A Good Home, Art, Artists, Beautiful Neighborhoods, Bond Head, Butterflies, Canadian life, Canadians, Children, Country Homes, Country Living, Couples, Homes, Inspiration, Joyful Moments, San Miguel de Allende, Teaching Children Art

At Home with Sandra Walton-Ball

David Walton-Ball opens the door of his summer home, east of Toronto, and is greeted by a child looking up at him:

“Can Sandra come out to play?”

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra and David in Orchard

Sandra — you may be surprised to hear —  is not a child.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra's Studio Wall

She’s David’s wife, a talented artist whose work hangs in galleries in Canada and Mexico.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra Painting of Island

Blog Photo - Artist Sanda Painting side viewNeighborhood children gravitate towards her and she loves them. So she teaches children to create their own artwork.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra and Student

She and the children have developed a system at her small studio at the summer house.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra stands at work table

If this sign is up, Sandra can’t come out to play.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra's Sign

In Mexico where she and David spend the winter, Sandra teaches art to children whose parents can’t afford to pay for lessons.

“We put on Andrea Bocelli and the children sing along.”

San Miguel de Allende is home to many artists from Canada and the U.S.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra and Leonard's painting

Years ago, Sandra met Leonard Brooks, an esteemed artist who started the Canadian and American migration to San Miguel. They became friends. That’s one of his paintings behind her, above.

Music playing, the children in her studio sing and paint. This is her gift to them and their families: encouraging the children’s creativity. She introduces them to the styles of Mexican artists such as Frida Kahlo.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra Gesticulates

You wouldn’t know that, nearly 20 years ago, Sandra was so ill, she was on life support for months. It took her 15 years to start painting confidently again.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra Reaches for brush

Once recovered, she decided to take more risks with her art. And so wherever she is – in Owen Sound, the family’s main base, or in San Miguel de Allende, or here at the summer home near Toronto, she’s painting – doing “gutsier and more experimental work”.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra's Yellow Flower painting

“When something happens to disrupt your life, you recognize that things can happen and you may not get a chance again – so you start taking risks.”

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra's Framed painting Abstract

David hired someone to turn half of the garage into a studio with skylights, and there’s been no looking back.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra Studio Outside

Generations of the Walton-Ball family have lived in Historic Bond Head for about 150 years.

During World War 2, the family planted and supplied potatoes to all their neighbours.

(Another historical tidbit: David’s first ancestor in Canada is the “Walton” for whom Port Hope’s main street is named. Port Hope, a famous heritage community, is near Bond Head.)

Blog Photo - Artist Sadnra window garden

Through 50 years of marriage, Sandra has seen how special the place is to David. It’s grown on her.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra in Sunroom wicker chair

“I fall in love with it each summer. Each year my garden grows. And now, like Virginia Wolfe, I have a room of my own, so it’s easier to find my heart.” 

They love this place for the history, the house, the studio, the family times, the garden and the orchard. Some of the apple trees are more than a hundred years old.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra and David Picking apples

One summer, Monarch butterflies visited Sandra and David here. (Monarchs fly from Mexico all the way to Canada each summer and back.)

“You couldn’t see a leaf,” Sandra says. “The trees were covered with Monarchs.”

That magical event led to this painting….

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra Butterflies CU

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra's Butterfly painting

… and a gift: a butterfly chair from David.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra and Chair

“Perhaps the Monarchs were saying thanks for all your good works with the children in Mexico?” I ask.

“Perhaps,” Sandra replies.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra Wheelbarrow with flowers

To learn more about Sandra’s work, or to acquire her paintings, email: swaltonball@gmail.com

A Good Home, Architecture, Barns, Bond Head, Bond Head Harbour, Canada, Canadian History, Canadian life, Children, Country Homes, Country Living, Faith, Family Stories, Grieving, Heritage Homes, historic neighborhoods, Home, Homes

To Everything, A Season – Pt. 5, Ebor House series

*

*SPOILER ALERT: You may wish to read Pt. 4 before this one.*

**

My ancestors had a saying when asked why some of their relatives had married first cousins:

“Cousin and cousin make good soup.”

The Farncomb family must have made a lot of good soup.

Frederick married his cousin Jane.

Son John married his cousin — another Jane.

Younger son Alfred married his cousin Hannah.

But let’s go back to 1867.

**

Frederick inherited money from his uncle Thomas Farncomb, the wealthy Lord Mayor of London, England. He and Jane bought more land in Bond Head, and hired a Toronto architect to draw up the plans.

The house was built in 18 months between 1868 and 1869.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Front 2

Three of the Farncomb sons – William, John and Frederick Edward – became Anglican priests.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Anglican church in Fenelon Falls

Blog Photo - Ebor House Rev. Farncomb in church

Two others – Alfred and Thomas – became doctors.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Entrance

Alfred became a popular and influential general practitioner in the Newcastle area. His wife Hannah appears to have helped him with the record-keeping. She was a skillful host of weddings and other special gatherings at Ebor House. She was also the organist at the family church, St. George’s Anglican, for 40 years.

