Why not invite a friend over for tea?

Meet my friend Barb

Perhaps you have a friend you don’t see very often because both of your lives keep running in different directions. This is the case with me and my friend Barbara.  Though we live just a few houses away from each other we very seldom have the chance to get together.  These days Barb is always traveling and when she does return home it seems I’m busy with something or other making it hard to connect.

Of course since Barb and I are both letter writers we do manage to keep in touch quite nicely even though we can’t often connect in person.  We do this by sending each other postcards and chatty handwritten letters.  Still, every now and then, not often enough, we do have each other over for afternoon tea.

Ah, afternoon tea!

Do you enjoy afternoon tea?  I sure do.  Though I drink coffee all through the day, when 3 or 4 o’clock comes around it’s time to stop, sit, pick up a book, and enjoy the gracious afternoon tea ceremony. This is a most welcome ritual I enjoy daily, but once a month I love inviting others to join me for tea.

Some months I invite a group of friends over transforming my tea time ritual into a party.  The number of guests I invite depends on where I intend to serve tea that month.  You see, I like to vary the locations for my parties.  If it’s warm weather I’ll serve outside, under an umbrella, on the open porch, or at a table on the lawn.  If it’s cold weather I choose the library, outbuilding or parlor because these rooms have fireplaces.  In between weather suggests all other locations  – the formal dining room or casual dining table or sofa in the living room, or perhaps the sunroom.

Each area suggests the use of different china, linen and food.

Inviting friends in for tea, or for any sort of entertaining, is much like staging a theatrical production.  Setting the scene, choosing the food, flowers, and selecting all the other details is like a great, big, fun, art project.

Since it was a nice warm day but not too warm, and since there was no humidity in the air, nor any strong winds, I decided to serve tea under the umbrella on the patio. A recent rainstorm did do a number on the geraniums in the planter, but perfection is hard to achieve so though I do try to make things nice I’ve given up on perfection and you should too.

I baked an English Lemon Tea cake for my visit with Barbara for I thought an English goodie would be the perfect treat since I was planning to use my English china – my Laura Ashley Tea for Two set.  Of course one can always pop in at the bakery and purchase a tea treat, but a little baking now and then is fun – more art.

I bet you have a dear friend as I have in Barb and I bet that friend would just love to be invited to your home for afternoon tea.  Barb and I had a wonderful, relaxing in-person visit.  Sure, we could’ve met in a restaurant, but there’s something very special about being invited into someone’s home.  To allow people into one’s private world is quite special.  I don’t think this is done often enough.  Since our visit took place in my home I could show Barb the  needlepoint pillows I finished for the living room and the newly painted dining room walls.  Sharing always doubles the joy.

I’m sure letters will continue to flow back and forth between Barb and me for letterwriting is always a super way to share, but so is inviting a friend over for afternoon tea. I had a great time at tea and I’m pretty sure Barb did too.  There’s nothing like having a friend.

I hope you’ll host a tea for two one of these days, then go on to make afternoon tea, alone or with guests, a regular thing in your life.  It’s one of those simple pleasures that makes life sweet.

Don’t believe me?  Try it and see for yourself.

My newest creation – Wildflower Correspondence Cards

 I love flowers, all kinds of flowers, but wildflowers and I go back to my childhood days.  As a little girl I created a booklet containing pictures and descriptions of various wildflowers.  It was so fun to draw them.  I showed the booklet to my teacher expecting her to praise my efforts, but sadly I got nothing from her except a little lecture.  She told me all the effort I put into those flowers would be better spent on my general school work.  Ugh!  I guess she wasn’t much into flowers or art.

I didn’t draw another flower for years and years and years.

But now that I’ve become a lady of letters often creating my own stationary I decided it was time to get back to drawing flowers.  Art play is such a relaxing thing.  Focusing on beauty is very therapeutic and I’ve read that when we focus on beauty it becomes us.  The beauty enters our spirit and lifts us up.

