I have a Country Inn Day Secret. . . a Secret Garden

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As the main gardener of the 1853 Jeremiah Brown House I have my work cut out for me.  This house and property had been untouched for many years before my husband and I got hold of it.  What to do first?  Because we were living in the house, not the garden, it was the house that first got our attention, but after restoring the old house and even adding a new addition, it’s finally garden time.

Ah, a garden!

But as much as I desire lovely gardens all around the house my goal at present is simply to make the grounds appear park-like.   Very few actual gardens have been created thus far, but they are in the plans. At present only the herb garden has been designed and installed.  A few flowers have been added here and there – roses mostly, but new bushes appear weekly.

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 In fact just today five luscious-looking giant blue hydrangeas were planted at the front of the house.

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My assistant gardener, Doug, deserves all the credit for the planting.  He is my right hand man when it comes to digging holes and pruning.

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But today I want to focus on The Secret Garden at the Jeremiah Brown House and tell you all about it thus far.  At a quick glance you’d never think a Secret Garden is in the works at this property for like any good secret it’s hidden from plain view. A visitor on the grounds will notice the circular herb garden and the wall of very old and tall Spruce trees behind it, but who would guess there was the beginning of a Secret Garden  behind those trees?

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Around the corner one would notice the Day lilies blooming in front of very old honeysuckle bushes,  but would one guess there was something more hiding behind all this?

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Then there’s the  row of some fifteen forsythia edging and hiding yet another side of the Secret Garden.  These forsythia will grow taller and taller and hide my little secret even more in days to come.

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But if you walk through the small opening here between the old trees. . .

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You come upon a clearing.

This clearing is not an easy place to plant foliage because the roots of the Spruce trees are everywhere!  This place will never be a proper Secret Garden with all sorts of beautiful flowers, but still the area does have potential. It’s such an interesting spot, a space left open inside a ring of giant Spruce trees.  The trees create a canopy of shade.  I resigned myself to forget the sun-loving flowers, and even shade-loving flowers, but still this place hidden from the rest of the grounds has potential.  As long as something, anything can grow here I will call this place my Secret Garden.

The first step was setting down the stone flooring.  Deer enjoyed spending their nights here before the stone was added. This space was their private bedroom, but now they found a softer, greener place elsewhere.  I added some pachysandra around the edges of the stone flooring and little by little it’s getting established.

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I tried adding impatience but the soil is simply too compact and root-filled to allow the impatience to stretch out and get comfortable here.  Too bad.  Color would be nice in this secret garden. I suppose I could add pots of impatience here and there. . . maybe one day, but for now I’ve decided to let the garden operate on automatic pilot. It’s not doing a bad job of it either.

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I’ve put Mother Nature in charge of this Secret Garden for the time being and one plant she really seems to love is Wild Ginger.  At least I think this plant is known by that name.  I too like Wild Ginger with its glossy rounded leaves. This plant serves as a very pretty ground cover and to my delight rabbits do not  eat it.  This is important because the grounds of the Jeremiah Brown House are home to many rabbits.

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I marvel the way Mother Nature will successfully cultivate the plants she wants to grow where as  I try and try to cultivate certain other plants with no luck at all.   Look at the way she’s going to town with tiny baby plants.  They’re everywhere!    In time I may drop the name “Secret Garden” and call this place “The Wild Ginger Garden”.

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Of course it’s not only Wild Ginger that Mother Nature is providing for my Secret Garden, look at these mysterious  plants which magically appeared while I was away for the weekend.  Nothing. . . then suddenly all this green . . . I must dig out my wildflower guide book and try to identify this plant.  Whatever it is, I like it!  Why should I bother toiling away buying and planting expensive specimens when Mother Nature will not only supply the plants for free but also install them?

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Of course in the past I have bothered to purchase and plant a few items, two of them are Lamium Maculatum (Red Nancy) as well as the tiny yellow-green ground cover you see here. (I’ve forgotten its name.  Do you recognize it?) These two plants seem to be happy in this place. They’re taking off, getting along well with the pachysandra and the other wild plants. I’ll do no more of my own planting, at least not for a while.  I’m leaving the planting to Mother Nature.  She has been known to create beautiful work as you well know so maybe she’ll do the same here for me.

I have had  fun adding bird houses to some of the trees in The Secret Garden. This is something Mother Nature can’t do.  I think the birdies like these houses as I do.  The houses stay up year round, for after all, birds need a home in the Winter too.

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And sculpture adds a nice touch to all the greenery.  A little cherub here . . .

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My wonderful “dead friend”, Saint Francis, there . . . 

Other bits of statuary are waiting to be moved into The Secret Garden too as soon as Doug or some other muscle-bound fellow happens by.

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Rocks are welcome here, nice big ones. These rocks you see are just a few that came from an old abandoned well on the property.  They spent more than a hundred years under ground, but now they can enjoy the next hundred years  above ground in this place.

My Secret Garden is in the early stages of development.  You are witness to its beginning.  I wish I could fast forward to show both of us a more mature version of it.  Patience is a virtue needed in gardening and that’s something money can’t always buy.  The garden teaches us patience.  But there is delight, at least for me, in the anticipation of what’s to come. There’s pleasure even in the beginning stages of a garden project.  I come to this garden daily, carefully checking for any change I might see.  This is something I remember my father doing in his garden.   I  simply enjoy the moment – what is –  and I appreciate the potential of what this garden can become.

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 Whether I sit here alone to read  . . . meditate to music of the birdies . . . whether I invite friends over to share a cup of tea in this my Secret Place . . . whatever I’m doing here I’m happy. That’s nature for you.

