Sunday, March 19, 2017

What's Blooming Inside: Drifts of Snowy Daffodils

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Photo: Chronica Domus


I have written about my favorite flower, the humble daffodil, extensively in the past and cannot help but rejoice in its understated yet elegant beauty each spring.  I am not talking about the overly-hybridized modern daffodil, mind you.  No, not at all!  I am, in fact, referring to those lesser-known, older varieties which I champion whenever opportunity arises.

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When in bloom narcissus Thalia is like a spring snow drift
Photo: Chronica Domus


There has been a succession of daffodils blooming in the garden since late December.  As each variety fades, another awaits patiently in the wings to take center stage. Presently, my favorite of the snowy-whites, narcissus Thalia, is putting on a blinding display.

Thalia is a heritage daffodil, having been registered in Holland in 1916, and thus an appropriate addition to the garden of our house which was built in 1925. Her nodding star-shaped blooms are simply breathtaking in their elegance.  Her color is a true white, not cream or ivory. She is as pure (white) as the driven snow.  I consider Thalia to be inherently demure within the world of flowers.  In fact, if her name were not Thalia, I would have named her Audrey, as in Hepburn.

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Pure as the driven snow
Audrey Hepburn in 'The Nun's Story'

Thalia's exquisite scent is equally delicate and does not overwhelm the olfactory sense.  Do please give consideration to these older strains of daffodil when planting your own spring garden for I just know that you too will be rewarded tenfold for your efforts. Just to prove it, you'll be delighted to learn that Thalia possesses a generous spirit. She happily obliges in spreading her snowy-white wings, naturalizing to great effect within a few short years.

I can think of no more pleasurable experience than cultivating one's own flowers and reveling in the satisfying and humbling act of gathering a small handful to bring indoors.  Just look how Thalia enlivens a corner of the drawing room.

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A pretty posy of narcissus Thalia sits atop a table in the drawing room
Photo: Chronica Domus


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The flowering branches I purchased a few weeks ago for our dinner party are still going strong and impart an air of spring to the dining room
Photo: Chronica Domus


And, although I did not grow the mixed yellow bunches of daffodils seen in the photograph below, gathered in English earthenware milk jugs and resting on the kitchen counter, I was fortunate to have captured their ephemeral beauty saturated in early morning light, the golden hour.  The blooms were a much appreciated gift from my thoughtful husband who knows me too well.  I'm simply mad for daffs!

Photo: Chronica Domus
Golden daffodils fittingly bathed in golden morning light
Photo: Chronica Domus


Tell me, do you grow your own daffodils or buy them by the armload at this most glorious time of year?


The Daffodils

William Wordsworth 
1770 - 1850

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of the bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A Poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed-and gazed-but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Opening Party: All Roads Lead To Rome Exhibition

Photo: Chronica Domus


In October 2014, I wrote a post about attending the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show and how I was enamored by the jaw-dropping items for sale at Mr. David Weingarten and Ms. Lucia Howard's booth, Piraneseum.  It turns out that Mr. Weingarten had read my post and contacted me to express his thanks for my "generous words and photographs".  Of course, I was only too delighted to give praise where praise was due.

What was not obvious to me back then, as I ogled Piraneseum's covet-worthy offerings, was that the items on view were just a drop in the bucket of the sizable private collection belonging to Mr. Weingarten and Ms. Howard.  It appears that the collection has now attracted the attentions of the SFO Museum, and justifiably so.

Yesterday afternoon, my husband and I spent a very pleasant few hours as guests of Mr. Weingarten and Ms. Howard attending the opening party of the museum's latest exhibition All Roads Lead To Rome, 17th-19th Century Architectural Souvenirs from the collection of Piraneseum. Fittingly, the three vitrines which display the fascinating array of architectural models and Grand Tour souvenirs are located within San Francisco Airport's International Terminal where many of the travelers scurrying by will no doubt continue the long-held tradition of buying mementos and souvenirs from their own travels.

The well-attended opening event of the exhibition was held within San Francisco Airport's Aviation Museum 
Photo: Chronica Domus


Sponsored by the Northern California chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, the event kicked off with a drinks and hors d'oeuvres reception where attendees chit-chatted and mingled. There were several recognizable faces in the crowd, many of those being seasoned supporters of the local arts and antiques scene, architects, and even the Italian Consulate General of San Francisco.  I was particularly delighted to have been introduced to these two.

