The stories of my life on a little island in the middle of the Mediterranean sea ... and my occasional adventures beyond these shores.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

On giving thanks

There is a lot that is bad about this world. There are days when it takes a super-human effort just to crawl out of bed and face the day. There are moments when the constant barrage of information we are bombarded with feels overwhelming to the point of suffocation. It's so easy to become prisoners of our own success, drowning our senses in the incessant noise of a world that seems to be doing its best to implode. That's when it's time to step back and take a moment to reflect on all the things we should be thankful for. Today I have taken a good look around me and I know that I am thankful first and foremost for my family, who are there for me in the good times and the bad times.  I am thankful for green fields and wild flowers. For the sea and  puffy, grey clouds. I am thankful for books and for the people who write them. For Beethoven and Cohen; for poets and dreamers. Thankful for friends and memories. For giggles and laughter. I am thankful for freedom and for moments of unbearable lightness of being. For stardust and moonlight. Thankful for just being me, with all my quirks and endless contradictions.

Thankful. Just thankful.

 

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Wishing you all a happy, if belated,  Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Loree Loves - A list for November

Loree Loves will be a monthly list of things/ books/ blogs/ Instagram accounts or anything else which gets my radar buzzing. My intention was to start sharing these lists last January - but we all know how quickly new years' resolutions end up on the trash heap of history. Then I thought I should wait till next January to give this a go but ended up deciding that there's nothing like the present. So here's the first installment (and fingers crossed that there will be many more).

Burgundy

…the colour not the wine (I prefer white wine). It seems to be a popular colour for the coming season and all the stores here have racks of clothes in this colour. It also happens to be one of my personal favourites, especially if it has a strong undertone of red. Here are some burgundy items that I found online that I absolutely love:November favourites

From top left to bottom: 1. Dress with embroidered flowers via SheIn; 2. Chloe lace-up ankle boots via Net-A-Porter; 3. Velvet dress via SheIn; 4. Felted mittens by Aurelia Felt Studio on Etsy; 5. MAC Lipstick Power Driven; 6. Silk scarf by The Chic Artisan on Etsy

 

Poldark

If you're not watching this BBC period drama you're missing out  on some good entertainment. Now into Season 2, we were all rooting for Ross Poldark until his actions in episode 8 made us all realise that he's no saint. Which is just as well, I suppose, as saintly men do not make for very interesting leading characters. And even if we can't quite forgive Ross just yet,  the gorgeous scenery of Cornwall and the brilliant acting more than make up for our hero's indiscretions. If you aren't watching this series, I strongly suggest that you start now. Season 1 trailer here and season 2 here.

Image result for poldark

 

Travel Tall

I first ran across Eric Giuliani on Instagram and became fascinated by his story: feeling stifled by corporate life he studied photography, writing and film-making for a year, saving as much money as he could in the process to realise his dream - to travel the world without using air travel. It was a huge dream but he did it, is still doing it and, in the process, has enriched his life with experiences that most of us can only imagine. You may find Eric on Instagram here, on Facebook here or on his website here. Truly this is one man who has become an inspiration for many and while we may not all be in a position to sell our belongings and just take off into the unknown, we can all pursue our dreams and our passions in our own way. It only takes that first small step.

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The Little Card Boutique

This husband and wife team from Melbourne lovingly create beautiful hand-made cards and other gifts such as bookmarks, Christmas ornaments and notebooks. Personalised gifts are available on request. The Little Card Boutique is a perfect place to shop for a card for that special person in your life, especially with Christmas  just round the corner. You may find The Little Card Boutique on Instagram here, on Etsy here and on Facebook here.

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The beach in autumn

It is no secret to any of you that I have a special love affair with the sea and autumn just have to be one of the best seasons to capture its ever-changing moods. So whether it looks like this

Golden bay (9) 

or like this

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it will always intrigue and fascinate me and I will always answer its secret call.

 

Hiking

A recent thunderstorm or two and a veritable gale finally broke the heat and it's the perfect time to get our hiking boots out of the cupboard and hit the trails. We take the road less travelled, only occasionally coming across like-minded individuals, and explore areas of this little island that most people who live here all their lives never get to see - amazing but true. And I have to admit that even though I thought I had seen it all, there are times when I am stunned by the diversity of the landscape and the plethora of wild flowers that seem to spring from every nook and crevice. Strange as it may sound, our hikes have taken us to places we had never been to before.