Be it ever so humble there’s no place quite like my Secret Garden.

It’s a Country Inn Hudson Day

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A view of The Hudson Clock Tower on the Village Green
Some Country Inn Days take me out of town, even out of the Country, but other Country Inn Days are spent at my Inn or close to it.  That’s today.  It’s nice to live in a town you love because even simple things done there offers much pleasure.  I always wanted to live in a place where I could walk, where there were sidewalks along charming streets lined with trees and  interesting homes.  I’ve always liked towns that have a Village Green with shops, restaurants and coffee houses in their center, places where one can run into neighbors for a little chat. Hudson is such a town.  Hudson is also fortunate to have a park with a lake and a world-class library, so on this Country Inn Day I plan to stick around the Inn and my neighborhood enjoying simple pleasures in both places.

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Enjoying morning coffee in the newly completed kitchen
My day begins with a bagel, my favorite espresso roast coffee, and some inspiration from author Christie Matheson.  Unless the Innkeeper in me is hosting a tea or a dinner party on an Inn Day I rely for company on books, wonderful books.  It’s very easy for me to imagine the authors of these books are here with me, if not in person, then in spirit.

“The Art of the Compliment” is a wonderful book that encourages us to say all those nice things we’re thinking “about and to” the people in our lives.  I was given a real pep talk as I nibbled and sipped, and nothing like a pep talk to start one’s day.

My bedroom here at the Inn is in need of the maid’s attention

And I’m the Maid!

You see, on a Country Inn Day I flip back and forth from being Inn Guest to worker bee.  Some people may find work an unpleasant activity on a day off, but I remember and take to heart the words of Mary Poppins.  Mary said, “In every task that must be done there is an element of fun. You find the fun and then the job’s a game.”  Imagining I’m a maid or a cook or a gardener is like play acting to me, and “play” is the magic word on a Country Inn Day.

If you were a Downton Abbey fan like me you may have imagined being Lady Mary one day and her lady’s maid the next. Well, on a Country Inn Day I take on both roles in the same day.  After all, don’t most of us play both roles throughout our lives in some manner?  There are days we dress up, go to the theater or to fine restaurants and live like a lady of leisure, but on other days we work, work, work.  Well, on a Country Inn day roles simply flip flop back and forth a little faster.

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Closets in my dressing room at the Jeremiah Brown Inn

 Once the Inn Maid (me) tidies up the bedroom, I proceed to the dressing room in order to get ready (as Inn Guest) for an outing in town.  One thing I hate about taking a trip to a far away place is packing, but on my Country Inn Days I need not pack a thing because everything is here at my fingertips.

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The Inn decorator (me) is thinking about adding some color to the walls and floor of this new dressing room, but even now it’s a pleasure to slip away to this quiet, private place where I get ready for the day.  The dressing room is also a good place to read if I wake up in the middle of the night.  I can retreat here, turn on some bright lights without bothering my husband.

 But now I’m ready for my walk in town.  Come along with me.

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There’s nothing like a walk in town, up and down the old streets in the village we go.  I love to focus on the details of each house.  So many different styles…

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Hudson does have many new neighborhoods too with all sorts of handsome new houses, but it’s the old world that warms my heart.  Hudson was founded in 1799 so many of the houses in the village were built in the early 1800’s.  Walking around town makes me  feel I’m back in Boston where I used to live.

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There’s nothing like taking a walk any time of year.  It’s good to walk in a park, but equally fun to walk in a neighborhood if you like the neighborhood.  To breathe in fresh air,  get a little exercise and give your mind a chance to wander freely…  lots of good ideas can come to us while walking.  And all this is free of charge.  How good is that?

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Part of Hudson’s Downtown area with shops, restaurants and the public library
My walk eventually takes me into the downtown area and just about the time I’m ready for some coffee.  I love coffee and coffee shops.  Hudson has six coffee shops to choose from so I am one lucky girl.  I enjoy writing one, two, or three letters each day in one of Hudson’s  coffee shops. There I find solitude and society simultaneously.

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Today I explore a new shop here in Hudson.  Restore specializes in organic, superfood smoothies and things like organic avocado toast, and meals made with things like chia seeds, grass fed whey, spirulina  and pepitas (whatever those things are).

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It’s decorated in a very minimal style, not my very favorite look, (Notice the tree stump-items serving as seats) but I try to patronize all the local businesses.  I notice when customers do arrive they are usually young adults, often with little babies or young children.  This place must be a new age thing.

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I obviously chose a quiet time to come for I nearly have the entire place to myself and that can be nice when I’m writing letters.

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I order a macchiato which is very yummy

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 and it keeps me company as I write a letter or two.  But now it’s time for lunch and though I could stay here and have an organic dragonfruit bowl made up of dragonfruit blended with strawberry, pineapple, ginger, coconut milk and topped off with camu camu, goji berries and grass fed whey, I decide to take my leave and go off  to Lake Forest Country Club.

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The decor here is more my style . . .

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I choose a quiet corner with a table for two because I will be having lunch with a “dead friend”. What is a “dead friend”?  A “dead friend” is a person of the past who shares their stories with me by way of a book, or sometimes a film, or a collection of letters. “Dead friends” are wonderful company on Country Inn Days. They’re great luncheon companions and back at the Inn I never know how many “dead friends” will pop up for a visit at tea or cocktails or anytime.

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And here she is, my luncheon companion – Sophia Amelia Peabody Hawthorne

The book that’s bringing Sophia to me is called “The Peabody Sisters of Salem”  by Louise Hall Tharp.  Yes, Sophia was born in Salem, Massachusetts and that’s where she met Nathaniel Hawthorne, one of my favorite authors. Perhaps you’re familiar with his work.  Well, Sophia and Nathaniel married and they lived in a house in Concord, The Old Manse, a house I visited many times.    It’s very special to have been in the house of a “dead friend”.  To walk through the rooms where they walked . . .

