Sunday, September 25, 2016

What's Blooming Inside: Summer's Last Hurrah

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Photo: Chronica Domus


We may have entered the first days of autumn here in the Northern Hemisphere, but try telling that to my garden.  Do you remember the sweet peas about which I wrote in early August, and the surprise I received when only blossoms of a sugared almond pink color appeared from the assorted heirloom seed packet I planted? Well, this is what the sweet pea patch yielded yesterday morning:

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A nineteenth century black basalt vessel sets off the exultant colors of
autumnal sweet peas to perfection
Photo: Chronica Domus


At long last, the other colors depicted so prettily on the seed packet's charming illustration - which enticed me into buying it in the first place - have emerged.  Late, I'll admit, but they made it through. Thinking back, I don't believe I have ever had the pleasure of picking sweet peas so very late in the year.

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Even the glass bathroom shelf gets in on the act with a mixed rosy-hued posy composed of the last sugared almond pink sweet peas that have been in bloom throughout the summer
Photo: Chronica Domus


I think it is simply marvelous that the emergence of these jewel-toned flowers have such impeccable timing.  What could be more appropriate, as we approach the cooler months of the year, than to be greeted by the sight of vivid regal purples and crimson pinks in one's vases?  As everything around the garden fades to gold, these rich and exuberant colors reign supreme.  It's summer's last hurrah.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


For those of my readers that have never planted sweet peas, let me share a secret with you.  The more one harvests these irresistible blooms, the more seem to emerge.  Each plant is a veritable factory of flowers begging to be culled every few days.  If I'm fortunate, I'll be picking sweet peas well into October this year.

Have you noticed the subtle signs of autumn arriving in your neighborhood yet or is summer refusing to surrender?

Sunday, September 18, 2016

My Problem with "no problem"

I'll get straight to the point.  There is a certain expression that simply grates on my nerves each and every time I hear it.  Sadly, I've been hearing it a lot lately.  I'm not sure if this is because I live in San Francisco where most things have become "hipster cool" and a little too laid-back-casual for the likes of my fuddy-duddy self.  Perhaps people are simply becoming lazier with their language?

As you might have guessed from the title of this post, I have a problem with "no problem".  What I mean by this is that when I thank someone for their service at a retail establishment or restaurant, the response I'm likely to receive - at least around these parts - is the grating and unfortunate "no problem" instead of the correct "you're welcome".  This sends ire and fire through my veins.

I often find myself on the cusp of correcting the linguistic miscreant who just volleyed their "no problem" my way.  Alas, I've yet to actually do so. Ultimately, I remember my good manners and just move along.  Perhaps this blog post may be my only outlet for tackling the dismal "no problem" problem.

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"Thank's for the coffees, ma'am"
"No problem You're welcome boys"


What I'd really like to say is something like this, "No, my patronage is indeed not a problem so please refrain from implying that it may have been.  I am, in fact, a paying customer who appreciates the assistance you've just provided, which is why I've thanked you in the first place. No absolution required".

Which brings me to yet another unfortunate use of the English language. Is anyone else tired of hearing the word "guest" instead of "customer" when out and about doing their shopping? If I'm your guest, should you not be treating me as such by sending me home with my basket of shopping gratis? I certainly don't expect guests under my own roof to pay for anything.  Please, call me what I am, a paying customer.

In a country where there is seemingly so much emphasis on customer service ("did you find everything you were looking for?", "have a nice day!"), business owners would be wise to train their employees to respond with "you're welcome" whenever a customer expresses their gratitude and appreciation.

Ordering food at restaurants has become a minefield of "no problems".  "May I have a glass of water" or "could I substitute ..." is often met with "no problem" instead of "yes",  "certainly", or just plain "no".

Please, do tell me, whatever happened to "you're welcome" or indeed the scarcely uttered "my pleasure" which I recall hearing from certain individuals in my youth and, astonishingly, more recently from a waiter to my great delight?  Is the "no problem" problem endemic to casual Californians, or do you too hear this infuriating expression in your neck of the woods?