 Ta Lippija (59)

Thanskgiving

I have to admit that it took me some time to get used to this holiday (which is not a holiday here). My husband and I would get into some, erm, heated discussions about the menu. For the first few years he insisted on sweet potatoes, turkey and pumpkin pie. I hated all of t hem. As the years passed, we've come to a compromise. The sweet potatoes have stayed (and I must admit that they are not that bad) but turkey has been struck off the menu. As has the pumpkin pie - although we do try to incorporate pumpkin in some form or other since it is synonymous with Thanksgiving. It has become an almost unspoken tradition not to cook the same thing twice. Which means that just about now we both start looking for new recipes and discussing meal plans. I generally search for a dessert recipe first. Last year's Glazed Cranberry Lemon Cake was a big hit.

This year I am torn between Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting and Pecan Pie  Muffins (or are muffins breakfast fare?) that I can serve with this Whipped Cinnamon Pumpkin Butter.

 

Pentatonix's version of Hallelujah

If you have not yet acquainted yourselves with this a capella quintet, I urge you to do so immediately. Their rendition of Leonard Cohen's classic hit Hallelujah is perhaps the most beautiful I have ever heard (and, believe me, I have heard quite a few).

 

Pentatonix have recently released their Christmas album A Pentatonix Christmas and although Hallelujah is not what I would describe as a typical Christmas song, I am definitely not complaining. A Pentatonix Christmas may be purchased here or on Amazon here.

 

Valentina Poudre

This is currently my favourite go-to perfume. This powdery fragrance has subtle hints of vanilla, iris, tuberose and sandalwood. Valentina Poudre is the creation of perfumer Aurelien  Guichard. It has been described as an Oriental floral fragrance. While during the summer months it may smell a bit overwhelming due to its strong earthy undertones, I find it perfect for this time of year.

Valentina Poudre Valentino for women

Valentina Poudre by Valentino is available for purchase here.

Please tell me whether you have enjoyed the first edition of Loree Loves. I hope I will be able to keep this up and that it will be a monthly feature on my blog.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Books for a spooky Halloween

Halloween is just two weeks away and I can barely believe it's that time of year again, when one holiday will follow relentlessly on the heels of the other until we pop the spumante at the chimes of midnight on December 31 and ring in another year in this journey we call life. But for now, Halloween looms and it is time for me to take out the few knick-knacks with which we tentatively decorate the house during this season. Despite the fact that my husband is American, Halloween is a low-key affair in our house. We take the Mischief Maker trick or treating - but strictly to family only. Halloween is not a traditional feast in Malta but, during the past ten years or so, it is increasingly becoming part of the local calendar. Whether that is good or bad I cannot say. For the time being, most people still celebrate the traditional feasts of All Saints and All Souls, that fall on November 1st and 2nd respectively, but I have a feeling that this will change in the not too distant future. The world is what it is. Change is constant, not matter how much we may resist it.

But there are other ways, apart from decorating the house and trick or treating, that can help conjure up that spooky Halloween mood. And I find that one of the best ways to do it, if you are so inclined, is to plop down in a comfy armchair with a mug of hot chocolate, a plate of Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, the obligatory candle ( I love Yankee Candle's Cinnamon Stick and Pumpkin Pie at this time of year) and, of course, a spooky book. I am aware that there is a never-ending list of books in the horror genre and what may scare the living daylights out of me may leave you unfazed, but I thought it would still be fun to share the books  that have given me many a sleepless night. So here they are, in no particular order, the books that should guarantee a spooky Halloween to all those that choose to read them.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

This has to be the quintessential horror book of all time and, while I am sure that it needs no introduction, let me just say that Dracula is not one of these affable vampires that seem to be all the rage these days. Count Dracula is a malevolent, evil vampire. His impulses and desires are so horrifying that I could not help but feel appalled at his very existence  - although he only ever existed on the pages of the book. But Stoker's imagery is so masterful that I could almost feel the most famous vampire of them all breathing down my neck. 

    “I want you to believe...to believe in things that you cannot.”

A  Portrait of Barbara by Robin Squire

Charlotte, a young bride,  is abducted on her wedding night by a madman and taken to a derelict house in a desolate, moorland wilderness. Here she is kept prisoner, with a decaying corpse for companion, and a portrait of a lady called Barbara. But who is Barbara and what plans does she have for Charlotte? This book is quite horrifying and the climax is truly something out of the worst possible nightmare. A Portrait of Barbara is definitely not a tale for the faint-hearted.