Of course a letter requires a few pages of paper so I add extra sheets into each correspondence card.  The cards become little books.  Colored twine fastens the pages together.

 

I also think it’s very nice to say a thing or two about the flower pictured so I write a few lines on the back cover of each card – where you might find the flower or other general information.  I guess that’s the teacher in me.

You can enjoy a walk in the park admiring wildflowers but not until you draw them will you notice all the intricacies of their design.

It’s hard to focus on a flower and not feel just a little bit happier.  That’s probably why flowers are a great hostess gift or why they’re sent to sad people at the loss of a loved one.

Just like people there are all kinds of flowers – the delicate ones, the big ones and small ones and the prickly ones too.  It’s just amazing to me how very many kinds of flowers there are.

I won’t run out of subjects to draw for a very long time.

If you’re one of my pen friends you may have already received one of these wildflower correspondence cards containing a letter, but if you haven’t received one yet you soon will.

I will also  be selling these cards at the talks I do promoting the art of letterwriting.  One card will sell for $3.00.

Packages of 10 assorted wildflower correspondence cards can be ordered by mail.  One package of 10 sells for the discounted price of $20.00 plus $3.00 for postage and handling costs.

If ordering send your check to Carol Ann, Lady of Letters at the address shown above.

But if you enjoy dabbling with watercolor pencils yourself make your own wildflower correspondence cards and write me a nice long letter using one of them because as you know . . .

Sharing Doubles the Joy.

A Country Inn Day “Country Day”

Country Inn Days are days when I take a break from my ordinary life.  I may host a tea on such days or enjoy a day of spa activities.  I might linger around the inn relaxing and partaking in favorite activities or I might enjoy an outing day.  That’s today.  Outing days take all forms.  They could involve nature, culture, shopping, adventure, city sites or country pleasures.

Today it’s Country pleasures. . .

as I return for the umteenth time to Hale Homestead and its surrounding historic village.  As you can see from the sign out front The land for this Homestead was purchased in 1810 and the house built fifteen years later.  When I come here I not only feel I’m off in the country, but I also feel I’m going back in time.  I love the old world so visiting historic properties is one of my favorite things to do.

I enjoy Country Inn Days off by myself for this way I can stroll around at my own pace, stopping here and there, thinking and  reflecting upon all I see without distraction.  To be in nature is always a treat, but especially on a beautiful Summer’s day. I don’t know what it is but every time I come to Hale I keep hearing strains of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” in my head.  Thinking about people long ago forging their way through untamed nature, creating homes and farms and lives in unsettled territories – it’s awe inspiring.  Could you do it?  I wonder if I could.

My Dad grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania and he would take my Mom, sister and me back to the country every July.  I know it was July because the day lilies were always in bloom along the  roadsides.  Dad loved the country and so did I and so do I yet today.  The smells, the space, the animals, and all that gorgeous nature; it’s like heaven on earth.

I love getting close to the animals

Here we see some newborn lambs with one older fellow to help them feel secure
It’s hard not to think of pork chops when I see this fellow. Pigs sure like mud.
I’m sure my grandmother had one of these speckled chickens or is it a hen? Whatever it is it sure is pretty.
And look at this big fellow – a real work horse or shall I say ox

I do love getting close to animals.  I love animals and this reminds me of what a penfriend, a Hindu nun, used to say.  She said, “Love animals.  Don’t eat them.”  Are you a vegetarian?

If you are a vegetarian or simply if you like to garden you would enjoy seeing the gardens at Hale.  There’s a big one at The Goldsmith House and small gardens here and there.  I love to garden.  Do you?

I peek inside the fences and try to identify all the plants.

My Dad told me he went to school in a one room schoolhouse so I’m always interested to visit such places.  Imagine what such an education would be like.  I stroll down the path to the school house and I like to imagine I’m back in time, my father’s time or the time of the Hale family.


And here it is


On another visit I’ll take you inside the schoolhouse.

It’s easy to feel I’m going back in time when I can talk to people dressed in period clothing telling my about the details of daily life back then.  Take this lady . . .

