500 Year Vision

Take pleasure from walking lightly on this Earth

Wood Stoves: A Cautionary Tale (from Claire)


At the conclusion of my first week at Nový Mlýn, I’ve developed what you might call a frienemy. How is this possible, you ask, when only the nicest hosts, the coolest workers, and three adorable cats inhabit Nový Mlýn? Two words: wood stoves. When my toes are numb or when I’m snuggling into my bed for the night, they’re the best friends a girl could ever ask for. Or when I shower and there’s one right there, just waiting for me to finish so that it can continue to keep me warm through the drying-off process, I love them. But it was also in the bathroom last night that one of the stoves turned on me, rightly earning the enemy half of their title. As I took a quick shower, my beloved sweatpants, Vassar sweatshirt, and incredibly warm socks were nestled in a basket next to the stove. When I went to put them all on again after the shower, they were, gasp, MELTED! Who knew that cotton could melt? Not I. True, I must’ve knocked them closer to the heat while reaching for a bar of soap in the basket, but still I was heartbroken to know that the stove was capable of such destruction. And as I gaped at it in horror, it just stood there steadfastly as if to say, “Who me? No, of course not!” Not unlike George, the cat here who favors jumping on the counters to steal cheese, and then stares at you innocently when you scold him and then boot him out of the kitchen.

Alas, I should’ve known the treachery of the wood stoves, as just the night before I essentially fried two of my fingers after grabbing a hot pot off the top of one. And again, here, I should mention the human element of negligence involved, but still! I mean, I had to sleep with my fingers in a glass of ice water! We’re talking blisters and all. FYI: honey compresses, vinegar soaks, and lavender oil are all excellent home remedies for painful burns.

Luckily, no other object at Nový Mlýn has declared war on me. Last week Emily and I worked on drilling holes into the walls that surround the windows, and then we sawed IKEA curtain rods down to size in an effort to eventually cover each window with an insulating duvet. Even though it was my first time using both a handsaw and a drill, each provided nothing short of a stellar performance. We finished the job covered in red dust from the drilled brick walls and that, combined with my new tool usage, made me feel pretty badass and awesome.

I also had the pleasure of helping Emily finish a gorgeous mosaic on one of the front windowsills. She had already plastered down most of a very cool swirling star design and I simply helped her fill in the last spaces with some sea glass. It was a lot of fun picking out the most interesting pieces of broken porcelain and glass, and I’m glad that I had the opportunity to learn a little bit about doing a mosaic. The only downfall was the weather; three days of constant snow doesn’t exactly nurture the best environment for being outside working with bare fingers. Therefore we took frequent tea breaks while we defrosted our numb hands next to a wood stove (oh, wood stoves…). The mosaic still needs to be grouted since Emily and Grier have just left Nový Mlýn to continue their travels. Luckily, one of the new Australian workers, Katie, has experience with grouting and has volunteered to take on the final step of the mosaic.

The past couple of days have been pretty mellow and actually quite domestic. Henrik from Sweden and Richard from Australia have undertaken the everlasting task of chopping wood while Katie and I have been doing a few little sewing jobs. Aside from pricking myself about 100 times and cursing at the thread, which liked to slip out of the needle at only the most inconvenient moments, it was nice sitting by the fire and being domestic. Today, Henrik braved the melting snow by himself to tend to the wood, while Katie and Richard worked on a draft of the Nový Mlýn property. In the meantime, I’ve been taking pictures of everyone else working and then writing about it, calling that my own form of work for the day…

Paintently stupid…


In an almost frenzied burst of activity, this weekend I began work again on the 24 Vienna style windows at Novy Mlyn… Frenzied because it was so cold with the windows open, I had only the warmth from the heat gun to keep me going. So, I stripped, sanded and painted… before realising that with snow on the ground outside the windows there was no way that the water based paint I was using was going to dry.

The lesson – don’t paint when it’s below zero. Stupid.