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As I munch my sandwich and french fries (not very organic, but mighty tasty) Sophia tells me stories and I’m transported back to Massachusetts, to her old stomping grounds and mine.  Of course she’s talking about the 1800’s, but that makes her stories even more interesting to me for a  little time travel on a Country Inn Day is a nice touch.  I hope you have and enjoy “dead friends”, time travel, and imagination too. All three do wonders to jazz up an ordinary day.

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But time flies as it always does and I leave the club, stopping off to buy some flowers for the Inn.  That’s the job of the Innkeeper (me).  I choose white tulips.

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Back at the Inn I morph into the Inn Maid.  There’s laundry to fold, but after my outing in town it’s a nice change of pace, and variety is the spice of life.  Is it not?

A few housekeeping matters are attended to, a little this and a little that . . .

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The tulips are arranged at the table by the Innkeeper (me) . . .

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The Inn Cook (me) whips up a little dinner for my husband who happens to be a regular guest at the Inn . . .  My son Rory will be joining us tonight too.  It seems like food is a big part of a Country Inn Day, doesn’t it?  Well, it is.

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And once dinner is over and a little time is spent unwinding and visiting with my boys it’s back where I started this morning. . . back to the dressing room.

There were a few dozen other things that went into this Country Inn Day, but I’ll share those things at another time. Sharing surely doubles the joy.  I hope you’re sharing your joy too

Ah me!  the days go swiftly by . . .

Time to say farewell . . .

What will my next Country Inn Day be like?

We’ll just have to wait and see.

A Winter’s Country Inn Day

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There’s snow on the ground and the temperature is 16 degrees.  It seems like a good day to stay all cozy and warm indoors, a good Country Inn “in” Day.

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The Red Lion Inn painted by Norman Rockwell

“Of all the places I’ve been to wine in, to dine in to have a good time in you can’t beat an old Country Inn.”

This poem was found in an old Red Lion Inn scrapbook penned by an anonymous guest and I quite agree.  I’d love to enjoy today’s Inn stay at my favorite Red Lion Inn, but alas, it’s 500 miles away and I just can’t zip over to Massachusetts  –  so the next best thing is to experience an Inn stay in my very own historic home, the 1853 Jeremiah Brown House.  Here I will step out of regular routines just as I would do at The Red Lion Inn and I’ll treat myself to a nice escape.  Everybody needs a break from routines now and then.  Don’t you?

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My day begins with breakfast in bed.

If you plan ahead as I did the Inn kitchen is stocked and the breakfast tray is standing ready. This morning it’s set with Laura Ashley ‘Tea for two’ china,  a warm croissant, raspberry jam, orange juice and coffee. My husband was invited to join me, but today I’m on my own here at the Inn.

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Breakfast in Bed menu at the Jeremiah Brown House
When my husband does join me for breakfast in bed he can order off the menu which the Inn cook (me) created for him.  Little touches like this menu are fun to create and make Country Inn “in” days special.  I like nothing more then taking an ordinary day and dressing it up with little treats.  To me this is more enjoyable then elaborate holiday festivities.

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After a leisurely breakfast I make my way to the dressing room and put myself together for the day.  I may not have a lady’s maid (though that would be nice) but just to take my time with a little primping feels delicious.  No rushing  –  for rushing destroys grace, just time to sit quietly and think about the day ahead as I put myself together.

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Once dressed I leave my room and go downstairs to the public areas of the house.  A walk would be nice.  I usually take a walk when I stay at The Red Lion Inn, but looking outside at the snow on the ground and remembering the 16 degree temperature I decide on another favorite activity.

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There’s never enough time to read and one of my New Years resolutions is to read much more this year so now is the perfect time to get comfy by the fire in the Inn library and honor that resolution.  In preparation for my Country Inn Day I visited the Hudson library yesterday even though the Inn bookshelves  are bursting with my own books.  Oh,   so many books, so little time, but if we take control of our schedules, step out of our work routine, we can find at least a little time for favorite things – things like reading, and reading is a perfect Inn day activity.

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I love all things English so today’s reading consists of back issues of “The English Garden” magazine.  Perhaps the Inn gardener in me will discover some great ideas for the grounds around the Jeremiah Brown House.  And Country Inn Days are the perfect days to dream of such things.  You know what Oscar Hammerstein II said, don’t you?  He said, “You’ve got to have a dream.  If you don’t have a dream how you gonna have a dream come true.?”

After a little garden dreaming I’ll then push on to begin reading the novel, “Villette” by Charlotte Bronte.   I’m very fond of all the Bronte sisters.  I met Emily first when my dear pen friend, Bruce Youngblood, sent me one of her poems at the time of my father’s death, but eventually I got to know Emily’s sisters, Ann and Charlotte, also great writers in my opinion.  I consider all three women to be favorite “dead friends”.  What is a “dead friend” you wonder? They are people of the past who I get to know through their letters, their biographies and/or their works.

Charlotte wrote “Villete” when she was at the height of her artistic power.  She drew on her loneliness after the death of her three siblings.  I’ve heard this book is her most accomplished and deeply felt work even though it’s not her most popular creation. You’d think reading about the struggles of Charlotte’s heroine would be depressing to me, but somehow it’s not.  In fact, I gain strength from Charlotte’s characters who persevere through tough times.

