Sunday, July 16, 2017

Part I of II: A Mosey Through Boston

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Photo: Chronica Domus


This was our first visit to Boston. Boston USA, that is.  It's funny to think that only six months prior, quite by serendipity, we found ourselves visiting the original market town of Boston in Lincolnshire, when we traveled there on our way to view the house I wrote about, here.  The two towns could not be any more different.  Boston Massachusetts is enormous by comparison to the somewhat sleepy Lincolnshire port town.

With only two days and three nights to take in the charms of this bustling city, we decided to camp out at Copley Square, a good central starting point for anyone wishing to explore the city on foot. Within a few minutes walk from our hotel, we found the main branch of the Boston Public Library, the first of many places we had earmarked to explore.  Make no mistake, for there is plenty to view in this magnificent temple of scholarly pursuits beyond books. John Singer Sargent's murals, for example.

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The Triumph of Religion murals, seen in the vaulted Sargent Gallery, were painted in England and installed between 1895 and 1919 and are a departure from the artist's usual subject matter of society portrait painting
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Philosophy, Astronomy, and History form part of Chavannes' Muses of Inspiration Gallery which vies for attention amid the striking stonework of the library's impressive marble staircase 
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The inspirational Bates Hall, named in honor of the library's original benefactor, makes me want to perform scholastic gymnastics
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No tour of Boston would be complete without walking part or all of the two and a half mile long Freedom Trail.  By following the red-lined route along Boston's brick pavements, visitors will have the opportunity of viewing sixteen historical landmarks that tell the story of Boston and the part its citizens played in America's revolution and independence from Britain.  Beginning with a leisurely mosey across Boston Common, we found Park Street Church and the Granary Burying Ground.

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In its early days, the Granary Burying Ground was not exactly an ideal locale for a graveyard where boggy conditions from underground springs caused caskets and their contents to regularly float about the place
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It is here that some of Boston's famous sons and daughters are laid to rest including revolutionary patriot Paul Revere, statesmen Samuel Adams and John Hancock and, of note, Hancock's servant Frank, who lays at his feet.

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I believe the headstone of Officer John Hurd, who died in 1784, is the most fetching grave marker I have ever laid eyes upon
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Continuing on, past King's Chapel, Boston's old City Hall, and Boston Latin School, the oldest public school in the United States, it was time for some afternoon refreshment. A pot of tea would surely revive our flagging spirits.  Conveniently, and to the delight of our daughter Patience, we just happened to be standing by the hotel that in 1856 invented the Boston Cream Pie.

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This particular Boston Cream Pie vanished almost as soon as it was served to us at
The Omni Parker House Hotel, America's oldest continuously run hotel ...
Photo: Chronica Domus


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... as did this, another of the hotel's claims to fame, a light-as-can-be Parker House Roll
Photo: Chronica Domus


After our well-earned intermission of tea and cakes, we were adequately fortified to face the red-brick road ahead.  As it turned out, more tea would soon await.

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The tea leaves contained within the small glass vial, along with the Chinese tea label, survived being tipped into the harbor on December 16, 1773, the day of Boston's famous Tea Party
Photo: Chronica Domus


The Old South Meeting House, built in 1729, is home to some fascinating artifacts and exhibits which tell the story of the Boston Tea Party.   Also on display is a giltwood clock that made my heart beat a little faster.

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I was rather gobsmacked at the sight of this fine colossal gallery clock, made by Simon Willard in 1800
Photo: Chronica Domus


Next stop, The Old State House, Boston's oldest public building.  It was in this building that the Declaration of American Independence was first read to Bostonians in 1776, an amazing feat when one considers the Old State House was once the seat of colonial British government.  As I stood in the building's basement, I heard what I perceived to be the rumble of nearby trains. Astonishingly, my ears did not deceive for I soon learned the historic structure sits smack dab atop a subway station.

