Thursday, January 31, 2008

Valentines for You

Greetings Dear Readers! For the next few days I am going to attempt to put up some Victorian Valentine scrap or clip-art for your enjoyment! Perhaps it will inspire you in making a card for your loved one this year.

Image above is from Karen's Whimsy, who has generously put public domain images on the web for the rest of us to enjoy.

Here are some links to vintage Victorian valentines and Valentine's Day postcards:

This next link unfortunately has so many pop-up ads it is annoying to click through the layers to see the vintage postcards. But if you have some time, there are many here that are pretty cute:

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Movie Review: The Mansfield Parks

By Miss de Point, The Pleasant Times Movie Critic

Everingham Park, Yorkshire

Everingham Park, Yorkshire

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Today I will review two Mansfield Park movies, the recent ITV/Masterpiece Theater production with Billie Piper, and the 1983 BBC production with Sylvestra le Touzel as Fanny Price.

I believe that after many viewings, I do prefer the 1983 version the best, though it took some getting used to. I could not help but compare the new one to it.

I found that I enjoyed most of the cast in the new Mansfield Park, and only wished that the film could have been twice as long and contained more from the book. I thought the actors did an excellent job, much more professional than the last two Jane Austen films we have reviewed.

Now for Fanny: I know that many people did not like Billie Piper cast as meek little Fanny, and I have some philosophizing to do about this. First of all, I believe that an actress can play Fanny Price, I believe Ms. Piper can play Fanny Price, if only she understands Fanny Price. Fanny Price had a deep sense of right and wrong, was humble and unassuming, had been raised with a sense of duty and she was a little afraid of Sir Thomas. She was put upon and pushed around by Aunt

Norris, but if she knew how much, she was not about to roll her eyes, smirk, or complain loudly. She was greatly relieved when she was rescued from her Aunt Norris, as anyone in her situation would be. Fanny was not a flirtatious girl, and did not welcome Mr. Crawford's attentions, though she tried to be civil and proper.

You see, of course, that the description above is the opposite of Ms. Piper's Fanny Price. I found her too flirty, too immodest (I believe that Fanny Price would have been at least as modest as her Aunts) too ill mannered (if the servants were not allowed to run through the halls, and the children would have been trained to restrain themselves from running through the halls, why not Fanny?), too flirtatious and sensual, too disrespectful, too unkempt (again I say, if the servants and the family had their hair combed and put to rights, why not Fanny?) and a bit too jealous. I didn't mind her wearing the same gown all the time, though I think she would have a little more variety as the Bertram sisters handed down their worn out finery to her.

I also found something wanting in the pronunciation of Ms. Piper in several of her lines. She sort of trailed off into a lisp at the end of her sentences. I think she was not always opening her mouth to enunciate her words.

This version also did not, I think, set up the notion that Fanny was quite indispensable to the family. The twisting of the plot to leave Fanny alone was useful for cutting out time and expense in this film, but I think that sending Fanny home to see her family (as in the book) was a better idea. She would be lonely staying at Mansfield all by herself, to be sure, but then there were the servants to wait on her, the minister to visit, and all her things to keep her occupied. It didn't make much sense to me. It seemed more like a rude punishment, than trying to get her to "come to her senses" and marry Mr. Crawford.

Henry Crawford and Fanny Price
Henry Crawford and Fanny Price
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Thomson, Hugh
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On the whole I found that the sound really bothered me. It was obvious that the filmmakers were using mics clipped on to clothing. Not only could I hear costumes rubbed against the mic a few times, but I could tell that not all of the actors were talking quite normally, not as they would in real life. For instance, Sir Thomas talked almost under his breath many times, and I wondered how those in the room or across the long dining table could have heard what he said.

And speaking of Sir Thomas, he was way too mean. Too harsh. Not at all like a rich gentlemen who perhaps was too stiff and formal, too out-of-the-loop, but just plain cranky. One could see why the young people were relieved at his departure, because he was just so rude. I do not believe that the young Bertrams in the book were meant to be glad he left because of his meanness, but because they were not really good, and were glad that their artificial restraint (their father) was gone so they could "let loose" and ignore his rules for the family. So I think they portrayed Sir Thomas in this film as so awful that it made the audience feel too much sympathy with his children, and thus we would come to the conclusion that what the young people were doing wasn't so bad, and did not notice their wrong attitudes.

