Reinforcements

Last week, I mentioned in passing that we were checking all those fall maintenance tasks of the list. The MR bought a compressor and blew out the sprinkler lines, we cleaned up the garden for the winter, and I went through the worm bin.

While fall may not be the best time to add amendments to the soil, the bin was past due for me to empty a few trays and check on my worms.  One thing became hugely apparent as I went through the bin. Something was missing—namely worms. I saw a few tiny worms, a few giant worms, and nothing in between.

Usually the trays are teaming with red wigglers, but they’d disappeared. I don’t know if the bin got too hot, the trays were too wet, or the worms were tired of eating my food scraps; but whatever the reason, the worms were gone.

I like turning food scraps into fertilizer and not worrying about wildlife digging through my trash cans, so I went on Amazon and called in reinforcements.

It took a week, but Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm came to the rescue.

Bag of Worms

Maybe I’ll have to be more careful in the future when I empty those trays to make sure I keep plenty of worms in the bin working hard.  These are by far the most low maintenance pets I’ve ever had.

How do you recycle your food scraps?

 


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All That Goodness

Over the weekend, me and the MR put the garden to bed. We pulled up the zucchini plants and tomato vines, dug up the potatoes, pulled the weeds, and added some worm castings.  Now it’s all ready for fall.

I had turned the last of the tomatoes into tomato-basil pasta sauce.  Unfortunately, our basil plant isn’t doing well, so I was forced to pick some up at the store. How come I always end up with too much?  The next step usually is to let the herbs sit in the fridge until they turn into green sludge and then give them to the worms.

That’s why I was so excited to see a recipe for tomato salad with basil dressing. You see, somehow I’d wound up with a few extra tomatoes as well. It sounded simple, so last night I gave it a whirl.

Just mix fresh basil, rice vinegar, a little sugar, a little honey, a clove of garlic, and some oil in a blender till smooth. The original recipe showed tomatoes and cheese artfully drizzled with dressing.  Have you seen those Pinterest fails online?  Well, me salad looked like something Shrek might have thrown up.

Basil Dressing

Actually, that green goo was quite tasty. Perhaps I went a little far in the emulsifying phase.

Now, I have fingerling potatoes—not nearly as many as I’d hoped for—waiting to be eaten, and tons of fresh herbs waiting to be dried, then I’ll be done gardening till spring, or late winter when it’s time to start seeds, or next month when the seed catalogs arrive in the mail. OK, maybe there’s always something to do in the garden.

If you want prettier pictures and exact amounts on that dressing, check out The Cafe Sucre Farine’s Sweet Basil Vinaigrette.  It really is quite good.

What have you been cooking up lately?

 

 

Awash in Color

The highlight of our Barcelona stop was the tour of Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi’s modern spin on a cathedral.

Sagrada Familia from the park

The MR scheduled a tour in English of the church and the Passion Tower when we were still at home. With the crowds of people surrounding the place, I’m thinking this was the way to go. Our tour started at 12:30 pm, and they wouldn’t let us in to the cathedral till 15 minutes before. That left time for some pictures from the park across the street before starting.

I’m intrigued by architecture and figured that would be the focus of our vist. I was oh so wrong. This is amazing, interesting architecture, and so much more. Gaudi was a christian and wanted this cathedral to tell Christ’s story without using words.

The original architect quit after a year,and Gaudi took over. He threw out the first set of plans and came up with this. While he was fond of saying “My client (God) is not in a hurry,” he also wanted to please those paying for the project. So he focused his work on the Nativity Facade.

SG and the angles

 

Joyful and exuberant, it tells the story of the sacred family (hence Sagrada Familia) and the birth of Jesus. The wisemen and shepherds kneel in adoration while angels rejoice.  Along with man, all nature celebrates in excess. It is a playful and joyous place—the beginning.  This was all of the cathedral that was complete when Gaudi died in 1926.

Then you step inside and see Gaudi’s amazing plan. The cool colors of the morning bath the interior.

SG Cool Color Wash

All nature speaks of God’s glory, so Gaudi created trees to support the structure.

