7th Generation Gardening Group Seeds or Plants?

In days of yore the only way to have a garden was to start start your own seeds in flats indoors or plant seeds directly into the garden. This has still the advantages of being able to select the varieties you most desire, saving your own seeds, and getting a head start on the growing season with tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and the like. By head start I mean that if, for instance, tomatoes are started early enough they will have flowers and possibly tiny tomatoes when they are set out into the garden in the heat of June.

But many other plants benefit from being started indoors that can also be planted as seeds in the garden. Starting beans indoors lets me know exactly how many and where I am planting them in the garden and if one or more get eaten I can easily replace just those. Likewise, really early crops like lettuce and Chinese cabbage can be up and growing to be planted as soon as the soil can be worked. Sometimes I soak my pea seeds for a day or two, sometimes I don’t but they always go into the soil as seeds.

Sometimes a sunny south window is all that is needed to start seedlings but they benefit greatly with added light. Full spectrum lights are common now and those are best for the plants. I have a plant growing stand with adjustable, four foot bulbs that can be raised or lowered. I keep them only just above, not touching, the leaves for maximum light because no matter how bright the bulbs they are nothing compared to true sunlight. As soon as there is a warm day the plants get carried carefully out for fifteen minutes, then more, then they go out in a sunny but protected spot as soon for all day….and get carried back in if the weather turns cold. I have a lot of flats and this is a lot of work but normal people would perhaps not find it so time consuming.

Every year I find myself at the nursery, sometimes more than one, looking over the plants and thinking that maybe I want to try that variety, or whoops I forgot parsley. Also, nurseries have many different flowers and I only start a few from seeds. But one of the best things nurseries have these days is enormous tomato plants. They are not cheap, no six for four dollars, but huge plants in gallon pots with flowers and small tomatoes. Last year I saw them ranging form eleven to nineteen dollars but they are perfect for an instant tomato garden or for someone who only wants one. Nurseries also have onion and leek plants and many leafy greens, cabbages, herbs squashes, and so forth. For a small investment one can have a nearly instant garden. Before setting an expensive tomato plant into the garden make sure the frosts are over and warm days are here again. Our growing season here in the Northeast is longer that in years past and the tomato you plant in June can easily be producing right into October with care.

Keeping in mind that many garden plants can be continuously harvested throughout the summer like cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchinis, most leafy greens, and beans, one gets a lot of value from the garden. Yes, the prices of organic produce drops in the summer but none of it will be as fresh or as rewarding as the harvest from your own garden. Besides, it’s fun. I think starting seeds is addictive and I predict that those who try it will go on. The bottom line is, start some and buy some.

The next post will deal with seed starting in more detail.

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First Parish Church 7th Principle Gardening Group

March 14, 2021

This group is a part of the Welcoming All Group at First Parish Church of Groton, Massachusetts. The group is open to anyone from anywhere but the gardening experience of most of us comes from the Northeast. We will meet on Zoom until the world opens up again and then we will have in-person meetings for demonstration purposes. Starting around the second week of June we will have garden walks at the Fisher’s which will continue through September. In addition, we are planning a fermentation workshop and a longer food preservation workshop. Both of these workshops can be held outside if necessary.

Beginning gardeners must first select a site. Even in winter you can walk out on your property and and look around. The sun tracks from east to west so look for trees that will block your garden when they are leafed out. Six hours of direct sunlight is the minimum for vegetables and ten to twelve is ideal. In high summer, that is, on June 21, the sun is at its highest and thereafter will sink below your trees earlier in the day. Most people have a sunny spot even if it isn’t very large but a lot of vegetables can be grown in a smallish garden using succession planting….more on that later. If all you have is a sunny south facing patio vegetables will do well there in pots…just make sure the pots are large and water is available.

Once you have a site selected, check the soil. You can’t do this until the ground thaws, but as early as it does and has dried out a bit, take a shovel or sturdy trowel and dig into it. This could be difficult because digging into the virgin earth is the single hardest gardening task. But check for these things: sand, if the soil falls off the trowel in a cascade or you can see that the sand is held together by a bit of dirt, that soil will drain water away quickly and not hold nutrients well; clay, if it looks like you are slicing your trowel through partially congealed cement there is too much clay and this soil will be hard for roots to penetrate, hard for water to get to the roots, and very hard to reconstitute once it dries out and turned into something resembling lumps of gravel. The solution for the clay soil is adding two items…some sand and lots and lots of organic matter. The third soil, the Goldilocks soil, is a mix of clay, sand and organic matter and will form a soft ball in your hand when mostly dry and then crumble easily when you give it a squeeze. If you are lucky to have this soil, called loamy or friable soil, then dig in. The easy thing to do if you have a clay soil is grow in raised beds on top of it and slowly it will become softer as worms begin to work it where it touches your bedding soil.