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A model of the Old State House - notice the doorway to the right which leads to the subway station directly beneath the building
Photo: Chronica Domus


At some point in the building's history, an architect followed a set of incorrect plans and installed this spiral staircase instead of an intended assembly chamber - I'm rather pleased he did because I was compelled to photograph it, so impressed with its shapely form, and unaware of its quirky history until doing research for this post
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On we trod, past Faneuil Hall to Charles Bulfinch's extension, The Great Hall, which looked appropriately festive for the upcoming Independence Day holiday.

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George Peter Alexander Healy's painting, titled Webster Replying To Senator Hayne, took seven years to complete and hangs on what I've nick-named the 'Wall of Worthies' alongside other notable figures in America's history
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By early evening, having zipped by several more notable landmarks, it was beginning to feel as though the Freedom Trail would never end.

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"Are we there yet?"
Photo: Chronica Domus


Time to call it a day but not before a table for dinner was secured at the Union Oyster House, America's oldest restaurant.  Established in 1826, this popular eatery was packed to the gills with hungry patrons looking to fill up on New England's best seafood dishes. With a forty-five minute wait ahead of us, there was plenty of time for one of these:

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Photo: Chronica Domus


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Shown here are three of the many booths available for patrons' dining pleasure - Number 18, not illustrated in this photograph, was President John F. Kennedy's favorite booth
Photo: Chronica Domus


Boston is indeed a fun and thriving city full of interesting architectural gems and historic treasures. What I've covered in today's post is just the tip of the iceberg to what is available to be enjoyed by Boston's fortunate visitors.  If you are pressed for time and can only spend a single day here, I highly recommend following our path and walking part, if not all, of the Freedom Trail.  By doing so you will be rewarded with an understanding as to why Boston is one of America's best preserved historical cities. And, like me, you will probably find yourself uttering the words "old" and "oldest" repeatedly throughout your day.

Coming up next, Part II - In pursuit of beauty and culture.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Back From New England and Beyond

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The dramatic sky that welcomed us over Boston Harbor 
Photo: Chronica Domus


My family and I have just returned from a supremely pleasant, ten day whirlwind tour of captivating historic and cultural landmarks, both in New England and Upstate New York . We had a marvelous time.  In fact, my head is still spinning from all the awe-inspiring sites we toured and the sights we beheld, both in town and country. The verdant landscape alone would have satiated my senses to contentment.  What a treat it was to immerse within such green and pleasant lands after living so long within drought savaged California.

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What a view!  The resplendent Hudson River Valley as seen from Boscobel House
Photo: Chronica domus


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William Blake might as well have written his poem about the Hudson River Valley for it surely is as green as England's green and pleasant land
Photo: Chronica Domus


I am planning a series of posts, distilling our experiences in Boston, Cambridge, Waltham, Lexington, Concord, Salem, Cooperstown, and Hudson. I do hope you return soon to share in the retelling of our adventures.  In the meantime, please excuse me while I sift through the two thousand photographs compiled along the way, to pluck those deemed most representative.  I expect to offer up a selection in my next post.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

George Washington, Silver Spoons, and Thomas Jefferson's Peas

As far back as I can recall, I've had an eye - or rather two - for detail.  I blame my parents for the affliction, which can be both a blessing and a curse.  My father for example, now retired, was highly skilled in his profession as a tailor; details meant the world to him.  My parents would actively encourage my sisters and I to observe, compare, and contrast in order to better understand how the smallest detail - be it a button or the cut of a lapel - might add to or detract from the overall appearance of a garment.

The smallest details don't only fascinate me, but can at times become my impetus for telling a story and the lens through which I see a larger picture. Take for example the spoons seen in the photograph below.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


At first glance, these two early American coin silver spoons appear to be quite unremarkable.  Devoid of decorative detail, aside from a simple monogram, one could easily be forgiven for not offering a second gander.  In fact, both the teaspoon and the large serving spoon possess rather a severe aspect to their design. There is a reason for this, and a fascinating one at that.

You see, it is believed that "coffin-end" spoons, as these are called, were fashioned by American silversmiths to commemorate the death of George Washington in 1799. The tip of the spoon's handle was clipped by the silversmith to imply the form of a coffin. This was a design which remained popular until about 1810.