SG Treelike Columns

And then we left through the Passion Entrance—the story of the last week of Jesus’ life. Betrayed by a kiss, beaten, hanged, ultimately ascending to heaven.

Passion betrayed by a kiss and beaten

Pasion

This part was all completed after the architect’s death, but his plan was for stark bone-like structures and severe statues echoing the somber mood of the story.

Along with the cathedral, we had access to the museum showing Gaudi’s models and some of the planning that went into the building of this place.

SG Models

Gaudi used strings and weights along with gravity to help figure out the curves of some of his creative structures

Guadis planning

Gaudi had models of Sagrada Familia showing his plans for the future. At the time of his death, he was living in the workroom onsite and looked like a creative genius.  That can also translate to a homeless person. When in 1926 he was struck by a streetcar, he was sent to the hospital for indigents and died a few days later. In an age before Twitter and Facebook, his private burial was attended by thousands.  His final resting place is in the crypt of the church where services are still held.

Ten years later, the Spanish revolution incited people to descrate churches and kill priests across Spain. Many of Gaudi’s models were destroyed, and the outside of the cathedral still shows signs of the fire.

Later years, the work was restarted with the Passion.  The final entrance is to be the Glory Gate depicting Jesus’ return in triumph. The plan is to have Sagrada Familia finished by 2026 on the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.

After visiting the museum, we returned to the cathedral to travel to the top of the Passion Tower and this view of Barcelona.

SG Tower View

We had the choice of riding the elevator back down or taking the stairs. You can see much more when you take the stairs.

Tower Spiral Stairs

We passed statues.

Statue

And fruit—Gloria!

SG Tower Fruit

And eventually made it safely back to the ground overcoming the MR’s fear of heights and my fear of being terminally clumsy.  Back into the cathedral we went for one last look. Through the bronze door with the gospel in Catalunya.

SG Bronze Door

And back into the beautiful light.

SG Colorwash Warm

While the sun rises in the east and baths that side of the cathedral in blues and greens, the sun sets in the west and with Christ’s death and bathes the room in reds and oranges.

This is not a light show, the plan was put together 130 years ago, and it’s simply awesome.

SG Columns awash

As a believer, I love the symbolism of this place and the story it tells. Even if this all means nothing to you, it’s amazing architecture and beauty.  An english tour is worth the wait, and plan ahead so you’re not left out.

That’s me and the MR signing out on our European adventure.

Sagrada Familia and Us

Any must see places we missed? Where should we go next? 

Beautiful Barcelona

Maybe it was the change in temperature or the joy of traveling to a place neither of had ever visited before, but me and the MR loved Barcelona.

What’s not to love? Tasty food, tons of shopping, amazing architecture, beautiful beaches, famous artists, and friendly people added up to a wonderful time.

Our first day started off a little slow. We were delayed by the french air traffic controllers strike and spent more hours than we liked in Gattwick. Upon reaching the hotel, we came upon our second hiccup. Two floors of the building had lost water the previous day, they were shuffling us off to their sister hotel a few streets over. It was the same star rating, and it had water—sounded good to me.

This new hotel was situated across the street from the El Born area of the city with its many restaurants and interesting shops. While the Ramblas is lined with department stores, El Born is filled with boutiques and artisan shops. I bought a gift at one such shop where the man wrapping up my purchase explained that his girlfriend was in the basement workshop designing more.

Our first night we stumbled upon the Cathedral of Barcelona along with its fair and street performers.

Cathedral of Barcelona

Imagine walking by a place like that every day.  While this is not the cathedral people come to Barcelona to see, it is special in its own right.

Barcelona Cathedral Collage

The next day, we spent exploring the city. If one walking tour is good, three would be better, right? One reason I like these tours is all the hidden places you find. The MR questioned the wisdom of walking down a gated road, past a security guard, in search of who knows what, but we went on to find a hidden park, tiny gardens, and a simple church.

Walking Tour Collage

We wouldn’t have voluntarily wandered through food markets, but there’s something joyful about these places. In comparison plastic-wrapped Safeway leaves a lot to be desired.