Chamomile Tea


Home grown Chamomile tea with local honey… what a lovely reminder of the summer during the long, dark months. I’m enjoying the cold, sharp days… the snow is beautiful and the ice & snow great fun for skating and sliding, but Chamomile tastes of summer.

Chamomile grows like a weed in the fields and on the roadsides during the summer. The flowers are like large daises but with feathery leaves (which look rather like dill). You need to be careful not to pick May Weed by mistake – which has very similar flowers but very different leaves.  The Chamomile flowers are ready to pick when the flowers turn ‘bug-eyed’ – with the petals turned downwards and the yellow centre rounded.

Once gathered it needs to go somewhere in the sun – for example sprinkled on paper and covered with muslin. When it’s completely dried out it will be crumbly and can be kept in an airtight jar.

Chamomile flowers at the same time as the cornflowers and poppies. This year I will also gather poppy seeds so that we can have wild poppies on the roadside by the house.  I didn’t gather any seed heads last year because of a reluctance to pick from the wild… however the roadside mowers taught me that it’s fair to take seeds from the wild a metre from the road. I guess it’s more important to have safe roads than beautiful verges…

Deliciously Moorish Vodka Cherry Chocolates


What to do with the vast quantities of cherries sitting around the place in vodka… well, as you’d expect, I’ve been experimenting… and perfecting the technique has involved eating rather a lot of cherries dipped in chocolate.

After experimenting with several types of chocolate, I prefer to use a 35% cocoa chocolate from a Papua New Guinea plantation (bought in Lidl) because there was no sugar on the cherries and they really need the sweetness of the chocolate to balance the flavour.

If you plan to post the cherries, it’s best to remove the stems because these will cause the chocolate to crack in transit. Otherwise, just remove the pit using a hooked bit of wire or a (new) hair pin with the plastic stripped off.

You can prepare these vodka cherry chocolates a couple of days in advance of a dinner party and serve them with coffee after the meal.

To make vodka cherry chocolates you will need:

  • 80 pitted cherries which have been pickled without sugar in neat vodka
  • 125 grams of good quality chocolate
  • some cocktail sticks
  • A metal bowl
  • Grease proof paper

Float the metal bowl in a saucepan of boiling water which has been removed from the heat.

Break the chocolate into the bowl and stir until it has melted.

Add 10 cherries at a time and stir them into the melted chocolate.

Remove one cherry at a time and place on the grease proof paper to dry using the cocktail sticks.

Repeat until all of the cherries are used up. You can use a little of the left over cherry vodka to make a chocolate sauce by using it to ‘clean’ the metal bowl.

Leave the cherries in a cool place overnight to set. These will keep as the cherries are preserved by the vodka, but it’s unlikely that they will get the chance as they are rather delicious.

On the radio…


At 3.05 pm yesterday our radio interview was aired. It was really quite the strangest thing… hearing your own voice like that. They asked me to speak really slowly, so I’m really quite embarrassed about the way I sounded, but luckily the sound was dubbed over by a translator relatively quickly. I hope that our story was interesting for those who listened to it. The recording is available on the Internet at this address:

Sand znamená písek
Příběh Angličanky Nikol Robinsonové a jejího dědečka, kterým Češi za druhé světové války zachránili život. Cesky Rozhlas 2

I phoned my grandfather to let him know that it went out, starting with ‘the ballad of high noon’ in English, and ending with the Czech version of the same song. He’ll be delighted!

2008 ends in sunshine


Today is an amazing day. Bright blue sky, sunshine and crisp air. Cold and beautiful. We’re out at the house… something that hasn’t happened very much in recent months because of… working to get the next release of our language learning programme out by the end of the year… thinking it’ll be cold here… loosing our resilience to the lack of running water (no central heating, so we had to drain the water out of the house when the temperatures started to drop to stop pipes and boilers bursting)… and apathy, maybe. The fact that the task seems so daunting at times.

