Monday, February 19, 2018

Life's Little (Long) Weekend Pleasures

Nota bene: I was able to sneak the highly-fragrant posy you see below into the marital bedroom because my husband happened to be away on a business trip the day I snapped the photograph below; such a transgression would be unthinkable otherwise and near grounds for divorce - you can read why, here.

Chronica Domus
An engaging book and a bedside posy of home-grown narcissus Avalanche helps to ease one comfortably into a relaxing Sunday morning
Photo: Chronica Domus


Several days ago I received a nice comment from one of my loyal readers.  "CD, CD, wherefore art thou?  I miss you!".  Reading it made me realize that I have not been particularly punctual with my posts here at Chronica Domus lately.  Had it really been an entire month since I last published anything or, for that matter, have had the luxury of visiting my favorite blogs?  I am afraid it really has been.

Since the beginning of January, my days have held an almost elastic quality to them.  My real-world professional obligations have stretched too far into my waking hours which, sadly, has left little time to pursue the more pleasurable aspects of life, including the upkeep of this blog.  I won't even mention the alarming state of my garden.  Shudder.  As you can imagine, the long President's Day weekend could not have arrived soon enough.  Three entire days to revel in the little things in life that provide the greatest of pleasure.  I consider one of those pleasures to be sleep.

I don't know about you but a few extra hours of sleep on a weekend morning has become a luxurious indulgance the older I get.   If I can make it to 8 a.m. in the comfort of my bed, I just know it's going to be a good day.  It pains me to admit that, try as I might, I am not a natural early riser.  I admire those of you that are up and about enjoying the crepuscular light of dawn, catching sight of colorful skies painted by the first shafts of light.  That said, on most weekday mornings I do tumble out of bed before dawn, heavy-eyed and yawning.  This is done not out of choice, mind you, but to fulfill my familial and workday obligations.  I am also charged with serving breakfast to Norton and the hungry clowder of neighborhood ferals.  They have certainly trained me well.  As I hurriedly dart about, I barely notice when daylight eventually does break.  In another life, I would be found snoozing well into the morning which is why I do so enjoy the luxury of a slower start to a weekend morning.  Those precious few restorative hours of slumber truly rejuvenate my body and soul.  Only then am I able to focus on a full weekend of running errands, visiting the farmers' market, gardening, social obligations, and general good old-fashioned fun.  

Sunday mornings are also when I am able to loll about in bed, enjoying a good read. I have only just cracked open a book that I purchased two years ago when I visited the charming collegiate city of Cambridge, England.  Titled Below Stairs In The Great Country Houses, Adeline Hartcup's fascinating book recalls with delicious detail several real-life accounts of how many of Britain's most famous country houses were run.  If you are a fellow devotee of the much-missed television series Downton Abbey, you too will enjoy reading about the strict hierarchy adhered to - and the minefield of social blunders to be avoided - by the many characters that lurked both above and below stairs.

How about you, which of life's little (long) weekend pleasures give you the most satisfaction?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Porcelain Mystery Object Revealed

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This diminutive drummer boy has a very specific purpose - can you guess what it is?
Photo: Chronica Domus


Well, I must say you are a clever bunch!  Thank you all for playing along in the latest mystery object game.  I can now reveal that the little drummer boy is indeed a vintage French féve.

For those of you that haven't a clue what in the world I'm rattling on about, a féve is a good luck charm or trinket that is baked into a celebratory cake called a Kings Cake, or to use its French name, a Galette de Rois.

Galette de Rois


Kings Cake is traditionally served on Epiphany, January 6, to commemorate the day the Magi Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar bestowed gifts upon the infant Jesus.  In fact, a figure of a baby is often used as a féve in a Galette de Rois.  In New Orleans, Kings Cakes make an appearance in local bakeries anywhere from January 6 right up until Mardi Gras, which happens to fall on February 13 this year.  It is said that he who finds the féve is crowned king for the day and reaps all the benefits of the good luck that comes along with the charm.