If you are going to grow in beds, stand where you want them or take some chalk to outline them and make them as big as you want with the proviso that you are going to want to walk around them not over them. If you plan to have more than one, you have to begin as you mean to go on. Put in one but have the others planned out, preferably on paper, so the space is there when you want it.

Oliver and Dante enjoying the freshly hayed raised beds with Sugar Snap peas on the cow panel to the right and First 13 peas on the left with bamboo hoops as stakes.

There are pros and cons with raised beds. If the beds have wooden or plastic lumber sides they are hard to move and only expandable by putting in more and they can be expensive. They are easy to grow in and neat for suburban lawns. If you come to see our gardens in June you will see that some of them have no beds and the main garden is nothing but beds. We tend to grow squashes in the flat, also potatoes, but the tender vegetables and some potatoes are grown in the main garden where the many varieties can be easily tended.

If you are just starting out, don’t try to grow everything. Plant one variety of bean, or possibly two, one bush and one pole. Purchase some tomato plants at the nursery, put in a pot of basil, one of parsley, what ever other herb you like. Cucumbers are popular but need either solid trellising to keep them off the ground or mulch that is renewed throughout the summer. Why renew the mulch? Because the soil organisms eat it and you do not want those cucumbers to touch the living soil. The soil organisms won’t eat the living flesh but the skin can be abraded against the soil and then the flora and fauna will eat that decomposing flesh. Everyone wants to start with zucchini but they take a lot of room. The package says three feet in each direction (or put in at the edge of a raised bed and let it flop) but I have a photo of a zucchini frond from last summer I measured at eleven feet. We had to wade through our plants to get beyond them.

What to grow? What not to grow! Do not plant anything that you do not want to eat! If you find the flavor of Swiss Chard too minerally, as I do, then leave it out of your garden. For too many years I grew it thinking that since it is supposed to be so nutritious I should grow and cook it. Now I use that space for collard greens which I do like. On the other hand, I just started five different types of eggplant….there is no accounting for taste.

Next post will address purchasing plants versus starting them from seed…we do both.

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I’m Glad I’m Not Young, Black, Female and Living in the South

By now everyone has read about Marshae Jones and Ebony Jamison, two young, black women living in Alabama. Ms. Jones was five months pregnant and, during an argument about the father of Ms. Jones baby, Ms. Jamison pulled out a gun and shot Ms. Jones in the stomach killing her unborn baby. The grand jury refrained from charging Ms. Jamison for shooting Ms. Jones. But…the grand jury did indict Ms. Jones for manslaughter in the death of her unborn child.

If this seems like a mad perversion of the law, shocking and unreal, then get used to the new reality. We are already aware of the indignities heaped upon black people in this country, the brutality, the enforced poverty, the educational disparity, the lack of access to medical care, efforts to keep them from voting, ye gads, as they say, how much more can one group of people take? Now it is ok to shoot a pregnant women and get away with it… in fact, it is ok to shoot a pregnant woman and blame her for the death of her child.

Yes it is a war on black women. It is also a war on women of all colors. The anti-abortion laws affect all women. The laws make women slaves to biology. But they also make women extremely vulnerable to becoming victims of men. What better way to take away a young woman’s future, her education, her ability to make her way in the world than to get her pregnant and have her forced to have the child. The birth of a child is not supposed to be a tragedy but anti-abortion laws twist what is supposed to be wonderful into a travesty for those who do not want to have a child.

But lets unpack this situation. Ms. Jamison pulled out a gun and shot a bullet into the pregnant abdomen of Ms. Jones. Ms. Jamison was not charged with any unlawful act. How about assault with a deadly weapon? How about child endangerment? How about attempted murder? But no, not one charge.But Ms. Jones was charged with manslaughter because she was pregnant when Ms. Jamison attempted to murder her. The grand jury decided that since Ms. Jones started the argument she was entirely to blame for the death of her unborn child.

But in what world would any woman know that another woman would pull out a gun and try to kill her just because they were having an argument? And in what even more bizarre world would shooting someone, anyone, be consider legal just because the other person started the argument?  Logically this means that it is open season on anyone who starts an argument.

