Two Dutch Girls on a Road Trip to Wiltshire

Road Trip 2017 (2) - Richmond to Chawton to Salisbury.

Good afternoon! Would you like to join me for the second part of my road trip in the South-West of England? A long time wish of my daughter...

Monday, 30 December 2013

What are your New Year's Resolutions?

Good riddance to 2013 and hello to 2014.

And I'm curious. Did you make New Year's Resolutions yet? And what are they???
Anyway: I'd like to wish you a wonderful "Old Year's Eve", and hope you will have a smashing time and that 2014 will bring you all you desire (but be careful what you wish for :-)
I will be logged out for a while; time to spend entirely and solely with my family. But I'll be seeing you in the new year. Do visit Rays of Light again (and again and again).
Lots of love,
Renée XXX

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Keeping strays...or How a Dog from Istanbul Entered our Lives.

Gina from Istanbul
Good morning, dog lover!
Meet Gina.
This beauty came to us from Istanbul, Turkey, 8 years ago.

After our old Dutch Partridge Dog (Drentsche Patrijshond) had died from bowel cancer at 15 years old, we decided that we didn't want another dog. We both work, the kids were busy with school and hobbies, you know the drill.


The story starts when my Mum wanted a dog. She was 78 at the time, so we thought to get her a docile stray which wouldn't need too many walkies. So we took her to the local pound, which was full of huge machos and little ankle biters, none of which tickled her fancy. We had almost given up on the idea, but then our local newspaper featured a story about a woman in the village of Rockanje who devoted her life (and a substantial chunk of her salary) to adopting strays in Istanbul (of all places. People never cease to amaze me). She funded a pound in an abandoned school building there, and once every three months paid for a bunch of dogs to be flown over to our country. They were injected, checked, chipped; in fact ready to go.


So, we took Mum to a farm in Rockanje, which was running with dogs from Istanbul. Most of them were of a similar doggie type: floppy but smallish ears, all colours, long bushy tails, course hair. And most were not very pretty. But they all seemed happy to have moved from a hot chaotic street life to a cold damp quiet country life.
Whilst Mum was getting acquainted with a smallish 3 month old bitch who immediately sized her up and thought her a push-over (she is), we had a casual look around at the other dogs. They were enthusiastic, but nothing more. Until...
In the only ray of sunlight slanting down from an overcast November sky, there stood another pup, quietly watching us. She was a gorgeous fox colour. She watched us, I watched her. She kept her distance, so did I.
Then, when Mum had decided she was taking that feisty bitch home, I suddenly felt a wet nose in the palm of my hand. I looked down, and that lovely reddish-brown dog had snuck up to me and was looking up at me. Again, I thought she was gorgeous. But WE weren't adopting a dog, we were there for Mum. Right?
Now, that day, November 18th, happened to be the day we had put our old dog Freya to sleep 2 years previously. And when I watched that Turkish dog looking up at me, suddenly Freya was in my head, urging me to take her home.

Our Turkish lady

Long story short, we went back the next day to pick Gina up. She turned out to be terrified of men, all men, but especially men in leather coats. She came inside, hid under our dining room table and didn't come out from under there for days. She cringed and fled when my husband said a word. She cringed and fled for all sudden noises. She was afraid of water. She didn't want to drink from a bowl, only from the pond behind our house, or puddles. Which made drinking stressful, for she was afraid of the pond and the puddles. She hates the car with a passion, and throws up each and every time she gets in it.
But slowly, very slowly, she thawed. She became affectionate, but only in moments when it suited her. For instance, this dog doesn't acknowledge you when you come into a room. (This was a first for me, I'm used to being jumped at by all dogs everywhere).
And she's not very friendly to other dogs. Or other people. In fact, she is very effective in keeping people out of our garden. Hence the chain, but we've now put a new fence around the garden, so the chain is in the past.
The woman who runs the dog obedience school (we got our two certificates, oh yeah we did!) called her a traumatised Turkish lady. But she is our lady.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Meet Viggo - Stray Cat Extra-Ordinaire!