In 1895, John, who’d been posted to various Anglican churches in Ontario, returned home to St. George’s as the Reverend Canon John Farncomb … a nice step up from being an ordinary priest, He was a well-respected rector.

~~

Blog Photo - Ebor House - B and W photo of St. George's

He’d married cousin Jane in 1880 and they had five children. Two sons, Frederick Charles and John Robson, went to Trinity College, a prestigious private school in nearby Port Hope that previous Farncombs had attended.

In the summer of 1901, the boys were 16 and 18 years old. They were home for the holidays. 

Lake Ontario held tragic memories for their father John and the older Farncombs; John’s brother Charles had drowned at the Bond Head Harbour at 14 years of age.

But there was a nice sandy beach at Bond Head, and it was a popular spot for both adults and young people alike. I imagine that on the first hot days of their summer holidays, the boys could hardly wait to put down their school stuff, shuck off their school uniforms and head to the nearby lake for a swim. 

Blog Photo - Ebor House Entrance lookign to lawn 3

But August 11 was different.  Frederick and his brother John did not return home that day. Both drowned in a boating accident in Lake Ontario. 

It was as if the world had come crashing down on the Farncombs.

The tragedy made the news far and wide – even the New York Times carried the story.

~~

Blog Photo - Ebor House and Bond Head harbour

Parents who have experienced it will tell you that the worst thing that can happen is to lose a child.

Jane and John lost not one, but two children in one day.

Two beloved sons gone.

And now, John and Jane were expected to grieve, but carry on.

Perhaps onlookers thought that a priest and his wife would have some special way of coping with tragedy. Perhaps they thought that with three priests and two doctors in the family, there would be plenty of comfort and strength – that everything would be alright.

But everything was not alright.

~~

St. George's Anglican

The boys died in August 1901, and John, Jane and their remaining children left St. George’s Church before the year was over. John served at another parish for several years.

How did they cope?

One imagines they tried hard to get over the loss.

That they relied on each other, their families and their faith.

But – as happens with many parents who lose a child – Jane fell apart, and, in his own way, so did John. She died in 1914, broken. He followed three years later.

~~

In the century that followed the boys’ deaths, momentous events took place in the world.

 

Blog Photo - Ebor House - Normany Landing

The first and second world wars, in which many Canadians fought.

The great depression.

A man landing on the moon.

The cold war between the west and Russia.

And these were just a few.

Blog Photo - Ebor House

Ebor House lived through them all.  Despite tragedies, it occupied a special place in the Farncomb family – as their ancestral home, and a busy family dwelling to successive generations.  It appears to have been full of activity inside and out.

Frederick Farncomb’s granddaughter Helen (daughter of Alfred) married Reginald Le Gresley and they operated the farm.

The huge barn on the property, Newcastle Dairy, produced 1,000 quarts of milk each week.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Newcastle Dairy  Bottle

They hired outside help for the farm and dairy, but the whole Le Gresley family worked there – adults and children alike.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Barns and hydrangea

There were also many fun times, especially for the children.

There was a creek nearby for fishing and a beach for swimming.

Neighborhood children to play with. And the knowledge that their parents were within hollering distance from wherever they played.

~~

The records show that Frederick Farncomb died in 1893 and his wife Jane died in 1905.

Blog Photo - Ebor House F Farncomb

The house passed to their son Alfred (the doctor) then to Helen, Alfred’s daughter, then to Helen’s son Balfour. He was the last Farncomb to own Ebor House.  He held on to the house for some years before selling it to Ron.

Blog Photo - Ebor House ron sits on table

Not much was written or said about John and Jane Farncomb in the decades after their deaths, even within the family.  Their shared tragedy seems to have haunted their lives to the very end. 

As if to make sure their part in the family history was remembered, one or more Farncomb descendants had a memorial stone made for the couple in recent years.

The wording is one of the most moving I’ve ever read.

Photo by Laura
Photo by Laura

“Heartbroken on drowning of sons Frederick and John Farncomb.”

~~

Click here for Part 6: The series ends with a twist.

A Good Home, Flowers, Garden, Gardening, Gardens, Home, Writers

The Guilty Gardener

Blog Photo - Garden - Rose

I love gardening.

But for a smart person, I can be really stupid. 

**

A pain-filled fall and winter got worse as we headed toward spring: the few times I went out, I caught something.

Flu.

Bronchitis.

A cough that wouldn’t end.

Photo by Hamlin Grange
Photo by Hamlin Grange

Worn out and afraid of falling, I rarely even went into the garden.

Stuck in bed, I tried to write my way back to sanity and health.

Spring came.

Blog Photo - Garden - Roses in Boxwood Garden

And then.

“You’ve relapsed,”  the specialist said flatly during my hospital visit.

“Guilty,” I replied. “Sorry.”

“Do NOT feel guilty,” she answered.  “It was an awful winter. All my patients with complex injuries had a very tough time.”