This film did not give enough time to devote to setting up the characters of the rest of the family. Maria certainly was nothing more than a pretty face swept away by some charming fellow. We do get a glimpse of her prideful character in the scene where she refuses to break her engagement with her fiance (which I am really glad they put in the film, as this scene was missing in the 1983 version). Her sister Julia's character is hardly sketched out.

Edmund did a good job, though I thought this actor showed his struggles rather lightly compared to the 1983 version. Overall I have no complaints about him. Tom was portrayed very well, I think these actors were worth the money.

The Crawfords were done very well, and my only complaint was that Miss Crawford looked like she had the capability to be too nice to be Miss Crawford, and needed some more lines to complete our portrait of her misguided character. Mr. Crawford looked too much like Tom in hairstyle and color, I think they should have done something different with his looks.

One of the big disappointments was Aunt Norris. She was too calm. She was not nasty enough.

I did like Lady Bertram, as she was not weird, and even though was she was trying to be shallow, showed that there was some brains there. I do not think it was shown us how much she depended upon Fanny though.

All said, I think this film was on its way to being a pretty good one, but they forgot to consult me in the making of it.

In the Park

In the Park

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Minot, Leon...

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Now for a few brief observations about the 1983 version of Mansfield Park. It is a longer film, and at first does not seem as good quality as other films, as it gives one the impression that it is a stage play instead of a movie. The sound is the opposite of the heavy-breathing dramas we have been watching the past few weeks. In this version, the microphones seem to be up on the ceiling, and it is hard at times to hear the actors.

Sylvestra le Touzel plays as Fanny Price, and I'm afraid the overall impression is that Fanny is very strange. Sylvestra le Touzel over-acts many scenes, in my opinion. The scene where Sir Thomas reprimands her, for instance, is too over-the-top. She does an wonderful job showing Fanny's moral side, however. She is also modest in dress and in behavior, respectful of her Aunts even though she is put upon by one, and shows herself indispensable to the family. The confidante of Edmund, she is not chasing him flirtatiously, but more concerned with his staying true to himself and his principles. Though she loves Edmund, this isn't shown too strongly. What is shown strongly is the trauma and horror Fanny feels in certain situations, as someone who is trying to hold on to what is right in the face of tremendous pressures of the wrong coming into her world. She is a contrast to her cousins, too, which I do not think came out very well in the recent Masterpiece Theater version.
The Visit to the Cottage, The Lady of the Manor Greets Her Bible-Reading Cottage Tenant

The Visit to the Cottage, The Lady of the Manor Greets Her Bible-Reading Cottage Tenant

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The hero, Edmund, is played by an actor who does a good job at showing the inner struggle of this character, trying to justify things that are not quite right and in the end coming to grips with his mistakes in a very real way. The other Bertram children are cast very well, and despite the number of people in the story, we are able to clearly see each one's character.

Sir Thomas in this version is not a seething rude man, but more like Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music. He is trying to run a ship-shape operation, making sure everything is just so, but leaving the spiritual training of his children to others, and not taking care to find out what is going on in his children's heads. He is portrayed as a gentleman of the era, not harsh and bear-like, but formidable enough so that Fanny is a little frightened of him.

Anna Massey does an EXCELLENT portrayal of Aunt Norris. She drove us all crazy and we cringed at her eloquent words and her way of imposing upon the family.

Lady Bertram is very strange indeed- I could not quite understand what was the matter with her.

The Crawfords were slightly over-acted, and I could not stand Miss Crawford's hairstyle (I should tell you that Mr. Yate's hair may be worse). Miss Crawford shows very well her ill-breeding, not in manners but in character, and is quite shocks Fanny with her philosophies and her speeches. I tend to fast-forward the Crawford scenes because I dislike them so, but maybe that means that the filmmakers did their job well.

Though it takes some patience to get through this version, I would recommend it to those interested in more of Mansfield Park.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Thirty Days hath September

I had memorized this poem as a girl, to help me with the days of each month. As I learned it, I would get stuck around February and then the rhyme of the poem sort of fell apart:

Thirty days hath September,

April, June, and November

All the rest have thirty-one,

Except for February; it alone has twenty-eight,

and in a leap year it has twenty-nine.