Earlier I visited a lady who was spinning.  She explained what yarns were used for what, but this lady talked all about how yarns were dyed.  Today I go into a yarn store and find a million yarns in beautiful colors ready for my knitting projects, but long ago it wasn’t that easy.  First you sheer the sheep, then you spin, then you dye the yarn and finally you begin your project.  Nothing was fast or easy back then.  How easy we have it now.

I love needlework. I knit, embroider, do counted cross and needlepoint.  Do you enjoy needlework?  Growing up my extended family would get together for dinners regularly and after the meal the men would congregate in one room playing cards while the ladies went to another room and pulled out their stitchery.  That was great fun.  We loved seeing what each of us was making.  We’d talk and stitch and the time flew by. . .

so when I saw this embroidery inside one of the houses at Hale it brought back memories from my own life.  I still enjoy needlework but now the young women in my family busy themselves with other things – tennis and taking their children here, there and everywhere.  They have no time for stitchery.  I now stitch on my own.  It’s still fun, but I miss the old days.

And when I came upon this dining table set beside a window in one of the old houses it reminded me of a sweet lady I used to visit down the road from my grandmother’s house in the country.  I was about six years old then and Nora was a retired school teacher  She had the most beautiful flower garden outside her window.  When I asked her how she created this garden she said it was easy.  When the bouquet of flowers on the table drooped she’s opened the window and tossed the flowers out.  Apparently they’d go to seed and automatically create the prettiest scene.  I should try that.

I do love old houses.  Do you?

“All houses wherin men have lived and died are haunted houses.” These are the first lines of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  The houses are still here, but where are the people who inhabited them?  I can’t help but wonder.

To walk inside the very rooms where people of the past enjoyed daily life is magical to me.

“The stranger at my fireside cannot see the forms I see, nor hear the sounds I hear; He but perceives what is; while unto me all that has been is visible and clear.”  That’s a little more of Longfellows”s poem “Haunted Houses”.  I love that poem.  Google it. Maybe you’ll love it too.

Of course the one thing about old houses that never did appeal to me was the lack of a proper bathroom.  I’ve had personal experience with the alternative, the Outhouse.

This particular outhouse, freshly painted, looks pretty cute, but I recall as a little girl going out in the dark to the outhouse at my grandmother’s place… the wet grass, wondering what you might be stepping on in the dark. . . and then the smell.  It’s been a long time but that experience is pretty hard to forget.  I think near the end of my Grandmother’s life she did have indoor plumbing and I bet she loved it!


Coming to Hale Homestead is always a Country Inn Day “Country Day” that is a real treat for me.  I shared with you just the tiniest bit of my experience there.  To be out in nature on a beautiful day communing with plants and animals and looking back through the window of time at houses and their interiors, chatting with people who looked to be of the period – a wonderful thing.  Much to reflect upon and as Lord Byron said, “A life without reflection  is a sad affair.”

I hope you have opportunities to go off to the country and to explore the past as well.

Step out of your daily routine now and then and give yourself permission to enjoy any or all of your favorite things. – Focus on beauty.  It feels wonderful.  Then share the joy; for sharing doubles the joy.  I’ve sure enjoyed sharing my Country Inn Day with you.

So till next we meet

Love from Carol Ann, Lady of Letters

Another Afternoon Tea

In the words of my dear pen friend, Michelle Gil,

“The elegance and natural hospitality of the past are preferable to the sloppiness modern society has slipped into.  It is one reason I host so many dinners and parties and it’s a great way to showcase culture and manners without saying a word.”

And so every month I too enjoy inviting friends and would-be friends to my home for the lovely ritual of afternoon tea.  These teas can be as simple or elaborate as time permits. The most important thing to me is taking time off to share good conversation with others in my private world, my home.