Other countries have their own traditions centered around finding lucky trinkets in sweet treats.  Take the British, for example, and the long-held tradition of baking a silver six-penny piece into Christmas puddings.

Ah, there it is, the prized silver sixpence!


Greece and some of the other Balkan countries bake coins into Vasilopita, a cake served at midnight on New Year's Day.  Vasilopita is named in honor of Basil of Caesarea and his famous coin and jewelry cake, baked and distributed to local families.  Here's a link to that story.

No Vasilopita is complete without the addition of a Drachma Euro


The féve I selected to feature in my mystery object post is one of six that have somehow found their way to me.  I believe they were made during the first half of the twentieth century, or possibly earlier judging by their lovely muted colors and traditional forms.  Modern féves tend to be garishly decorated in lurid colors, and many are fashioned after popular cartoon characters.

Apologies to Minion fans but these little googly-eyed féves would be enough to
put me off my cake!


Let me introduce you to my enchanting drummer boy's Lilliputian companions.

This lantern-carrying féve resembles a fisherman from a bygone era ...
Photo: Chronica Domus


... and these peasant women must surely be his shore-side companions
Photo: Chronica Domus


Here's the ship's captain and his young deckhand
Photo: Chronica Domus


How could one fail to be delighted at finding any of these charming fellows peeking from within a slice of cake?

Half a dozen years of good luck
Photo: Chronica Domus


Perhaps you too have had the good fortune of discovering a similar charm in a cake or a pudding.  Do please tell me about it, or of any other similar holiday tradition revolving around the unearthing of such lucky trinkets.

Thank you once again for being such good sports.  I look forward to sharing another mystery object with you in the not-too-distant future.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Porcelain Mystery Object

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Photo: Chronica Domus


It just dawned on me that the last time I published a post on a mystery object was last February.  So, today I present you with another, a little porcelain drummer boy, for your consideration.

The object is a scant taller than an inch in height and is attractively decorated in pleasing muted tones.  Although he requires no other companions, there are plenty more where he came from.

Do please tell me what you think his purpose is.  I will reveal all in my next post.

Happy guessing!


Sunday, January 7, 2018

It's Been A Fun-Filled Couple of Weeks!

Happy New Year to you all!  Please forgive the paucity of posts over the last few weeks but as you might recall, I've been busy entertaining overseas house guests for the holidays.  We've all had a marvelous, fun-filled time but all good things eventually come to an end.  As such, we bid adieu to our guests at the airport this past Thursday with promises of a reunion over the next year.

Now that things have once again settled down at home, I've had an opportunity to fondly reflect upon the last few weeks.  As with so many others, an awful lot of celebratory feasting took place (between bouts of playing tour guide).  Perhaps that would explain my quickly expanding waistline.  Anyway, the culinary indulgences kicked off on Christmas Eve and continued right up through New Year's Day.

Chronica Domus
I was up early on Christmas morning and glimpsed the colorful sunrise from the balcony
Photo: Chronica Domus


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No Christmas dinner table is complete in Britain without a novelty Christmas Cracker at each place setting to add to the merrymaking ...
Photo: Chronica Domus


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... and a scrumptiously dense, booze-soaked, fruit-filled traditional Christmas cake
(this one was lovingly made by my dear mother months in advance to allow the flavors sufficient time to mature)
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Here's what the table looked like right before we sat down to tuck into our Christmas feast ...
Photo: Chronica Domus


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... and here's the grand finale, a traditional Christmas Pudding, topped with holly ...
Photo: Chronica Domus


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... and set ablaze with a liberal dousing of brandy
Photo: Chronica Domus


And, what's Christmas Day without some postprandial entertainment to shake one from one's torpor? Eschewing a time-honored game or two of charades, furniture was instead pushed towards the drawing room walls, the music cranked up, and voila! a makeshift dance floor revealed itself.  Our guests and we managed to pull off all of our best moves, mastered long ago in some of Europe's finest discotheques during heady summer holidays.  We had an absolute blast!

