Happy summer solstice!

It’s June 21st, the longest day of the year. Happy summer solstice!

A summery scene

A summery scene

I took this photo at Scone Palace in Scotland. To see more photos and to read about my trip, click here – A Visit to Scone Palace.

A visit to Scone Palace

Scone Palace

Scone Palace

Scone Palace, near the city of Perth in Scotland, has an important place in Scottish history. The kings of Scotland, including Robert the Bruce, were crowned at Scone from the thirteenth through seventeenth centuries.

So, thanks to all at once and to each one,
Whom we invite to see us crown’d at Scone.

Macbeth, Act 5, Scene VIII

The house as we see it today was rebuilt in the early nineteenth century when the Gothic style was extremely popular. We saw a model of the house as it stood in medieval times before it was rebuilt in the Georgian period. It was interesting to see the comparison between the simple medieval architecture and the lavish Gothic-style palace.

Inside the house there are many wonderful paintings and portraits, including works by Joshua Reynolds and Van Dyck. We also saw many examples of beautiful furniture. I was especially interested in a little delicate writing desk which was a gift to the 2nd Earl of Scone from Marie Antoinette. It was fascinating to walk through the rooms, furnished with antique pieces, and imagine what it was like throughout history.

I found it interesting to learn that when portraits of the ladies and gentlemen of the house were painted, they used to sit while the artist painted the face. Then someone else, perhaps a maidservant or a footman, would sit wearing the same outfit for the rest of the body to be painted. This was so that the person whose portrait was being painted didn’t have to experience the tedium of sitting still in one pose for hours!

Photography is not permitted inside the palace but you can view photos on the official Scone Palace website – click here for photos. However, I took plenty of photos in the wonderful grounds. I was surprised by the lack of formal gardens but the natural wildness of the grounds created a relaxing atmosphere for a stroll.

The Butterfly Garden is full of different plants which encourage wildlife to visit the garden.

Butterfly Garden

Flowers

Butterfly Garden

The grounds were bursting with color from the spectacular rhododendrons and azaleas and as we walked to the Pinetum, we admired the lovely shades of purple, pink and crimson.

photo collage

The Pinetum is a beautiful wooded area with many different types of pine trees, including enormous sequoias (redwoods) and Douglas firs, named after the botanist and explorer David Douglas. Douglas was born in the village of Scone and worked as a gardener at Scone Palace before traveling to the United States on an expedition to discover plants. In 1826 he sent a Douglas fir seed home to Scone from the U.S. (the first Douglas fir to be introduced to Britain) and the tree which grew from the seed still stands in the grounds of Scone Palace.

Various pine trees in the Pinetum:

We enjoyed the walkway of laburnum trees and we weren’t the only ones: the trees were full of the sound of bees harvesting nectar from the blossom.

Laburnum

The avenue of cherry blossom is also very pretty:

And there is a beech hedge maze in the shape of a five-pointed star which represents the Murray family crest. It was designed by Adrian Fisher who has created mazes in more than thirty countries. His mazes include the Skyline Caverns Mirror Maze in Atlanta, the Chateau de Thoiry Hedge Maze near Paris and the Blenheim Palace Hedge Maze in Oxfordshire. It would be fun to travel around the world completing each one of his mazes.

Scone Palace maze

It took quite a while to navigate to the center of the maze at Scone! I was reminded of the scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, during the Triwizard Tournament, when Harry and the other tournament competitors battle their way through a maze filled with dangerous creatures and hazardous spells. Fortunately, our journey through the Scone Palace maze was somewhat less eventful!

Maze at Scone

We finished our day at Scone by admiring the pretty Highland cows which were grazing contentedly in a field. This calf stood still and posed long enough for me to take a picture,

Highland calf

before ambling over to mama for an afternoon snack:

January, we had fun

January was a great month on the blog.

I made some delicious soup (Honey-roasted parsnip and carrot soup), took part in a photo challenge (highlights below) and published the post which was Freshly Pressed, to my delight, on February 1!

I kick-started January with the First Thirty-one Photo Challenge, welcoming in 2013 with a photo a day.