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Beachcombing on Playa Las Viudas

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Treasured souvenirs from the playa, resting upon an 1837 hand-colored engraving of
seashells drawn by Captain Brown and engraved by G. Cranston, from my personal collection
Photo: Chronica Domus


I've been fortunate enough to visit a fair number of beaches in my life.  My parents enjoyed traveling extensively when my sisters and I were children and our summer holidays would always include stints by the seaside.  The fine sandy beaches of the Aegean and Mediterranean became our summer playgrounds.  We spent many happy hours splashing about in the warm currents, a novelty as compared to the frigid waters of the English Channel.

Being a curious child, I always made a point of scouring the beach for interesting objects. Unearthing the odd dropped coin or fragment of polished colored glass was always an exciting prospect. However, my favorite objects always remained the natural treasures which appealed so greatly to my sense of delight, and fascination with natural history.  You may be amused to learn that this gentle author secretly harbored dreams of becoming the next Mary Anning.

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An inspiring figure from my youth, Mary Anning and Tray her faithful canine companion, depicted with Dorset's Golden Cap outcrop as a fitting backdrop


It turns out that my love of beachcombing remains strong to this day.  While holidaying in Mexico recently, I took the opportunity of indulging in this pleasant pastime on one of the most secluded little beaches I have ever visited.

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A view of Playa Las Viudas with its clear waters, pristine sandy beach, and rocky outcrops - we had the place to ourselves the afternoon we visited - it was heavenly!
Photo: Chronica Domus


Playa Las Viudas is a magical hidden cove that is tucked away off the main highway along the corridor between the towns of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo.  Volcanic rock outcrops abound and although the sand is quite coarse, I greatly enjoyed getting my feet wet as I waded along the shoreline within inches of the crashing waves.  

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Photo: Chronica Domus


We spent an enjoyable hour or so absorbed in the hunt for treasure. With the sun's beating rays upon our backs, combined with the stirring sound of the Sea of Cortez, it really was quite the tonic for unwinding.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


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Photo: Chronica Domus


What we found was astonishing.  Remnants of sea life aplenty.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


I was all agog at the variety of corals and seashells we espied with seemingly little effort.  Their colors - which ranged from brilliant orange, mauve, gray, and taupe - and their intricate shapes were utterly beguiling.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


I was enchanted most especially by the little orange-speckled oval seashells.  I had never seen anything quite like it on any other beach and here I was with two in the palm of my hand (well three, actually, but the third example had faded in the strong Mexican sunlight).

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A dorsal and ventral view of Jenneria pustulata with its distinctive colors and pattern
Photo: Chronica Domus


Of course, this led me on a hunt down the electronic rabbit hole that is The Internet until I unearthed what exactly it was that had wholly captured my imagination.  Jenneria pustulata, it turns out, was first mentioned by the English botanist and conchologist John Lightfoot in 1786. Interestingly, Mr. Lightfoot was the curator of The Duchess of Portland's personal collection which in its day, was the most extensive and coveted natural collection in England.  I also discovered that aside from Western Mexico, Jenneria pustulata is found in such exotic locales as Costa Rica, Panama, and the Galapagos Islands, all places I have yet to enjoy the privilege of visiting.

Aside from a multitude of seashells, nuggets of lily-white coral litter Playa Las Viudas.  This stony coral happens to be the main food source of Jenneria pustulata which would explain why there was such a high concentration of it on one small stretch of beach.

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A trio of coral nuggets rest upon another hand-colored engraving by C. Cranston, circa 1837, from my personal collection
Photo: Chronica Domus


These very special seashells, together with the other bits of unearthed natural treasure, make charming souvenirs of a place that has captured my heart.  I shall cherish them always as fond remembrances of a pleasant afternoon spent beachcombing in a spot that must surely be as close to paradise as one can imagine.

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A lone boat sails past Playa Las Viudas
Photo: Chronica Domus


Tell me, do you have fond memories of visiting a favorite beach, or have you ever found anything of interest to capture your imagination that was laying about in the sand?