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Mr. Tim O'Brien who brilliantly curated today's exhibition, and Ms. Suzanna Allen who so graciously modeled the well-written and sumptuously illustrated exhibition catalog
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Ms. Susan Doherty's blouse, depicting assorted Roman tableau, was sartorially perfect for the event;
Ms. Doherty is the program chair of the American Decorative Arts Forum in Northern California and I had the pleasure of chatting with her on our shared interest, American Federal and English Regency furniture
Photo: Chronica Domus


Ms. Lucia Howard gave a talk about the artworks on display, which consist of more than seventy pieces focused on Roman monuments and architecture.  This truly is a remarkable collection of Grand Tour souvenirs and specially commissioned pieces which were intended as extravagant gifts. During the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century, it was all the rage for wealthy young (mainly British) men  to embark on a tour of Europe's cultural centers as part of their education. Many of them delighted in acquiring mementos of their travels which spanned the gamut of modest plaster intaglios, small-scale models of important architectural structures, and even full-blown oil paintings. I was enchanted to see so many capriccio, or fantasy paintings, of ancient monuments included in the exhibition.

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Panini's Capriccio View of Ancient Roman Monuments (circa 1755) as seen in the lavishly illustrated exhibition catalog
Photo: Chronica Domus


Following Ms. Howard's talk, we were ushered to the main event, the three vitrines chock-full of extraordinary artworks like this:

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Temple of Vespasian and Titus, circa 1860
Photo: Chronica Domus

and this:

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The impressively scaled - at forty inches in height - Flaminian Obelisk constructed of antique specimen marbles and gilded metal, circa 1820
Photo: Chronica Domus 

and this:

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A nineteenth century Carrara marble model of Rome's Navicella, meaning 'little ship', Fountain
Photo: Chronica Domus


An alabaster model of one of the more recognizable buildings of the Roman Empire, The Colosseum, circa 1880
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Ms. Lucia Howard and her captive audience tour the vitrines
Photo: Chronica Domus


As you can see from the few (poor) photographs that accompany this post, All Roads Lead To Rome is a not-to-be-missed exhibition.  And, for those who wish to view it but are not jet-set bound, you are in luck.  The vitrines are located on Level 3 (pre-security) of San Francisco Airport's International Terminal and can be accessed by the public at large through August 13, 2017.  Please do take the time to peruse this extraordinary private collection of paintings, etchings, architectural models, and other Grand Tour delights which provide a satisfying glimpse of Rome's ancient splendors.

I would like to thank Ms. Lucia Howard and Mr. David Weingarten for so graciously inviting my husband and me along to what was a supremely enjoyable and rather swell opening event in celebration of this must-see exhibition.

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Ms. Lucia Howard and Mr. David Weingarten
Photo: Chronica Domus


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, March 6, 2017

Whiteout At Lake Tahoe

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Friday's headline news should have tipped us off for what lay ahead
Photo: Chronica Domus


Our continuing adventures in hot pursuit of some snow fun had us finally arriving in South Lake Tahoe this past Friday.  You may recall reading about our fruitless attempt to venture there several weeks ago, and the disastrous mudslides that closed the main highways into the Sierra Nevada mountains, along with the ensuing mayhem suffered by thousands of fellow car-bound snow seekers. We gladly put those shenanigans behind us - or so we thought - in hopes of witnessing one of the deepest snowpacks in recent memory. Astonishingly, the pack is at 186% of normal which is expected to see skiers on the slopes until July's Independence Day holiday.  What a winter this has turned out to be!

On Saturday morning, after tucking into a filling breakfast at our hotel, so conveniently situated at the base of Heavenly Mountain Ski Resort, we headed outdoors to catch a ride up the mountain.

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Nope, we won't be catching sight of Heavenly Mountain's summit today!
Photo: Chronica Domus


As luck would have it, today was not the day to be darkening the doors of the gondola which we had expected to take us on a scenic 2.4 mile ride up the side of the spectacular mountain. Despite the sunny conditions, a severe winter storm warning with high winds was in effect which meant only skiers were permitted on the mountain.  As not everyone in our little party would be skiing, we were advised to try our luck the following day. Ah well, it was time to implement Plan B.

Not ones to miss an opportunity for exploration, we hopped into the Volvo and away we drove in search of adventure.  Across the California-Nevada border and over mountainous terrain we went in the direction of Carson City, Nevada's capital city.  As you can see below, the desert area stands in stark contrast to Lake Tahoe's forested snow-covered landscape.  It was also a balmy forty degrees warmer.