It was fun to find this article, with some better endings!

Except for February alone...

Which hath twenty-eight days clear,
And twenty-nine in each leap year,
Which has eight and a score
Until leap year gives it one day more,
Which hath but twenty-eight, in fine,
Till leap year make it twenty-nine.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Movie Review: Northanger Abbey

By Miss dePoint, The Pleasant Times movie critic.

Fountaine Abbey, Yorkshire

Fountaine Abbey, Yorkshire

I hope you all missed the movie last night. I should have warned you that it wasn't worth it. The last time I saw a Northanger Abbey movie (the 1986 version), I consented to not only throw it away, but burn it. This one might be in the same category. If anyone finds this review while shopping to buy or try the movie, my advice is, find a better movie.

This version wasn't as bad as the last (1986), but it still wasn't good.
True, it followed the book nicely. The actress was pretty and I liked her hairstyle and her dresses, and she did an okay scatterbrained Catherine. And I liked the way that Henry was portrayed (he put some humor into it). The frustrating Thorpes were cast very well-- the brother was suitably creepy, but he swore too much. The music was a little more on cue, but still not right. The movie was not rushed along, but went at a good pace to allow people to figure out all the characters (there are a lot and one could get confused). The acting was, I think, not too professional.

If one has read Northanger Abbey, and found it amusing rather than offensive, then they would not have liked the junk added to this film. I think that movie people should leave Northanger to the page, and not try to make a film out of it. They do it ill.

The book was making fun of the Gothic novels of Jane Austen's time, and poke fun at girls who get too caught up reading them. Those of us with over-active imaginations who liked to read all day can understand the humor. I am not sure the movie portrayed that humor well enough for people who have not read the book, and get the point.

And besides all this, it put the person I was watching it with to sleep.

If you really want to know about Northanger Abbey, go read the book.

I found that I enjoyed a movie that came on the TV the other night a lot more- minus the violent scenes- about Stanley and Livingstone: "Forbidden Territory: Stanley's search for Livingstone." It was done over a decade ago, and I wasn't' sure if I would like it, but it wasn't too bad (for adults). This film along with "Amazing Grace" would be an interesting double feature, as they both have to do with the abolition of slavery in England and have some real inspiring heroes to think about (Livingstone and Wilberforce). It would also be some movies that the men of the house would consent to watch (as they always like guns and heroism). The story of Stanley finding the missionary Livingstone is probably not in the modern history books, but it was in mine and I think it is a fascinating one.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Some Things Better Left Undone

By The Pleasant Times Resident Etiquette Expert

I was out and about doing errands today, and was waited upon at a sandwich shop by a young man and a young lady with the oddest ear-rings in their ears. They looked like large plastic buttons. By the time I had my sandwich and was up at the cash register, I could see plainly that what these young people were doing was forming holes in their ears. Not the little pin-prick holes that come from earrings, but actual large holes.

As you can imagine, I was appalled.

Some compassionate person needs to talk to the poor misguided souls about what they are doing to themselves. I wanted to ask the young man if he was working at the sandwich shop to save money for the future when he would need cosmetic surgery to fix all the things he was doing to himself now? Not rudely, of course, but just out of concern (It is rather funny, but one does not want to bring up a subject that would embarrass another person, yet here is that person embarrassing themselves voluntarily).

And yes, I know that in other world cultures people have done such things for centuries. Some things were considered a sign of beauty. But that does not make it right. Certainly people of other cultures were beautiful, but they were beautiful because of how God made them, not because of what they did to themselves. What will come into fashion next, flattening heads? I'm sorry, but even if the whole world thinks that something is beautiful or fashionable, if it is not right, it should not be done. God made us with our ears just the shape they are. And they are beautiful that way. If he had wanted to, he could have made it to where our earlobes developed large round holes as soon as we became adolescents. But he didn't. So we shouldn't. Re-forming our bodies in ways that God did not intend is not right.