If my antique tea cups could talk they’d have all sorts of stories to tell, stories that my friends and I share.  Sharing doubles the joy and divides the sorrow.  As hostess I delight in being of service to others.  Some people volunteer at homeless shelters, schools or hospitals.  I’ve done some of those things in the past myself, but these days my manner of service to others happens when I take their comfort into my own hands and provide them with food, drink and pretty things.

Things like flowers


I can’t imagine any party without flowers.

For years I’ve been collecting china.  Some women love shoes.  I love collecting china, crystal and table linen and unlike some people I use all of my collections.  I use these pretty things on ordinary days when I’m alone or when it’s just my husband and me so of course I would use these pretty things when I have guests too.

Each party gives me the opportunity to set one of my tables in a different way using different items.  There are those who create with oils and watercolor paints, but I create with my table designs and the menus I choose for my teas or dinner parties.  Years ago when I lived in Boston I loved strolling through Bloomingdale’s china department for there I saw many tables set in many different ways with a variety of  china and crystal.  Now, all these years later, I have almost as a large a collection of these pretty things as Bloomingdales.  (Not really, but almost.)

Today’s china is Bavarian.  The pattern is called Old Meissen.  I decided to use a lace tablecloth to compliment its graceful old world style.

The menu for this tea consisted of spicy chicken sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, cucumber sandwiches, orange raisin scones, chocolate bread served with vanilla butter and cake which I purchased from a neighborhood bakery.

Spicy Chicken Sandwich containing curry and mango chutney

 

Peek a Boo Cucumber Flower-like Sandwiches in the round

 

Turkey Sandwiches with Cranberry Orange relish and Boston lettuce

 

img_3269.jpg
Light and fluffy ‘melt in your mouth’ Orange raisin scones

 

Chocolate Walnut Bread served with Vanilla Butter

 

A Chocolate Vanilla Cake from the Bakery because sometimes a little help from a bakery is called for

 

Of course there was tea – 3 kinds of tea.  I served Earl Grey (my favorite), Jasmine and Apricot.  After tea I offered my guests a house favorite, CarolAn’s Irish Cream.  This seems only right for one of Carol Ann’s teas, don’t you think?

Nice of them to name this Irish Cream after me

 

I decided to use a lot of crystal items for this tea so the sideboard would have a uniform theme.

The room was now set, all ready for guests.  Food was placed on the sideboard.  Small candles were placed on the table ready to be lit.

Now for the guests

First Celeste and Sandra arrive

And then Noreen arrived

The rest is tea history.

Another fun afternoon tea with friends.  I hope you enjoyed it half as much as I did.

A New Book on the subject of Letter Writing

 

Actually my version of a book …

It’s 42 handwritten letters with art on 244 pages.  The book is a letter from me, Carol Ann McCarthy, to you.  Well, that’s not exactly right.  It’s lots of letters from me to you.  These letters are a lot like the letters I write every day to my many wonderful pen friends, but in this collection I don’t go off on tangents about this, that, and the other thing.  No, I stick to the topic of why I feel the art of letter writing is a worthwhile and wonderful activity.  I explain, with examples, how letter writing is a physical, social, intellectual and spiritual activity.  Why, in many cases it becomes a ministry.

 

In our busy lives it’s good to sit down once in a while and not only write but also dabble in art play.  Did you ever notice how many adult coloring books are on the market today?  But why buy a coloring book when you can have a lot of fun drawing and coloring your own pictures?  Adding pictures in the letters you write not only gives letter friends visuals of what you’re describing, but you have a lot of fun creating those pictures and coloring them.  Some people call this art therapy, but I call it art fun!

 

The letters in this collection have all sorts of art I created just for you, for every one of you.  The art will  give you ideas  for creating your own artful letters.  I’m sure you have plenty of ideas yourself, but sharing doubles my joy.

Along with the art I’ll share many of my favorite things, things I discovered along the way which add a lot of pleasure to my days.  Things like rituals – specifically a ritual for letter writing.  If we have the materials ready, on hand, and if we have a system for when to write, where to write, whom to write – then it’s pretty easy to be in the mood to write letters and to actually write them.