Market Collage

A trip down the Ramblas led past hoards of shops and shoppers.

Shoppers

Barcelona has done a great job making its city pedestrian-friendly.  We especially enjoyed the outside cafes situated in the median; apparently water also makes me quite giddy.

Fancy Water Bottle

When we told people we were headed to Barcelona, they always mentioned the amazing architecture; they weren’t exaggerating. Of course we visited the Block of Discord with three buildings by three modern architects. It’s all just so beautiful, and creative, and unusual.

Modern Collage

Me and the MR just wandered about wondering what this or that building was and admiring each one.

Random Building Collage

We also enjoyed Picasso’s Museum featuring some of his earlier works.  Apparently, he lived in Barcelona in some of his youth and as a young man.

On our last day, we headed for the beach. Instead of dealing with trains and schedules, we simply headed for the port and walked along the coast till we found a good place to stop.

After days of walking, it was nice to sit and put our feet up for a bit.  Locals were offering a foot massage for 5 Euros; I was quite tempted to agree. We found a little restaurant off the boardwalk and ordered a snack before heading home. They served a tasty prosecco sangria that the MR has tried to replicate at home.

Beach

Just check out the boardwalk I’m standing on. The city has a wonderful place for families to explore along the seaside. And just take a look at the climbing structure behind me. I can’t imagine it would meet safety codes at home, but it sure looks like a lot of fun. They also have volleyball nets and some kind of handball type game that uses a net instead of a wall. This beach is definitely meant for fun.

The food in Barcelona was quite good—some of the best of our trip.  We did have a few problems with ordering tapas and wound up with a plate of ham and a plate of cheese on more than one occasion. It was better to simply wing it. I had no idea what a vegetable timbale was, and we certainly wouldn’t order squash, eggplant, and mushrooms stacked in a tower. Happily, it was delicious. The tasting menu our last night offered plenty of dishes we wouldn’t have ordered on our own, but it was fabulous. Our spanish is awful, and the menu writers’ english translations leave a lot to be desired, so just go for it.

Now before I close, I know what your thinking, “You went to Barcelona and you missed Sagrada Familia.”  Don’t worry; I’m running out of words, and this post is already too long. We’ll take a look at Gaudi’s amazing vision of a cathedral on Friday, so you’ll just have to be patient until then.

What do you like to do when you travel?  Any stories from Barcelona?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next Stop London

I’m stymied again. How do you encapsulate five days in a city of legend that millions travel to every year?

I could take pictures of all the famous landmarks; but let’s be honest, I don’t have a fancy camera, and I’m not that serious about it. Let’s just say, we went to a bunch of places.

London Building Collage

London is an amazing collection of old and new. So many buildings were decimated by the blitz during World War II; ancient buildings gave way to rubble. According to our tour guide, the cheap, concrete construction is now being replace with skyscrapers.

Fusion of Architecture

It’s a strange yet wonderful mixture.

We stayed near the Tower of London.

Tower

The beefeater tour is free, fun, and informative. Londoners really liked their grisly entertainment. Back in the day, you’d gather the kids and head over to Tower Hill to watch the beheadings.  I was surprised that ancient armor has been on display for hundreds of years. Apparently, impressing the public is important.

Horse Armor

The MR got his fill of armor and weapons, and I enjoyed ogling the crown jewels. No pictures are allowed, so think egg-sized diamonds, giant gold punch bowls, golden sword scabbards encrusted with gems. It’s out of this world glitz.

I was impressed by the simple joy and energy found in open air markets such as Camden and Convent Garden. It was like the day after Thanksgiving with hoards of people everywhere when we visited Camden Market on a regular Sunday afternoon in October. Wandering the commercial district, we stumbled upon this lovely display.

Florists

This is the way to draw people in. Who wouldn’t want to buy flowers here? It happened to be part of Liberty of London—famous for their fabrics. We ended up eating lunch there, and then checking out the store. I love this display of paper flowers.