Browse highlights from my entries below:

Day 1: Resolution:

Resolution: to get outside and go places

Resolution: to get outside and go places

Day 10: Gorgeous hand-knitted socks, knitted by a friend

socks

A wintry photo entry for day 14’s “Frost” theme

snowy tree

Day 19: Fur

fur

Day 31: snowdrops signal the end of winter

snowdrops

I also enjoyed challenging my writing skills with challenges from The Daily Post

My dream trip: a writing challenge about traveling set my imagination on fire.

Another writing challenge: Starting Over, a short story set in Mexico.

Cultural Life celebrated the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with this post:

January 28 1813.

And on January 31, I published this weekly writing challenge post, about saying an emotional goodbye to my mother at the doors of the operating suite. It was Freshly Pressed! I don’t often use the word “awesome” but being Freshly Pressed was the embodiment of that word. Thank you to everyone who commented, liked and shared my post. Welcome to my new followers and thank you for helping to create a great blogging month here at Cultural Life!

Weekly writing challenge: my dream trip

Writing challenge: You’ve got three months, an unlimited budget, and a severe case of wanderlust. Where would you go?

This writing challenge from The Daily Post at WordPress.com sent my imagination into dizzying whirls of euphoric bliss. One of my big dreams is to travel with plenty of time to spare and a sizable (preferably unlimited) budget. Why not dream big?

“Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry” – Jack Kerouac

Month 1

Taxicabs On 5th Avenue by Julie Gentry

Taxicabs On 5th Avenue by Julie Gentry

I would begin by spending two weeks in New York City, reveling in the bustling metropolis, seeing the sights and picking up a few bags of shopping along the way. My budget is unlimited, remember. But I am traveling partly via public transportation so I need to keep my luggage load light. This factor restricts me from an overly extravagant shopping spree. When it is time to leave NYC, instead of hiring a car, I hop on an Amtrak train at Penn Station.

I might take the Acela Express to Boston or I might prefer to take the Empire Service for a scenic tour through New York State. Either way, I would eventually arrive in Boston. The city is historic, beautiful and full to the brim with places to see and people to talk to about its fascinating past and the pivotal role it played in U.S. history. I visit the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, join a guided tour at Harvard Yard and follow the Freedom Trail: a 2.5 mile tour of Boston around some of its most historic places. It begins at Boston Common and ends at Bunker Hill Monument.

Downtown Boston by Bill Walker

Downtown Boston by Bill Walker

After seeing the sights of Boston I get on the train and travel to Amherst, MA.

In Amherst, I plan to see the birthplace of Emily Dickinson and enjoy other sites of interest. I might check out a movie at the Amherst Cinema Arts Center, which shows a lot of indie films, before hiring a car and driving up to Portland, Maine on I-95.

On the way to Portland I spend two or three days exploring the Kennebunks (Kennebunk and Kennebunkport). Kennebunk and its sister are only 30 miles south of Portland and the two small towns are situated along a rocky coast. St. Anthony’s Franciscan Monastery is a peaceful place to visit, with a calm atmosphere and lovely gardens to wander around. Strolling along Kennebunk beach is simply glorious and I dip into the waves for a swim, admiring the expansiveness of the Maine sky and the vivid colors of the sunset.

I spend a week in Portland itself where I have a lot of fun exploring the quirky side of the city. The little arty coffee shops are ideal for lingering over a delicious brunch, chatting with the locals and hanging out with a good book and a cup of coffee.

Month 2

When the second month of my travels begins, I leave Portland and drive up the beautiful Maine coast.

I stop off at various towns along the way, staying in Bath and Camden for a few days. Visiting Bath gives me a fascinating history lesson into Maine’s Colonial past: the industry of wooden ship builders was a thriving way of life in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Visiting Maine Maritime Museum is a great way to find out more.

I enjoy the beaches of lovely Penobscot Bay and sample some of Maine’s finest seafood. Then I get back in the car and drive to the quiet, unspoiled Blue Hill Peninsula. I stay in the tiny town of Blue Hill and every day, come rain or shine, begins with a walk along the beach. I explore to my heart’s content, chatting to the locals and absorbing every bit of Maine life that I can.