“But your immune system is also weak,” she warned.  “Be very careful this spring.”

I listened.

I promised.

And I was. Blog Photo - Garden - Working in Garden1And then.

It was gardening season.

Day after day, my husband worked hard in the garden.

I watched, feeling entirely useless.

He left, on an errand.

Blog Photo - Garden - working in Garden 2And then.

I spied a large crop of forget-me-not growing into the lawn from the garden beds.  I know they bug him, and I know they’re easy to dig with a trowel. And so I thought I’d help.

A small thing.

A good thing.

I could do this. Blog Photo - Garden FMN straying into lawn I crouched over the lawn and started digging, feeling useful. When the back and leg pain intensified, I lay on my front, face just above the grass.

I dug, sneezing as dust went into my nose.

Then I spied a few dandelions nearby. Now I crouched over them, trowel engaged.

“Stop!” said my wiser self.

I listened.

I meant to.

In just a few seconds. Blog Photo - Garden - Butterfly on Mint

And then.

My sense of time did not kick in. It rarely does.

When I got up, the pain almost knocked me out. I staggered. Stumbled. Fought against falling, my cane desperately trying to find purchase in the ground.

“Cynthia! Cynthia!” came the panicked shout.

I had not heard my husband return.

Blog Photo - Garden in late Spring I ask you: which is worse?

To watch your partner struggle to do the gardening duties that you loved doing — on top of everything else on his plate? Or risk even worse pain — and his distress — by doing a few small gardening things to help? Blog Photo - Garden - working in garden 3 Blog Photo - Garden compost bags Some days, I’m almost used to the pain. It’s with me all the bloody time.

But the guilt? I never get used to the guilt of watching him do all the gardening work. It drives me nuts.

“Why do you do this?”  He shook his head, frustrated and angry. “You know better!”

Yes I do.  Blog Photo - Garden in shadows

So I’m obeying the doctor. Again.

Sparing my husband distress. Again.

Trying to cope with guilt. Again.

All stuff that requires a person to be not just smart, but wise.

So far, so good.

Wish me luck.

**

Dedicated to all gardeners who are struggling due to age, illness or pain. And to the caring people who help us: thank you.

A Good Home, Book lovers, Books, Daughters, elderly Parents, Family, Family Matriarch, Family Stories, Gardening Books, Gardens, Great books, Home

Vivian Shapiro, a Woman Who Loves Books

The little girls in this photo are Vivian, on the right, and her sister Roslyn.

Their childhood home had a vast library and Vivian loved reading books.

Classics for Junior Readers, the eleven volumes of The Foundation Library for Young People and the family’s encyclopedia were among her childhood favorites.

“My father was a very accomplished man (lawyer, Member of Parliament for Ontario, the founder and first President of the Mt. Sinai Hospital, first violinist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra)  and he always encouraged my reading and learning as a child.

“So reading was something I always did.”

Vivian was so bright that she skipped grades in school.

She graduated from the University of Toronto with a bachelor of household science degree and worked as a dietitian till shortly after her marriage.  She and her husband Bud had three daughters.

Blog Photo - Vivian's Portrait

Daughter Arna, a retired English teacher and now  a writer and proofreader, read A Good Home and gave a copy to her mother.

“When I asked my Mom how she liked the book, she said it was one of the best she had ever read! And considering she had been reading for a good 90 years, that would be a lot of books!”

I gulped with delight and asked: “Why?

Vivian replied: “I can picture all of her houses – her descriptions are so vivid. I can still see the house up on a hill. It brought back memories of travelling in the Caribbean and different stages of my life.”

Vivian and Bud
Vivian and Bud on their 70th anniversary

“Two of the best things about books are that we can travel to different times and places through them, and we can learn something new with each one.”  

Vivian, Arna and granddaughter at 96th birthday party
Vivian at 96th birthday party with daughter Arna and granddaughter Heather

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is still one of Vivian’s all-time favorites.

Bud died a few years ago. At 96, and no longer able to walk, Vivian spends much of her time in her room.  Reading, she says, is “a wonderful diversion at this stage of life when outings and new experiences are limited.” 

While Arna was proofreading the manuscript for my second book (Beloved Gardens) she asked my permission to read the book to her mother. Of course, I agreed.

Arna reported:

“It gives me great pleasure to look at my Mom sitting in her wheelchair with a big smile on her face. Or sometimes she nods her agreement to whatever Cynthia wrote. 

“Sometimes she closes her eyes (still smiling) and I know that she is visualizing the scene. When I told her that the finished book would include lovely photos, she said that it didn’t really need pictures as she could see everything clearly just from the words. The book takes her on a journey in her mind.”  

Blog Photo - Vivian at 96

“These are the kind of books you can read over and over again,” says Vivian. “They make you smile and they make you cry. Because the book is so picturesque, I can think back and the memories are lovely.”

And you are the kind of reader authors love, Vivian!  Thank you most kindly for loving books, including mine.