Anyway, I wonder why these young folk are not thinking about the future. They may not always have the same friends, the same tastes, want to follow the same styles, or lifestyles. Ten years from now, will a pretty, decent, well-behaved girl be attracted to a fellow with large ear-lobes with holes in them, or even with large plastic earrings? I doubt it. Since they do not know how their life will change, would it not be safer to leave their bodies alone so as not to suffer embarrassment or expense in the future?

How many people have regretted the tattoo that they felt so proud of! And what a lot of expense and anxiety it caused later on in life. Perhaps young people feel that they know what they want for sure, but they do not realize how their tastes will change someday. I would suggest that they stay away from anything that would alter them from what they naturally look like--from tattoos to holes in their bodies to hair colors.

Just the other day a companion of mine was asking me when I thought that body-piercing would go out of style. It does seem to hang on, disgusting as it is. Young people who pierce their noses and tongues certainly show that they can be dedicated and loyal to some things-- it must take a lot of patience for the wounds to heal from trying to eat with a pierced tongue, or sticking sharp things up your nose. It is too bad that they cannot steer that dedication and loyalty to making their world better, instead of injuring themselves and turning people off.

And, yes, it does turn people off. If I went to the store with a piece of spaghetti hanging from my mouth, as I certainly have the right to do, people would think that I was a loony and would steer clear of me. It would alienate people from me. I could say that everyone was rude for giving me looks or not wanting to talk to me. I could complain that people had no right to say anything about the way I chose to walk around with spaghetti hanging from my mouth, and should just accept me for who I am. And that is what most polite people are trying to do, difficult as it is. However, it would be a purely selfish way to behave. It would be most impolite.

Let me repeat, in case someone missed it, that to appear in public in such a way as to make others ill, is impolite. If people absolutely must wear rings on their tongues and other parts of their body, why don't they do it in the privacy of your own home, and not wear them to work?Though, in my opinion, it should not be done at all...why would anyone want to put holes in their heads?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Quick Container Wrap

By Lillibeth H.

Here is a quick way to dress up a nursery plant for giving, or to display before planting. Sometimes annuals in four-inch pots make good decorations for tea parties, wedding or baby showers or other events, and can be nice take-home favors.

Start with a twelve-inch piece of scrapbook paper, or card stock, to match the flower or decor. Stiff wrapping paper can also be used.

Here is the plant we are "wrapping", a magenta primrose.

Here you see some marks to show you where the paper is folded. Fold into thirds one way, then thirds the other way, and crease. Then take the corners and fold up in a triangular fashion... so. Tape the corner shut where needed, with invisible tape. Try to do this with one or two small pieces of tape so that it is not so noticeable (one doesn't want tape showing all over the pretty paper!). Or if you have more time try gluing it.

Do all four corners in the same fashion and line the bottom with a plastic sandwich bag or other temporary liner. Set the plant inside. This is definitely not a permanent planter, you may want to take the plant out to water it if you are planning on using the paper container for
a longer time.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Movie Review: Persuasion

Editor's Note: Let me introduce our loyal readers to the newest member of The Pleasant Times staff, Miss dePoint, movie critic.
Miss dePoint will be giving us her opinionated critique of Masterpiece Theater's offering of Sunday night, "Persuasion," fresh from viewing it.

Ladies and Gentleman, after just finishing the newest take on Jane Austen's novel Persuasion, I find myself quite moved. Indeed, I was at times moved to tears. Tears of... well... I was not sure whether to laugh or cry over this new production. Perhaps one ought to cry when so much money was spent to film this and perhaps wasted; or else to cry over a favorite book has been disappointingly brought to the screen. But alas, it was at times so ridiculous that I believe I just laughed through it.

This is one film I am glad that my little brother was not watching with me. It would be too easy to lampoon. I do confess that I missed a few minutes of it. I got up to make myself a sandwich when I thought things were getting along well enough without me.

The leading actress, Sally Hawkins, who played Anne Elliot, did an admirable job in her role. I found myself quite liking her, and thought that- had she had a better script, and a little more time- her performance could equal Amanda Root's in the 1995 version of this film. Though to be sure, there was too much heavy breathing. But she could cry quite well, and that is something to be commended in an actress (Emma Thompson couldn't even pull that off in Sense and Sensibility.)