Liberty of London

Me and the MR usually hit up the big attractions and then fall back on walking tours of our destination. The MR loves to walk and I’m the nerdy girl who likes facts and stories.  The Soho tour took us through the “red-light” district, and past music history.  We didn’t see a show, but we did see the Odeon, walked past Sir Paul McCartney’s offices, and past where Elton John lived when he wrote “Your Song.”

Odeon

Sweet Miss’ Fella told me not to touch the guards at Buckingham Palace cause they might deck me. Hmm—apparently YouTube has a lot videos of that exact thing. Well, I like a dare, but I was lucky the guards were well out of reach on our visit.

Guards

If you’re visiting the palace, check out the schedule. The changing of the guard was only on even days when we were there, so they were safely out of reach beyond the fence.

Buckingham Palace

I’ve always been an adventurous eater. When I was a kid, it was mostly to show up my brothers who would order hamburgers at the Chinese restaurant. Sometimes that’s served me well; sometimes not.

In London, of course I had to have some fish and chips at a pub. Unfortunately, it was just so-so. And if you are served the worst tasting guacamole ever with your fish, don’t worry, it might just be smashed peas. Who would have thought?

Fish and Chips

Me and the MR splurged on a nighttime dinner cruise on the Thames. We had a wonderful time, a great meal, nice music, and horrible photos. Rain, at night, on windows, in a moving boat doesn’t leave you with much.

Now for my tips and tricks for London.

  • It will probably rain; be prepared.
  • Wide-legged jeans may be trendy, but they will get wet, drag on the ground, and get ruined. Wear skinny jeans or pants—make that trousers if your british.
  • The subway is your friend, and it’s not that hard even for people who have no idea what they’re doing. We bought two Oyster cards that took a chunk out of those 18,000 steps per day.
  • Just because you’re both speaking English doesn’t mean you’ll understand each other. Have patience and a sense of humor.
  • Check into those must sees ahead of time, particularly if your traveling off-season.
  • Parliament is supposed to be even more ornate inside than it is outside—next time.

Don’t knock yourself out trying to see it all that first visit. Enjoy rugby world cup in a pub with excited locals. Dodge into the grocery store of royalty when the rain gets to be too much. Live a little.

I’d love to hear about your travel adventures? Any tips and tricks?

 

 

The Beauty of Iceland

When I started thinking about our recent trip, tons of ideas swirled through my head. I could compare the architecture or the feel of each place. What about the food? People always want to hear about the food or the language barrier. How was the weather? Did you have trouble getting around? What was it like?

Maybe the best way to give them their due would be to talk about each stop on its own. So today, our first stop is Iceland—the land of fire and ice. We flew out on my birthday landing the next day. The MR had visited Iceland a few times for work, so he was going to show me around, and boy did he ever.

We arrived bright and early, and explored the streets of Reykjavik waiting for our hotel room to be prepared. Downtown is very quaint, filled with cute shops and buildings in all colors and shapes.  Those vivid colors would certainly brighten a gloomy winter day.

Brightly colored homes

I was surprised to find the city asleep at 9 in the morning, but after two weeks in Europe, it may be the norm. That afternoon, we went on a free walking tour hosted by a local man who was putting his history degree to good use sharing his love of Iceland with tourists.

Suddenly the sculptures in the squares and buildings took on new significance.  That’s something I saw throughout our travels—the commitment to honoring their past.  These two pipes symbolize the sticks the founder of Reykjavik threw overboard and settled by.

Steam Pipes

I envied the country’s lack of a huge military but not their 40 percent taxation and economic woes. A nation of just 330,000 with a long history and strong national pride, Iceland is a very interesting place.

During our wanderings, the MR made sure to locate the Fish Market—a restaurant he’d eaten at on past trips. With good reason; he had a plan.

Fish Market Restaurant

The seven-course meal we enjoyed there that evening was amazing. Not only was the food tasty, the presentation was beautiful. The mussels in lobster broth served in a tureen of seaweed and dry ice where a showstopper.

Mussels in Lobster broth

The bread was served in a humble linen pouch with heated rocks on the bottom to keep it warm. It was accompanied by butter on a rock trivet sprinkled with salt.  Wouldn’t that be fun for Thanksgiving?