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Gloomsbury Set

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The extended Gloomsbury Bloomsbury Set included Lady Utterline Immoral Lady Ottoline Morrell who snapped this image of 
Lytton Scratchy Lytton Strachey and Ginny Fox Virginia Woolf in 1923

Nota bene: Since publishing this post I've been honored that Sue Limb, the author of  Gloomsbury, has been in touch to say that "You and your acolytes might be pleased to know we are recording a fourth series at the end of September".  Naturally, I'm plump with pride to be able to report this world exclusive here on Chronica Domus.  

What do Vera Sackcloth-Vest, Ginny Fox, Lady Utterline Immoral, Lytton Scratchy, and Venus Traduces all have in common?  Well, you might be interested to learn that they are all characters belonging to that (extended) coterie of writers, artists, and philosophers known as The Bloomsbury Set... I mean, The Gloomsbury Set.

I am currently listening to the re-airing of BBC Radio 4's amusing literary comedy Gloomsbury, which I became aware of a few years ago when it was first broadcast across the airwaves.  I would gently encourage you to listen to it too. Sparklingly written by British comedy writer Sue Limb, Gloomsbury comes to life through the marvelous voices of the talented Miriam Margolyes, John Sessions, and Alison Steadman.  For those of my readers who are located outside of earshot of the Beeb's radio broadcasts, fear not.  You will have an opportunity over the next three weeks to tune in via The Internet.  Series 1 is currently streaming to the world so do get thee to the following web site, pronto:


The sitcom is serialized over three six-part installments, each part being thirty minutes long, and parodies the eccentric and oftentimes saucy bohemian goings on of the early twentieth century clique headed by Virginia Woolf, or Ginny Fox as she's known here.  Don't you just adore Miss Limb's punny humor in the renaming of her Gloomsbury Set?

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Venus Traduces Violet Trefusis and  Vera Sackcloth-Vest Vita Sackville-West

Gloomsbury is littered with smart little quips that make reference to the real-life characters of the Bloomsbury Set.  Take for example Vera Sackcloth-Vest's instructions to her gardener in the planting of the north border at Sizzlinghurst.  As she rattles off a list of nonsensical Italian-sounding plant names (formaggio mezzaluna anyone?), the dear fellow is prompted to ask "will that be pink or cream".  "Cream of course, man!" comes the snippy response, "I won't have pink anywhere near Sizzlinghurst".

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The famous white garden at Sissinghurst Castle, created by Ms. Sackville-West, is one of England's most visited gardens

Oh, and the production team could not have selected a more fitting piece of music for the theme song. Won't you take a listen for yourself?


I think Dorothy Parker described The Bloomsbury Set perfectly with her bon mot "they lived in squares, painted in circles, and loved in triangles".  If all this talk of squares and circles has piqued your interest, do please tune in for some radio high-jinks.  I'm sure you too will soon be delightfully amused, if not downright confused, by all the triangles.


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Chasing The Sun

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I've been suffering from an acute case of Sunseekeritis - why else would I color coordinate my espadrilles and vintage jute handbag to the crystalline blue skies and sandy beaches of my longed for destination?
Photo: Chronica Domus


Whether or not Mark Twain really did utter those famous words about his coldest winter having been a summer in San Francisco, is neither here nor there when faced with the prospect of enduring yet another foggy and windy August in our fair city. Not that I'm complaining too much, mind you.  I very well appreciate our milder summer months, especially when compared to the steam bath endured throughout the rest of the country.

Every now and then however, an itch requires a good scratching.  The urge to don one's summery clothes and beachy espadrilles can no longer be suppressed.  That is why my family and I jetted off to sunnier climes earlier this month, where sparkling blue seas and fiery sunsets predominate, and everything else, happily, gets left in the dust.

Fasten your seat belts, now approaching blue skies and sandy beaches
Photo: Chronica Domus


A favorite holiday destination of ours, and one we return to time and again, Los Cabos is located at the southern tip of Mexico's Baja Peninsula.  It is always summer in Los Cabos with perpetual sunshine no matter the time of year.  Cooling breezes sweep in from the Sea of Cortez keeping the mercury in the comfortable zone - averaging between the upper 70 Fahrenheit range to the lower 90's at the extreme. Los Cabos has become the Acapulco of the 1950's attracting swells and A-listers in droves. And, who can blame them?