I think that there is something else going on, something far more important than the life or death of Ms. Jones baby, as horrific as that actually is and it is this: if they can make this monstrosity of a charge stick on Ms. Jones, if they can actually punish her for the death of her child and the country accepts it…as we have apparently accepted concentration camps for the children of refugees, then what else might we be gulled into accepting? My friends, we are on a very slippery slope.

We are a country of fear. Fear for the environment. Fear that the president will start a venal war with Iran. Fear that the freedom for which this country was founded will go down in flames. Fear that the super rich will call all the shots. Fear, fear, fear. And now we must fear the one thing that most women hold in the highest esteem, the thing that defines them as women, the thing that women yearn for and dream about and sacrifice for: motherhood.

If you are not outraged you are not paying attention.

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I have thought long and hard about posting this but I have become weary of the wimpy response women have about abortion. Please understand that most of the women in the US today have grown up being able to obtain safe abortions more or less on demand. They simply have not heard enough stories, lived through their own back ally abortions or lost a loved one to sepsis caused by those darn knitting needles.

What exactly is ‘slavery’? In the strictest sense it is the actual ownership of one person by another, that is, an actual deed is held which can be transferred to another person along with the ‘slave’ in the same manner as one can transfer ownership of a house or car. A ‘slave’ cannot withdraw from the arrangement that is coded in the law. The slave has no control over the use of his or her own body but must do what the owner requires…by law. And I am not talking about human trafficking here.

Now let us discuss what slavery looks like these days for ordinary women since slavery is also defined by being in a state that is comparable to being an actual slave in which freedom is restricted. And, an advance warning, this blog post is about abortion. If you find such discussions abhorrent then go read a romance novel…some of them are really well written. Reading on? Then here goes. If a women is pregnant and she wishes to terminate the pregnancy and she is prevented from doing so by law then she is a slave. Please do not try to waffle around this. Slaves do not get to do what they want with their bodies: they are bound by law to as the law decrees. There are plenty of legitimate laws telling us what we may not do to other peoples’ bodies, shooting them or striking them with our cars, for instance. But a law that restricts what we may do to our own? That is slavery.

Having babies is an absolute mandate from nature. No babies, no human race. But having a child is more than producing a live human. As has been stated often on Facebook recently, the pro-life people and the laws they are forcing on all of us are not pro-life, but pro-birth. They have no agenda beyond forcing every baby conceived to be born. No provisions made for conception due to rape, incest, or failed contraception. No provision made for the support of the child once born…and I should add, many unwanted children become wards of the state in one way or another forcing society in general to support them.

There are many reasons behind these laws from Dinnerstein’s theory in her book, “The Mermaid and the Minotour’, to the empowerment of men in keeping women barefoot and pregnant to trumped up religious arguments by people who yammer about being good Christians. I think that the desire for power over women is a large part of this and fear of women is another large part. Some put forth the idea that White Supremacy is at the root of it as white men fear that all their babies will be aborted leaving all those ‘babies of color’ left to rule the world. (And by the way, white folks are already in a huge minority in this world so that ship sailed before our ancestors left Africa). There are probably dozens more reasons including that many of the lawmakers are men who have notches or their belts already. But some of the legislators are women and all I can think of is that 53% of white women voted for Trump so they have already betrayed their sex.

We can tell what the bases for these laws are by examining the punishments handed out to the men who commit the crimes of rape or incest and the laws that govern what the male parent’s responsibilities are toward the woman and the child. The punishment does not even fit the crime, in fact, there rarely is any punishment and if there is one it is mild. The only sex offenders who get their just deserts are pedophiles and that only very recently. Women are fair game, fodder for the grist mill of male lust.

There is a partial solution to the slavery laws that are being enacted. Why not just stop having sex with men? Young women, don’t go to bars, have hen parties with friends at home, wear those pretty dresses for the girls, after all, girls look at dresses, men look at what is in them. Looking for a man on-line? Take your self off the matchmaking sites…read them carefully, most men are looking for someone to have sex with…just change your profile to fat instead of thin and watch what happens. . Dating someone? Just stop for a while. Just quit being around men as much as possible, politely decline. If questioned mention the fact that you don’t like the current laws and are afraid to take any chances with men. Don’t believe their blandishments. Shrug your shoulders and walk away. Don’t be mean, don’t explain, just don’t be available. Don’t even play hard to get, don’t flirt, just don’t put yourselves in any position where men think they have any claim on your time, your charm or your bodies. Eventually they will get the picture. Unfortunately this would not help victims of incest or rape.