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The Tea Table at The Jeremiah Brown House

But time flies when one is having fun and reading on a Country Inn Day or on any day is my kind of fun, still I must leave the library now because it’s Tea Time. And what a wonderful invention Tea Time is.  P.G. Wodehouse, an English author and one of the most widely read humorists of the 20th century said, “The cup of tea on arrival at a country house is a thing which … I particularly enjoy.”( and that goes for me too!)

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“Tea…became more than an idealization of the form of drinking: it is a religion of the art of life.” — Kakuzo Okakura

If you have a tea table there’s not much to setting it up for a daily afternoon tea  – a cloth, some flowers, a candle, a pretty tea pot, china, and of course the tea.  The food need not be fancy. Today’s afternoon tea treat consists only of cinnamon toast, but “The mere chink of cups and saucers turns the mind to happy repose”.  That’s a well known tea quote from George Gissie.  And yes, that sound is music to my ears too.

On Country Inn Days I like my house, my Inn,  to be filled with guests.  Sometimes I host teas or dinner parties for my personal friends and relatives, but other times I fill the Inn with other sorts of guests, my “dead friends”. It’s very easy to come up with these guests for all I have to do is use my imagination.  I have so many great “dead friends”.  I never know who will be popping up next.  Guess who is seated at my tea table waiting patiently for me to join her?

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It’s Mrs. Emily Whaley formerly  of Charleston, South Carolina, but now residing in heaven. Emily’s spirit will be joining me for afternoon tea today by way of her book entitled, Mrs. Whaley and her Charleston Garden.  I’m absolutely delighted she’ll be sharing her stories with me because I remember touring her garden and other gardens in Charleston some years ago. Now thanks to her book I’ll not only learn about her garden but also about her life, a life  lived in a grand house of the old South.  What could be more fun at tea?

Emily’s garden was famous.  Back in the day the New York Times sent reporters to interview her.  Southern Accent magazine did a layout. Two or three thousand visitors toured her garden during Charleston’s garden festivals and as I said I was one of those people.  I have a feeling Emily enjoyed lots of afternoon teas at her own historic home and now she’s here with me all through the magic of books and a little imagination.

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But time moves on as it always does and I must morph from Inn guest into Inn chef because my husband will be joining me for dinner at the Inn before long and someone must prepare that dinner and that someone is me.  Luckily I love to cook.  The menu is set.  Leek and potato soup, simple chicken tenders prepared in olive oil, butter, herbs and white wine, fresh green beans and a special Red Lion Inn rice.

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This is the lovely formal dining room at The Red Lion Inn, the Inn which inspired my Country Inn days.

 I’d love to share the Red Lion Inn’s rice recipe with you because sharing doubles the joy and I think you’ll like it as much as I do.

Red Lion Inn Rice

Ingredients:  1/2 cup butter, 2 stalks celery, finely chopped, 1/2 onion, peeled and finely chopped, 1/2 pound mushrooms, wiped clean and finely chopped, 2 tablespoons garlic powder, 2 teaspoons dried thyme,  bay leaves, dash of salt and pepper, 4 cups chicken stock, 2 cups white rice

Process:  Melt the butter in a saucepan.  Add the vegetables and seasonings, and cook for 7 minutes over medium heat until the vegetables are wilted.  Remove the bay leaves.  Add the chicken stock and bring to  a boil.  Stir in the rice, cover, and cook over medium heat for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring frequently, until the rice is tender and it has absorbed the stock.

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And here it is – Red Lion Inn Rice.

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with Potato Leek Soup

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and Chicken tenders accompanied by fresh green beans.

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Oh yes, and a dessert of Grand Marnier Crepes.

The Inn cooks job is done.  Now it’s back to being Inn guest.

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It’s now time to enjoy that dinner by candlelight in the Jeremiah Brown House dining room.

It was fun creating tonight’s Inn dinner but even more enjoyable  devouring it and I am not ashamed to admit it for as William Makepeace Thackeray wrote in his Memorials of Gormandizing, “If you like your dinner, man; never be ashamed to say so…remember that every man who has been worth a fig in this world, as poet, painter, or musician, has had a good appetite and a good taste.”

And what to do after dinner?

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I’ll settle in here.  The Inn recently added new rooms to the old house and this is one of them. It’s a pleasant place to watch a movie, entertain other guests or in today’s case, sit comfortably doing needlepoint with a good classic movie.   Country Inn Days are all about simple pleasures.

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I love needlework and it’s time I finish this needlepoint design picturing a crossing guard on the streets of Bermuda, a design I purchased there and started years ago.  Needlepoint and most types of needlework are very relaxing and relaxing activities are just right for a Country Inn Day or a Country Inn evening.

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And after an hour or two of needlework the evening turns into night and before bed I think a bubble bath would be just the thing to end a lovely Country Inn Day.  Bubble therapy I call it, another simple pleasure that is not to be underestimated for the delight it offers.

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 And so this Winter’s Country Inn Day ends where it began.

I would’ve enjoyed a visit to The Red Lion Inn today for sure, but this faux Country Inn Day was quite delightful too for I accomplished most Country Inn Day goals, the goals being: To refresh body, mind and spirit; To relax; To enjoy favorite things without interruption; To exercise imagination; To take time to dream; To focus on beauty in all of its forms; To enjoy spa activities; To read fun materials, watch interesting films and spend time with interesting people; and To capture Inn Day images for my own future reflection and for sharing  because…

Sharing Doubles The Joy.

Thanks for coming along.  I hope you had half the fun I had today.

“Our life is nothing but a winter’s day; Some only breakfast and away; Others to dinner stay and are full fed.  The deepest age but sup and go to bed.  He’s worse in debt who lingers out the day.  Who goes betimes has all the less to pay.”