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The sight of this hunk of ice along the desert road was quite a curiosity, apparently having fallen from the roof of a passing car
Photo: Chronica Domus


After lunch, we meandered across the mountains and back towards Lake Tahoe, stopping to take in the majestic views of the lake.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


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 Photo: Chronica Domus


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Your eyes do not deceive, this is indeed a beach of snow
Photo: Chronica Domus


By now, we could feel the beginnings of the winter storm brewing.  The howling winds were barrelling down the mountains and the sun's weakened rays had given way to gloomy skies.  The mercury had also plunged notably, and rapidly.

There was one silver lining to lessen the disappointment of not having access to the other snow activities high up on Heavenly Mountain. Our daughter Patience was overjoyed to have her up-for-anything parents join her in a spot of snow saucering.  For those of you that have no idea what this entails, all I can say is that you should A) be prepared to take your life into your own hands, B) steady yourself to look very "uncool" in the eyes of everyone but a teenager, and C) be prepared to belly laugh like a deranged lunatic all the way down a slippery snowy slope, at great speed, while sat atop a plastic saucer more often than not travelling backwards.  I must tell you, it was a very liberating experience to say nothing of the fact that my daughter's estimation of her over-the-hill parents just went up several notches.  Although photographic evidence of this gentle author whizzing down the mountain on said saucer does exist, I am opting to keep that part of our adventure private. One does, after all, have a certain image to maintain.

On Saturday evening, the first flakes of snow began to fall.

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The decorative iron street grates looked enchanting with a light dusting of snow
Photo: Chronica Domus 


By Sunday morning, our motor car was buried in two feet of snow, just in time for our journey home.

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Our Volvo is under there somewhere
Photo: Chronica Domus


Our timing was impeccable; the drive home was a whiteout.  It took us four hours to crawl along seven miles of connecting road because of an ominous sounding "avalanche control" exercise taking place further into the mountains, temporarily closing the highway.  Listening to the distant booming sound of explosives shattering the silence as snow continued falling was surreal.

Once the road opened, we continued our grind home at a steady ten miles per hour in twenty degree temperatures.

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I just missed snapping the thermometer as it dipped to twenty degrees Fahrenheit resulting in the windshield wipers freezing up with blocks of ice
Photo: Chronica Domus


Here is the view from the front passenger seat just before the windshield wipers froze:

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At this point, conditions were actually getting quite unnerving, having already slid off the road and into a ditch once, and now having to brace the bone-chilling cold to chip away frozen ice from the windshield wipers every few miles
Photo: Chronica Domus


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I question our judgment when I look at this insanely beautiful but hazardous mountainous road we safely negotiated, to much relief, with the help of our ever-trusty AWD Volvo wagon  
Photo: Chronica Domus


It was several more hours before we were out of the eye of the storm.  I counted our lucky stars upon making it safely through.  It was all so worth it for the views that awaited us were dazzling.  Surely, we had entered the Land of Narnia.

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 Photo: Chronica Domus


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  I was half expecting Mr Tumnus to appear from beyond the trees
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 The serenity of a snowy winter landscape is unmatched in its beauty
Photo: Chronica Domus


After viewing the world through a monochromatic lens for the entirety of our journey, it was with welcome relief that we spotted a jolt of early spring color during a brief pit stop at the small gold mining town of Placerville.

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Spring meets winter with the last remnants of snow at the feet of cheery yellow daffodils
Photo: Chronica Domus


Arriving home late on Sunday evening, we were glad for the adventure we had shared.  Our long weekend was not exactly how we had imagined it to be, faffing about in the powder on top of the mountain, but on reflection, I don't think I would have changed an action-packed minute of it. I am, however, suddenly hankering for a stint on a warm tropical beach.


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.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Dining Table Inspiration from The Original Wedgwood Pattern Book

Last Saturday we had the great pleasure of entertaining good friends at home for drinks and dinner. We were six at table that evening and as spring was almost upon us, I chose to decorate the dining room with flowering spring blooms and branches laden with blossom. An early Friday morning jaunt to the San Francisco Flower Market yielded exactly what I had hoped to find.

Three plump bunches of blue hyacinths await arranging
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I procured the blue hyacinths specifically to complement the dinner plates I intended on using the following evening.  These beautiful plates were acquired last year and this was to be their inaugural coming out party.   I know I've sworn many times to ignore the heady siren call of a pretty table object, and I do recognize that my escalating problem vice is something I'm not particularly proud of, but I ask you, how could I have possibly passed these up?  

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A view of the rim decoration - notice how the delicate hand-painted detail is achieved through the meticulous application of two differing shades of blue enamel paint, and three of brown
Photo: Chronica Domus


When I first examined the plates I was delighted to find that each - there's a baker's dozen in all - was in excellent condition. This is not often the case with early pieces of creamware, their weight being more akin to a pastry shell than the heft one expects of a conventional dinner plate.  The bluebell-like decoration reminded me of my bluebell picking days as a young girl living in the Kent countryside. Perhaps that is why they called to me.