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The distinct shape of this early American coin silver teaspoon tells us that it was fashioned to commemorate the death of George Washington in 1799
Photo: Chronica Domus


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A view of the flowing monogram engraved upon the coffin-end handle of the large serving spoon
Photo: Chronica Domus


Having culturally attained the honorary title of  "Father of His Country", George Washington, America's first president, was largely revered at the time of his death. His passing was felt deeply across the young nation.  Many citizens of his newly born nation were so moved as to actually don mourning clothes for months thereafter.  As one can imagine, it was not long until all manner of commemorative household goods and artworks appeared to mark this solemn occasion.

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Oh how I kick myself for not bidding on this ink and silk mourning needlework picture when it came up for auction in San Francisco a few years ago - what was I thinking?


I have owned the diminutive coin silver teaspoon for a number of years and acquired it without prior knowledge of any significance to its design.  It was much later that I learned about the association of the coffin-end handle and its connection to Washington's death.  Naturally, when I saw the large serving spoon for sale at a recent antiques fair, I had to have it.

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Article Number 12 in the collection of a local professor was a coffin-end serving spoon made by silversmith Judah Hartt of Middletown, Connecticut in 1800, now happily ensconced in my own collection
Photo: Chronica Domus


The dealer from whom I purchased this piece had acquired it as part of a sizable lot of early American silverware assembled by a local professor. The professor had thoughtfully tagged each item with an informative label noting details of the item's origin and year it was made. The preceding photograph shows the label still attached to the serving spoon on the day I purchased it.

As this is a post about a presidential-related item, I thought it would be only fitting to photograph said item on an early green shell-edge pearlware platter. Thomas Jefferson, who followed in George Washington and John Adams' footsteps to become America's third president, utilized this pearlware pattern at Monticello, his mountaintop home in Virginia. Fragments of it have been excavated from the grounds surrounding Monticello's kitchen yard. Today, visitors to Monticello will be delighted to view an entire service of this attractive earthenware laid upon the dining table of the chrome yellow painted dining room.

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Two Washington coffin-end coin silver spoons rest upon a green shell-edge pearlware platter, a pattern favored by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello
Photo: Chronica Domus


And, of course, what could one serve from such presidential dining accoutrements? Why, peas of course!  Not just any old peas, mind you, but the very same heirloom variety, Pisum sativum 'Prince Albert', selected by Thomas Jefferson to grow within the vegetable garden at Monticello.  Some of you may recall the post I wrote in June 2014, found here, on how I came to include these scrumptious peas in my own garden.

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Thomas Jefferson's peas are still growing in my vegetable patch, from seeds gathered after each year's harvest since planting the original package, purchased from Monticello's garden shop in 2012 - this particular addition to our meal was collected early on the morning of June 24 this year
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Here are those peas, served upon the same shell-edge pearlware pattern so favored by Thomas Jefferson ...


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... and scooped from a commemorative George Washington coffin-end serving spoon
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I do hope you enjoyed learning about these rather obscure silver spoons and their association with the passing of America's first president, along with revisiting momentarily the dining table of our third. Between these two men, of course, rests much of the reason for such a uniquely American day of celebration, on this fourth day of the seventh month.

Happy Independence Day everyone!



Sunday, June 25, 2017

Memories of Cow Parsley, Or Would That Be Queen Anne's Lace?

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Cow Parsley or Queen Anne's Lace, that is the question?
Photo: Chronica Domus


On a recent jaunt to the San Francisco Flower Market, I noticed one of the vendors was selling billowy bunches of what I thought to be Cow Parsley or, to use its botanical name, Anthriscus sylvestris.  Before eagerly snapping up two bunches and making my way home, I asked the vendor what the plant is called.  "Queen Anne's Lace" was the response.  I was momentarily taken aback as I could have sworn this was Cow Parsley.  Nevertheless, I was happy to be taking home my bunches, whatever they may be called.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


It's funny but I had not thought about Cow Parseley for decades.  My memories of it were formed back when I was a young girl living in England. Our house bordered the Kentish countryside and during those carefree days of school summer holidays, I would often be found perched atop my bicycle, gently peddling down the windy country lanes that surrounded our house. One of the most pleasurable visions of those bicycle rides was of the masses of fluffy Cow Parsley.  It grew with abandon, much like a weed, and lined every lane for miles.  Those trailing ribbons of Cow Parsley were truly a sight to behold and one, I believe, as quintessentially British as strawberries and cream are during the month of June.