Letter writing is a physical activity because hand writing is a physical activity.  As we choose a favorite writing instrument it’s much like making music on a violin or piano.  We’re being creative.  As our hand moves sensually across the page sharing our thoughts, dreams  and every day trifles we can sip a cup of some yummy drink, put our feet up and relax.  Writing slowly helps us slow ourselves down and busy people need to slow down now and then.  Our handwriting is a little bit of ourselves that we send off to others like a lock of our hair.  It’s personal and in today’s world the personal touch is quite neglected.


Even if you have a lot of friends and a great family there’s always room for more lovely people in your life.  Letter friends can be some of those people.  I’ll tell you how you can make friends all over the world by writing letters, how you can find wonderful correspondents.  Letter writing will shrink your world into a friendly neighborhood.  You’ll have visits every day when the mail comes, letter friends from near and far will be dropping by to say hello, that’s if  you become a letter writer.  Letter writing is truly a great social activity and you don’t have to dress up, clean the house, or cook dinner for your letter friends.  You just have to look into your heart and WRITE.

There is physical pleasure involved in letter writing and letter writing is certainly a social activity.  We can cultivate pen friendships and even go off to meet these people if we like, but if we don’t like we don’t even have to know how our pen friends look.  Sometimes this is good for the very best person could be hiding within an unimpressive body. In letters it’s heart to heart that matters without physical looks interfering  – unless of course we want to share pictures.

But besides all the physical and social delight letter writing is a very intellectual activity.  Your letters will be as intellectual as you and your pen friends are.  You’ll meet people from tropical islands and big, glamorous cities, small country towns and foreign countries.  These people will share information about those places and about the things they love to do.  You will share your interests too be it a love for gardening, literature, music or sports.  Whatever.  You’ll have people to chat with about all sorts of interesting subjects any time, day or night.  In my collection of letters I’ll share some of the wonderful things I learned from pen friends.  Robert Louis Stevensom said, “The world is so full of a number of things I think we should all be as happy as kings.”  Sharing with your pen friends will make you feel as happy as kings or queens or princesses or princes – maybe happier.

Of course this collection of letters from me to you will contain some whimsy.  I’ll tell you how your pets can write letters to the pets of your friends.  Really!  My dog not only had a number of pen friends – others dog friends and even a cat by the name of Alice, but he wrote a letter for the collection.  It’s true, well, sort of true.  My dog and I will give you an idea or two on how to entertain your mail man with your whimsical animal letters.


But there’s more . . .my collection of letters will also explain how letter writing is spiritual, can even become a ministry.  In this one-to-one art form we can do so much for others as we show them we care.  We can encourage, praise, show understanding, offer inspiration.  We can be a friend.  We can share love.


In letter writing we share our spirit.  Letter writing may be a physical activity  but we do not need to be physically present in order to share our spirit.  There’s a time for in-person sharing and a time for sharing without physicality.  We can also read the letters of people from the past.  We’ll feel these people are writing to us even though they’re long gone.  Spirit transcends time and letters are lasting, more lasting than we are.  It’s quite magical.

My collection of 42 letters to you from me will talk about all these things and of course I encourage you to write your own letters, some of them to ME!  Gee, we can become pen friends if we’re not pen friends already.  Wouldn’t that be fun?  Sure it would.  So if you haven’t been finding enough letters in your mail box – or any letters in your mailbox for that matter, you just might like to buy my collection of letters from me to you.  They sell for $30 plus three dollars for postage and packaging if mailed off and away.

The letters will arrive in a big sturdy water-proof, tear-proof envelope complete with my return address so you can write back to me after reading one letter, or five, or ten, or all forty two.  This project was a labor of love for you know what I always say, or maybe you don’t, but I’ll tell you.  I’m always saying Sharing doubles the joy – because it really does.


The envelopes are on my desk waiting to be filled with 42 letters to you!   When your check arrives in  my mailbox the envelope will be on its way to your mailbox and these letters could be a unique gift for any person  interested in letters for they come complete with a  pen friend – me.