Having a curious mind and an eye for detail, I was keen to learn about the hand-painted pattern and the exact age of these plates.  My first clue led me to their underside where a 'WEDGWOOD' mark, alongside some random letters, is impressed into the clay.  

Fortunately, for fellow crazed fanatics of early Wedgwood tablewares, a rather wonderful on-line resource awaits discovery.  The Wedgwood Museum Trust has cataloged their early archive of ceramics, along with a host of other related items, for our viewing pleasure and edification.

My rudimentary search of the collections yielded similarly patterned plates, referred to as "Queen's ware, cream colored earthenware", but nothing that was an exact match to my own.  In a bid to learn more, I contacted the museum in hopes of enlightenment and was overjoyed when Ms. Lucy Lead, an archivist at the Wedgwood Museum in Barlaston, Staffordshire, responded to my inquiry.  

With a little sleuthing, Ms. Lead - so aptly named for per chosen profession - generously provided me with a liberal dose of delicious detail about my creamware dishes. Not only that, she kindly sent along the following photograph, taken directly from the original tableware pattern book of Josiah Wedgwood. Here it is:

Photo Chronica Domus courtesy of Ms. Lucy Lead
A detailed image of Josiah Wedgwood's original tableware pattern book showing the hand-painted pattern of my dinner plates, Pattern 96, located at middle right
Photo: Courtesy of Ms. Lucy Lead
   ©Wedgwood Museum/ WWRD


I was elated by the opportunity to scrutinize the detail from Pattern Book Number One, the actual reference book that Josiah Wedgwood's early clientele used when selecting and placing their tableware orders. Each blank creamware item was then decorated by hand before being carefully packed and delivered to its new owner.  Ms. Lead also informed me that my plates were made sometime in the late-eighteenth to early-nineteenth century, and are described in the pattern book as "Hyacinth blue, leaves brown, and broad and fine lines brown". This was quite a revelation as I had wrongfully assumed the flowers to have been bluebells and not hyacinths.  

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Aha! Proof indeed that the flower depicted on the creamware dishes is a hyacinth and not a bluebell as I had intially believed it to be
Photo: Chronica Domus


Ms. Lead also thought it might interest me to learn that the pattern was also reproduced in a green colorway, Pattern 97, which is also recorded in the above image.  The random letters visible on the underside of my plates, small impressed 'B' and 'P' marks, are potter's marks, and relate to the worker that actually made the plate. Ms. Lead went onto tell me that sadly, the information of exactly which marks belonged to which potter had long been lost.  

As you can imagine, I was all the more overjoyed to set my dining table with such handsome dishes, knowing far more about their history and design than I would have had I not reached out to Ms. Lead. Although our guests did remark on how very pretty the two arrangements of hyacinths were, I did not choose to over-burden them with the detail of how I was inspired by the beauty of Josiah Wedgwood's vision and his original pattern book when setting our communal table that evening. Instead, I reserve that little tale for readers of this blog. 

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On the morning after our dinner party I was delighted to see the hyacinths, arranged in a pair of Regency wine rinsers unfurled, revealing their full beauty and intoxicating scent*
Photo: Chronica Domus 


Thank you once again Ms. Lucy Lead for satiating my curiosity and for your generous research efforts which yielded such fascinating information.  I am ever in your debt.


*For the comfort of one's guests, I do not recommend placing heavily-scented flowers on the dining table.  However, in this instance, I correctly calculated that the tightly closed bunches of hyacinths I purchased on Friday would not be fully open by the time we sat down to dinner on Saturday evening

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Treen Mystery Object Revealed

Did you guess the purpose of the little acorn correctly?


Thank you all for being such good sports and participating in the fun and games of guessing the purpose of my diminutive nineteenth century ebony treen acorn which I recently acquired in England. I greatly enjoyed reading your thoughts on the mystery object's function, and how you settled upon your conclusions.

Several of you guessed that the acorn is a child's toy, much in the vein of a spinning top, and I can see why:

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A nineteenth century boxwood spinning top


Others thought that perhaps its purpose is related to spinning yarn, like the vintage wooden spindle seen below:



A few of you reckoned that the acorn's cap is removable, which it is. The cap is indeed threaded and requires unscrewing from the acorn.  Now that we've established the acorn is hollow, we can deduce that it is designed as a receptacle.  But, a receptacle for what exactly?  Let's continue examining the other suggestions put forth.