But now another warning, do not read this if you cannot stand the heat. Don’t come back to me later about how ‘raw’ it was or that I could make my point without all the drama. Her name has been changed, my name has not because the story was told by her to me. When I was at Michigan State a friend of a friend met me on the sidewalk. She sat down on the curb and patted the space next to her for me to join her and then, for no reason I knew then, she told me her tale. Not too long before this she had a boy friend, a black man which in 1967 was not at all common, and she had been seven months pregnant when he took her to a friend of his, a premed student and he and another man forced her to drink alcohol, held her down, then proceeded to cut her seven month baby out of her body. When they were done they left her on the table with the body parts strewn around her. She had wanted to get an abortion in the early days but they weren’t available so she had to go on with it trusting that her boyfriend would ‘do the right thing’, which used to mean marry her, but, well, times change. At first as she told me this story she was animated but her voice became flat and she was staring off into space, or the past, and I saw that tears were streaming down her face though I don’t think she noticed them. After the story was told she sat there in silence. Finally, I asked her if I could do anything for her then but she said no, that she just wanted to sit there for a while and I should go on to class. Now, all these years later, with her story in my head as perfectly as she told it decades ago, I wonder if she, like the Ancient Mariner, has been forced by some inner demon to retell that story, over and over throughout her life in an effort to soften the pain, the sorrow, the sheer horror of what had happened to her. And it is so easy to say that at seven months she should have kept the baby and given it up for adoption or that it was not her fault as the father forced this on her, but if she had been able to get the abortion she wanted when appropriate this horror would not have happened at all. And in an effort to be compassionate according to Thich Nhat Hanh’s dictum, we have to consider the effects this had on the father and the medical student. Everyone involved suffered.

So, I am not just pro-choice, I am pro-abortion. I am pro safe, clean, compassionate, available, inexpensive or insured, non-judgmental, women supported abortion. And I want all slavery laws repealed and anti-slavery laws enacted that give women hegemony over their own bodies. Single women, married women, young women, all women. And don’t come back at me with every exception you can think of because I don’t care. Ever since listening to her story no other argument for the so called “pro-life”, anti-abortion stance has made any impression on me at all. Please support the pro abortion organization of your choice and write, write, write your representatives.



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On August 18, 2020 women in the United States will have had the vote for one hundred years. I propose that from now until then and including the presidential election in November of 2020 that no woman in the United States should vote for a man…for any office at any level. And if women run for office at any level women should vote only for them. 

Our government has been run by men mostly for the concerns and businesses of men and women and children have been sidelined over and over. Programs that benefit women and children have a hard time getting enough money to run properly. Women still do not earn what men earn for the same work. Single mothers are not encouraged or subsidized to attend school. I could go on but the clincher is that women are denied birth control and abortions in their insurance policies and also by laws. (Viagra is covered, sort of like arming the enemy).

It is time that women stopped pretending that men are doing a good job as clearly they are not. They have squandered whatever moral credit we have had in the world. We give the world war when we could give it bread. 

In view of the policies of the current administration which will harm a great many people and benefit a very few I think it is time for all good women to come to the aid of the people. Because of policies made and executed by men are dealing with ruined ground water from fracking, ruined farmland from disastrous farming methods, pollution from myriad unchecked sources like coal plants and manufacturing and plastics, chemicals spewing into the air, epidemics of diseases that no one is willing to admit might just be caused by the pollution of our food, air and water, medical costs that have remained ruinous (but not in other countries), unlabeled GMO foods constituting the biggest unexamined nutritional experiment of all time, the extinction of species here and elsewhere and, dare I say it, Global Climate Change. Please remember that Climate Change is not change for the better.

Not too many people think about this but the most important thing we do each year is harvest our crops. One year with diminished harvest would be devastating, especially for counties with already compromised soils.Two years would be catastrophic even for the US. We cannot depend forever on Canada, Peru, Chile, and Central America to fill our shopping carts. Many of our apples are shipped from New Zealand which is on the other side of the world and we already have an apple industry. We also have no control at all over the processing conditions in other countries.  Climate change has already hit some of these countries hard and as the glaciers melt water sources as old as human history will be gone as has happened already in parts of Peru. We need a national agriculture policy that promotes US grown food. We should all keep in mind that in a world of shortages no country is going to care about conditions in any other country and will instead secure their own food supplies. 

All this has happened while men have run the world. And it has happened while good men have tried to do the right things and have been thwarted by the self interests and greed of other men. I just think it is time to give women a chance to tidy up. 