Viggo the Magnificent

Hi there, good morning!

I've promised all you cat lovers some more tales about my cat Viggo.
So I'll tell you about how he came to be in our lives.  Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.
We used to have another cat, an orange tom called Tigger. 
Tigger had a very important role in our household: he kept other cats (there are many!) from pooping in OUR garden and mice (there are many!) out of our house. Tigger was another stray (so is our dog. But no, I didn't pick out my husband from the pound), and a good, dependable but not very sociable cat. He had been abused as a kitten, so he always kept his distance when he was an adult. When he was 12, he sadly died from tongue cancer. And within a week, we had little mounds of poop in the flower beds and an entire extended family of field mice moved in from the woodpile to behind our wainscoting. 

What to do? Get another cat!
This took some doing, though. My daughter had set her sight on a Maine Coon (very popular, very expensive, very much in-bred). But we couldn't find one that we trusted to be reasonably healthy, and there were no stray MC's in the pound.
So I contacted our local Kids for Animals, whom I had interviewed for our local newspaper some years before. They remembered me, and yes, they did occasionally have cats that were brought in from the streets of Hellevoetsluis. And I was in luck! For they had got a family of four thrown over their fence just the week before! A mother and her three sons.
They were skinny and mangey, and very shy. And not very attractive. But if I would like to come round to take a look, they would be happy to receive me.
So we went to the Kids for Animals shelter, a building on an industrial estate not far from our house, and met the family. And no, they weren't very attractive. In fact, one of the kittens, the runt, wasn't just mangey, but he had an eye infection as well. But he was the one who immediately came up to us and climbed my leg. And started purring. And stole my heart.
We took him home. He was all ears, and according to my husband the ugliest cat he had ever seen. But he nestled in front of the fire, preferably on someone's lap in front of the fire. And he started eating.
We are now 4 years on, and he has never stopped eating. Eating, next to ruling the household, is his thing. He wakes me up in the middle of the night, demanding food. Demolishes newspapers, to tell me he wants food. Shreds entire cardboard boxes, to make us pay attention to the fact that his food bowl is empty.
But we haven't seen another mouse in the house. (Except for in my bed, but I've already told you that story).

Thursday, 26 December 2013

By Popular Demand: my Secret Quiche Recipe.

Smoked ham and curried potato quiches

Good morning, folks!
Christmas buffet at Rays of Light home

It's me again.  (And apologies for the poor quality of the photos; my Samsung needs to be replaced...)
I was up at the crack of dawn, as I will be hosting yet another dinner party this evening, and wanted to bake my famous quiches.
So: Radio 2 on (they do a top 2000 between Dec. 25th and Dec. 31st - wonderful, all those musical memories!) and Viggo winding his way between my legs and tripping me up - you can picture the scene I'm sure.

When he had me almost pitching my face into the flour for the second time, I kicked him out. He is now sulking in the wintry sunshine in the back garden.

The quiches.

I have been baking quiches for 25 years. When I lived in London I very occasionally treated myself to lunch in a corner caf on Cricklewood Broadway.  The cheapest thing they had on the menu was a slice of quiche. So, for me, quiche is more than food, it is a trip down memory lane. When I finally managed to get me a kitchen of my own again, I started making quiches.

Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees Centigrade.

The bottom

Are you in a hurry? Use ready-to-go squares of puff pastry from the supermarket. It makes your bottom more fluffy (obviously) and it has a slight risk of going soggy, but the taste is fine. And it saves you time and you don't get your hands greasy and your clothes floury (not to mention your kitchen dirty).

Plenty of time? Make your dough from scratch, using 200 grams of buckwheat or ordinary flour, 50 ml. of cold water and 1 large organic egg (remember: happy chickens!!). Knead quickly, roll out with a rolling pin or wine bottle (always plenty of those in my kitchen), put it in a buttered quiche mold and put away in a cool place or in your fridge.