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The Ghosts of Malta by Joseph Attard

This book is a compilation of ghost stories that are part of Maltese folklore. I had heard quite a few of the stories before actually reading the book but that didn't make it any less scary to read - Mmybe it's because, give or take a couple of miles, most of the haunted places mentioned in the book are not more than 20 miles from my house. So that made it so much more personal, which may explain the number of sleepless nights that I went through while I was reading it. It's my fault of course, because in spite of my skepticism, my imagination ran away with me and kept creating apparitions behind every closed door even though I kept telling myself not to be so silly and superstitious.

 

Ghosts and Haunting by Dennis Bardens

This book is also a collection of short stories - except that this time it is about the ghosts of the British Isles. There is one particular story in this book, involving a black skull, that I thought was particularly scary and is imprinted in my brain to this day - which does not mean that the rest of the stories were less spooky.

 

Misery by Stephen King

After a traffic accident, writer Paul Sheldon is rescued by Annie Wilkes, a nurse who describes herself as his number one fan. There's nothing wrong with that except that Annie is very angry with Paul Sheldon because he has killed off her favourite character: Misery Chastain and, by hook or by crook, Annie is determined that Paul will revive Misery. This book is a reminder that horror stories do not have to be of the spirit kind. Misery is a study in psychological horror, the sort of horror that human beings can inflict on each other without the need to resort to vampires and grinning skulls. 

“I am in trouble here. This woman is not right.”

So what do you think? Is your curiosity piqued? If you haven't already, would you read any of these books? Or do you prefer something less horrifying for your entertainment?

To be honest, horror is probably my least favourite genre but, every now and then, a good, spooky book is the best thing to get my heart racing. On second thoughts, maybe I should consider taking up jogging.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Summer's end

It was Sunday morning and I was alone in the house doing the much-hated ironing. All was still, all was silent - except for a barley-perceptible noise that I had not heard in months: the gentle rhythm of the falling rain and the occasional rumble of distant thunder. The unmistakable scent of petrichor wafted in through the open doors and windows, tickling my nose. The air smelt fresh, the dust of months was washed away, the plants looked relieved and I could finally breathe. I feel like I've stumbled across a rare gem, a grey autumn day in sunny Malta. Can I safely say that autumn is here to stay? Probably not. I am sure that blue skies will soon chase the clouds away. But for the moment, I find comfort in the possibility that maybe, just maybe, we will experience this most elusive of seasons. As the cool air finally circulates around the house I allow myself to dream of fluffy socks and pumpkin-spice scented candles while thinking about upcoming lazy weekends spent reading, baking or watching movies.

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There is something extremely exhilarating about the shift in seasons, the slow but steady decline in daylight hours. Perhaps it's strange that I love the seasons that so many love to hate. But there is an aura of mystery and enchantment that surrounds autumn and winter that totally eludes our boisterous summers. Maybe it's because summers are for extroverts but autumn and winter are definitely for introverts. The beaches are all but deserted now, the crowds have gone home and nothing remains but the echoes of memories. Memories which we didn't make because we shun crowds and noise and spend most of our summer days in a tight little circle of family and close friends. Like snails we remain cocooned in our shells, until the rain comes and coaxes us out.

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Excitedly I start making plans for the coming  months: there are hikes to plan and cookies to bake; books to read (although that never stops) and movies to see; titbits to share with my readers and changes to make to this blog. I can finally stop contemplating the ceiling and twiddling my thumbs and get productive.

So, after the very long article I wrote last time about Dunster, I thought that this time I would keep it simple but before I go I wanted to share this wonderful collection of photos of The North American Indian taken by Edward Sheriff Curtis between 1904 and 1924, which provides an enthralling insight into the daily lives of various indigenous North American tribes. As always, when the subject of American Indians comes up, it makes me wonder what America would be like today if white man had not desecrated its most sacred places.

Ghar Lapsi (48)

Speaking  of North America's hallowed places, this National Geographic photo of Yellowstone's Grand Prismatic Spring is simply breath-taking and brought back wonderful memories of our trip there in 2013. Yellowstone is an unforgettable place, a wilderness that each person that is able to should visit at  least once in their lifetime. I promise that you will come away with so much more than  memories. I almost got the feeling that I was looking right at America's soul. I can truly never find the words to convey what I'm trying to say. The best thing would be for you to experience it for yourselves.