It’s been a pleasure sharing my collection of letters with you.

Sharing doubles the joy.

Carol Ann McCarthy

110 W. Streetsboro  Street 1B

 Hudson, Ohio 44236

Afternoon Tea in the City


I enjoy afternoon tea.  Do you?  It’s such a civilized thing.  To take a break in the afternoon while enjoying a book and some solitude or to invite friends in to share the experience – both are great fun for me, but sometimes I like to go out to a special place for afternoon tea.  It could be a small and charming tea house in the country or something quite different – a snazzy hotel tea in a big city.

A mix of these experiences makes for a very happy me.  Let me tell you about one of my last afternoon teas which happened to take place in New York City at the St. Regis hotel.  This hotel has a long history and I do like history.  It also has the elegance I enjoy very much.  Just look at its entrance.

First stop – looking for the ladies room. One must “fix up”.

Down the stairs I go.

There are lots of stairs with lots of lovely marble, lots of lovely carpeting too.  It’s fun for me to stroll around exploring.  I’ve always been interested in interior decoration.  You too?

It’s not so much the tea that pleases me, but of course I do like tea.  It’s all the pretty things connected with tea.  At home, for example, I like to use pretty antique tea cups not ordinary mugs.  And why would I bother going out, getting all dressed up, just to have tea in an ordinary and boring place?  No, I’m afraid afternoon tea requires something  more special – at least for me and so far so good at this hotel.  I like the bones of this place – all the rooms I’ve past through are quite pleasing to me. How do you feel about the St. Regis so far?

As I step into the actual tea room I look up and I’m enchanted.  Nothing like a blue sky overhead with puffy white clouds. The twinkle lights may not be realistic, but that’s ok with me.  They create a nice romantic feeling  and I am a Romantic after all.

This place has a heavenly European feeling – the frescoes on the walls, the Baroque gilt work – all very elegant and old world and the rest of the lighting in the tea room is quite pleasant too.  One must have soft lighting to take tea you know.  Soft lighting is relaxing and tea is a time for relaxation.  Candles are always a nice touch too, anytime and anywhere.  I’m pleased to see  candles on the tables.

But of course it’s not just the room that’s important.  When I go to a fine hotel for the afternoon tea experience there must be fancy food.  Hopefully it will taste good, but it must look good.  Ideally it should be something I could never make at home and a beautiful presentation is all important as well.  I’m not fussy, am I?  Well, for the price a hotel tea commands one has the right to be a little fussy, or a lot fussy.

I order Earl Grey tea, my favorite,

and then the food arrives.


It’s a nice plate of assorted tea sandwiches which should be devoured first


Then a three tiered serving tray arrives.

Patrick poses with the server.  Patrick is my son who lives in Manhattan and he is my regular companion for New York City teas.


The scones  look yummy.  Some are plain and others contain raisins.

There’s nothing quite like “smathering” warm scones with delicious Devon creme, that is, unless you also place a scoop of jam atop the creme.


The table was set with all the extras one could want – Devon creme, Raspberry jam, Lemon curd, plus plenty of sliced lemon for our tea. One must come hungry in order to handle all these goodies – many cups of tea with many bites.

It helps to be with a good conversationalist too for this tea ceremony goes on for quite a while.  I have that in my Patrick.

We started at the top and worked our way down through the goodies on the three tiered tray.

The desserts were almost more than we could handle but our tummies made room for every last bite.

And after tea it was definitely time for a very very long walk in Central Park.

Daily at home teas can be quite simple and quite enjoyable.  Add guests to afternoon teas and we fuss a little more with a presentation and the serving  of special goodies, be they home made or purchased at the market,  but a hotel tea is another thing all together.  It can be very great fun if that hotel is an elegant place with elegant service and elegant food.  At least it’s always great fun for me!

In an ever-faster world, I think it’s important to pause and enjoy simple pleasures

and not so simple pleasures too.

Afternoon tea is one of those pleasures for me.

How ’bout for you?