Why not write a letter?

If you’re a little bored during this pandemic it just might be the perfect time for you to reach out and touch someone with a little love. Send that love in the form of a hand written letter.

Who doesn’t like to find a personal message ‘just to them’ in their mailbox, a message that says someone is thinking of them? Don’t type the letter. Pick up a pen and take your time crafting each word. Your handwriting is a little bit of you. Type is so impersonal. In intimate correspondence the hand written letter will always reign supreme.

You can dress up your letter with pictures. One picture is worth a thousand words. A picture to make your friend smile, a picture to make your friend think of something pleasing. Words and pictures together have delighted human beings for centuries. Why not now?

True, it slows one down to write, especially to hand write, but we need to slow ourselves down sometimes. Streamlining our activities in life may help us get more accomplished, but it’s quality we should be after, not quantity.

“Writing by hand, mouthing by mouth: in each case you get a very strong physical sense of the emergence of language … print obliterates it, type has no drawl”, says American novelist William Gass, and I agree.

If you must type because you have some physical problem, well ok, but most of us should do the human thing whenever possible, not the machine thing. Too many tasks these days are designated away from personal human touch.

Perhaps you’re writing to your friend while enjoying a cup of coffee. Tell them about it. Draw the cup. Take time. Describe where you’re sitting. Imagine your friend is with you and write stream of consciousness style just as though they were with you in person. Dot dot dot, dash, dash, dash. Sure, you could phone them, but maybe they’re busy and don’t care to be interrupted. A letter is always so very polite. It patiently waits to be read. It makes no demands, only offers delight

Turn your letter into a little book. It’s easily done by inserting a few sheets of paper.

Poke holes into the papers and use colored twine or ribbon to tie the pages together. Use your creativity. Turn on your imagaination and GO! Be an artist.

The act of writing is a wonderful discipline. Our minds are forced to send messages to our fingers and our fingers must respond with precision. We can’t be in a rush. We must discipline ourselves to write slowly and carefully so our writing is not only legible, but also handsome. Most of us care how we look. We should also care how our writing looks and if we’re not pleased we should practice. Practice makes improvement!

Writing is like yoga. It forces our bodies to obey our minds. It encourages us toward harmony. A letter should be a work of art that not only touches the heart of our friend, but hopfully also entertains them, and in this pandemic who couldn’t use a little extra entertainment.

Machines have no grace. Hopefully we humans do, and our handwritten, artful letters can sprinkle a little of that grace out into our weary world as we reach out to others in this most personal way.

Speak with your pen! Send the gift of a letter to someone letting them know you are thinking of them. If it’s a heart to heart letter it just might make their day and wouldn’t you feel good about yourself if you could make another so happy. Sure you would.

“More than kisses, letters mingle souls; For, thus friends absent speak.” _____John Donne

An Afternoon Telephone Tea

During these days of the pandemic we have to do things a little differently. For example, I usually host one afternoon tea in my home each month for though I enjoy daily afternoon tea all by myself it’s so nice to share tea and conversation with others now and then. Sharing doubles the joy you know. But now I can’t invite people into my home so something else had to be done. But what? I can enjoy a telephone tea with friends – once a month, once a week or as often as I like. It’s so easy.

You don’t need many ingredients, but the two ingredients you do need are a telephone and someone to call. Most people have these two essentials.

Next you need a comfortable place where you can talk enjoying your tea. I chose a corner of my living room for this particular telephone tea, but I may choose a different location for the next one. Here I can chat and sip while looking out the window to enjoy what’s happening in the yard.

It’s fun to watch for birdies and see the squirrels scamper by. Ah nature!

I baked some Seed Cake for the occasion. I’m not so sure about this recipe, if it’s a keeper or not. It comes from a good source, one of the Downton Abbey Cookbooks on my shelf.

Did you ever make Seed Cake? This recipe was new to me and quite unusual. Of course I may have done something wrong along the way in making it, but if you are into Seed Cake do write to me and tell me about your recipe. Does my Seed Cake look like yours?

My good friend Barbara suggested that during our telephone tea we do our needlework as we sip and visit. What a good idea! The phone is put into its speaker mode so with hands free we can stitch. I do love needlework, especially knitting and needlepoint. In this area where I’ll be enjoying my telephone tea I have two pillows of needlepoint gracing each chair. They are both scenes from my favorite place on earth, The Boston Public Garden.

One pillow depicts the ducklings from the garden’s frog pond. These ducklings were made famous by the book Make way for ducklings.

The other pillow depicts the romantic Victorian bridge which crosses over the lagoon, the lagoon on which swan boats glide giving garden visitors delightful rides on lovely Summer afternoons.

Many of my favorite places are preserved in needlepoint pictures and pillows. Do you enjoy this art form? I usually do needlepoint in warm months and knitting in cool months. Though it’s Spring in Hudson, Ohio, U.S.A. I’m still finishing a knitting project so this is what I’ll be working on during today’s telephone tea.