Captain Wentworth, I thought, was almost done rather well, and I was disappointed that he did not have more lines. He might have been one of the favorite heroes in Austen movies if the filmmakers had let him talk a little more. In my opinion his character was not developed well enough throughout the film. Unless one has read the book (or seen the other movie) I doubt they would have understood what was going on with him. His relationship with Louisa Musgrove was almost not there- and his growing interest in Anne was so subtle that the ending proposal seemed to come too soon.

The piano and sometimes orchestral music droning on in the background was surely to calm us all down so we wouldn't scream at the television set. It certainly wasn't for effect, except for the two or three scenes where it crescendos appropriately at the right moments. As for the rest of the film, the music seemed to me to be a CD the producers had bought at a gift shop for background music. One could hardly call it a "score."

Mr. Elliot (Baronet) was conceited and vain, to be sure, but rather harsh and scary in this version. Anne's sisters were really rather odd-- I could not quite make out what Mary was trying to be-- and Elizabeth looked as if she was wearing a wig. I thought these characters were overacted.

Lady Russell I liked, and the rest of the characters, well, they seemed to come and go so quickly that it was hard to even get to know them well enough to like them.

Anne runs around way too much in this film, and there is an incredible amount of heavy breathing, panting, gasping, and fake laughing. It was a bit overdone. Though it was nice to get a sense of the sounds of the surroundings-- the bustle of the move or the loud ocean, for instance-- I could have done with a little less heavy breathing.

I do appreciate (truly I do) the time restrictions put on the film makers and what they tried to squeeze in to their allotted time slot. However, there were some critical moments that were done so badly that instead of causing me to sympathise with the moment, I found myself groaning or laughing.

For instance, Mary's little boy falls and breaks a bone. The instant his little head lands on Anne's pillow, she touches him and says immediately "he has dislocated his collarbone" and before the family barely has time to finish saying "apothecary" to the servants Anne has popped it back into place.

Or the way that Captain Wentworth pops Anne up on the back of Mr. Croft's gig-- ouch!

Or take my favorite comedy moment-- excuse me while I get up and wipe away the tears-- of Louisa Musgrove falling off the stair at Lyme. We saw her jump, but then the camera focused on Captain Wentworth as he stared wonderingly at this blur going by. It all happened so fast (as accidents do) but compared to the 1995 film (remember the agonizingly slow-motion fall?) it seemed rather calm. Captain Wentworth seemed more interested in Anne than in the nearly dead body lying before him, and Anne sensed it and couldn't help looking pleased at the attention. Excuse me, er, sorry to interrupt, but what about the poor girl with the bloody head? What a time for them to start to fall in love!

There are many scenes in Bath that were laughable-- the one where Mrs. Croft informs Anne of the engagement of Louisa, seeming surprised that Anne had not heard about it. But Anne had just told her a moment before that she knew of an upcoming wedding but not who. And the scene where everyone come bursting in to Camden place, the relatives and the captain without ceremony, moved along quite quickly, and emphasized the confusion Anne must have felt, but it still seemed rather odd.

The climactic moment- the letter- was surprisingly under-emphasized. In the novel, I recall that there was a particular way this letter came into the hands of Anne Elliot. In this film, it is handed to her at a doorstep, and sets her running up streets of Bath, only to be to be turned around and run down the streets of Bath (didn't I say she runs too much?) in search of Captain Wentworth. Though I liked her acceptance of the proposal, the kiss was so odd that I am left wondering what the director was thinking. Was Anne trying to get something out of her teeth? Was she trying to say something? Gasping for air like a fish out of water? It wasn't very gallant of the Captain, who was much taller than Anne, to stoop over and try not to laugh as Anne struggled to reach him for this kiss. It also took too long to get there. Perhaps that was because Anne was taking so long deciding whether she should open or close her mouth for this one.

I must say, though, that even I do not like it when directors though leave out and re-arranged things in the novel, or put their own ideas and embellishments in, I rather liked the ending scene. I was finally warming up to the happy couple (and Anne Elliot proved she could kiss the man normally) and I thought it was just the kind of ending I should have made up for them myself. And there were some speeches that were very accurate to the book and I appreciated that.