(Old Tavern Song)

A Country Inn Day Fairy Tale that met with success unexpected in Common Hours

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Once upon a time there was a young girl named Carol Ann who would walk home from school and pass this house. This big old white house wasn’t easy to see back then because there were many bushes that edged the property, but Carol Ann would walk by very slowly and try to catch a glimpse between the branches, seeing what she could see of this house and its extensive grounds.

Back in the day there were gardens there too and how Carol Ann wished a lady would appear in those gardens, notice her passing, and invite her in to see the flowers.  Carol Ann would imagine this lady of the garden looked and sounded like the lovely actress Deborah Kerr, that she was a proper English lady who had no daughter but longed for one and seeing Carol Ann would reach out to her in friendship.  Perhaps this lady would invite Carol Ann to share her afternoon tea or invite her into the house so the lady could play piano for her, give her some lessons and ultimately they could play duets together.  Oh, how many times Carol Ann past this house and dreamed of this lady.  Carol Ann’s Romantic personality came up with all sorts of scenarios for the two of them.

And that’s not all.  Carol Ann also dreamed what fun it would be if she could explore the extensive grounds of this property for even back then at her young age big old houses with extensive grounds enchanted her.  When other young girls were doing what most young girls do (whatever that is) Carol Ann was reading “House and Garden” magazine and books like “The Secret Garden”, materials which fed her imagination.  How she hoped one day she could live in a big old white house surrounded by nature, a place where she could work in her garden, enjoy afternoon tea and play the piano to her hearts content.

But life moved on as it tends to do and no lady ever appeared to Carol Ann.  Days passed. Months turned into years and only occasionally did Carol Ann have the opportunity to pass the old white house and remember her imaginings.  But then one day while reading a book by the American author Henry David Thoreau she came upon a passage that spoke to her.

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”

“Aha”, she thought.  At that moment there was an awakening.   Though Carol Ann never did meet the lady of her imagination who lived in the big old white house that sat on those extensive grounds she suddenly realized she actually became that lady.  Of course she’s American, not English, but besides that one fact, her dreams came true.  Now Carol Ann lives in a big old white house of her own and it happens to sit on a generous plot of land. The grounds around Carol Ann’s house may not be as grand as that house of her dreams, but she’s working on them. Gardening is one of Carol Ann’s favorite activities.  She does however enjoy afternoon tea regularly and with guests, often children.  And that’s not all.  She also delights in playing  the piano and playing those duets she dreamed of for now she’s a piano teacher herself.

Thoreau was right.  If we advance through life in the direction of our dreams not letting them go we can meet with unexpected success.

All this is an introduction to today’s story.  You see, after years of imagining and dreaming about that old house I passed so many times as a child I finally had the chance to explore the property.

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Carol Ann paying a nice friendly visit to Celeste.

 And this is the lady that made it happen for me.  This is Celeste, a wonderful artist and my cousin who happens to live in what was once the gate house for the house of my dreams.

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Celeste’s charming house which I always loved

Celeste knows the present owners of my dream property and though I dropped by to visit her, in talking about my girlhood imaginings, Celeste suggested I take a walk at long last and explore the grounds I admired for so many years.  She assured me her neighbors wouldn’t notice and if they did I should just explain I was her cousin and a long time admirer of their place.

You can’t imagine how excited I was!

Want to come along?  Ok, let’s go.

 I stepped out the back door and headed down the long driveway.

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At one point the driveway was edged with large stones.  They were there so drivers wouldn’t go astray and end up in the woods below.

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I don’t happen to have these woods at my house unfortunately but I wish I did.  This property goes down to The Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  It’s beautiful country.

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As I get closer to the house I begin to see a little white.  How exciting!

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And then there’s a little more white…

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As I get closer I notice a lattice privacy screen near the house, but I wonder why anyone needs  help with privacy when they live on extensive grounds like these.

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I walked past the house quickly so as not to bother the owners and headed for the grounds behind it, the grounds I never could see very well from the street when I was a little girl.  How wonderful they were.

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The large terraces carved from stone…  the workmanship!  What such a job as this would cost today!

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So many steps down into the valley!

There was a nip in the air and I was chilled to the bone, but nevertheless I walked around with great enthusiasm taking in every sight and sound.

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There were places carved in stone somewhat like large benches where people could sit and gaze out at the landscape.  I might’ve done that if I wasn’t so cold.  But besides being cold there was so much to see.  I had to keep moving.

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Stone staircases were here and there.  As I discovered them hiding under the leaves I felt the same thrill I’d feel discovering ancient ruins in Rome.

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And these forgotten, long-ignored garden elements also reminded me of the forgotten garden from the book The Secret  Garden, that book I loved as a child and still love today.

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There were little streams with charming wooden bridges – so Romantic!

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I could’ve stayed in this wonderland forever but I reluctantly climbed my way back up and there was the house peeking out in the distance.

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As I got closer I discovered another area that had been abandoned.

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It was a large square area framed by a stone wall decorated with wooden fencing.

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The fencing had seen better days, the days of my childhood.  Oh, how I wish I could’ve seen this estate back in its glory days, but it still had a grace about itself, and in its current condition it seemed even more dear to me.

The stately pillars had such dignity standing proudly as they had done for so many years.

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Though ivy and moss grew over them they still were very beautiful to me.

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And in the courtyard was this circular stone item.  Was it once a well or a planter?  I wondered.

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And then I spotted the tea house.  How lovely it would’ve been  on a Summer’s day if and when my lady invited me to share her afternoon tea.  Seeing this structure set my imagination stirring once more.