The filling

This is the curried potato quiche, by the way.

For this filling, I've used:
- 6 pre-cooked potatoes (left overs from yesterday's Christmas dinner; waste not want not, my Grandma taught me)
- 150 ml. coffee cream
- plenty of curry, salt, pepper
- 2 large organic eggs
- 50 grams of pine nuts
- 10 grams of shredded dried coconut

Whisk the eggs with the cream , coconut and curry etc. Place the potatoes on the quiche dough. Sprinkle the pine nuts on them, cover with the cream mixture.

Bake in the oven, for approx. 35 minutes. This rather depends on your oven, so check! 

Filling for smoked ham quiche
- 150 ml. coffee cream
- 6 slices of Italian or Spanish finely sliced smoked ham
- 8 tiny tomatoes (I've used the Dutch kind called 'Tasty Tom' - they taste sweet)
- salt, pepper
- 50 grams of freshly grated Parmezan cheese

Whisk the eggs with the cream, cheese and salt and pepper. Put aside. Quickly dry-fry your ham in a frying pan, lightly browning it. Put the slices of ham on your quiche dough, cover with the cream mixture. Push in the tomatoes.
Bake in the oven, for approx. 35 minutes. This rather depends on your oven, so check!

I have many more on my repertoire, so, perhaps I'll do an update some day.
For now, I'll leave you to it. My husband is feeling neglected and wants soup. Okay. I can do soup as well.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas from me to you! / Fijne kerstdagen allemaal!

Here's my Christmas wish for all of you in:

The Netherlands - England - Germany - Ireland - Serbia - Morocco - Greece - Australia - The USA - Canada - Russia - Croatia - South-Korea .
Have a lovely time (if you do not celebrate this seasonal thing, have a good day anyway), and remember: Mess doesn't matter - love does!

Lots of love, Renée <3

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Blog Update: How Starting this Blog has Changed my Life :P

Hi, folks!
Here's your enthusiastic blogger from the Wetlands again.
With Gina

This Blog, Rays of Light, has been up and running for a month now. And wow! I mean: wow!

There's this thingy called 'Stats' next to my composing page, and it shows me that you, my reader, come from far-flung places like South-Korea, Russia, Canada, the USA, Australia, South-Africa, Morocco, as well as nearer countries (Germany, England, Serbia, The Netherlands).


I am SO happy to meet you!
Except, I don't meet you, do I? You read my post and then you steal away in the night...

I try to imagine you. You are sitting in an easy chair, with a cup of coffee nearby (or tea, if you're in South-Korea, I expect), or with a beer. It's hot in Australia, I've been told. And you take some minutes to read my words.

What is your life like? Do you enjoy your work? Do you have work? Are you happy? Are you with loved ones around you, or are you lonely? Or alone by choice? Do you have children? Do you, like me, keep pets? What subjects of mine do you enjoy? Or don't you like at all?
You see...I don't know! I'm writing away totally absolutely utterly in the dark here!

My dream

I used to dream about publishing a magazine. But a lack of funds has stopped me so far. And being careful; taking out a loan is simply not my thing. 
This blog is the nearest I've come to fulfilling this dream. Sure, I've published books, but this is different. I try to come up with subjects which I hope you will enjoy reading about. And they are, as you have found out, rather eclectic. 
I look at those stats, and think about how many of you have read about my tomcat, and let myself be inspired by this. So there will be more posts about my pets. And about my photographer son. And about Sarah McQuaid :-) - my best read post yet (if you don't count the opening one about when I started out on this adventure).
But: you CAN have some influence, if you like. There is a 'comment' gadget beneath the blog. And a 'follow' gadget on the right hand side. So....want another cat or dog adventure? Let me know!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Single Mum/Dad? Then this post (with cookie recipe) is especially for you!