Here’s the yarn and a picture of the poncho I’m making. It’s an easy project and if it doesn’t start warming up here soon I’ll still be able to wear it on these chilly May days.

So there you have it. A Telephone Tea. Pretty simple. Instead of an Afternoon tea all by yourself you call a friend, put your phone on speaker, enjoy some food treat, brew some tea and don’t just sit there staring out the window, do something with your hands while chatting. This works for me and maybe it could work for you too. It’s a little physical, social and intellectual activity all at once, maybe even a little spiritual activity depending what you chat about. Hmm? So don’t let this pandemic deprive you of fun. There’s still lots you can do while also staying safe at home.

Enjoy a Telephone tea!

Tea and Hospitality

Tea – a hot drink that is made by steeping the dried leaves of tea plants in boiling water.

Hospitality – the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests.

Put these two together and what do you get?

The Afternoon Tea Party

Even though I love coffee and drink coffee all through the day when the afternoon rolls around it’s time for tea. There’s something about the tea ceremony that is just too civilized and gracious not to be enjoyed daily, but to host an afternoon tea is especially wonderful because it’s a way to visit with old friends, encourage friendship with the new people you meet while also enjoying your own afternoon tea.

To host an afternoon tea all you really need is the tea and a friend, but of course you can add as much to the occasion as you like. Because I enjoy working with food I usually serve three things at my teas – a sandwich of some kind, scones, and a dessert,

The sandwiches at my last tea were cucumber

Cucumber, butter, salt and pepper on white bread

The scones served were one of my favorites – Cream scones with orange butter.

The Cream Scone recipe – 2 c, flour, 1/3c. sugar, 1 Tbsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2c. currants, 1 c. heavy cream. Process: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Stir together the first 5 ingredients. Gradually stir in the cream. Gather the dough together and knead lightly on floured board. Pat to 1/2 inch thick. Cut with 2 inch cutter dipped in flour. Arrange on ungreased baking sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes. You can glaze the scones with a creamy mixture of 1/2 c. powdered sugar, 1 tsp. orange zest and about 1 Tpsp. of frsh o.j.

Orange butter is easy to make. Beat together 1 stick of unsalted butter (softened), 2 Tbsp. frozen o.j. concentrate, with the zest of 1/2 orange, 1/4 plus 1 Tbsp. powdered sugar. Smooth into ramekin and smooth top.

Yum

For dessert at this tea I whipped up a plate of creme puffs. I like to fill them with coconut creme pudding mixed with whipped cream.

Of course you could invite friends over and simply serve a cup of tea with a smile and friendly conversation. Sometimes I do just that. Food is not always necessary. It’s opening your home to friendship that’s most important and it’s good to know that serving tea is healthful as well as good-tasting. It’s a gormet bargain. Most teas cost only four or five cents a cup, and even the very rarest varieties are only about fifty cents – so go ahead and buy the best.

You can serve your tea at the sofa, on a little tray between two easy chairs, or at a table – anything goes. Whatever works in your home is the perfect thing for you. I like to serve in different rooms each month, use different china, different linen, different everything for each of my teas. I try to fully utilize my spaces and enjoy using all the things I’ve collected over time.

My Autumn tea was larger than usual. I invited five guests, all neighbors. I usually keep my tea parties small – one, two or three guests, but occasionally I’ll host up to five guests and I’m the sixth. Larger teas need larger tables.

A centerpiece is often flowers or something from nature. For this tea I chose Autumn leaves.

I used a favorite set of china from France. How I love French things. The napkins were old and delicate to co-ordinate with the cutwork placemats. It’s all art, putting a table together.

Each place setting welcomes my guests.

My guests arrived one by one and until they all were here we sat in the library and chatted.

Once the last guest arrived the tea party began. We went to the table and the rest was history. Afternoon tea is a pleasantly nostalgic and remarkably enduring custom. An hour whiled away with tea treats, music, conversation, and late afternoon light is a wonderful way to slow the pace of our busy world and recapture the sense of well-being that we need to carry on with the rest of our days.

Afternoon tea is also a great way to enrich our old friendships and cultivate new ones.

Take a break each day for your own afternoon tea and partake in the age old Art of Hospitality inviting others into your home now and then too.

It’s wonderful fun. Take it from me . . .

Tea on an Autumn Afternoon

“Very little is needed to make a happy life. It is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.“————–Marcus Aurelius

I love to host an afternoon tea each and every month. Have you ever hosted such a party? I hope so. Every tea party I host is set in a different location in or around the grounds of my home. In October I always choose to serve in my outbuilding. Why? It’s because this small building at the edge of our property has a wood burning fireplace and entertaining here on an Autumn day makes me feel all cozy, as though I’m far away off in the mountains.

The outbuilding

This builiding is my little getaway place. It has two dutch doors, the five windows you see, baseboard heating and a beamed ceiling.

