Monday, June 19, 2006

Oh, my aching feet!

Hello, y'all!

We've just returned from a week in Gothenburg (sorry I know that's the English form of the city's name, but I don't have the wherewithal to put in the correct spelling).

We had a smashing time. We went for the 6th International Conference on Urban Climate. We met lots of friends - I won't name them all, but I know that many of you will be interested to know that we met up with Gerald Mills who is hale and hearty and in fine form!

John presented a couple of papers and was in meetings most of the time, so I got to do a lot of wandering about and exploring. During the first couple of days, however, he had some free time and we were able to go about together. The atmospheric picture above was taken just before sun-set and shows one of the main streets of the town with a fountain/statue of Poseidon in the foreground and the towers of the central city in the background. As you can see there's a distinct haze over the city - IT WAS HOT!!!!! We waited for some time to see the sunset, but being that far north it took a lot longer than expected and eventually we left in search of more exiting things.

We found there were a lot of people out on the streets till very late at night. It didn't really get dark till after 11 pm and people stayed on in the outdoor cafes till long after that. This turned out to be especially true on World Cup nights. The night Sweden beat Paraguay the entire town seemed to be out celebrating - chanting, singing, yelling, driving around with horns honking. It was all very friendly and one didn't feel threatened at all - it was just noisy and fun.

John and I walked just about everywhere. And the only problem with that was the cobbled and uneven surface of the pavements (sorry, sidewalks). They really made your feet hurt! I did a little sketch of some of the cobbles one day when I was sitting down by the harbour.

The only time I took the tram was on my second visit to the Botanic Gardens when I was in the company of Janice Ching (I hope that's her last name - she's definitely married to Jason Ching and I never thought to ask if she had a different last name!). Taking the tram gave us more energy to walk around the gardens!

A brief aside here to mention that we had a late night coffee with the Chings early on in the conference and found out that they knew my cousins Peter and Brenda Saunders from the days when they were all at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. What a small world it is!

I really enjoyed the Botanic Gardens. The picture to the left is of the nature reserve part of the gardens. This was wooded with little streams and masses of little white flowers. The more formal part of the gardens was lovely as well. The beds are immaculate and the range of plants very good. We hit the gardens at a particularly beautiful time, I think. I was most impressed by the "Paper Handkerchief Tree" and was able to find the names of several of the plants in my own garden.

Other highlights of the trip included dinners and receptions, with one reception at the very beautifully decorated city hall. However, I think the most interesting was a dinner at Universeum. This is a science museum and we took an after hours tour which included a piece of the South American rain-forest complete with birds, fish and insects, dinner in a hall with sharks swimming alongside us and best of all for me a petting tank where we were able to stroke various rays. These fish actually seemed to like being stroked and scratched. They would swim around the sides of the tanks and wiggle their "wings"! If you put your fingers in the water they would swim up to you and rub against them and they allowed you to touch their backs and underparts. I didn't know that rays had rough skin till I touched it. What a thrill!

On the last afternoon and evening there was a paper session and dinner party to celebrate Tim Oke's retirement. John presented a paper summarizing Tim's contributions to Urban Climate - wow! The dinner was in an indoor market - the food was smashing and the company fun.

And so, it was time to come back. And what did we find? ............. a completely different garden. The late spring stuff had died off - rhododendrons all gone, forget-me-nots turning to seed, poached-egg plant over and done with - and the early summer stuff coming on like a riot!

I was delighted to see the first day-lilly blossom. I associate day-lillies with our time in Columbus. We seem to have lots of them ready to burst into blossom, but I don't know what colors they'll be yet.

Foxgloves are everywhere, especially on the bank of the stream. Along there they are accompanied by daisies, grasses and hypericums and they look like they're in a summer meadow.

And of couse, we can't forget the roses - white ones, pink ones, orange and red - full of scent and varying from the simplest of wild forms to heavy multi-petalled beauties. They're all lovely - scrambling over trellises and trees, cascading down from the bank and just growing in bushy mounds. They should be at their peak in a week or two when Chuck and Hazel come to visit.

Well, that's all for now - gotta go and unpack!

Stay in touch, please!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Summer is here at last!

I wish I could say that I could see this view right now, but I can't. However, summer has really arrived and it's hot for the U.K. There's a haze over the valley this morning and the sun is hot on your skin when you go out .

Out in the garden there is a stillness which we haven't seen before. There's very little wind and although the birds are singing and the bees are buzzing around, things seem very quiet. The stream has quieted down too - we haven't had any rain for a couple of weeks.

Our blue tit family are coming on in their house on our patio. They moved in almost as soon as we put it up. It's a bird house that my Dad put up originally at Ladycroft Walk, and it's really old. But it must be comfortable for blue tits because it's been used by many, many families over the years. It's now covered in Virginia creeper and totally invisible, but we can hear little squeaks from the house and the two adults are busy bringing food. This is good as there are a lot of insects and caterpillars that I need removed from my flowers!

We have a splendid show of rhododendrons right now - one of them must be 20 feet high and almost as wide. It looks like a huge waterfall of mauve blossom.

The lawn is a mass of buttercups (yes, I know that means that the grass is suffering and we'll pay for it later, but it's so pretty!). And there are yellow punctuation marks throughout the garden from buttercups and Welsh poppies. The overall color scheme uses the bronze, purple and pink pallette, so the yellow of these "weeds" really makes it pop!

In another couple of weeks we'll have a crop of gooseberries (if the birds don't get to them first). They're big and plump, but they are still hard so we have to wait a bit longer. We may also get a few strawberries to mix with the last of our rhubarb if we're lucky.

Last week we paid a visit to my old school chum Georgie and her husband Peter. They live in an updated row of quarrymen's cottages about 2 hours north of here. Their house is lovely, with a smashing garden and a view of almost the whole Cheshire plain. We had a lovely visit with some reminiscence, lots of walking, eating and drinking. We're hoping they can join us for a bit of walking and visiting in the fall, but they have busy lives and so do we, so it is sometimes quite hard to get our calendars to match up!

Joy came over this weekend. John was working on a paper so we two "girls" took advantage of the hot and sunny weather and rode off in her open topped car to visit one of our local stately homes - Attingham. It was good fun. We took the tours and learned about riches, corruption and bankruptcy in the Regency era!

To return to the picture of the palm trees. This is something I painted last night at art class. We're really just practicing with watercolor washes, but once I had the orange and yellow "sky" I couldn't resist putting in the palm trees!

The art class has been fun. We're learning techniques at present. First it was using pencils. It's amazing! We've all used pencils since we were little, but you actually have to learn how to use them to draw and shade things.

Now we're learning how to use watercolors. I'm actually quite exited about this and hope to be able to produce a competant piece of work at the end of it. I've never thought of myself as much of an artist, but I do think I'm a craftsman and I should be able to master the craft of drawing and painting.

The hard part is getting the creative ideas and putting them into a drawing, painting or sculpture. I've been hard pressed to have any creative ideas, let alone realise them in the last couple of years.

I did sit down with a pepper mill a few weeks ago and spent several hours working on this drawing. I'm quite pleased with the shading even though the shape is a little off. >