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What a wonderful property this is.  I wasn’t disappointed at all. Once again I dashed past the house so as not to alarm or disturb the owners.  I learned they were an elderly couple. That could explain why they let their grounds go.  They probably don’t go walking about these days very much to justify the cost in maintaining such a place, but if only they did.  I hope some day a new enthusiastic owner will come along and restore everything to its former glory..

I wish that person could be me.

Perhaps one day my cousin will introduce me to the owners of this estate. The lady of the house in my imagination never became my friend but perhaps I could become friends with the present owners and they just might allow me to return over and over, appreciating  their wonderful property.

I’m only guessing, but I suspect I’ve loved their house and grounds longer then they did and perhaps more intensely then they do now.

Well, that’s my story.

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So as I write you from my own old white house set in nature  I encourage you to keep on dreaming and imagining no matter how old or young you may be for as my good  old “dead friend” Henry David Thoreau suggested,

“If you advance confidently in the direction of your dreams, and endeavor to live the life you have imagined, you will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”

I’m a believer!

Country Inn Nature Day

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Today I take advantage of the fact that I happen to live near one of the Great Lakes of the world, Lake Erie.  This lake takes its name from  the Erie tribe of our Native Americans, a shortened form of the Iroquoian (erie/honan meaning long tail).

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The five Great Lakes – Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario and Superior, are interconnected fresh water lakes located on the Canada-United States border.  They form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth containing 21% of the world’s surface fresh water by volume.  Due to their sea-like characteristics (rolling waves, sustained winds, strong currents, great depths and distant horizons) these five Great Lakes have long been referred to as inland seas.  We in Cleveland  proudly say we live on the North Coast.  People brag about living near an ocean, but it’s also quite special to live near  a Great Lake. Too many people fail to take advantage of a Great Lakes beauty, but not me.

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I’m not much of a swimmer or boater, but I love walking along the water’s edge and enjoying the beauty of the lake. I find the time I spend carried away with nature’s beauty helps me subtract years from my age.  Nature’s beauty has magical powers for when we take that beauty in we feel its glow in our soul.

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Here at Edgewater Park I’m only a mile or two from busy downtown Cleveland but on this and every Country Inn Day I step away from life in the modern world and give myself permission to live somewhere between heaven and earth – to “just be”.  I could be home cleaning or “doing” any number of useful things and I will get to those things, but on Country Inn Days it’s more about being than doing.  Sure, we need to “do”, but not every day.  If we don’t give ourselves permission to step out of our routines who will?  Nobody will and we’ll miss so much.

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Sam Horn, author 0f CoZentraten, writes, “the contentment we seek is available anytime, anywhere… for a moment’s notice.  And age becomes immaterial when you’re immersed in appreciation.”  We can experience such beneficial appreciation in all sorts of ways – strolling through art galleries, working in the garden, creating a delicious meal, playing the piano – so many ways, but observing nature is there at the top of my list.

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I usually enjoy Country Inn Days alone so that I’m free to come and go just as I please.  If I take anyone along with me it’s usually a “dead friend”, a person of the past who I commune with through their letters, journals or biographies.  These “dead friends” are great company at lunch, telling me interesting stories from lives past.  “Dead friends” make no demands.  “Dead friends” are like that, they’re great!  I hope you have some “dead friends” of your own too. But since my son Rory happens to live steps away from Lake Erie, owning a condo in Cleveland’s warehouse district, I invited him to join me here at the lake. Rory has always appreciated nature for he’s  a former boy scout who still goes off hiking and camping with friends, but it’s good to have a little mother/son time in nature too and what better time and place to have it than right here at Lake Erie with me on this Country Inn Day..

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Rory and I stroll along the break wall watching the sail boats in the distance.  We chat.  What a lovely Country Inn Day I’m having.  Simple pleasures like these are the best!

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And after a nice time here at the lake, Rory and I stroll back to our car talking about how even simple pleasures don’t just happen. They have to be planned.  First, one must discover what sort of life they’ve imagined for themselves. Then, as Henry David Thoreau used to say, “If you’ve built castles in the air, fine,  just create the foundations under them.”  I do this by scheduling a Country Inn Day each and every week.  And one regular activity of each Inn day is to review the rest of my days being sure they are addressing the life I’ve imagined for myself.  We only have one life after all.  If we don’t take charge of it who will?

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Before I return to Hudson Rory and I decide to have a bite to eat.  Rory is good company, he’s even more fun for me than being with one of my “dead friends” and I love my “dead friends” dearly.  But a good mother always enjoys being with her children, in my case with her handsome sons. This restaurant/bar is around the corner from Rory’s condo, not my kind of place – no white tablecloths,  but I’m always happy to be with my sons, stepping into their worlds whatever those worlds may be. Mother/son time doesn’t happen nearly often enough, but it happened for me today.

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Well, a very satisfying Country Inn Nature Day it was, but then all Country Inn Days are most satisfying.  I drive away from Lake Erie (you see it in the distance)  with renewed contentment.  I hope you’re enjoying the nature in your backyard too. So often those things closest to home are taken for granted, but not by me.   Let’s hope not by you either.  Leave me a comment and tell me what you’ve been enjoying in your backyard lately.

Sharing doubles the joy!

Food, Wine, Nature and Music- wonderful ingredients for a delightful Country Inn “Culture” Day

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Recently I bought a new picnic basket, the kind that contains dishes, napkins, plates, wine glasses and silverware.  A charming picnic basket is great to take along on any romantic outing and  just the thing for a Country Inn Day.  But this Country Inn “Culture” Day will be more than a picnic.  It will combine the romance of a picnic with the elegance of a classical music concert. It will be a double treat!

