Archive | March 2014

Lady Bells

Current 19 piece collection of lady bells

Current 19 piece collection of lady bells

I am a hopeless collector.  One of my greatest weaknesses is brass or bronze tea bells shaped like women in full skirts.  These lady bells are usually vintage or antique and were once the method the well-to-do used to call a servant into a room.  The mistress of the house would ring the bell for tea. Or anything else she required.

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leg clappers

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feet clappers

Appearing in many shapes and designs and representing fashions through the ages, the bells can be valuable.  They range in size from very tiny, under 3″ tall, to large, over 7″.  The best bells have leg-shaped clappers.  Some of the most intricate and beautiful bells were made in Russia.  They look more like art sculptures than servant summoners.  I have yet to afford a Russian lady bell.

Because a majority of the wealthy lived in Europe and the United Kingdom during the past couple hundred years, more bells can be found in these areas than in America.  The European bells often are better made and more highly detailed than counterparts in this country.

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Worn faces on antique bells

Wear to the bell is a very important consideration.  The hand naturally holds the bell at the head, usually right over the face.  As a result, decades of use rub the facial features down until sometimes the lady has no face at all.  Very sad.

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Detailed faces with expressions

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Lady in fine ball gown with intricate detailing

My collecting criteria are exacting.  The bell must be well made, no rough edges or weak places in the metal from poor manufacturing. Better quality bells have the excess material between the arms and body removed to create open space.  Details must be crisp and finely crafted.  Over the years, bells were copied by other manufacturers, using an original bell to form a mold.  The resulting product was always more crude with poorly defined details.

Highly detailed clothing

Highly detailed clothing

Other requirements include that the face be as complete as possible and the original brass clappers be present, leg clappers are a bonus.  The brass should be clean, but not overly polished, the patina of age is desirable.  By no means is it acceptable for a brass bell to have been painted over.  Such bells are hideous and may never be made right, no matter how hard one works to remove the paint.  Finally, the bell should have a sweet ring.

Ladies in crinoline from the 1860s

Ladies in crinoline from the 1860s

Some larger bells sound similar to cowbells.  This can’t be avoided, due to the size.  These must have been used in very grand houses where the servants were far away.  I’m not sure how genteel it would have been for a delicate lady to ring a very large, cowbell-toned instrument.  Preferable to yelling, I suppose.

Regional costumes

Regional costumes

Tudor styles

Medieval and Tudor styles

1700s attire

1700s attire

My current collection stands at nineteen. On my last trip to England in February, I purchased two bells and brought them home in my luggage.  I have acquired examples of the main types of bells available including ladies in crinoline, in Tudor dress and in eighteenth century styles.  There are several regional ones from places like Wales–the lady wears a tall, cone-shaped hat and holds knitting–to Teutonic milkmaids, to Dutch girls.

19 lovely ladies

19 lovely ladies

Lia's first lady bell

Lia’s first lady bell

These bells are tiny bits of history.  I love to ring them and share them with my granddaughter. She chimes the bells gleefully and closely examines the clappers. The lucky girl received from her great-grandmother her first lady bell for her second birthday last week.  One day she will be able to add all my collection as well.

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Our Cats and Kitty Litter

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Toby

Since I was a very young child, cats have been my companions.  They are loving little friends, always ready to snuggle or offer a comforting purr when a person is feeling low.  There are few down sides to cats as far as I’m concerned, but one has always been the litter pans.

Because we live beside a high speed road and in a rural area full of cat predators, my furry little pals usually are house cats who go outside only in a large caged run or on a leash.  Litter pans are necessary.  For most of the years I’ve had cats, good old clay litter was the pan filler.  When clumping litter was introduced, I switched.  It did make cleaning the pans easier and also helped reduce odors. Still, litter pans are smelly and need frequent scrubbing.

I keep the cats’ pans in an unheated, concrete-floored woodshed attached to the house.  In the winter, the waste is often frozen so odors are less of a problem.  The summer heat and humidity encourage growth of bacteria that turn urine to ammonia, creating the offensive stink.  No matter what clay litter I used, the odor was a problem.  I even tried adding stall freshener for horses to no avail.