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The drawing room, after our spontaneous Christmas evening dance party had concluded - who needs extravagant disco lights when fairy lights will do!
Photo: Chronica Domus


Boxing Day and the days that followed were spent showing our guests some of the area's best places of interest. A day in wine country wound up in the quaint town of Sonoma with a lovely dinner at The Swiss Hotel.

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A corner view of Sonoma's charming town plaza
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Sonoma's City Hall and surrounding trees aglow in festive lights
Photo: Chronica Domus


A little window shopping in San Francisco's Union Square is always a fun diversion for out-of-town visitors.  On the evening we were there, the shops were buzzing with post-Christmas sales activity.

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The madness that is Union Square during the post-Christmas sales
Photo: Chronica Domus


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An enchanting gingerbread concoction displayed in the St. Francis Hotel's lobby on Union Square
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Everything here is made of sugar including beribboned packages and elves that march up 
and down the gingerbread castle's staircase
Photo: Chronica Domus


One of the last excursions of the year was spent pleasantly cruising down the coast to Santa Cruz and admiring the spectacular views.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


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I adore walks along the beach, whichever coastline I am lucky to find myself upon
Photo: Chronica Domus


Our last dinner of 2017 was enjoyed at home in our very own dining room.  And, just to remind ourselves we were rapidly headed into a new year, I made sure to mark the occasion as follows:

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A homemade mushroom and leek pie to herald in the new year
Photo: Chronica Domus


Of course, there were sweet treats too, including a King's Cake, baked in a crown mold, complete with lucky charm.

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New Year's Eve desserts included juicy tangerines, a Kings Cake with a hidden lucky charm, 
and the Christmas fruit cake baked by my mother
Photo: Chronica Domus


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That was a tasty bit of cake!
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Another lit fire to keep us cozy until the midnight festivities began
Photo: Chronica Donmus


We barely made it to midnight and into 2018 without nodding off, a feat which becomes a little more challenging, I have observed, as one ages.  The dawn of a new year is, however, such a thrilling moment especially when one begins to ponder the possibilities and opportunities which may lay ahead.  I haven't missed one yet!

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The scene from our balcony, with the smokey remnants of distant fireworks ushering in 2018
Photo: Chronica Domus


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The morning after the night before
Photo: Chronica Domus


With the understandably slow (and late) start to the first day of the year, we took things in our stride and hopped into the motor car for a gentle drive up to some of the Gold Country towns of Northern California.  Most of the towns were deserted but it was nonetheless a lovely treat to wander around in relative tranquility.  The highlight of our day was the year's first sunset which had us pulling off to the side of a country lane and enjoying a truly spectacular sky.

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I could almost hear Vivien Leigh uttering those famous words "As God is my witness"
Photo: Chronica Domus


Christmas in our household is well and truly over on January 6, the Twelfth Day of Christmas, or Epiphany.  This is the day we dismantle the tree and attempt to pack away the ornaments.  I counted two hundred and thirty-two of them on our evergreen tree this year, not including the topper.  There are more on the goose feather tree.  And, as I predicted, the ornaments are still laying about, cluttering up the dining room table.  A beautiful mess if there ever was one.

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The prospect of packing all this away calls for a stiff drink!
Photo: Chronica Domus


I do hope that you too found plenty to celebrate during the festive season.  Please do tell me what some of your highlights were.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

At Last The Christmas Decorations Are Up!

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Photo: Chronica Domus


I really don't know where December has gone but the month has sped away faster than a Hatton Garden jewel thief.   This year we are staying home for Christmas and hosting overseas house guests who arrive this afternoon.  I am very much looking forward to both enjoying their good company and celebrating Christmas for the first time in four years in my own home.

