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

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A Basket For Easter

Photo: Chronica Domus


The tradition of making Easter baskets is something I wholeheartedly adopted when I moved to The United States. In England, the most popular symbol of Easter is the egg; real ones or chocolate, all are enthusiastically devoured on the day.

I spent this afternoon gathering up all the confectionery goodies I had purchased over the past month to nestle in Patience's Easter basket, which she will receive tomorrow, early on Easter morning.  As in years past, I am inspired by nature, in particular Spring's bright palette of greens and blues.

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Natural elements such as old-fashioned Forget-Me-Not flowers from the garden and vivid green moss form the basis of this year's Easter basket
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Deciding which ribbons to tie upon the handle of the wicker basket is all part of the fun
Photo: Chronica Domus



Two blue chocolate rabbits keep their foil-wrapped companion company.  All three appear to be very much at home in their temporary surroundings which resemble a miniature woodland thanks to the Forget-Me-Nots and mossy bed they rest upon.

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Chocolate and foil-wrapped rabbits, bags of jelly beans, and sugar-coated chocolate eggs nestle within Patience's Easter basket
Photo: Chronica Domus


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The finished basket will be presented to our daughter early on Easter morning
Photo: Chronica Domus


I do hope Patience is as beguiled by her charming Easter basket as I am.  I have a good hunch she will be.

Do the junior members of your family enjoy receiving Easter baskets and if so, what is it that you fill them with?

I wish you all a very Happy Easter.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Relics Reimagined: A Black Basalt Pastille Burner

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Photo: Chronica Domus


We are in the midst of daffodil season here in the garden, the most glorious time of the horticultural year.  At least I consider it so, for I regard the humble daffodil to be my favorite flower above all others, followed closely by summer's sweet pea.

Last evening, after a long day of blustery winds, I noticed that a clump of narcissus Albatross was in peril of being toppled over.

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It was rather a challenge to photograph these daffodils as they whipped about in the wind
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Curious Norton proved himself  to be a further challenge, albeit a pleasant one
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Narcissus Albatross in full bloom or would that be in full flight?
Photo: Chronica Domus


Having endured losses to winds in years past, I thought it prudent to gather up the flowers already in bloom and enjoy those indoors.  There are plenty still remaining, in bud, to be savored in the weeks ahead as garden ornament.

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Into the garden trug go a dozen blooming Albatross daffodils
Photo: Chronica Domus


Seeking a suitable container in which to display these dainty heirlooms, I looked no further than my mantelshelf where an early nineteenth century black basalt Wedgwood pastille burner takes pride of place.  Removing its lid, I placed a small circular metal flower frog within it before adding water.

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My chosen flower container for the heirloom daffodils, an early nineteenth century Wedgwood black basalt pastille burner
Photo: Chronica Domus


Then came the flowers.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


As I stepped back to admire my handy work, I was reminded why it wasn't always such a bright idea to repurpose certain objects as flower receptacles.  A slow dribble of water from three previously unnoticed tiny holes in the base of its bowl rendered this particular vessel wholly unsuitable as a vase. I suspect the trio of holes were intended to provide oxygen to the aromatic pastille while lit.  A further hole in the lid allowed a wisp of white smoke to escape and saturate the air with its perfume.

Ah well, I thought the basalt burner made for a very pretty little vase, if only for a brief moment.  I hope you think so too.

If you are interested in learning more about pastille burners, the air fresheners of yesteryear, I would encourage you to read the excellent post written by the author of The Regency Redingote, which can be found here.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Easter Sweet Treats In The City

Dashing about the city this past weekend, determined to whittle away at my list of errands, I could not fail to notice the enchanting decorations and baked goods which filled the shops and bakeries in anticipation of Easter.   

My first port of call was the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market early on Saturday morning, where I spotted this stylish gentleman going about his business.

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Surely, a 'Best Dressed' award is owed to this exquisitely turned out gentleman
Photo: Chronica Domus


Alongside the usual weekly purchases of fruits and vegetables, I popped one of these charming foil-wrapped chocolate rabbits into my wicker market basket. He will be secreted away until Easter morning when he will make a welcome appearance in Patience's Easter basket.

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A colony of foil-wrapped chocolate rabbits
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Yet more rabbits, of the marzipan variety, are grouped together on a green glass cake stand
Photo: Chronica Domus


Rabbits, of course, are a popular symbol of Easter here in the United States.  When I was growing up in England, it was all about the egg.  Every confectioner worth their salt would manufacture hollow-shelled chocolate eggs and fill them with all manner of sugary concoctions and small toys. Attractively decorated in piped sugar icing or colorful foil, the eggs were the apple of every child's eye. Enthusiastically snapped up by eager parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, they were presented to junior members of the family.  I recall my sisters and I receiving many such ovoid treats in the run up to Easter, and the excruciating wait we endured until the big day arrived when we could finally devour them with gusto.

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What child would not delight in receiving one of these charming confectionery laden baskets early on Easter morning?
Photo: Chronica Domus


I noticed that the freshly cut flowers for sale at the farmers' market possessed an air of Eastertide about them.

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Bunches of pastel colored ranunculus and anemones reminded me of dyed Easter eggs awaiting the hunt
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Photo: Chronica Domus


Out and about again on Sunday, my family and I enjoyed lunch in the North Beach area of the city which is famed for its Italian restaurants and food markets.

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If you are in the mood for old-fashioned Italian comfort food, I highly recommend a leisurely lunch at Piazza Pellegrini where everything is delizioso!
Photo: Chronica Domus


A postprandial saunter around Washington Square found us greeting this rather amiable fellow:

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A friendly dog mascaraing as an Easter lamb
Photo: Chronica Domus


A partial view of Washington Square with the twin spires of Saints Peter and Paul church framed against gray skies
Photo: Chronica Domus


I was delighted to spot a familiar baked Easter specialty when we made a pit-stop into Victoria Pastry Company, an Italian bakery in operation since 1914 and located at the edge of Washington Square.

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Candied citrus peel provided an unexpected Italian twist to this English Easter treat
Photo: Chronica Domus


A tempting tray of hot cross buns was calling my name.  Well, perhaps not the entire tray.  It has been many years since I've seen these buns for sale though I recall eating untold numbers of them in England where they remain a popular Easter baked treat.  The sweet spiced current-laden buns are sold by practically every baker in the land on Good Friday, when they are traditionally consumed. As you may already know, I champion tradition, but I was not prepared to wait another two weeks to eat my prize.  I happily shared it with Patience upon our return home, where she quickly proclaimed it to be scrumptiously delicious.

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"Hot cross buns, hot cross buns, one a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns"
Photo: Chronica Domus


Tell me, do you have a particular favorite Easter sweet treat that you look forward to sampling at this time of year?


Nota bene: I am neither paid nor do I receive recompense in exchange for applauding products or services within my blog.  I do so because I enjoy them.  If you are a kindred spirit, you too enjoy recommending nice things to fellow good eggs.


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