As I cut and arranged the Queen Anne's Lace in an old earthenware crock, I began to wonder if this was indeed Queen Anne's Lace, or not. Does Cow Parsley even grow in California?

Photo: Chronica Domus


A quick on-line search confirmed that I was not alone in my horticultural beffuddlement.  It appears that  Daucus carota, Queen Anne's Lace, is often confused with Cow Parsley.  Both, it turns out, are related to carrot, among other plants, which likely explains my dubiety.  I've also learned that Cow Parsley is a native plant of Europe, whereas Queen Anne's Lace grows easily to the point of naturalizing here in North America.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


Who knew the simple act of purchasing a few bundles of a rather familiar-looking plant would lead me down the rabbit warren of nostalgia, seeking knowledge on a plant I've not thought about in an age?

Tell me, do you recall the last time you were transported to your youth and what it was that placed you there?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Tale of Two Howards

nota bene: Please excuse the varying sizes and quality of the images that illustrate this post.  The photographs originate from two different sources and I do not possess adequate knowledge to unify their size.  Also, the two embroidery pieces featured have been photographed under glass which presents a further challenge.


One of the most rewarding and pleasurable aspects of being the author of Chronica Domus is the wonderful comments received in response to the posts I publish.  There are emails too, which often land in my box from readers that have stumbled across a post and wish to share further information about a topic or an item I have written about but don't necessarily wish to leave a comment.  One such email, received recently, aroused such excitement in our household that I thought I would share it with you too.  Here is what it said:

"Good evening, I was intrigued by your picture posted on your blog.  Please take a look at the attachments of an almost identical picture which I have.  Very strange!  Thank you.  Julie Archer".

For a split second, I hesitated clicking on the email's attachments.  Nowadays, one never quite knows what malicious viruses or internet nasties may be lurking.  However, I could see from the miniscule thumbnail pictures at the end of the note that whatever it was that Ms. Archer was sharing with me would be something rather extraordinary.  I was not disappointed.  Rendering me speechless - a rare moment I can assure you - I was confronted with an almost identical mourning embroidery to the one I featured in my post titled Mourning Howard, back in February 2014, which you can read, here.

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Here is the young lady featured in Ms. Archer's mourning embroidery - she bares a striking resemblance to the one depicted in my own mourning embroidery seen below 
Photo: Courtesy of Ms. Julie Archer


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These two mournful young ladies must surely be related!
Photo: Chronica Domus


As you can imagine, I was thrilled that Ms. Archer wrote to share her mourning embroidery with me. Having just acquired it recently at a small auction house in the north of England, Ms. Archer knew nothing of the artwork's provenance or who had consigned it to auction.  A quick internet search led her to the images of my own mourning embroidery, purchased in London some fifteen years prior. Having noticed the striking similarities in the scene depicted, the workmanship of the stitching and painted vellum head, hands, and 'HOWARD' lettering upon the tomb, Ms. Archer was compelled to contact me.  Surely, our Georgian girls must be related!

It turns out that Ms. Archer has a particular interest in historical textiles.  She holds a Textile Design degree from Leeds University and has taught both art and art history.  She is as curious as I am to learn more about the artist, or artists, of both of our embroidery works.  In due course, Ms. Archer intends on taking her picture to the university's textile department to see if they are able to shed some light on the piece's construction and origin.