When one expects house guests at this time of the year there is much to do in anticipation of their visit.  On top of all that, there is a laundry list of tasks to be completed before Christmas day arrives including lots of specialty food shopping for Christmas day dinner, and a few last minute presents. One of the more pleasurable undertakings of the season is tarting up the house.   As we like to keep things simple around here, we avidly adhere to Miss Pole's Yuletide Decorating Philosophy so last weekend we made time to track down our evergreen tree and bring it home.  Patience our teenage daughter was insistent that we select a "fuller" tree.  What she really meant was she would like a species other than my preferred Silver Tip which is gappy by nature and provides ample room between branches to hang my collection of antique and vintage ornaments.  We settled on the Noble Fir you see below.

Chronica Domus
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Norton immediately approved of Patience's choice of tree
(let's hope the ornaments are of less interest to him)
Photo: Chronica Domus


After a battle installing the fairy lights (the upper-most strand decided to die in situ!), a trip to the store was in order to procure a further supply.  This is the sort of tomfoolery that perfectly demonstrates why I have a love-hate relationship with fairy lights.  I would much rather opt to illuminate our tree with miniature candles.  As you can imagine, my husband is horrified by my pyrotechnic flight of fancy so the fairy lights remain.  Ah well, one can always fantasize about such things.

Chronica Domus
This year's exuberant color palette is a combination of silver, green, pale pink,
raspberry, and orange
Photo: Chronica Domus


Before finding the strength of will to get back to the tree decorating, I decided that adorning the mantelshelf would be a far less taxing experience.  I used the pine cones that Patience and I collected and decorated with frosty glass glitter years earlier when she was still in elementary school, together with clippings from the tree.

Chronica Domus
Crushed glass glitter provides a seasonal frosty appearance to pine cones that perch 
upon an English Regency slop bowl and cups
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Of course there's always room atop the looking glasses and picture frames for a little
seasonal greenery and a pine cone or two
Photo: Chronica Domus


I thought it would be fun to continue the pine cone theme in the dining room.  Below is the ivory colored goose feather tree decked out in ... you've guessed it, pine cones!

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Vintage silver glass pine cones adorn the goose feather tree which is anchored in an
old tole container topped off with yet more (green) vintage glass pine cone ornaments
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Here's a close-up of the tole container anchoring the feather tree with help from a pile of
vintage glass pine cones in shades of green and gold
Photo: Chronica Domus


Moving to the kitchen next, I simply could not stop myself.  More pine cones and clippings from the Noble Fir tree found a resting spot upon the hanging wall shelf.

Chronica Domus
Have I gone too far?  What, I wonder, would Miss Pole make of all this pine cone frippery?
Photo: Chronica Domus


Returning to the evergreen tree in the drawing room, Patience was eager to help me hang the hundreds of vintage glass ornaments in place.  We used thin gauge wire instead of ornament hangers to secure each ornament to its bough by wrapping it around the needles.  The extra effort, we hope, will insure the delicate ornaments stay put.  At least that's the idea.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


I think the newly acquired old ornaments from the recent sale I attended look splendid upon this year's tree 
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Thank goodness the fairy lights are still working now that the ornaments have been hung!
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Although it was sunny and bright this morning when I photographed the tree, it was sufficiently chilly that we plan on lighting a fire later today
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Patience was thrilled with her choice of evergreen tree, and the cheery colors
of the ornaments, and looks forward to plenty of presents being piled beneath it
Photo: Chronica Domus


I had just a few more pine cones and bits of greenery to fiddle with so here they are, atop the chest of drawers and the looking glass in the drawing room.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


Now that the house is dressed for Christmas, I look forward to a few hours of tranquility before driving to the airport to retrieve our house guests. Then, at last, the season's merry making can commence!  

I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas!