So, my plan today is general cleaning and tidying. It’s not possible to do any painting as paint doesn’t work at these temperatures. Luckily there is always a lot of cleaning and organising to do. I’m just really glad to be here. To be able to potter about undisturbed, to escape out to the forest if I wish. We’ve spent so much time recently cooped up in that dark little flat.

Pavouk the cat has been funny – she spent the whole of last night coming in and out of the house – even though it was minus 8 outside. So much freedom here for all of us. She left a mouse gift by the bed for us, and was kind enough to kill it first, rather than making us catch it ourselves in the middle of the night like last time.

Meeting Vaclav Havel – Play-write, Poet and first President of The Czech Republic


A couple of weeks ago our friends phoned and asked us to meet in Prague. Now, communication with our friends has never been the most precise art – there’s a linguistic chasm between us, though English and Czech are improving on each side. The first time our friend Jerry called us, we were not sure if he was calling to invite us to their cottage for the weekend, or just to talk about Mike dancing like a chicken.

Last year they introduced us to a friend of theirs who is a radio producer – I told her the story of my grandfather and the bomb (his life had been saved during the second world war as a result of the actions of Czechoslovakian saboteurs). Helena said she’d like to make a radio programme about it & we were made up by the idea that this story could be shared with people in the Czech Republic. The second world war was such a dark time here, but there were acts of astonishing heroism – and reprisal. The land was occupied, and many were forced to work in German munitions factories.

So, the interview was recorded a couple of months ago, a few days after our chimney fire, when, for a second time, we were saved by Czechs filling something with sand. During the interview, we mentioned that our chimneys had been cleaned by a man called Vaclav Havel – namesake of the first President of the Czech Republic.

Jerry & Vladka mentioned something about an interview, and insisted that we had to be in Prague – though we were pretty vague about what was going on. We arrived at the Fireman’s Theatre, and they told us that Vaclav Havel was coming. ‘Vaclav Havel our chimney sweep?’ ‘yes, yes, the chimney sweep’.

There seemed to be a pretty big crowd of people at the theatre to see a chimney sweep. So… it transpired that we were there for a live interview with the former president and his second wife, Daša. Vaclav Havel spoke Czech in a beautifully slow and (therefore) comprehensible way, and seemed genuinely delighted when Vaclav Havel the chimney sweep was introduced to him.

After the interview the radio producer asked us back stage and introduced us to the president. Unfortunately I was totally tongue tied and, blank minded, didn’t tell Vaclav Havel the story of my grandfather and the bomb. Another time.

A new roof for Nový Mlýn


We had visitors at Nový Mlýn yesterday, a family firm of wooden roofers. I’m made up. They’re friendly, and professional and have provided a value for money quote. This is a complete contrast to last week: an installer arrived, swore in Czech when he came into the house (thinking I didn’t understand), assumed he didn’t understand what I said, grumpily shook hands with me while staring in a different direction and gave us a quote for a simple one week job which would cost me 4 months of my teacher salary.  Read the rest of this entry »

Strange weather


Speeding our way through January we’ve seen a wealth of different weather conditions over the last month. The year started with snow and ice… specifically ice which we skated on as the Jordan reservoir froze solid, providing us with a vast area to practice on in our new skates. We also tried snowboarding for the first time, there being just enough snow in the nearby mountains. All perfectly in line with our expectations of a winter season in Central Europe… however since then it’s been strange. The temperature has increased dramatically, up to 10 degrees c on Sunday evening… so the snow has all but disappeared, and the temperature at Nový Mlýn has really thawed. Can I permit myself to be happy about this?

A tree in the snow

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Engineer cap knitting pattern perfected


This pattern is knit in one piece, including the visor or brim. There is a flap and button on the band, which can be positioned to fit the wearer exactly.   I knitted the first version of this hat as a Christmas present for my friend Vladka.  When I finished the second version, my husband asked me to knit him one (I’m pleased because he’s never asked me to knit him something… he must really like it – and it’s a more masculine design than the baker’s boy cap).

So, tonight I will go through my instructions to double check them, then list the pattern on payloadz, etsy and ebay.

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