What is known about such embroidery works is that during the late-eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, privileged young girls of the leisured and upper classes were expected to master needlework skills.  Most of them, or at least those that had any pretense to taste and refinement, dabbled in these "satin sketches".  Designs were typically drawn on silk, then embroidered using a variety of stitches, neatly showcasing the young girl's abilities.  Small features were cut from vellum and painted using watercolor paints or inks, a characteristic often seen in such late-eighteenth century embroidery pictures. 

Ms. Archer posits that perhaps both of our girls were stitched by sisters, or that the piece in her possession was a prototype of my own, a sort of "practice run". We might, of course, never learn the truth behind these theories but we both agree on one thing, our girls surely began life together.  

Fortunately, my mourning embroidery has been signed upon its wooden backboard by the young artist, Sophia Haine.  Sophia named her work 'Philanthropy at The Tomb of Howard', and dated it December 15th, 1797, the day the embroidery was completed.  Alas, Ms. Archer's piece is not visibly signed.  Does a clue await discovery, I wonder, if the embroidery is removed from its original verre églomisé mat and giltwood frame?

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Ms. Archer's artwork is devoid of color and almost sepia or grisaille in tone, making it all the more appealing to my eye
Photo: Courtesy of Ms. Julie Archer


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Blue, green, and brown threads and watercolor paints or inks add subtle color to my embroidery picture
Photo: Chronica Domus


Ms. Archer's initial research efforts have yielded two late-eighteenth century parish records for Sophia Haine.  The first Sophia was registered in Shipham parish and was born in Lympsham, Somerset in the year 1782.  She would have been around fifteen years of age when my mourning picture was completed.  The second Sophia Haine, daughter of Samuel and Maria Haine, was born in 1783, and resided in Lambeth, Surrey, an area now considered part of London. This Sophia would have been around fourteen years of age in 1797.   

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My mourning embroidery which hangs in our drawing room is titled 'Mourning Howard' and signed and dated by the artist Sophia Haine, December 15th, 1797
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Ms. Archer's unsigned, but surely related, 'Mourning Howard' embroidery picture is almost identical to my own, down to the faithfully executed fence and background trees seen at right
Photo: Courtesy of Ms. Julie Archer


Ms. Archer will, of course, continue to dig deeper into the mystery of who stitched her mourning embroidery picture and if it is connected to my own.  She has promised to report back with updates and is even prepared to undertake her own Magical Mystery Tour, all in the name of research.  A van and tent, she tells me, are at her disposal in case long-distance travel is called for. 

Thank you, Ms. Julie Archer, for reaching out and making me aware of the existence of your beautiful mourning embroidery.  I look forward to learning more about its history and what the connection to my own piece is. Who knows, we may even get an opportunity of reuniting our girls after two centuries of separation.

To be continued... one hopes!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The House That Almost Was


As I wrote in my last post, I've been rather distracted as of late.  I have spent a considerable amount of time and energy these past few months contemplating a move back to England with my family. You see, during our visit to London last December, we made arrangements to view a house - twice - that was listed for sale. The property, situated in a small rural village two hours north of London, ticked all the right boxes, or so we thought.  Mellow Georgian brick facade, a substantial plot of land, sash windows with original internal shutters, crunchy gravel driveway, mature specimen trees, intact period outbuilding ...you get the idea. There's even an Aga in the kitchen although that appeals to me more than it does my husband.  I suppose everything one knows about cooking would have to be relearned if one were to actually make use of this most British of country house kitchen contraptions. Aside from the cooking, the Aga would most certainly come in handy during the cold winter months. Those drafty country houses have earned their reputation for good reason, don't you know?

My husband has lived in California all of his life and I have had the privilege of living here for the past twenty-six years.  Moving anywhere, let alone half way across the world, is an enormous decision. Our daughter Patience would dearly love the chance to live in the same country as many of her cousins, uncles, and aunts, whom she knows intimately well.  I believe she's traveled to the UK at least fifteen times already, not bad considering her young age. Patience views England as her second home.