Whether it be the sandy beaches that appear like straw-colored ribbon along the coastline ...

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Photo: Chronica Domus


... or, an infinity pool that keeps one lolling at the water's edge ...

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Photo: Chronica Domus


... this truly is a blissfully relaxing and stunningly beautiful part of the world.  I always find it such a struggle to leave.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


This is the view from the upstairs open air bar which affords excellent views of El Arco.  I could happily gaze upon this magnificent rock formation for eternity.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


Of course, perfectly made margaritas only add to the enjoyment of the view.  In the land of tequila, our usual sauce takes a backseat.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


Yes, it was difficult to tear ourselves away from a place that left us wanting for nothing, but we did muster up the energy to hire a car and explore a little further afield.  A drive to San Jose del Cabo, which is chock full of art galleries and silversmiths, housed in Spanish colonial buildings, is a pleasant diversion from beach and pool life.

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Tiffany & Co., the world's premiere jeweler, well at least a Mexican doppleganger
Photo: Chronica Domus




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The woven trunk of this clipped bougainvillea, which grows in front of the Mission of San Jose del Cabo Anuiti, is quite a horticultural achievement
Photo: Chronica Domus


For us, no trip to Los Cabos is complete without an excursion to the sleepy little town of Todos Santos, situated just a stone's throw from the Tropic of Cancer.  The town is located about an hour north of the resort area and is one of my favorite drives due to the spectacular scenery.  This is where the Pacific Ocean dramatically meets the desert in high-Mexican style.  Just look at the size of that cactus!

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Just across the road from this enormous cactus - which we estimate to be about fifteen feet tall - is the Pacific Ocean
Photo: Chronica Domus


It has become a right of passage to drop into the Hotel California for lunch and to sip upon tequila sunrise cocktails in honor of The Eagles' namesake song.

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"It's another tequila sunrise, starin' slowly 'cross the sky, said goodbye"
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Photo: Chronica Domus


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"Livin' it up at the Hotel California, what a nice surprise (what a nice surprise), bring your alibis"
Photo: Chronica Domus


Upon our return to Los Cabos, it was straight into the pool for more natatorial fun until the early hours of the evening.

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A natatorial paradise
Photo: Chronica Domus


As I mentioned earlier, it is tough to willingly take one's leave of such a blissfully relaxing and beautiful part of the world, but leave we must.  Taking pleasure in one final picture-perfect sunset before bidding adiós to Los Cabos for another year was the icing on the cake.

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Adiós, Los Cabos, until we meet again 
Photo: Chronica Domus 


Once home, the familiar welcoming committee of ever-present summer fog embraced us with open arms. Our sun umbrella, I'm afraid, will continue to remain firmly shut with little foreseeable action in its future. It's time too, I suppose, to reluctantly pack away summer's glad rags.

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A view looking up towards our balcony on a typical foggy August morning
Photo: Chronica Domus


Regardless of the current misty conditions, there is really nothing quite like being back at home, and for that I am most grateful.  Home sweet home, indeed!


Saturday, August 6, 2016

A Surprise In The Sweet Pea Patch

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Photo: Chronica Domus


I've been eagerly anticipating the arrival of the sweet peas in the garden this year.  I planted them at the beginning of May, which is rather late in the season as far as these things go.  I'll admit, I was entirely bowled over by the charmingly old-fashioned illustration on the seed packet when I made my selection at The Seed Bank.  Here it is:

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Photo: Chronica Domus


How exciting it would be, I thought, to grow a variety of colors from a single seed packet, and an heirloom variety at that.

As you can see, the results thus far have been rather surprising.  Pink, it seems, is the only color in sight, but what a glorious pink it is.