I have the hope that women will run the nation like the good home makers they are, cleaning up after themselves and others, making sure dinner is on the table…for everyone, seeing that everyone gets to the doctor on time, being fiscally conservative since after all, money does not grow on trees, and in general seeing to it that needs are met, the world’s people are treated fairly and nobody gets to put their filthy boots on the sofa. 

So, in honor of one hundred years (Only!) of Women’s Suffrage I implore you, if the dog catcher position is open in your town run for it. If a select(man) position is open, run for it. If there is a spot on the school board, run for it. If there is any city, county, state or federal position open, run for it. Perhaps our slogan should be, “Run For Our Lives”.

We need to get into office and start making sensible, sustainable, suitable policy. 

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50th Coming Home

Coming home….

I’m on the plane heading for Iceland now, it is minus 65.5 out side the plane and we are at 38K feet. We talked about this trip for years, planned for it, saved for it but at the end I was not at all sure it would happen. Not for any specific reason but so many things can happen and leaving for three weeks is not something we are accustomed to doing. I planted my seeds earlier this year to have them ready to go into the ground before we left and we worked hard squaring the gardens and orchards away. There was no way we could prepare the dogs for our absence but they were well cared for. There was no reason to stay so we came away.
I can truly say that this was the trip of a lifetime and I am glad we have made it. It was the only trip I have ever really wanted to make, to just drive around England and look at it and that is exactly what we did.
This journey was wonderfully full of beauty and history. The countryside in the Cotswolds, Snowdonia National Park, the Lake District…all of Cumbria and Hadrian’s Wall and Northumbria, Yorkshire, Kent, we circumnavigated England…not as impressive as Magellan but not too shabby.
It is hard to describe how I felt in some of those places. Stonehenge is just an impressive pile of stones. Hadrian’s Wall is, well, just another stone wall…we sure have a lot of those back home. And York Minster? Just another big church. But no. All my life I have read about Stonehenge and Hadrian’s wall and I have to say, If I could only go two places in England those would be my choices. York Minster if given a third. These places made my heart and mind soar.  I just cannot use enough superlatives so please consider that I have made a fool of myself gushing about everything.
Eric’s driving also qualifies as superlative. He drove every mile without a murmur of complaint, took me everywhere I wanted to go and left when I’d had enough. I should also mention that he planned our route, got our lodgings and car, our train tickets, and threaded our way through train stations. He made this fiftieth anniversary journey work and work well.
As far as being married fifty years goes….each day is lived for itself, each month, each year. It doesn’t seem like all these years have passed, just these days and months. Sometimes I look back, far back and remember my youth, grandparents, parents, our young children, all that history that is important only to me, only to us. What is truly shocking is how brief it all seems and how infinitely precious.
But my home is precious as are my dear family, my friends, the church and all the connections, the tie lines radiating out from my heart. I am content, more than content with my lot in life. I am happy: not happy on my own but because of all of you.
Sometimes writing this blog kept me up into the night but I have enjoyed it. Theadora once said that writing her blog from her year in Manchester took some sticking to it and I agree and it’s only three weeks. A year from now Eric and I are going to read all this over and set it in our minds again: our 50th anniversary pilgrimage.
Thank you, all of you who have followed us on our journey,

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50th Westminster…Abby and Cathedral