All in all, though I would not mind seeing it again, it isn't a movie that I would voluntarily buy, or watch with my little brother.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Amazing Sewing Room Redo

Reported by Lillibeth R.

Last Summer the Editor of The Pleasant Times moved and was obliged to put a lot of her possessions into long-term storage. She could not part with her craft and sewing supplies for that long, however, and so she brought them to her mother's house to use.

Mrs. Sherman had trouble finding places to store her own sewing, and with the addition of all of her daughter's items, the boxes were getting to be overwhelming. It was all put into a little room a little bigger than a walk-in-closet.

What mother would let her daughter mess up the house like this? Believe it or not, this is only half of the items from that little room! Mrs. Sherman let her daughter have free-reign to re-vamp the sewing room.

Before: The boxes and sewing supplies of two households "hang out" in the living room.

Mrs. Sherman had collected storage drawers for her patterns. Extra drawers were purchased on sale for this organizational project.

Containers from the Dollar store were hung up on the wall. The Editor just loved drilling and nailing and hanging up things. One thinks she could get quite dangerous with that drill gun.

Here is a close-up of the containers. These mini milk-crate looking boxes are stackable in three ways. The Editor chose to hang them on the wall for storing small cuts of fabrics.

This child's coat rack was re-purposed for fabric and storage.

An architectural construction model from Mr. Humphrey's studio was re-used to hold thread and ribbons. The construction model was to show the "skeleton" of a portion of a structure. Now it is useful for the construction of a dress!

This magazine holder found at Goodwill and painted by Mrs. Sherman was snatched by the Editor for scrapbook paper storage. The 12" papers fit perfectly!

Narrow wall shelves display the combined rubber stamp collection Mrs. Sherman and Mrs. Humphrey. Seen in the top of the picture is a portion of the "attic" storage area above one side of the little room.

More stamps and drawers are shown above.

Time will tell if this arrangement will suit. The ladies are still obliged to take their sewing machines to a bigger area in the house, but they are grateful for an organized storage area. One thing they hope is for sure-- with the combined supplies they will not need to go to a fabric store for many years!

For more ideas, here is a link to the first sewing room redo at Mrs.Humphrey's former home.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Winter Drive of Discovery

Above: The beautiful scenery on a very chilly day!
During the Christmas holidays, I noticed in the paper that there was an "Open House" in a nearby town, a historic 1880's Italianate home. The family made the drive to see it on one of the coldest days we have had this winter. The Ice had melted from the road but the trees were still covered in frost, and the car door handles were icy! This 29-degree foggy weather might not seem like very interesting facts to those of you who live in these conditions all winter, but for us it was a very adventurous undertaking to leave the house on a day like this. We were not sorry that we did.

This house looks like a wedding cake! Built by a local lumberman/carpenter in the 1880's for his wife, the house was designed chiefly for entertaining.  According to the tour guide, the couple lived in a "shack" of a house while raising their children, and the tour guide supposed that the Mrs.  finally had a fit to get a nice house of her own. This of course is not known for real!

A ladies' parlour, sitting room, dining and breakfast room, and very roomy kitchen are downstairs. Up a very unique curved staircase are two bedrooms and a sitting room. We were not able to go to the cupola, which must have afforded the owners with an entertaining view of the town.

The inside boasts high decoratively painted ceilings, and transom windows hand-painted to imitate stained glass in the doorways. The bay in the sitting room had scenes painted on the transoms of mountains, and the ladies' parlour had roses painted above the bay windows.

Unfortunately, interior pictures were not allowed, but here are some of the exterior:

Going up to walk, one is impressed by all the trim on the house.The house was decorated with pine garlands for Christmas, and inside there was a tree with white folded-paper stars and popcorn garlands, quite nice looking.
Note that all the gutters are hidden behind the crown-like trim.

All the corners of the house were trimmed as seen above. This is the side view of the house. Note that the front portion of the house (left, facing the street) has narrower siding than the back "kitchen wing" on the right of the photo. I guess that was using the finest details for the public view.

A detail of the trim underneath the windows.

The town had many examples of Victorian/Edwardian period architecture, and the houses had plaques with the year they were built. The house above is dated 1912.

The eye-catching pink house above was built in the 1890's.

This house is dated 1908. I like the angled porch entrance.