Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Moving along….in more ways than one

I have been asked how things are moving along at Tahilla Farm…our home away from home in New Hampshire. So much has happened, so quickly, that I am not sure where to begin.

For the love of a little farmhouse…
For those of you who are new to Collage of Life…the Tahilla Farm story began in 2012 with a search for a house down a country road…somewhere in New England. I found it in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire. The property (35 acres) has a historic colonial house built in 1790, a barn and a carriage house. Once we bought the house we started thinking….and haven't stopped.

An eye to a meadow and a stone wall,  Tahilla Farm,  July, 2014

The land...
There was a time when our little house overlooked far distant fields, most likely for animal grazing. Since then, and we are not sure how long it has been, trees and more trees reclaimed the land.  In between the trees, we caught a glimpse of a mountain top. With the help of landscape designer, Gordon Hayward, a plan was developed to bring back the fields, meadows and a view to the mountain. Gordon then introduced us to forester, Swift Corwin and master stone craftsman, Dan Snow. Our luck was with us.  In 2013 and 2014 trees were cleared, the land was tilled and broken down fieldstone walls took their rightful place once again.

View to a mountain, before and after…Tahilla Farm,  2012 and 2014

The house...
If you refer to the picture below, you will see that there are three parts to our house. The original home, built in 1790 and two wings, left and right. The one on the left contained the master bedroom. The one on the right, the kitchen, dining, porch and guest room. The 1790 section has two bedroom with adjacent baths, a finished attic, and the original study and keeping room. Although it was well suited to the previous owner, an elderly woman living on her own, we knew it would not suit our big bustling extended family who frequently visit. We set the ideas in motion with the help of Sheldon Pennoyer, our insightful architect who takes all our crazy ideas in stride.

The "before" photo, taken August 2014

In the past six weeks, a team of industrious men and women have been hard at work taking it all apart and starting anew.  In the historic house, we are replacing the siding, insulating and replacing the roof, replacing windows, putting fireplaces back in working order and changing bathroom fixtures. The team recently finished building a new foundation, see photos below. Our little 1790 house will withstand the element for many years to come…holding back rain and wind, keeping the occupants inside comfy and cozy during the winter months.

Sheldon's plans for 1790 upgrade

What will be…
From the historic section of the house we will once again have a "family wing" which will contain an open plan kitchen/living space, extended day porch, entry porch, foyer, half bath and mudroom.  The operative word in this section will be "windows" there will be plenty of them. Our views will be to the west and the east, taking in mountain views to the east and a woodland setting to the west.

The "master wing" went back to the drawing board for a second time after the removal of our old and ailing maple tree, "Martha" in August When she came down and exposed views to the mountain, we scrapped our plans and decided to reconfigure the space to take advantage of the mountain views. Our views will extend to the east and south.

In addition to all of this, we are moving our barn back a few feet to allow for all the changes.

I thought it would take weeks to take down the two wings and just as long to dismantle the barn. Not so…I think it took three days…max.   BOOM..down and out.

View to "family wing" foundation, far left and the barn, above.

In just six weeks, two wings have come down, two foundations have been poured, with one more to go for the master wing. We are nearly there.

You might ask how I am keeping my sanity through it all. The answer: complete trust in the team we selected to do the job. We have every confidence in their ability and with just six weeks down and many more to go, we have not doubted our decision. I am sure there will be surprises along the way, we have already had a few. I will be back in a few weeks to check on the progress, in the meantime, I remain optimistic…and somewhat sane. 

Through the miles...

I mentioned that things were moving along in more ways than one...
I seem to be in a constant state of motion as well. I am writing this post from Hong Kong. Last week I was home in Saigon and the week before that in Laos. Next week I am back in Saigon and then off to Sydney…and then the USA. In fact over the next six months, I will be counting more air miles than ever before. Two trips to Australia, two trips to the USA, back to Hong Kong, a trip to Japan..and it goes on. I am not complaining but I admit it is challenging in the face of the travel risks we face today. All I can do is fly smart, consider where I am going and plan accordingly. The one things that keeps me going is that all these trips are connected to visiting with my children. I would go to any length to be with them…even travelling around the world and back again.

A busy year?…you betcha! Though all the miles I keep my sights set on my family and a little farmhouse down a country road. It's worth the miles!

Before I go…I always like to leave you with a little something that will hopefully brighten your day.

While working at Tahilla Farm this summer I created a playlist of my favourite songs. They suit the environment, a little bit folksy..and thoughtful. I am thinking you might like a few of them too. I hope you do!


Build Me Up From Bones by Sara Jarosz

With that I say farewell and send you best wishes..
wherever you are in this crazy world of ours.

Jeanne :)

I post regularly on Instagram.
You can find me here.
Hope to chat with you over there as well!

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

An extraordinary travel Laos

Imagine for a moment, that you are lounging on a private longboat, floating down the Mekong River along the shores of Luang Prabang in Laos. The day is yours, you are there to experience life on the mighty Mekong and have until well after sunset to do so. You are in the capable hands of a knowledgeable guide who is only to happy to share the beautiful countryside that is her home, a place you know little about. You hop off and on the boat happily taking in all the sights around you...cameras at the ready. Your guide looks at you quizzically with each disembarkment, it is an all too familiar look...three cameras? You are grateful she does not ask...because, yes, three cameras are necessary and you do not want to explain why. Time is of the essence. You are even more grateful for your travel partners, husband and son, who will fill you in on anything you might miss as you wander on your own. They know you well...and have the patience of saints.