When I published my post I fully expected at least one of my clever readers to posit the acorn to be a nutmeg grater.   I was proved correct when "columnist" threw his hat into the ring.  You can see why below:

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A handsome nineteenth century treen nutmeg grater


Georgian nutmeg graters were often fashioned in the form of an acorn, constructed of either silver or turned wood.  Although I have often fancied owning - and using - such a grater, I have yet to find just the right one to haul home.  When I do, of course, you'll be the first to know about it.  In fact, when I initially laid eyes upon the treen acorn, I too believed it to be a nutmeg grater.  Looks can be so terribly deceiving at times.

A recurring theme throughout the comments was that the acorn is a receptacle for smelling salts or snuff.  While certainly a plausible theory, considering the nineteenth century's obsession with noses, the true purpose of the acorn has yet to be revealed.  Let's keep going.

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"Kindly pass the smelling salts madam, I can barely share the same air as those unshod feet!"


For those of you that guessed "a sewing kit" or "a needle case", you came so very close!  Alas, the two inch acorn can neither accommodate the length of a needle nor nestle multiple sewing accoutrements within its hollow.

It does, however, conceal a lone related object, and here it is:

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Aha! It's a thimble case
Photo: Chronica Domus


Bravo to Janet, Janie, and Jim for correctly guessing the purpose of the mystery treen object.  Please, do feel free to take a well-deserved bow.

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The thimble is elegantly concealed within the hollow treen acorn
Photo: Chronica Domus


Thank you all once again for participating in what I hope has been an entertaining and enlightening post on a charming and handsome domestic object, long ago made by caring hands.  I have considered adding the thimble case to my sewing kit, but find it's beauty too captivating to squirrel away in a box that rarely sees the light of day.  Better, I think, to have it rest within a saucer that is placed upon a side table in our drawing room. That way it might just catch the eye of one of our guests and become the focus of an amusing guessing game. Would you not agree?

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Treen Mystery Object

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Photo: Chronica Domus

When I lived in Kent as a young girl, our house was situated opposite an ancient oak woodland. 'The Woods', as we called it, became an almost daily playground for my sisters and me.  We spent many happy hours larking about the stately trees, enjoying spring walks gathering wood anemones and bluebells, and playing in the knee-high piles of leaves that carpeted the woodland floor later in the autumn.

I delighted in finding plump acorns that had blown onto our property from our neighbor's enormous oak tree.  I viewed these as miniature works of natural art. Often, the acorns separated from their caps and magically took hold in our garden's fertile soil.  Sadly, it was my job to remove the fragile saplings before our garden turned into a woodland of its own.

My childhood fascination and fondness for acorns is what initially attracted me to the two inch ebony treen object you see in the above photograph.  It was laying in a glass cabinet full of other nineteenth century treasures in one of the shops I visited on a recent antiques hunting expedition.

Asking the shopkeeper to unlock her cabinet so that I could take a closer look at the item, I soon discovered its purpose.  I was smitten.  Naturally, the acorn came home with me.

I do so enjoy a good guessing game and hope you do too.  Can you guess the function of my little acorn?  Remember, no cheating allowed through the use of your preferred search engine!


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Some Pet Names Are Best Left For Pets

Is it just me?  Whenever I hear people in public refer to their wife, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, or the colloquially dreadful 'significant other' as "Babe" I cannot help but think of this:

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As you may well know, today is Saint Valentine's Day, which is why I'm publishing this Public Service Announcement.  I am sure your wife, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, or 'significant other' is many things, but surely, a pig she or he ain't!

As we are on the subject of pet names peeves, I'd also like to lump in the cloying "Honey" if I may.  Is there anything more distracting than listening to a couple rabbiting on about "Honey" this, or "Honey" that, when in conversation with others present?  OK, I'll admit that in the early days of my own relationship with my husband I caught myself going down Cupid's linguistic slippery road on more than a few occasions.  However, I quickly rectified the error of my ways vowing never to utter such babble again.  You'll be pleased to learn that I've been successful, on the whole.

In closing, I'd like to request that when out and about in public please do us all a favor and refer to your loved one by his or her given name or even by relationship title (i.e. wife, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, or, if you really must, 'significant other').  At home, of course, you are free to do as you wish.

Tell me, have you been guilty as charged of this amorous linguistic sin, or found yourself within earshot of a "Babe", "Honey", "The Missus", "The Wifey", "The Hubby", or worse, volleyed willy-nilly in conversation?

Happy Saint Valentine's Day everyone!

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