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Location: Ghar Lapsi, October 2015

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Dunster village and its castle

Some friends of ours recommended a visit to Dunster and I have to say we were not disappointed. Dunster can best be described as a quaint little village, its streets lined with cottages in a variety of pastel shades, one next to the other, like so many flavours in an ice-cream parlour. The village has its origins in medieval times, although Iron Age remains have been unearthed in the surrounding hills, and it is mentioned in the Domesday Book that was published in 1086. Dunster is situated within Exmoor National Park and is surrounded by sweeping hills which boast a diverse range of wildlife. The village used to be an important centre of cloth and wool trade in Somerset but, after the decline of that industry in the 18th century, Dunster was locked in a time warp - which enables the visitor to fully appreciate its medieval architecture while ambling along its picturesque streets.

Dunster, West Street

High on a hill (called a tor) overlooking the village is Dunster castle. This is where we started our visit, so this blog post will follow our footsteps around the castle and the village.

Dunster Castle

The first castle, which was made of timber, was built by William de Moyon (or de Mohun) around the time of the Norman conquest of England in 1066. The castle remained in the hands of the de Moyons until the 14th century, when the family sold the castle and its land to the Luttrells. The Luttrell family lived in the castle, making countless alterations to it, for 600 years until they handed it over to the National Trust in 1976.

Dunster Castle

Entrance to Dunster castle is via an arched entryway. Immediately to the right of the entryway, one can find the stables. The next stop after the stables is up a small flight of steps that takes you to the dank and dark oubliette dungeon. The oubliette, from the French oublier (to forget), is literally a place where prisoners were chained and then conveniently forgotten.

Dunster Castle - Oubliette

In fact, no traces of the oubliette can be seen since access to it is through a trap-door in the floor. The place gave me the shudders but such was the reality of the past. Perhaps its not the most auspicious place to start the tour but, moving on to the castle itself the oubliette was, well, quickly forgotten.

10072016 - Dunster & Minehead (17)

Once inside the castle's outer hall, the tour took us to the Drawing Room followed by the Inner Hall and the Dining Room. (Thankfully, photography was allowed). As I glanced at the beautiful objects on display, the crystal and china, and the hand-crafted furniture, it quickly became apparent that Dunster Castle was not some austere fortress but a once much-loved, comfortable family home. My thoughts instantly travelled several thousand miles to California, as I knew that Elizabeth (whom we all know as the Vintage Contessa) would have enjoyed touring Dunster Castle as much as I was going to.

Dunster castle - Drawing roomDunster castle - Drawing roomDunster castle - Dining roomDunster castle - Dining room

Dunster castle - Grand Staircase

The second floor of the castle is reached by the Grand Staircase - carved entirely out of solid blocks of elm in 1680. Up on this floor are the Morning Room, the bathroom, a number of bedrooms and the Leather Gallery. The Leather Gallery used to be the banqueting hall and gets its name from the leather hangings depicting the story of Anthony and Cleopatra covering its walls. Leather is apparently ideal for a banqueting hall as it does not hold the smell of food in the same way fabric tapestries would.

Dunster castle - Leather GalleryDunster castle - Leather Gallery

My favourite bedroom was the King Charles Bedroom, simply because this was the bedroom a young Charles II stayed in when he had visited Dunster Castle. The room comes with its own secret passage, which further adds to its allure.

Dunster castle - King Charles BedroomDunster castle - Secret passage

Another staircase leads back downstairs to the less formal Gun Room, Billiard Room, the Office and the Library. The office (called the Justice Room, as Mr. Luttrell was a Justice of the Peace) seemed like the perfect place to call one's own and I could really imagine myself sitting there and writing eccentric stories or endless letters to wonderful friends. As for the Library, well, who wouldn't love to sit in this sumptuous room with a good book, and spend a couple of hours having a quiet read while the butler, footmen, cook et al got the tedious tasks done?

Dunster castle - The Library

The castle tour ends in the Conservatory which leads off of the  library and visitors exit the building on the south terrace which overlooks the lush Somerset countryside.

Dunster castle - The Conservatory

The castle grounds abound with blooms of all types and colours and make for a really pleasant walk. Needless to say, Dunster Castle has its own resident ghosts and we learnt a bit more about them in the crypt, which was the last stop for us before we exited the castle grounds. From there we walked to the bottom of the hill and took the road on the left which leads to the Water Mill.