Bread

Each course was a beautiful surprise of flavor and color. I was pleased to see currants popping up in several of the dishes. I may steal their idea and freeze brachts of my berries to garnish desserts.

Dessert

The birthday surprises didn’t stop with that fabulous meal. The MR had booked us a tour to the Blue Lagoon, a lake heated by geothermal waters.

Blue Lagoon 2

At breakfast, he informed me that he’d also bought me an hour-long massage. It’s 40-degrees outside, and I’m in a swimsuit, how is this going to work?  It was one of the most surreal experiences ever.  I laid on a mat, similar to a yoga mat, that floated on the water. My masseuse covered me with a towel, draped a cloth over my eyes, and all I had to do was lay back and relax.

Every few minutes, she would dip the mat under the steamy water so I wouldn’t get cold. A few rain squalls blew through, but I was perfectly comfortable. If you ever get to Iceland, be sure to check out the Blue Lagoon.

That day, we also made a trip to Hallgrímskirkja—try and say that three times fast. The church, completed in 1986, was designed to echo the basalt lava flows of the surrounding countryside.

Church outside

Inside, I was struck by the stark lines leading upward and the beautiful pipe organ. This is not the highly ornamental churches or Europe that I’m used to.

Iceland Church Collage

Our final day in Iceland found us exploring the Golden Circle or the brown circle as the locals have started calling it—tourism comes at a price. The first stop was Pingvellir, the rift valley where Eurasia and North America are drifting apart and Iceland’s parliament was established in 930 AD.

Walkway

It’s also the site of Iceland’s largest natural lake and some filming for Game of Thrones. The MR was surprised at the colorful landscape; his past visits in mid-winter were much more bleak and gray.

Rift Valley

Next we traveled on to Gulfoss Waterfall with its tales of long ago lovers parted and more recently championed by Iceland’s first environmentalist.

Gullfoss waterfall

You know sometimes how you just blindingly follow a path not knowing exactly where it will lead? Somehow or other, the path I chose led to the big rock, masked in spray, sticking out into that raging river. Although the mist was turning to sleet and pelting our faces, I made sure the MR took a selfy, so we’d have proof.

At the waterfall

If we’d walked to the overlook first, I don’t think we’d have made it to this rocky outcropping.

The final stop was the Geysir Valley. One of the large geysers has been blocked with deposits, kind of like our plumbing now that we have well water, but a smaller one went off three times while we were there.

Geysir

We enjoyed wandering through this eery valley filled with steam and geysers.

Road Warrior

Tips and tricks for Iceland:

  • I don’t care if it’s early fall, hat and gloves are a must.
  • Silk long underwear is your friend. When me and the MR tackled the waterfall, we were soaked. My long underwear saved me from a miserable afternoon.
  • Be open to new foods and adventures. I wouldn’t have ordered whale, I don’t eat sushi, I wouldn’t have scheduled a massage in public, this list goes on and on. We still didn’t eat pony (a favorite of our tour guide), but the best meal by far was the one someone else chose. It pays to be open to life and new experiences.
  • Last but not least, when it’s crazy cold outside it’s OK to stop in every shop.  On a stormy evening, go ahead and pick up dinner across the street rather than across town from your hotel.

The MR has this thing about food on fire; if it’s on fire, he’s going to order it. This flaming cheese was a first.

Cheese on Fire

What’s your favorite thing to do when you travel?

 

 

A New Phase

With Baby Girl off to college, me and the MR have entered a new phase in life. We’re officially “empty nesters.”

To celebrate my birthday, and to keep me from sitting at home missing my girls, the MR planned out a wonderful European adventure.

We spent the last two weeks in Iceland, London, and Barcelona exploring waterfalls, visiting cathedrals, listening to gory tales of London’s past, and enjoying some amazing meals.

Yesterday was our first day at home, and I’m still in a bit of a fog. I did manage to wash the dog, buy some groceries, pick up the huge stack of mail, and start on the laundry.

I’m going to take a few days to get our photos together and share some of them with you later this week.

For now, here’s a beautiful sunset over Iceland.

Iceland sunset

Gone on any adventures lately?