The hours pass, the sun slowly drops behind the are are astonished by the beauty around you.  And then you see it, the gentle the sway of the curtains as they embrace the afternoon sun. That is the moment when you is one you will never forget. It encapsulate the essence of everything that has passed before you. It is your travel moment.

I have a feeling a few like minded souls will know that feeling...when you connect with an experience in an extraordinary way. I could write about this at length but at some point you might start to think I am away with the I will stop and just say...we went to Luang Prabang in Laos last week and we loved it.

On this day we visited the pottery village of "Ban Chan", the rice paper and weaving village of "Ban Xang Khong" and The Holy Caves of Pak Ou, caves cut into a limestone cliff with thousands of Buddha statues inside. Best of all, we experience a full day of life on the mighty Mekong, an experience not to be missed if you have the good fortune to travel to Luang Prabang. A place I highly recommend! Here are a few of the reasons why..... ( I am hoping the photos speak for themselves).

On and off the Mekong River
Luang Prabang, Laos
October, 2014

In anticipation of the moon....

 A splendid night;
the moon shines with extraordinary brilliancy,
 silvering the surface of this lovely river, 
boarded by high mountains, 
looking like a grand and gloom rampart. 
The chirp of the cricket alone breaks the stillness.

Explorer, Henri Mouhot
travels on the Mekong River
July 15, 1861

More to follow on our trip to Laos,
wishing you a wonderful week from Saigon...

Jeanne :)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Art, Books and a Handsome Scotsman


An artistic life...

I am not an artist, I can not draw to save my life...but once upon a time,  I had a yearning to create on paper and canvas. This epiphany happened ten years ago, when we were living in Sydney, Australia. Life was full...we had just bought a house, a puppy, our four children were ages 3 -13,  Mr. H was a travelling man and I wanted to learn to paint. It seemed an impossible notion.

As luck would have it, when on home leave in America, I met an artist, who turned out to be one of my mother's art teachers, twenty years earlier. Kismet..we started you do..and I told her my story.  She suggested that on our return to Sydney, I find an art teacher with a private studio and start one on one classes. I decided if their was a will, their was a way and flew off to Sydney with a mission. My exploration had begun.

The world turns in marvelous ways. I mentioned my quest to an artistic friend, Evelyn, who knew just the person. Enter Sonja.

Sonja, a talented artist and teacher was a dream come true. She had an amazing studio, filled with atmospheric light. It was sensational, she was sensational. It wasn't just an art lesson, it was a life lesson. Before I could begin she wanted me to find my inspiration, in art, words, music...wherever I felt it. I filled volumes of books with ideas and images to help me find my way. My first creation was the painting "Collage of Life". I had an idea and she helped me put it onto canvas. The ideas spilled on from there. My greatest challenge was drawing, gripping fear was more like it but she managed to get me through that as well. She told me not to look at what others were doing but to look to myself and realise that my vision was what mattered and to be comfortable with my "unique" style. Well..that is one way to look at it.

Agony and Agony...drawing.

Work in progress, Collage of Life.

In between the lesson we chatted about music, books, cinema...all the things that inspired us. When I look back at our sessions together, I can see that she had a strong influence on my artistic life. My bookshelf grew in leaps and bounds. Poetry, art history, design, art, literature and historical fiction. Amongst other things, Sonja introduced me to series of books by the author Diana Gabaldon. From that point on, if someone were to ask for a good story...the kind of story you can get lost in, I would say the Outlander novels..

The Outlander novels by Diana Gabaldon via

A handsome Scotsman...

Ok..I admit it, I am a soft touch for romance in a story, an even softer touch when it happens to be a handsome Scotsman. If you live in the USA you may have read or seen the TV version of Outlander. When I first heard about the TV show I was reluctant. I was quite happy with the Claire Randall and  Jamie Fraser of my imagination these past ten years, why risk it? One look at Sam Heughan, the actor who plays James Alexander Malcom MacKenzie Fraser, Laird of Lallybroch and I thought better of my reservations. Surely it wouldn't hurt to watch just one episode...

Sam Heughan in the role of
James Alexander Malcom MacKenzie Fraser
Laird of Lollybroch
Actors, Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe, the heroine of the novel,
Claire Beauchamp Randall/Fraser via

I watched it and I was in...hook, line and sinker.  I happily spent  my remaining weeks at Tahilla Farm catching up on episodes as they appeared on Starz TV. Then the unthinkable happened when I returned to Vietnam, I lost all connection to Starz and any chance of seeing the remaining episodes. Blast! I took immediate action, went to my bookshelf, pulled out the first book and decided to devote myself to all eight novels. I have lots of flying time coming up in the next three months. I am sure I will be good for all eight books...after all, I have an amazing cast to fill my imagination. Easy!

Cast of Outlander via

In case you think I am a crazy lassie...well, I am...but...I have to say, all the actors are remarkable.  This story is rich in history and life..and it is woven though Scotland. Can't get any better than that in my books.

I think Sonja would agree.

Hopefully, the video clip below is working, if not, you can view it here.

I leave you this fine Monday with thoughts of 
art, books and a handsome Scotsman.
If you have any of the above in your life...would love to hear about it!

Best wishes for a wonderful week!
Jeanne xx

From one world to the next...
latest news from Vietnam


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