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Early morning dew clings to a fragrant bloom
Photo: Chronica Domus


Yesterday morning I snipped all the blooms I could find to bring indoors.  I arranged them in an Anglo-Irish cut glass water jug which I placed in the drawing room, perched upon the edge of the secretary bookcase. I adore the delicate sugared almond pink hue of the blooms and, of course, their heavenly fragrance.  Nothing smells more like summer to me than sweet peas.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


Perhaps the other colors which are illustrated on the seed package will rear their heads in the weeks to come but for now, I plan on enjoying these delicately hued and scrumptiously scented blooms for as long as I'm able to.  For that, I am most grateful.


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.

Monday, August 1, 2016

A Regency-Style Garden Bench for The Frankentrees

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Our new old garden bench is in dire need of attention
Photo: Chronica Domus


High summer has arrived and the garden has become an absorbing outdoor playground as of late.  I am currently in the midst of a project that is focused around our Frankentrees, the very trees that were the subject of a post I published two years ago.

I have been patiently training these apple trees into an arch, dreaming that one day I might set a pretty garden seat beneath it.  It would, I imagined, be a place for this gentlewoman gardener to rest her weary body between the endless cycles of deadheading and weeding. 

Recently I happened across the garden bench of my dreams, an English Regency-style iron example. I believe it was made at the beginning of the twentieth century and was originally painted bronze green but has since been painted white.  Its sturdy construction is far superior in quality to anything available for sale today at mass-market garden centers and big-box chains. Besides, this is not a style which one typically sees for sale at such outlets or elsewhere, come to think of it. I am, to say the least, tickled pink to have found it.

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A Regency iron garden bench, circa 1810, with characteristic serpentine back and curved arms - the diamond-shaped embellishments make this bench much fancier than was typical of the era


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Our Regency-style garden bench shares the same serpentine back and curved arms as the Regency example shown in the preceding photograph.  Notice, too, the similarities in the curlicues which decorate the top corners of both benches
Photo: Chronica Domus


The bench was perfect in every respect but one.  The painted surface was in such a state of degradation that it would literally fall away while being handled.  I spent the better part of two uncomfortably hot days with my face encased in a dust mask laboring and scraping - in between muttering words not fit for print - until, finally, the ghastly stuff had been eviscerated.

I had every intention of repainting the bench until discussing the matter with my husband who came up with an excellent suggestion.  The result, he promised, would provide a durable, long-lasting finish that would greatly delay the need for future maintenance.  Best of all, it would immediately relieve me of several more days of hard graft.  Now, how could I possibly argue with that logic? Thank you, dear!

Loading up the Volvo with our shabby-looking bench, we set off in search of West Coast Powder Coating, a small local workshop which performs minor miracles on all manner of metal objects, including this one:

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A familiar item from the shores of the United Kingdom, a red K2 model telephone box
in the midst of receiving a facelift
Photo: Chronica Domus


We left our garden bench in the very capable hands of Chris and his team, having selected just the right shade of white and degree of gloss in the finish (70%).  By the way, Chris told me I need not have bothered scraping away the paint as the bench would be sandblasted prior to receiving its coat of primer and powder coating.

A week later, we returned to find this:

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Chris rightly beams with pride and joy as he shows off the workmanship involved in resurrecting
our Regency-style garden seat
Photo: Chronica Domus  


We could not be more pleased with the skillful work Chris and his team performed, insuring our old garden bench will be enjoyed for many years to come.  The industrial-strength finish, he tells us, should last for many years.

The hard toil is certainly not over yet (is it ever "over" when it comes to the garden?).  Plans are afoot to complete the area around the Frankentrees and directly beneath the bench.  For now, I can at least rest my wicker basket upon our garden's newly restored installation while I gather the remainder of the apple harvest, which arrived rather early this year.    

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Rosy-hued apples await picking
Photo: Chronica Domus

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Finally! The perfect Regency-style garden bench to place beneath the apple arch
Photo: Chronica Domus


I do hope you enjoyed reading about the revival of this particular garden bench and that it might inspire you too to breath new life into a tired piece of outdoor furniture.


West Coast Powder Coating
165 Mitchell Ave, South San Francisco, CA
Tel: (650) 871-0400

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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