Although we have occasionally toyed with the idea of such a move, the handsome Georgian house we viewed, together with the recent favorable dollar-to-pound currency exchange rate, were our main
motivating factors to make it happen.  A move across the pond suddenly became far more feasible than at any other time in recent memory.  Of course, arrangements would have to be made to sell our house too, but with property around these parts flying off the market within weeks of it being listed, and in some cases days, we feel that would not pose too great an obstacle.  By contrast, the house in the English village has languished on the market for well over a year; the selling price having been reduced twice thus far. With a motivated seller, the carrot is tantalizingly within our reach.

As you can imagine, packing up one's entire household - lock, stock and barrel - and shipping it half way across the globe comes at a hefty price tag, a financial burden worth considering when contemplating any move, particularly one so distant.  Sifting through the handful of estimates we have obtained from various shipping outfits, we have discovered that the cost alone of insuring one's furniture for safe transit is akin to a king's ransom!  Then, of course, there's the question of what to do with our old and trusty Volvo wagon, so handy for carting people, pets, and large household items around. It's almost a member of our family. Do we ship that too, or sell it? Would it ever feel "right" driving a left-hand drive on the left-hand side of the road? And, there's that other little matter of taxes.  Do you know that it is the responsibility of every US Citizen living abroad to file taxes annually in both their adopted country and at home?  This rule will apply to Patience too when she eventually joins the UK workforce, regardless of the fact that she has never earned a cent here. And, talking of paperwork, let's address the reams of forms required, along with the hefty fees, for successfully navigating one's way through the maze of UK entry requirements.  It's enough to make one's head spin!  Although I consider my English skills to be somewhat proficient, it boggles the mind how anyone who lacks a law degree can make head or tail of some of these forms. And, of course, we come to Norton, our beloved pet cat. I believe his pile of paperwork, when stacked, might just be taller than him!

Looking past the financial and practical issues of transplanting our household half way across the globe, when all is said and done would we ever fully adjust to life in a rural British village where attending the local pub and church form the main pastimes of the local villagers?   Personally, I would have absolutely no trouble adjusting, having already resided in both town and country during my time living in England. If I crave the trappings of big city life there's always London, a mere two-hour car journey south.

It is our young daughter Patience we worry about.  What opportunities would she be missing out on if we bit the bullet and made the move?  How about schooling?  Would she find herself lagging behind the other students having been tutored in an entirely different educational system?  Would she be missing out on the benefits of living in a culturally diverse area, such as is the case with San Francisco or any other major city, where opportunities for employment, among other things, are abundant?  Agricultural jobs abound in the area of the village.  Beyond that, there's really little else.

Aside from the obvious lifestyle adjustment, what of the future?  As we don't have the advantage of peering into a crystal ball, my husband and I have done the next best thing and diligently researched the area of the village and nearby market town. Worryingly, a recurring theme we hit upon was flooding due to the area's low-lying topography and proximity to various water sources. Tidal flooding, sadly, is a real and serious concern.  From everything we've read, things are predicted to worsen over the coming years with the rising sea levels. Would our daughter be shackled to a sinking inheritance?  Most probably so.

For now, here we remain. Although the cons outstripped the pros with this particular Georgian village property, we feel we've earned ourselves quite an education in the minutia of a global move. We are now far better prepared, both emotionally and factually, were a similar opportunity to present itself in the future.  In the meantime, I am very happy to return to this rather neglected blog, and to you my loyal readers.

Of course, the silver lining to this tale is that we still get to happily live our lives in our beloved 1920's house, enjoying the benefits of a thriving local economy, excellent weather, remarkable scenery, and the pleasurable companionship of close friends and good neighbors. We have much for which to be thankful.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Coming Up For Air



Please excuse my absence from the Blogosphere.  I have been rather over-scheduled as of late with much to distract me.  All of it pleasant, mind you.  I needed to come up for air and thought I would say a quick hello to those of you who might be wondering where I've been.

Normal service will, of course, resume shortly.  You may be interested to learn that I have been working on a number of posts which I hope you'll find interesting and engaging.  So, until then, please do stay tuned.

CD
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