always good, but the servings were small- one small scoop only- smaller than our scoops- no extra added on top...  usually 30Kc (just under $2.00). I did have one very delicious dessert as a treat one day- grilled pineapple topped with coconut icecream and a raspberry coulis. It was divine... probably the best thing I've eaten in a long while.... Mmmmmmm...



Peace,
Linda

"I haven't been everywhere, but it's on my list."
~ Susan Sontag


Kutná Hora and Sedlec


When I first started thinking about accompanying Laura on this trip, I was amazed by how many friends of mine have been to Prague! I quickly found at least 10 people who I know fairly well who have visited the Czech Republic in the past few years. Who knew it was such a popular destination?! So naturally, you ask for everyone's ideas on what you should see and do, and what not to miss. It seems most had the same suggestions for day trips- Český Krumlov and Kutná Hora were the two places that kept popping up in conversation. Both were highly recommended in my guidebook as well so they quickly went on my
Cemetery Church of All Saints, atop the Ossuary
"Must Do" list... Laura was also told by a co-worker who grew up in the Czech Republic that she must see "the Bone Church", so Kutná Hora was our destination on our last Saturday. Nina from Denmark who was on the course with Laura came along with us. It was an extremely hot day - 37C (98.6F) and the next day was to hit 40C (104F) so we were happy that we had decided to do this trip with a group tour rather than trying to do it by ourselves - easier to "blindly follow" than navigate when you're so hot!
We travelled east by train, about an hour, first to Sedlec (Sed-lets) (a "suburb" of KH) and then on to Kutná Hora. This area was once very wealthy because it sits on what was Europe's largest silver mine. In its heyday, much of Europe's coinage was minted here, and Kutná Hora was Bohemia's second most important city, after Prague. In the 14th century, five to six tonnes of pure silver were extracted here each year, making the king the richest ruler in Central Europe. The mining and minting petered out in the 1600's, but the area is popular once again, thanks to tourism.



The "main attraction" in Sedlec is the Ossuary which is a small Roman Catholic chapel beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints. An ossuary is a building or site which serves as a final resting place of human skeletal remains. They are used when burial space is limited. A body is first buried in a temporary grave, then after some time, the skeletal remains are removed and placed in an ossuary. The greatly reduced space taken up by an ossuary means it's possible to store the remains of many more people in a single tomb, than if they were left buried individually in the ground.





One of the most visited attractions in the Czech Republic, the Sedlec Ossuary contains the bones of more than 40,000 people. Here's the story of how it came about: In 1142, a Cistercian Monastery was founded in Sedlec. In 1278 the abbot of this Cistercian monastery was sent on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land by the King.







When he returned, he brought with him a small amount
of earth from Golgotha, and sprinkled this holy soil over the abbey's cemetery. Word of this act spread, along with the belief that bodies would decompose in three days because they were buried in holy ground. This legend promised avoidance of the lengthy process of gradual decomposition, thereby causing even higher interest in burial there.










Before long, people from all over Europe wanted to be buried in this very holy place. The demand for burial space grew and the cemetery needed to expand.











Then the plague and Hussite wars added many more bodies and in a relatively short amount of time, thousands of bodies were buried at Sedlec. Thus came the idea of creating an ossuary. The task was given to a half-blind monk to gather the bones from the excavated ground when the Gothic church was built near the cemetery, and an ossuary was created in its basement. This solved the "space" issue, creating more room for the newly dead.











The bones remained piled in the ossuary for several hundred years, before a woodcarver by the name of František Rint was employed in 1870 to artistically arrange the thousands of bones. He created a chandelier made from at least one of every bone in the human body, the Coat of Arms of the aristocratic Schwarzenberg family, and other wall and ceiling decorations. Rint's "signature" remains on one of the walls - in bone, of course...









So, what do you think? Would you be a little "creeped out"?

We were... "just a little".....

This Ossuary has been the inspiration for more than a few movies, and has also been a "location" on The Amazing Race...




Laura and Nina in front of St. Barbara's Church










After leaving Sedlec, we made our way to the nearby town of Kutná Hora. Silver mining is in the past here now and tobacco is king - the town is now the Philip Morris
headquarters for Central Europe. (You could smell tobacco as you walked down the street.) After the "Bone Church", the huge Church of St. Barbara was an amazing sight! Our guide told us the original plan was for it to be twice as long!











Its three massive tent-like spires soar above the many flying buttresses, a wonderful example of Bohemian Gothic. This cathedral was founded by miners - St. Barbara is their patron saint.












The interior celebrates the town's source of wealth (silver), and frescoes portray scenes of mining and minting of coins. Even the stunning Renaissance vault is decorated with miners' coats of arms. Photos just cannot do these massive churches justice...