Good afternoon!
There you are, searching for a way to entertain your kiddies, with two days to go until Christmas, or no Christmas celebrations but holidays anyway...Well, I've written this one especially for you!
Start by clicking on the link. It's worth it!    Lovely animation!

What do I have to offer you?
An easy-peasy Dutch recipe for Christmas/Holiday cookies, which you can bake together with your kids, or on your own if you prefer.

My (almost grown-up) kids have tried them and pronounced them very good. So... What's keeping you?

Dutch Coffee Kisses (koffiekusjes)

What do you need?

375 grams of flour (I've used the kind which has added yeast)
150 grams real butter (I've used the organic kind, produced by happy Dutch cows)
125 grams fine sugar (I've used the organic brown kind, hopefully produced by happy fair-trade growers)
1 large brown egg (happy chickens!!!)
1-2 spoons of ice water (table spoon, not a small spoon!)
1 spoon of instant coffee (ditto)
cookie cutters, or a sharp knife
 Decorations are optional. I've used ready-made sugar paste from the supermarket. But you can also make your own, by dribbling molten chocolate on, or icing sugar.

Do not forget to pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees! (that's centigrade)

What's next?

Sift the flour into a large bowl. Cut up the (cold!) butter into small cubes. Put in with the flour and mix in using your finger tips. Keep this up until the flour has the thickness of bread crumbs (this takes a while; builds up your arm muscles!) Then mix the sugar, coffee and egg all together in a separate bowl. Add the ice water and chuck it all in with the flour.

Next, mix the flour carefully with a knife (why a knife? beats me! this was passed on by my Gran). Knead well until you have a smooth dough.
Now, put the dough onto a large sheet of baking paper. Put a second sheet on top. Use a rolling pin, or wine bottle, and roll out your dough until it is approx. 5 mm thick.

Next, cut out your cookies.

Put them onto a baking tray (use a fresh sheet of  baking paper!)and bake them for 10 minutes in the oven (middle tray) or until golden brown.
The baked ones (first batch)
If you, like me, have carefully used up all your dough (waste not want not), you'll find you need to bake them in two batches. Let them cool off first before decorating!

ENJOY!!!! And have a lovely time!

Sunday, 22 December 2013

On your own for Christmas? Then this is for you!

Hi there,
I have been there, believe me, I have.
Years ago, when I was living in London, I had a couple of lonely Christmases. 
I had been left in the lurch by my lover and could not get over him, so all festivities (and there were parties I was invited to and places I could go)tasted stale. 
I used to wander down Oxford Street, looking in shop windows at things I could not afford, and at people rushing home to imagined loved ones (my imagination), and dragged my feet just to feel connected to people. Gulp.

But hey, it's just a couple of days. And they will pass. Quickly, if you make certain you keep busy.
So, here is my advice to you:
Be nice to yourself. You deserve it. Do something you enjoy doing. Phone a friend. Give yourself a cuddle.

I wish you a good Christmas and a very happy, healthy and inspired 2014. Lots of love, Renée. And the link says it all. XXX 

PS, If you really feel down in the dumps, you may choose NOT to open the link! I don't want to make you sadder...

In je uppie met de kerst? Rays of Light wenst je alvast hele fijne kerstdagen!

Normaliter post ik in het Engels, maar ik weet dat er best veel landgenoten over mijn schouder meelezen...Dus dit keer in mijn moerstaal. (And for those of you who cannot read Dutch, there is a translator gadget right at the bottom of this blog!)

Wij worden overvoerd met beelden van gezellige gezinnetjes die onder kerstbomen poseren, of prachtig aangekleed samen aan een overvloedige kerstdis zitten met van die grote glimlachen van oor tot oor. (Dat is dubbelop. Maar Kerst in Nederland is dubbelop)
Gisteren crea-bea geweest...

 Nou, dan is deze post helemaal speciaal voor jou alleen!