When we ventured out of our hotel the next morning we found we were within walking distance to Westminster Cathedral and Westminster Abby: the Cathedral is Roman Catholic and the Abby is Church of England.
We visited the Cathedral first and noticed there were a few important differences from the C of E cathedrals we have been visiting. There was no charge at the door (and we did not have to pay to go to Durham Cathedral either) (a notable exception ) and prayer services and masses are said all day long. We came in at the tail end of the noon mass and just sat down. The church is made of red brick and the ceiling is plain, smoke blackened brick with no ornamentation at all and we were told that it is on purpose to make the ceiling look as if it is receding into the heavens. On the other hand, the church has side chapels down the sides of the nave and these are gorgeous. Around 150 different types of marble were used in the interior covering the walls, the floor and all of the chapels. The walls are magnificent but it is the mosaics that take one’s breath away. At first we thought we were looking at paintings but looking closer the artistry of what we were seeing became apparent. The tesserae were very small and many of them were made of golden glass, I don’t know how they did that, and the ceilings were like looking into a bit of Heaven. If I can pull some pictures off the internet I’ll put them in but there was absolutely no photography allowed in the church.  I did find some photos. They take their church mission seriously. This is a very new Cathedral since it was started in 1897. It is very close to the Abby so I am guessing it was a late Victorian thumb on the nose to the Church of England. You can see the marble in these pictures and the purposely gloomy interior.
Westminster Abby was close by so we ambled over there…in the hottest day so far…and debated whether or not to pay the piper to the tune of 17 pounds each to go in. But, we ‘shall not pass this way again’ so we went in and, and….
What can I say? Anyone can look at pictures of the Abby on line…again no photographs…but to actually be there? Not so easy. Sure the monarchs are crowned there, royal weddings take place there…but that is not what makes it totally freaked out amazing. Charles Darwin is buried there! I walked on his grave marker…a lot. Geoffrey Chaucer is buried there, and Lewis Carroll, and C.S. Lewis, and Turner and Dickens. Livingstone was carried all the way from Africa and they dug a hole in the Abby floor and stuck him in there, too. And Jane Austen, and the Brontë sisters, and Mary Anne Evens and so many more. And plaques honoring people who were buried elsewhere but contributed to the thoughts…the great thoughts of generations to come and changed the way we see the world and and its people. For me, Westminster Abby is a shrine to all these great minds, people who were swept up in time because of native ability, the right moment, and pure luck . There is also a memorial to an unknown soldier from WWI. A man was brought back, unidentified, and buried there near Livingstone. (The Poets Corner to the left) Flowers are placed around the marker and it is the only marker that no one is allowed to walk across.
It is true that kings and queens are buried there, Elizabeth I and her sister, Mary, some Edwards, I forget the numbers, but…not Henry VIII. Remember that until his reign Westminster Abby was Roman Catholic. Sort of like our church in Groton which was trinitarian until the Dedham Decision and then they had to hie off down the street leaving the property and the place on the common to those upstart, heretical Unitarians. The Abby is a crypt even if they do hold services there. We could have gone to Evensong there but after York Minster there didn’t seem to be much point.
After we left Westminster Abby we walked until we found an Italian restaurant No more steak and ale pie unless I make it myself. We had a beef and venison ragout with pasta…maybe the Italian version of steak and ale? We split an enormous bottle of Italian beer. Delicious.
And the next day….

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50th Jane Austen and Chawton House

From Canterbury we drove south west to the town where Jane Austen lived and wrote her stories. The area is very beautiful and seemingly rural but actually quite densely populated. Some kind tourists from Cambridge took our photo outside Jane’s house.

We went to Chawton House which was the home of Jane’s brother, the one who was adopted by the Knight family as they had no heir. Jane was at Chawton House a great deal, it was just down the road from her house, literally a ten minutes walk and that only because the approach to the house is so long. Chawton house is in excellent shape, the grounds are extensive and well kept and we had a quick tour. They had an exhibit of women authors who wrote bloody, horror, Gothic novels and unfortunately we did not have time to examine all those manuscripts. I read many of those novels in college and enjoyed them, silly as they were. Jane’s book, “Northanger Abby” is a gentle spoof of those novels. That is Janes desk through the window there…

These pictures are of rooms inside the house and the chapel on the property. The kitchen is particularly interesting as it has not been changed much from Austen’s day. The table is so worn that the boards are concave down their length. There is anther room that has been converted into a modern kitchen and this is where the little cafe is. 

It is easy to imagine Jane leaving her desk to walk to Chawton House to visit and to take care of her brother’s children. She did that a fair amount, not just his but her other brother’s as well. She seems to have liked the children well enough, especially her niece, Fanny, who, fifty years later disparaged Jane’s lower status in life! The ingrate. Jane was her father’s sister. However, in those days, nobility did not rub off on family members….it was the oldest son and the rest of them had to fend for themselves….or make ‘brilliant’ marriages. ‘Tho, I also suppose one could trade on one’s connections…That’s me in the doorway of Chawton House where Jane walked up those very steps many times….I am presuming on my connections…

We drove on to Oxford and left the car at the Eurocar office. That car took us 1650 miles and a bit around the country for three weeks. It was quiet, efficient and it had a navigation system so good, so finely tuned that it could tell us when to turn no matter where we were. It made the trip worry free and the man at the car rental just gave it to us for free. 

We took the train to London and a cab to our hotel, The Lord Milner, and on the way the cabbie insisted we download the cab company app so he could give us 15 pounds off our fare…that being our first trip, so we did and our fair was next to nothing. I mean really, people have been very nice to us.

Then we had one day in London…..