Our last stop was the Italian Court on the site where Czech currency was once made. It was Europe's most important Mint and the main residence of Czech kings in the 1400's. Today it is a museum on minting and local history.

Despite the extreme heat, we enjoyed our visit to this area. I think we might have seen a few more sights had it not been so hot, but we had to hurry to catch the last train back to Prague. We were "done in" at this point. A cool hotel room sounded real good.... So we said goodbye to Kutná Hora and Sedlec....



Peace,
Linda

"Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey." ~ Pat Conroy

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Day Trip to Český Krumlov

I have never been one for totally pre-planning a trip. I like to "go with the flow", depending on weather, mood of the day, etc. So I was hesitant to pre-book too much for this trip, other than my Photography Tour... and I am SO glad I did it that way. I did do lots of reading and research beforehand, so I had  a very good idea of what I wanted to do and see. I had several day trips I wanted to do for sure, and several others on a "possibilities list"...
Overlooking Český Krumlov



Unfortunately the heat played a major role and we did not do one day trip we had both really wanted to do. We had to cancel our visit to Terezin Concentration Camp as the heat was just too intense. We knew the bus connections would not be good and we would have to wait for several hours for a bus back. Being a small town with not much else there, we knew finding water and shelter from the heat would be an issue and after our extremely hot and exhausting trip on Saturday, we gave up the Terezin trip which was planned for Sunday. (My Mum always said you should never do everything there is to do in a new place because then you have no reason to return... maybe that's good advice.) So we'll leave Terezin for our next Prague visit....
Plague Column in Town Square






I did go to Český Krumlov on Friday and then Laura and I both went to Kutná Hora and Sedlec on Saturday. Český Krumlov (Chess-kee Kroom-lov) is a charming little Czech town in the southern Bohemian region, about 3+ hours from Prague by bus. The "milk run" bus ride gave me the opportunity to see a little of the countryside; it was what I expected- gently rolling hills, and farmland - fields of corn and wheat mostly. I thought a few of the fields might be tobacco but not sure on that. I was curious to see if I might spy some different wildflowers along the roadside but all I saw were very familiar - goldenrod, Queen Anne's Lace, daisies, chicory, buttercups... just exactly what we would be seeing here at this time of year. (I was a little disappointed - I was hoping to see something different!) I also took note of backyards and gardens as we passed through small towns and villages.
More of Town Square
I deduced that gardening is not a "big thing" in the Czech Republic. I did see a few that were nicely tended, but many looked neglected and overgrown. Rose bushes seemed to be the most common choice, although I did see a few marigolds, petunias and the odd hosta. Window boxes seem to be the "garden of choice" with geraniums the usual planting.
The Vltava River surrounds the town.
Dating from the Middle Ages, Český Krumlov is described as "an outstanding example of a small central European medieval town". It was built around a 13th century castle with Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements, and like Prague is situated on the banks of the Vltava River. Český Krumlov roughly means "Czech bend in the river" and the river actually surrounds the town with an almost circular path, providing a wonderful opportunity to jump into a canoe or raft to go for a 30 minute "float around town"...
(I resisted this cooling temptation as I worried about getting my camera wet.) Instead I just enjoyed strolling the narrow, winding cobblestone streets. Had there not been any tourists visible, you could almost imagine that you were back in the 15th or 16th century. The streets almost had a fairy-tale like quality. The Adventures of Pinocchio was filmed here in 1995, and I could just imagine him trotting down any one of  these streets... Any of the shops could have belonged to Gepetto.... Charming is the word that keeps coming to mind.... Old Český Krumlov is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


I did not tour the castle as English tours were infrequent and I did not want to miss the last bus back to Prague - I was keeping a close watch on the time. The Round Tower marks the location of the first castle. It's 16th-century paint job has been colorfully restored and it looks exotic with its fancy astrological decor and symbols of the zodiac. Church steeples and towers seem to make excellent reference points and you can always get your bearings by

just looking around to find a tower or steeple. There are two bridges in town and they too were good reference points. You really can't get lost... I find when I travel I become more acutely aware of my surroundings.. I notice things I would not normally "see" at home...I take note of things along the way so I can find my way back... I guess that must be a survival strategy of sorts? Like an animal in a new territory and he's being extra careful and vigilant..
Anyway, it was a great day. At this point the heat was starting to really "get to me"... This was the beginning of the last weekend  - the "heat wave" with temps of 38C and 40C - just too darn hot!! At the end of a long, hot, tiring day, one tends to flake out on one's bed in as few clothes as possible  and just try to soak in the cooler air... No Friday night "Night Life" in the big city for this chickie....
Tomorrow would be higher temps and another Day Trip... I had to cool my footies...




Next- our visit to Kutná Hora and the creepy Bone Church...


Peace,
Linda

"Not all those who wander are lost." ~ J.R.R. Tolkien
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