Harbor View, Maine by Junior Libby

Harbor View, Maine by Junior Libby

My eyes are filled with beauty and I hike the forest trails, cheeks rosy from vigorous exercise and legs aching at the end of a long day in the open air. From Blue Hill, I head to Bar Harbor which will be my base camp for a week as I explore Acadia National Park and take a trip to Bass Harbor.

Bass Harbor Lighthouse by Junior Libby

Bass Harbor Lighthouse by Junior Libby

Then I backtrack to Boston, where I return my rental car and get on a plane at Logan International.

Month 3

My plane arrives in Nashville, TN.

I am so excited when I get off the plane that I almost begin singing a country music anthem under my breath.

On Stage by Junior Libby

On Stage by Junior Libby

I love country music and spending a whole week immersed in the Music City is heaven. By sheer coincidence, Dolly Parton is performing a gig in the middle of my week in Nashville. It is sold out but I exercise the power of my unlimited budget and manage to get myself a ticket. The week goes past too quickly and it won’t be long before I have to get on the road again. I have fun visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame and shopping at the numerous vintage shops in Nashville. I spend my nights dancing to great music!

I drive from Tennessee to Louisiana.

It is an approx. eight hour drive so I am tired by the time I arrive in New Orleans and I head straight to bed. But the next day I am ready to take on the city! New Orleans is a vibrant, atmospheric city and I spend a few days enjoying the music, the food and the culture. The soul of the city is enthralling and the beat of the music makes your foot tap and your heart feel good. Laissez les bons temps rouler – let the good times roll!

Alas, my three months of ‘wanderlusting’ across the States are nearly up and I speed up my leisurely pace a bit so I can fit in the other places I want to visit before I have to return to normal, everyday life. I fly from New Orleans to Denver.

In Colorado I stay at a ranch and go horseback riding in the beautiful Rockies.

Spectacular! Colorado by Roberta Dulay

Spectacular! Colorado by Roberta Dulay

Horseback by Charles Rondeau

Horseback by Charles Rondeau

I finish my trip by flying from Denver to Seattle where I spend a few days in the city.

Seattle Skyline by Julie Gentry

Seattle Skyline by Julie Gentry

Downtown Seattle’s Pike Place Market is great fun to explore and I could easily spend a whole day meandering around there. I love a good book and a whole morning flies by when I visit the Elliott Bay Book Co.. Over 150,000 titles – oh yes, bliss! I also love a good latte and a trip to Seattle wouldn’t be complete without paying homage to the original Starbucks, along with one of my new literary purchases so I can drink coffee, people-watch and read too. While in Seattle, I head to The Space Needle: one of Seattle’s most exciting attractions. I enjoy the novelty of dining at SkyCity restaurant, which moves 360 degrees!

Space Needle by Julie Gentry

Space Needle by Julie Gentry

After Seattle, I drive into rural Washington state, making sure my suitcase contains plenty of wet weather clothing! The Olympic peninsula is wildly beautiful and I love my time exploring the untamed, spectacular Olympia National Park.

When my three months come to end, I reluctantly have to conclude my trip. On the way, I have seen some spectacular places, eaten some amazing food, met some fascinating people and, to use a cliché, I have quite simply had the time of my life. My hunger for seeing the world has only increased and I would do this trip twice over if I could.

Blog challenge roundup: the first 10 recipes

I apologize for the lack of activity on the blog for the past month. My weekly post schedule has slipped out the window but I’ve been busy, not to mention the fact that I spent two weeks of July hobbling around in pain, before having surgery on August 1st. Ideas for blog posts haven’t been flowing freely and I haven’t cooked anything exciting in the past month. But I intend to return from my hiatus this week so be sure to look out for frequent posts again and some more delicious recipes!

Recipes from around the world. Picture source: Map Of The World by Jiri Hodan

In the meantime, here is a roundup of the first ten recipes I have cooked as part of the blog challenge I set myself back in February. You can read about that in this post: I’m setting myself a challenge.