Ik weet hoe je je voelt. I have been there. (Sorry. Engels borrelt spontaan naar boven bij mij als ik aan mijn single jaren in Engeland terugdenk)
Weet je, het is misschien een schrale troost, maar wij "niet-alleen-met-de-kerstdagen"-mensen zijn echt niet allemaal zo happy als Appie Heijn en de C1000 jullie willen doen geloven, hoor!

We zitten stiekem allemaal tot over onze oren in de kerststress. 
Hoe krijgen wij dat eten op die gezellig gedekte tafel terwijl de hond net op het haardkleed heeft gekotst en de kinderen strontvervelend zijn en oma haar gehoorapparaat weer eens heeft vergeten in te doen en we er NU net pas achterkomen dat we het vlees gisteren al uit de vriezer hadden moeten halen?
Het leek zo'n goed idee om ome Henk uit te nodigen (anders zit die arme ziel alleen thuis), maar nu hij er is weet je opeens weer dat hij het alleen maar over voetbal kan hebben en oma gaat steeds sjaggerijniger kijken...

Daarom...Als jij dit in je uppie zit te lezen, al of niet onder je eenzame kerstboom (denk je eens in hoe die zich moet voelen, kerstbomen zijn groepsbomen!):

Schenk jezelf een heerlijk drankje in. Zet je lievelingsmuziek op. Geef jezelf een knuffel. Sla een goed boek open. Geniet van de rust. Geniet van de rust. Geniet van de rust.

Ik wens je hele fijne kerstdagen en een goed, gezond en inspirerend 2014. Lots of love, Renée.

Friday, 20 December 2013

For Those of You Dreaming of a White Christmas (and getting a soggy green one...)

Walking in the Air - by Reincarnatus

I have provided a link to the music I want you to listen to whilst reading this blog. It's a song from the wonderful film 'The Snowman', composed by Howard Blake and sung by Dutch female band Reïncarnatus.

The video starts with a view of one of Maastricht's most beautiful churches, the Sint Servatius (or St. Servaas), in the snow.
St. Servaas in Summer

There are many great things about Maastricht, not in the least the concerts André Rieu gives in his home town every year. But it also has the most gorgeous bookshop of the entire Wetlands!
But back to the snow here!
Aren't you longing for a white Christmas? Well, I am! Instead, I am getting a soggy green one (very typical for my part of the world).
A woman's got to do, what a woman's got to do... 
I'll be creating my own, home-made, white Christmas. The tree in the living room has snow on it (which my cat loves to lick - cannot be good for him!), I will be making my spiced hot wine, we'll be lighting the wood burner and will pretend it's cold, crispy, snowy white outside.

I bet all of you with snow up to your eaves now frown and think I'm a silly fool. Hah! Silly fool I may be, but when you come from a land which lies 4.50 metres below sea level, and where dampness is your constant companion, the thought that all that water may turn to snow is an attractive one. 
Snow is romantic, you can make snowmen with it, sleigh bells ringing in the still air, it makes your hands and face tingle and your dog do a doggy dance from joy. (It also pisses off your cat, royally). And when you've had your fill, you go inside and make yourself a hot drink.
I love snow.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Photographs Tell it All - or do they?

Sky with gulls
 +Wibe Koopman
Today the book is published which features my son's first steps onto the slippery slope of professional photography. (There's a post about this book too)
To commemorate this fact, I'll post some of my favourite photos by Wibe.

Wibe's new photography site!
Swan over the Haringvliet.

Self portrait

Beach in Norfolk

His little sister

The night my Tomcat climbed into my bedroom and left me a live vole in my bed.

My black cat is a constant source of amusement, fun and frustration. We got him from our local shelter, when he was only 2 1/2 months old. He had mange and an eye infection, was terribly skinny but the most affectionate cat I've ever had the pleasure of feeding.

Obviously, Viggo is Master in our house. He rules over our dog (who was here first!), has successfully evicted all the other neighbourhood cats from our garden (even the huge Maine Coon from 3 houses further on)and manages to get us to open doors for him whenever he pleases.