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50th Pilgrimage To Canterbury

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour;

Our pilgramage to Canterbury to pause and reflect where Thomas Becket was murdered began as we sat in a punt with other pilgrims and journeyed into the city. Some of the pilgrims were from Spain and one very beautiful lady was from Nepal, Kathmandu to be precise, and we, as you know, journeyed over the water from the lands to the far west. We were a  motley crew in the truest sense of the phrase.

Our guide punted us along one of the canals of the Stour river. The bridges along the canal are very low and we had to keep our heads down.  One of the bridges had an indigenous population of hay spiders which, we were told, we were not to disturb.  Another pilgrimage led us to an ancient breed of Roman snails which were told not to put in our pockets to eat later…as if we would eat those hay 🕷 spiders! The very idea!

We visited a memorial to a pilgrimage that took place in 1389 or so. I don’t know why their tales are any better than ours but that’s history for you. We had to pay a penny to go in and I’ll tell you, I was saving that penny for a big mug of ale and a beef pie for my dinner. But it was worth it to see those pilgrims of yore and hear their tales…that old dame had five husbands (not all at once) and she choose the last one because she admired his thighs as he carried her forth deceased husband’s casket! Now that’s a women…keeping her priorities straight. That’s her telling her tale and below her are some of the other characters who told tales. 

We finally made it to Canterbury cathedral and you would be surprised at the terrible shape it is in! There were stone masons and painters and sculptures working all over the place. I mean, I’d say it isn’t even all that old but in truth, they have been building and rebuilding that church for a thousand years so I shouldn’t be too put out that we couldn’t see the ceiling of the nave. They put a wooden ceiling up there because thay had to take the lead roof off, melt it down, recast it and put it back up.  If there is a hole water will find it….I use straw and daub on my roof and it doesn’t work any where near as well as lead. They have carved new statues to replace some that are weather worn and that stained glass! It’s beautiful but it takes a lot of care. It’s a good thing that the lottery the Queen has going puts coin into it. Imagine, gambling to repair a church! It fairly makes my head swim. The people must be grateful because there are new statues of the Queen and her consort on the front of the cathedral.

An interesting thing about this church is that is is not level. The ground rises toward the quire and there are steps leading up in several places. When we visited the crypt we were surprised to see windows it was that high. Instead of digging all that ground away they just adapted the building to fit.

But they have to keep the place up for us pilgrims so we can visit the place Becket was offed by King Edward II. He made Becket Archbishop because he thought that he could control the church better but Becket began to become the role and they differed on who got to do what. After Becket’s death Edward want on a pilgrimage of his own and walked two miles barefoot in the snow to show his contrition. He didn’t mean to have him killed and tried to call the men back when he found out what they intended. He was very sorry because Becket was his closest friend. We visited the exact place Becket was murdered and I’ll tell you, it gives one the chills what with those swords on the wall behind! And that doggone Henry VIII! He destroyed Beckets tomb. But folks have the last laugh, there is a always candle burning in the exact spot of his tomb. 

Like so many places of worship, Canterbury Cathedral was sacked by King Henry VIII. Beckets tomb was destroyed and his body was taken and no one knows where. By the way, the only reason York Minster was not sacked is because King Henry died while his men were on their way to York and they turned back. I imagine that many of the men really did not want to desecrate places they had worshiped in all their lives.

I hadn’t considered it before but right from the start of this journey, Eric and I have been on a pilgrimage. We both love British humor and television series. We were young watching Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Monty Python, the James Bonds and so many more. I have read Chaucer, the English poets, authors, and the rich history. When we were in Bala, Wales our hostess, Llio, told me that my family, the Edwards’, are from that area and that there are many families with that name still there. So, yes, a pilgrimage. And more to come as tomorrow we journey to….