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My husband and I are off to Blossom Music Center, the Summer home of The Cleveland Orchestra.  We’re very lucky to live in Hudson, Ohio for Blossom is very near to us.  The above picture is an artist’s rendition of Blossom.  This illustration was created  to be used for invitations sent at the opening of Blossom back in 1968. Now Blossom is in its 48th season.  It was created by visionary leaders of Cleveland’s Musical Arts Association so that the Cleveland Orchestra, by the time of its 50th anniversary, could provide year-round employment for its musicians – and year-round music for the region.  As we approach the Orchestra’s 100th anniversary, Blossom has done that and so much more.  Cleveland is rich in culture, a best kept secret, and Cleveland’s classical music scene is second to none with The Cleveland Orchestra as its brightest star.  As a music lover, music educator and past member of The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus I am quite the classical music lover and fan of The Cleveland Orchestra and both its outstanding homes –  Blossom in Summer and Severance Hall  the rest of the year.

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So I find a good bottle of wine and  a loaf of French bread to pack into my cute picnic basket lined with impressionistic fabric reminiscent of the paintings of Claude Monet…

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I also pack a container of chicken salad and another container of broccoli salad

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and the next thing I know we’re driving into the grounds of Blossom.  It’s situated on rolling hills surrounded by the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which protects 33,000 acres along the Cuyahoga River between Akron and Cleveland. This park is a great destination on Country Inn “Nature” Days.

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We park the car, take a pleasant walk, and before we know it we’re here at the gate.

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Some people bring lawn chairs from home, but Blossom rents chairs too and today we decide to take advantage of this service.

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As Bill sets up our listening area lots of other people are already situated on the lawn.  I decide to take a little walk around  the grounds before the music begins.

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There’s an art gallery on the premises so it’s fun to go inside and have a look.  I enjoy a little art play myself every now and then so it’s good to see what other artists are doing.

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And I’m not the only one who enjoys looking at art.  Others are milling around the gallery too.  How about you?  When was the last time you were at an art museum or art gallery?  Such places are great alternative destinations for other  Country Inn “Culture” Days.

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And remember I mentioned nature? Besides the fact that Blossom is situated  on rolling hills surrounded by lovely old trees there is also a charming formal garden on the grounds with clipped boxwood and an assortment of lovely flowers.  I love to stroll around in such places.  Who wouldn’t?  Very romantic indeed!

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And Blossom has a gift shop too.  It’s called the Bandwagon.  I go inside to see what little treat I can find for myself. As a letter writer I always need picture post cards for you know what they say – one picture is worth a thousand words, and I find some nice postcards of Blossom here.  I also find and purchase a box of note cards with the picture of Blossom that’s at the heading of this post, the picture used for Blossom’s opening. I’ll enjoy sending these cards to my many pen friends, and there’s more…

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The gift shop has a wall of Cleveland Orchestra cd’s for sale.  Wonderful!  I love so many.  Which cd shall I buy?

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It’s a tough decision, but I come away with one of my very favorite symphonies, The New World.  Do you know and like this work as much as I do?

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Well, the concert will be starting soon so I work my way back to the lawn, my husband, and our picnic, but on the way I see lots of other happy people at picnic tables enjoying their supper, people like these nice ladies.  I ask if I may take their picture for my post and they’re so sweet. They invite me to join them.

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So join them I did, at least for a little while.  See?  There I am on the left.  Cleveland people are so friendly.  I’m sure if we had the time I would’ve gotten  to know these gals quite well, well enough to  invite them all to one of my next teas. But there wasn’t time for too much visiting.  The music would be starting soon.  I had to get back.

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On the way back I noticed the little stand where coffee and wine are for sale, other things to nibble on too.  You really don’t have to bring anything to Blossom concerts if you don’t want to, just yourself, and maybe a loved one for good company.  Blossom provides all sorts of things for your pleasure.

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Well, my scouting about was fun, but now for my picnic, some wine, and lots of wonderful music –  Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suite No. 3 in D major, Joseph Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C major, Johann Christian Bach’s  Sinfonia in G minor and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No. 31 (“Paris”) in D major.

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The sun is going down and the crowd gets quiet.  We sit back, feel the gentle Summer breeze, enjoy the scent of nature all around us (and the aroma of various delicacies in nearby picnic baskets) and the music begins.  Ta  Da!  I wish I could share this music with you for it lifts the spirits. Its artistry and refinement becomes us.  That’s how the beauty of art works for as the great composer George Frideric Handel said to King George I of England – “Milord, I should be sorry if I only entertained them. I wished to make them better.”

Good art truly makes us better.

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Daylight fades and the scene is a twinkling of candles and stars.  It’s been a lovely Country Inn “Culture” Day.  This Country Inn Day, like all Country Inn Days, helps me step out of my regular routines and offers stimulation and refreshment.  I’m glad you could come along with me in spirit for sharing doubles the joy.

Live richly!

It’s another Country Inn “Stay at the Inn” Day

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A view out the Inn’s window
Though the sun is shining and it’s warm today, all of 20 degrees, not the usual below zero temperatures we’ve had here lately, I will not be venturing out of the Inn yet again.  As Innkeeper I have to oversee the workmen who are finishing the floors here.

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Equipment ready to go
The men will soon be arriving.  Their machines are already in place and these machines can be pretty noisy once turned on, but the sound is music to my ears for it means progress on the Inn’s addition.

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A sitting room turned storage room

By my next Country Inn Day I expect the main new room of the Inn will be ready to receive furniture, the furniture which has yet to be delivered as well as the pieces which arrived earlier and have been crowding existing rooms of the Inn.  I’m so anxious to see everything in its right place as you can imagine for this project as been going on for quite some time.