Recipe 1: Irish soda bread

For blog challenge recipe 2, Middle Eastern cuisine gave me one of my favorites: hummus

Recipe number 3. A trip to South America: Honduras

Blog challenge 4. I have a special fondness for Greek food and I was delighted by how these Greek koulourakia turned out. I have made this recipe many times since blogging about it and it gives delicious results every time! Greek koulourakia

Blog challenge 5. Nettle soup: this is an easy, money-saving recipe and, despite what you might think, tastes very good! European nettle soup

Blog challenge 6. A simple but yummy Indian curry: Indian curry

Blog challenge 7. Ah, this is possibly my favorite recipe so far from the ones I have cooked for my blog challenge: Valencia orange cake

Blog challenge 8. I threw a load of ingredients together for this and the combination worked very well: Italian-style pasta sauce

Blog challenge 9. A hearty dessert: Traditional English pudding

And finally, blog challenge recipe 10! These are too bad for anyone’s waistline but they are amazing! Blog challenge recipe 10 celebrated the Fourth of July by baking some American brownies.

I hope you will join me as I embark on the next ten recipes! These are the remaining countries and I have recipes to find and make for all of them: Canada, Australia, Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, Portugal, Singapore, New Zealand, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Malaysia, Taiwan, China, Czech Republic, Belgium, Brazil, Turkey, Japan, Austria, Serbia, Costa Rica, Norway, Georgia, Belarus, Romania, Slovakia, Nigeria, Egypt, South Korea and Myanmar.

Quite a challenge!

Reasons why I want to move to Maine…

Maybe the title of this post should really be ‘reasons why I want to visit Maine’. It is a state which I have never visited, but it has caught my imagination and I have a dream of living in Maine…. Oh yes, The Pine Tree State is where my mind wanders when I should be doing other things, like paperwork and chores.

The natural beauty and scenery of Maine is spectacular. The landscape varies, from mountains to rocky cliffs to wilderness to beaches. And Maine hosts 281 miles of the Appalachian trail. The northern terminus of the trail is Katahdin: the highest mountain in the state of Maine. The mountain was named by the Penobscot Indians and its name means ‘The Greatest Mountain’.

There are thirty-two state parks in Maine and one of these is Acadia National Park:

Acadia Park, Maine (public domain image)

Public domain image: A Look Through The Trees by Shari Weinsheimer.

Maine is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and water is a prominent feature in the landscape of the state — shipbuilding was an important part of the state’s economy in centuries past. There are many pretty harbours scattered around the coast as well as the iconic lighthouses which a lot of people associate with Maine.

Camden Harbor, Maine (image copyright Back Road Journal)

Photo © Karen at Back Road Journal.

I love the traditional white clapboard houses with windows looking out on the ocean.

Old clapboard house (public domain image)

Public domain image: Old House by David Wagner

And the beautiful lakes:

Long Lake, Maine – image copyright Back Road Journal

Photo © Karen at Back Road Journal.

Maine is also home to lots of wildlife and native species. Moose is the state animal:

A female moose (public domain image)

Public domain image: Female Moose by Charles Rondeau.

As well as moose, Maine is the residence of much cuter animals:

Chipmunk (image copyright Back Road Journal)

Photo © Karen at Back Road Journal.

And the state bird is the pretty songbird, the Black-capped Chickadee.

Maine’s state bird: Black-capped Chickadee (public domain image)

Public domain image from: Black-Capped Chickadee by John Witherspoon.

Chipmunks and chickadees, black bear, beaver, coyotes, lynx, seals, puffins, whitetail deer, moose… Maine is filled with nature and beauty.

The state is diverse and that appeals to me. There are quaint little towns which have a quintessentially New England flavor and then there are state parks which are rugged, wild and perfect for hiking.

“In Maine
we are glad to be part of a land
that remains so beautiful under its green skin
of woods and open fields, that is glitteringly
bordered by thousands of miles
of breaking waves, and that is lovely,
too, with an unbroken tradition
of concerns, with the kind, enduring grace
of its neighborliness.”

(Excerpt from Neighborliness by Kate Barnes. Source: Poets of Maine).

It is a very special place and I long to visit. In the mean time, I will dream.

With thanks to Karen from the wonderful blog, Back Road Journal, for giving me permission to use her photographs of Maine in this post.