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50th Durham and York

I shall begin with a disclaimer….By now you are aware that Eric and I have visited a number of places of worship starting with Stonehenge, then Salisbury, then Glouster, then the temple at Hadrian’s Wall. There was no place of worship at Carnarvon Castle or we probably would have gone there. While getting to these auspicious places we drove through the most astonishingly beautiful countryside. Yes, the USA is beautiful and I am patriotically going to say that it is more beautiful. But…the countryside around Hadrian’s Wall and that around Haltwhistle and somewhat beyond, Northumbria I think, was hills beyond hills, valleys and streams, just breathtaking vistas.
Another guest at The Gray Bull in Haltwhistle told us we must visit the cathedral at Durham witch is on the way to York….so we did, consistent with our policy to go where the locals point us. Durham Cathedral is Norman architecture, not ornate. The architect who designed it tried a new roof style that allowed this stone roof to sore many stories about the floor of the nave. Columns six meters in circumference and six meters in height supported somewhat smaller columns going up and up. The wider bases were all decorated with carving, rather simple but effective. The thing is, no photos were allowed inside the cathedral ….none at all…so I got a couple on line. You can see the carving on the posts and the pews for size comparison. No photo can do any justice to these immense churches. There was no charge to go into the building either as there mostly is in these big churches. The national lottery gives money to help these cathedrals…and smaller churches. It is the only way to preserve them as it costs so much to run them (18,000 pounds a day at Salisbury and 20,000 at York). Even British people are surprised at this cost. We do our bit here just as we do at First Parish.
Besides being stunning, Durham holds the earthly remains of St. Cuthburt and The Venerable Bede. Maybe you have heard of them. Both were ascetics and both were heads of their church’s..more than one. Cuthburt was a pious, gentle, generous man, a true friend of the poor and did much to spread Roman Christianity in Anglo Saxon times and also ministered to the Danes who came to English shores to pillage and stayed to worship and raise families.
The Venerable Bede (his tomb to the left)  is famous in religious and secular worlds because of his extensive writings. Two of these stand out, the famous Historia Ecciesiastica gentis Anglorum…translated as the Christian History of the English People. completed in 731 and that garnered him the title “Father of English History”. He also wrote “De Temporum Ratione”, “The Reckoning of Time”, in which book he delineated the method of determining the date of Easter (first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox) which was accepted at the Synod of Whitby. He also, building on an earlier genius’ work developed our dating system A.D. and B.C. (Now a bit changed but essentially the same) because before that it was a mishmash of dates according to the reigns of various kings. He also, based upon his belief that the earth was the center of the solar system, developed an entire computational apology for the phases of the moon, tides, eclipses, etc.. A bit misguided but a man of great intellect. And for the record, a man who did his best to bring harmony to the fractured times he lived in. I met this guy in seminary so I was amazed and filled with wonder to be standing before his grave.

Then on to York (which I am always trying to spell, “yolk”) which has the magnificent York Minster. Called that because originally it had no cathedra, Bishop’s chair, and therefore was not a ‘cathedral’. The official name is The Cathedral of St. Peter but people still use the older name. This cathedral, like all the others, was a center of learning and employment.

There is a dragon in York Minster that is actually a balance beam lift.  The diagram of how it works is on the left and the dragon on the right and they probably used it to lift the lid off the baptismal font…they had some really large ones. 
I love this cathedral. I wanted to see Salisbury Cathedral but it didn’t capture my heart and York Minster did. (The refurbished window in the Mary Chapel). 
We have been at Evensong in Salisbury and in Glouster and now in York Minster. If I lived in York I would be there then as often as possible. The service was just as lovely as the others, (the choir master in Glouster was better) but the organist! He did not stint with stops. The postlude was the Allegro from the Sixth Symphony by Widor. You can google that but your speakers won’t do it justice. It shook the cathedral! I could almost feel it in my bones and I had the fantasy that the sound waves were penetrating my body and reverberating there.   The organ loft…Since I was there last, in 2007, they refurbished the window in the Mary Chapel. (The quire is behind the lecturn…we sat on the left). (Wall memorial to the men of Patton’s army with whom Eric’s dad served as Chaplin in WWII). All the cathedrals are putting thermal glass on the outside of their windows to help preserve them. Some of those stained glass windows are around a thousand years old and rebuilding them and saving them is, besides expensive, difficult and time consuming and so worth it. Durham is a World Heritage site just as Stonehenge is. There are the ruins of a Roman garrison beneath York Minster and the surrounding old town. This garrison held an entire legion of 5000 men, five times the size of the fort at Hadrian’s Wall. This was a major Roman center from which they deployed men to various areas to ‘keep the peace’, which, until they were recalled to Rome, they did admirably. These remains were found when, back in the ‘50s, they excavated to find out why the central tower was sagging. It was built on the remains of previous foundations which were not adequate to hold up any part of York Minster. (Here is an archeologist in the ‘50s finding the rubble holding up the tower and a picture of what they were saving). Under that they found the garrison, which in its hay day was many times bigger than the cathedral enclosure.
It was getting late and we were hungry so we walked down to a street called The Shambles, which is the oldest intact street in the country. It is narrow, the buildings are small and I can see it being used for movie scenes. We ate at an Italian place and I have to tell you that Papa Razzi and Maggiano’s are both very much better…and this place wasn’t all that bad. We’re just spoiled.
Then we drove back to our room to sleep so we will be rested for our long drive tomorrow to….

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