Luckily some rooms here at the Inn have been undisturbed by all the construction so a Country Inn Day here can carry on very much as usual.

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The busy kitchen

The Inn Cook has been working from early morning whipping up a nice breakfast treat, Cable Car Morning Muffins.  This recipe comes from a book called “San Francisco Entertains”.  The book was purchased on a Country Inn “Travel” Day when Cook dropped into  a William Sonoma store in San Francisco’s Union Square.

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Cable Car Morning Muffins

These muffins give me, Inn Guest, a good healthy start to the day.  They are made of wheat flour, oats, ground flax, raisins, carrots, apples, pecans and blackberries, plus a half dozen other ingredients.

So once I have  a bit of nourishment I’m ready for a fun activity here at the Inn and my very favorite activity is letter writing.

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The pleasure of a letter

On an ordinary day I’ll  write one letter with my first cup of coffee and another letter later in the afternoon, but on an Inn Day I can spurge. Today I write five “search letters” first thing.  As a member of The Letter Exchange (www.letter-exchange.com), a wonderful organization for letter writers, I regularly answer ads in the club’s magazine from people all around the world, people who seek correspondents and friendship.

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I keep my postman busy sending out cards and letters daily.

 I call my letters of introduction  to these people my “search letters” because like Queen Isabella sending out ships in search of treasure, my “search letters” go forth seeking  out new pen friends who I treasure.  Letters from these pen friends arrive daily.    My post man picks up my letters and  delivers more  to my door. What fun!

William James, the 19th century American philosopher once said, “As long as there are postmen life will have zest”.  He was so right!

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Sealing wax is used on every letter stamping a “C” initial at the end.

 The Art of Letter writing is not dead and gone as so many think.  It is alive, well, and quite delightful – art that is personal, expressive, creative and lasting.  It’s become my mission to spread the word concerning the pleasures of a letter.  Too many people are oblivious to this delightful art form.  I hope you’re not one of them.

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Country Inn Day agenda

It’s so nice to step out of my regular routine one day a week and escape to a Country Inn Day. Here I’m free to do whatever the spirit moves me to do.  I think a little work sprinkled into a week is a very good thing because it helps us fully appreciate our free time. But too much work or even too much free time can be trouble. It’s the rich mix of work and play, just the right blend, that seems to do the trick, at least for me. How ’bout for you?

If you’re designing Inn Days of your own I suggest you start by creating a list of your favorite pleasures.  Simply creating this list can be great fun even before you partake in the activities.  I created a basic list but it is so long I never expect to fit all these pleasures into one  24 hour period so I choose just a few to enjoy each Country Inn Day. I could enjoy coffee or lunch out or perhaps fuss over a lovely afternoon tea. Some days it’s nice to have cocktails with a “dead friend”.  I just pull out a biography of some interesting person from the past and as I sit comfortably with my drink reading, I feel as if that person is with me, telling me their story.  They really are too.  They’re truly with me if only “in spirit”.

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The Red Lion Inn dining room

I would love  to slip away to the dining room of my favorite Red Lion Inn for dinner each and every Country Inn Day, but since it’s about 500 miles away that’s not usually possible.  So the next best thing is to get busy as Innkeeper/ Cook creating a pleasant meal and table setting for two, or maybe more if I feel like entertaining. The creativity involved is fun.  Why have pretty things if we don’t use and share those things regularly? Country Inn Days give me the opportunity to use my nicest china, crystal and linen and the presentation is not only for me and any guests I might have.  I”ll photograph  the setting and then create photo note cards for my correspondence. In doing so I enjoy the fruits of my efforts over and over again and sharing doubles the joy.

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One picture on a photo note is worth a thousand words

You don’t need to explain what you’ve been doing when you send a card with a picture like this one on its cover page.  Whether we dine by ourselves or with a host of others it’s fun to fuss a little now and then. We’re worth it, aren’t we?

Other of my basic Inn activities are the letter writing  which I already mentioned, time creating rituals for daily life, lovely spa activities, and all those other favorite things I like to do.  Making a list of our favorite things is fun.  Have you done that lately?  Oscar Hammerstein II wrote, “I simply remember my favorite things and then I don’t feel so bad.”  But when I think of my favorite things, list them, and then make them happen,  I feel better then “not so bad”.  I feel GREAT!  On Country Inn Days favorite things are the main events, thinking about them, listing them, and then making them a reality.

Creating rituals is a wonderful Inn activity for as attention is paid to the details of ordinary tasks those tasks become much more enjoyable whether they’re done on Inn Days or on any ordinary day. Some of my favorite rituals relate to menu planning, reading, housework, letter writing and entertaining. Without a carefully thought-out ritual in place it’s sometimes hard for me to get started with even my most favorite activity, but once a ritual is designed that same activity becomes automatic and full of grace.

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The boudoir

The bath is a great place to dream up rituals.  While  enjoying spa time the mind is free to be creative.  Why not use that time to think up ways to make every day more and more special?  No one is going to do the thinking for us.  It’s our job and a delightful job it can be.

Work and worry are sturdy weeds, but joy requires cultivation.

 A Country Inn Day is a day to not only stop and smell the roses. It’s also a day to cultivate joy.

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“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.” — Charles W. Eliot (President of Harvard, 1869-1909)
I’ll leave you now for I have a date with Sara Ban Breathnach.  She has some ideas to share with me, ideas from her book “Romancing the Ordinary”. I’m hoping she’ll inspire more Country Inn Day pleasures and if she does, you can be sure I’ll share them with you because sharing doubles the joy. Yes it does.

See you next time at the Inn and till then

Live richly.