Then, about a year ago, I discovered a new product.  Made of pine and cedar wood and corn, the granules are fine and lightweight.  The litter has a fresh, pine smell that cuts odors.  It clumps around liquids, though not quite as hard as clumping clay litter.  It is superior to any other litter I have tried with my cats.  As a vet tech, over the course of my eleven years employment caring for hundreds of cats, I’ve used most types of litter, even the pelleted newspaper and the crystals.  This wood and corn litter is better at fighting odor.

The organic based litter is also better for the environment.  Clay for cat litter must be mined and is a limited resource.  Pine, cedar and corn are renewable resources.  The wood is sourced from scrap and waste from manufacturing processes.  When it is time to throw out the litter and scrub the pans, the plant-based litter is easier to dispose of than clay litter.

After a year with the new litter, I am very pleased.  So are the cats, I believe.  The odor in summer is greatly reduced.  I no longer have to use the horse stall freshener.  There is much less dust.  The waste weighs considerably less, this litter is much lighter than clay.  I use less litter, overall, and have to change the pans less often.

There are only two problems with the litter that I’ve found.  The small, light-weight grains carry farther on the cats’ feet than clay litter.  I have to sweep around the pans more often.  Also, the clumping material in the litter, I believe it is a corn starch based compound, will sometimes adhere to the sides of the pan and must be scrubbed off.  It will not dissolve well in water.  These two issues are minor for me.  I am very willing to overlook them for the greatly improved air quality.

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Litter made of pine, cedar and corn

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Molly

What a pleasure it is to walk out in the room with the litter pans on a hot summer day and smell only the fresh scent of pine.  The Phoenix Farm cats approve!

More Algarve Portugal

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Beach at Armacao de Pera

Back in Maine after a seven day stay in the Algarve of Portugal, the return to winter is a rude shock. The Algarve, the southern or bottom region of Portugal, borders the Atlantic just before the waters become the Mediterranean.  The weather is very similar to that of coastal regions farther east in the warm areas of the Sun Coast of Spain, the beaches of Provence, France and the coast of Italy. It is an arid region with plenty of sun.  The cool waters of the Atlantic are more chilly to swim than those of the Mediterranean.

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Fossil shells in the sandstone cliff

The Algarve coastline consists chiefly of very tall sandstone cliffs, perhaps a hundred feet or more in height, that are a pale orange and yellow and riddled with layers of petrified shells.  Interspersed among the cliffs are numerous pocket beaches and also some very long expanses of open beach with marshy lowlands. The sandstone of the cliffs is easily eroded, creating endless sea stacks and cave grottoes.  Shown above is a pocket beach with a tiny natural doorway in the bottom of the cliff that I climbed through when the tide was up.  My footprints were the only ones in the sand.

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Sea stacks near Lagos

Near our hotel a farmer kept a small herd of goats.  He took the animals out in the evening to free graze on the top of the cliffs.  The nimble goats raced and jumped along knife edge trails.  Any second I expected to see a goat fall cartwheeling from the heights, but no animals were lost.

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Goats on the cliffs

Although the climate is arid, the Algarve teems with plant and animal life.  Birds call all day and small reptiles and mammals scurry in the underbrush. Orange, lemon, tangerine and other citrus, and fig trees grow in orchards and in peoples’ yards.  Olives and grapes are abundant.  Agave and cactus plants pop up everywhere and flowers abound.  On a walk to the mercado (grocery store) I passed this lovely little wild orchid thriving in a neglected planter.  It is the common Mirror Orchid, so named for the reflective purple-blue central area of the flower.

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I wish our stay in Portugal could have been longer, but duty calls and all vacations must end.

One day I hope to return to the Algarve to further explore the coastline and surrounding mountains. This region was the last to leave Moorish control and medieval buildings or their ruins are on my list of future explorations.