Dunster Castle

 Dunster Castle

Dunster castle

Dunster castle

The Water Mill

It takes a good 20 to 30 minutes (depending how fast you walk) to get to the water-mill. The road goes through the woods and leads downhill all the way. The vegetation was so profuse and the leaves on the plants so huge, that this woodland area reminded me of a tropical forest. Coming from an island that in summer is akin to a desert, all the abundant greenery made me giddy with pleasure.

Dunster

I almost wanted to get lost forever amongst the fifty shades of green that surrounded me. To be honest, I did wander off and lose my way for a few minutes, but then, in true English style, it started to rain, so I made my way to the water-mill past an old foot-bridge that crosses the river at this point.

Dunster

The Water-mill (also known as Castle Mill) is a restored 18th century mill. The current building dates from 1780 - although a mill has stood on this site since medieval times. The mill is still used to grind flour and is powered by two overshot wheels which may be viewed on the mill's upper storey. The adjacent wagon house and stables have been converted into a cafeteria and the ground floor of the mill houses a National Trust shop that sells products created by artisans from the area.

The water-mill, Dunster

The water-mill, DunsterThe water-mill, Dunster

On leaving the mill, we immediately came to Dunster village.

 Dunster Village

Dunster

It is hard from someone like me not to fall madly in love with a place like Dunster, which couldn't be prettier if it were the figment of someone's imagination. The villagers seems to have conspired together to make sure that anyone visiting Dunster will not easily forget it.

10072016 - Dunster & Minehead (109)

The village streets are lined with brick houses, some in their natural state, and others gaily painted in pastel shades that seemed to be trying to compete with the profusion of blooms that spill over every window-sill and carpet every garden.

Dunster

I admit that I also loved peeking into some of the house windows because of the unusual objects that greeted my curiosity. The winding lanes spill out onto West Street, which is just around the corner from the Priory Church of St George.

Dunster

Dunster

 

Priory Church of St George

Dunster, Priory Church of St George

The current edifice is from the 15th century but evidence of workmanship from the 12th and 13th century remain. This small country church has a beautifully carved wooden wooden ceiling and a carved rood screen that separated the parishioners from the monks. I found its sombre interior, in sharp contrast to the more flamboyant Maltese churches, perfectly suited for prayer and meditation.

Dunster, Priory Church of St George

I also absolutely loved the graveyard located just outside the church, with the grass-covered graves and ancient headstones pock-marked with moss and lichen.

Dunster, Priory Church of St George

It was absolutely impossible to find anything about Dunster that I didn't like. From the church, we made our way towards High Street.

High Street

Dunster, High Street

High Street is where most of the artsy little shops are located. Unfortunately, since it was Sunday when we visited, a lot of them were closed. One store that was open was David Deakins' Studio. We were mesmerised by his colourful paintings which seemed to exude their own particular light, as if the bright Mediterranean sun was shining on these very English scenes - truly remarkable pieces of art.

Dunster, High Street

Dunster, High Street

We continued walking along High Street, peering into the shop windows and enjoying the mild weather till we got to the Yarn Market.

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The Yarn Market

The Yarn Market, at one end of High Street, is a wooden octagonal-shaped building that was at the centre of the wool and cloth trade in Dunster until the 18th century. It was built in the early 1600s to protect traders from the elements and is still in almost perfect condition to this day. From the  Yarn Market, Dunster Catle is clearly visible, high up on its hill, seemingly surveying the village below.

Dunster, Yarn MarketDunster, Yarn MarketDunster, Yarn MarketDunster, High Street

All the walking around Dunster village and the castle had made us hungry. So we stopped for a snack at the Chapel House Tea Room and Craft Shop. I had cheese scones with smoked salmon (I can never resist smoked salmon when it's on the menu) and a cream cheese spread on a bed of crispy salad, washed down with Sicilian Lemonade. It was a simple meal but very delicious.

Dunster, Chapel House Tea Room

The Chapel House Tea Room is quite eclectically decorated, with mis-matching chairs in vibrant colours and tablet topped with prints of maps or board games, which I thought were all very charming.

Dunster, Chapel House Tea Room

The adjacent gift shop had a number of unusual and wonderfully-crafted items for sale but I contented myself with buying some cards (I can never resist cute stationery either) which were prints of original paintings by artists Rose Eddington and Jess Trotman.

And that brings me to an end of this (rather long but I hope enjoyable) tour of Dunster. I hope you all loved it as much as I did.

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