His thanks for all our servitude (mostly mine; my husband and kids's ears aren't as tuned to Viggo's miauw as mine) is to leave me presents. In bed.

The mole and the vole.
On Summer nights, my balcony door is open. To keep the mosquitos out, I have a screen door. But this door doesn't keep Viggo out. He simply hooks his nails in the rubber frame and pulls. If this fails (it sometimes does), he climbs into the screen and howls his annoyance. He will keep this up until I get out of bed and let him in.

But most of the time, he manages to open the door himself. He wakes me up by gently nudging my face, and if this doesn't rouse me he bites my nose (not gently at all). As soon as I'm awake, there are two scenarios:

1. he wants to get under the covers (no problem; he snuggles down and goes to sleep - I go to sleep)
2. he has brought me A Gift.

The first time he did this it was a tiny baby mouse. He presented it with a flourish. Hey, look what I've got you? Isn't it wonderful?
The second time I woke up to a strange smell. I opened my eyes, saw Viggo's eyes gleaming at me and then realised that the smell came from a huge male mole on my pillow. It was dead.
The third time I again woke up to a smell, but this time it was so foul that I woke up gagging.
At the same time, I felt something move from my neck onto my bare arm, and I leapt from my bed. Along with the bedcovers something small and furry fell to the floor, and shot like lightning under my chest of drawers. 

Viggo tried to get under the chest as well, but he was too fat. So he compromised by crouching in front of if and growling. The animal answered by screeching shrilly. I realised that I wouldn't get any sleep until I had rescued the creature, so I knelt in front of the chest as well. Viggo took a swipe at me; he didn't like the competition.

I beat a tactical retreat, to put some clothes on and to get a clothes hanger. Then I shut the cat into the bathroom. He yodeled his frustration.
It took me ten minutes or so to drive the thing into a corner, where I could smother it lightly with a hand towel and pick it up. I then set it free in the garden.

Two days later Viggo brought me yet another vole (the same one, said my husband cynically), but this was a dead one.

The thing is, to get to the bedroom, he has to climb the fence, 2 metres high, then scale a bit of wall (another 20 cm.) and manage that screen door. All with his gift in his mouth...

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

My travels around Rotterdam - Part 2 (The Delft)

The Delft.

The Delft

There was a Man o'War, built in Delfshaven (then a shipbuilding town, now a neighbourhood in Rotterdam) in 1783 -1789, called the Delft. 
She sailed to protect the Dutch merchant vessels, and had a crew of 375 men and 60 canons on board. She sank in 1797, after a battle with the British navy near Kamperduin. (The Brits tried towing her to England as a spoil of war, but after 3 days a storm hit, and the ship went to the bottom)
For centuries she was lost. 
Until she was found again:-) Now, enthusiastic volunteers are building a replica on a wharf in the Lloydkwartier in Rotterdam. 
The council had promised to pay them one million Euros a year, for ten years. But due to the financial difficulties of the Rotterdam council, the money dried up after a couple of years, and the work was delayed. Fortunately the volunteers haven't given up, and the shipyard has been turned into a museum.
We went there on a typical Dutch December day (today, in fact), when the sky is pressing down on your head, and it is damp, and windy.
Perfect weather for visiting a shipyard. For the skeleton of the Delft is far more impressive when viewed under these conditions, than on a sunny day. Inside it was nice and warm, and it smelled of wood and glue and linseed oil. 
The work outside may have been abandoned. But inside woodworkers are still slowly carving the most amazing things. 
If you come to Rotterdam, and you find yourself at a loose end, or if you actually have come with the purpose to get yourself acquainted with her harbours, you must visit this wharf!
It's a wonderful piece of Rotterdam and shipbuilder's history.
I was told that when they want to actually finish building this replica (with the original estimates), somewhere, somehow another 20 million Euros will have to be found.
Wouldn't it be lovely if they were?