Monday, December 11, 2017

A Christmas Ornament Collector's Fantasy Sale

Chronica Domus
Christmas arrived early in the Chronica Domus household this year thanks to the 
ornament score of the century
Photo: Chronica Domus


Old-fashioned, blown glass Christmas tree ornaments have held a special place in my heart since childhood.  My mother had a selection of them to decorate the family's Christmas tree along with tinsel and, on occasion, something that to the eyes of a child resembled cotton cobwebs, a rather poor imitation of snow I believe.  When I first started my own collection of vintage blown glass Christmas tree ornaments, way back when I landed on this side of the pond in the early 1990's, I was agog to discover the vast quantities available for the picking.  Collective antiques shops and thrift stores proved to be fertile stomping grounds for the unusual geometric shapes which comprised my collection.  Back then, over-stuffed plastic bags of ornaments could be purchased for a pittance.

Over the years, as more people have discovered the joys of decorating their trees with these beguiling baubles, hunting them down become a challenging sport for me.  Nowadays, it is a happy and increasingly rare day when I score a handful of fragile 1920's German indents or a World War II era pine cone.

With this in mind, you can only imagine how ecstatic I was when my friend Jeannette, a fellow ornament devotee, and I recently attended a sale so extraordinary it was hard to believe we had not conjured it up from our wildest fantasies.  Yes, we really were awake, and this really was the Sale of The Century as far as these things go.  In fact, there were so many items up for grabs that the sale took place over multiple days.  Jeannette and I found it difficult to keep away, and thus we attended not once, but twice.  What lucky girls we were!

Alas, in my dizzy excitement, I failed to take along my camera but if you'd care to see a fraction of the thousands of exceptional and rare items that were on offer, do please visit the blog of Addison Studio Sale where the many photographs included in the links found here, here, and here, will give you a delicious taste of what we saw.

Chronica Domus
Ron Morgan's fifty year-in-the-making Christmas collection was up for sale and proved to be an ornament collector's wildest fantasy come true


The collection was amassed over the span of fifty years by Ron Morgan, a well-known local floral designer who recently moved to Mexico.  Mr. Morgan had an unerring eye when it came to the quality and rarity of items included in his collection. The blown glass German ornaments, Dresden cardboard figures, Putz animals and houses, strings of glass beads, goose feather trees, lametta tinsel, Belsnickel Father Christmas figures, candy containers, German glass kugels in all shapes, colors, and sizes, together with an assortment of other Christmas ephemera and novelties really should have landed in a museum, en masse.  I doubt there's another collection quite like it anywhere else in the world.  As it is, Mr. Morgan made many hundreds of keen enthusiasts of Christmas past extremely happy with their recent purchases of items rarely seen on the market.  Below is the selection of the glass ornaments I was fortunate enough to have hauled away from the sale.

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Most of these fragile blown glass ornaments were made in Germany in the 1920's and 1930's
Photo: Chronica Domus


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These are German kugels and were made in the mid to late-nineteenth century, constructed of heavier glass with stamped brass hangers they are extremely sought after and are a rarity
Photo: Chronica Domus


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 I look forward to hanging these whimsical beauties from the boughs of our Christmas tree ...
Photo: Chronica Domus


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... alongside these icy beauties
Photo: Chronica Domus


I also had the chance of snapping up two early-nineteenth century blown glass vessels known as fairy lights or lanterns.  I believe these might actually be leech bowls or jars that someone converted into fairy lights with the clever use of a bit of old tinsel.  These cradled small wax candles and helped to cast light on the Christmas tree.  Not particularly safe, I know, but lovely nonetheless.

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Hmmm... are these fairy lights or leech bowls or jars I wonder?  
Photo: Chronica Domus


Jeannette and I are so chuffed with our latest Christmas treasures that our thirst for such things has been quenched, at least we think, for now.  On the drive home from the second of the two sales, we revisited the issue of how dire our storage issues have become.  In one fell swoop, things just got a lot worse.  We agreed, however, that at least they had worsened for the very best of reasons, an abundance of beautiful Christmas tree ornaments.  Our latest haul is truly an embarrassment of riches.

What is it that you enjoy decorating your tree with, and do you have a favorite ornament you would like to tell me about?


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