View of the fireplace

The outbuilding is always a great escape for me. I love to read in the wing chairs or in the rocker that belonged to my maternal grandparents, but now the rocker belongs to me.

So nice to sit and rock

Any time of year I love to escape to this building. Though there’s a house right next door the bushes keep my view out these windows quite private. It’s really a great escape when I yearn to get away, but haven’t the time to go off very far.

A room with a view thanks to the great windows

I love our outbuilding and because I know sharing doubles the joy I’m happy to host my October tea parties here. Of course the building is great for cocktails before a dinner party too. It’s just a fun place. We would’ve never thought to build such a structure, but some previous owners created it and I’m so glad they did.

For this October tea I decided to serve three items – a blueberry tea cake, pear scones ( the recipe given to me by my dear pen friend, Almita) and egg and watercress sandwiches. The party began with a little champagne. Campagne is always a nice touch.

Egg and watercress sandwich
Pear Scones
Blueberry tea cake

This tea party began as we sat before the fire toasting our champagne. We sat, we chatted, we watched the fire crackle and burn, but then we were ready for some tea so off to the table we went. The table in this outbuilding first belonged to my maternal grandparents as the rocker did. I was so happy to inherit it. I was happy also to have a good place for it in this building where it could be used and enjoyed by me and others. My grandparents and aunts and uncles who once used this table are now gone, but now the table has new life and new people all around it. It helps me share joy and love with others over tea. Sharing joy and love is what it’s all about, don’t you agree?

My grandparents table set for tea

My mother created the tablecloth. She was so good with a needle as were many of my female relatives. I have fond memories of us getting together chatting and stitching. I still love to knit, embroider, and do needlepoint. Do you enjoy needlework too? It’s a lovely art form.

I thought the outbuilding deserved its own set of china so I went off shopping at some antique stores and found this pretty pattern.

The outbuilding china

For tea at an antique table with antique china and antique table cloth I needed to use some antique napkins and I found some in my cupboard. I’m always collecting pretty things for the table. You too?

A napkin with a handmade touch

Every afternoon tea needs flowers and I was delighted to find some orange tea roses which matched the outbuilding china perfectly.

Gorgeous roses

The roses also matched the hair of my “mystery guest”. Look and see Maura’s lovely orange hair.

Me with my “mystery guest” and newest friend

You may be wondering why I call Maura my “mystery guest”? Well, you see, Maura read one of my past tea posts and she left a comment saying she would love to be invited to a tea. I wrote back to her asking where in the country she lived and I was delighted to learn she lived very near to me … so I invited her to this tea. I never actually met her until she came to my door but she proved to be a lovely lady and delightful guest. What is it they say about strangers being angels in disguise?

Of course I had other guests too – my good friends Lori and Joni were invited. Because I had taken a few hundred trips back and forth from the house to the outbuilding preparing for this tea I was very happy that the ladies helped me carry the last of the food to our little party in the ourbuilding.

Friends are the best

There is nothing like afternoon tea. To enjoy tea alone while reading a book or writing a letter is delightful, but to invite others to share in the tea ceremony is double or even triple fun. I certainly hope you are partaking in this simple but most delectable pleasure.

Go ahead. Invite some friends for afternoon tea. You’ll be glad you did.

What better way to suggest friendliness – and to create it – than with a cup of tea? ———————–J. Grayson Luttrell 1930

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

 

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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.

The “Spirit” of Hospitality

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It’s October and Autumn is in the air.  Spirits are in the air too.  There’s one particular little spirit that flutters back and forth past the porch of my 1853 Jeremiah Brown House. It’s a little white ghost. Whenever I see this ghost my thoughts wander off to a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  The poem is called Haunted Houses.

“All houses wherein men have lived and died are haunted houses…there are more guests at table than the host invited…my friend at fireside cannot see the things I see nor hear the sounds I hear.  He but sees what is, whereas unto me all that has been is visible and clear.”

Another type of spirit that is visible and clear to me is the Spirit of Hospitality.  Hospitality.   I think it’s  a wonderful thing, defined as the act or practice of receiving and entertaining strangers or guests in a friendly or generous way.

Strangers or guests

Do you entertain guests and even strangers too?  I do.  At many of my afternoon teas I ask guests to bring a friend. In this way I have the fun of meeting new people, and this makes me think of those words from the bible talking about the possibility of strangers being angels in disguise.

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We’re always told to love our neighbor, but one can’t love a person they don’t know, and in order to really get to know someone it’s necessary to spend time together… time spent chatting and sharing.  We can do this chatting and sharing in all sorts of ways and in all sorts of places.  I get to know many people from all around the world through the art of letter writing,  but I also enjoy getting to know people through in person visits and my favorite place for these visits is in my very own home.  That’s because . . .

 

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Home is where the heart is

Many of us work hard to make our house a home.  We fill our house with things we love.  We clean and polish, decorate according to our own unique taste, and in this way we express ourselves.  Our home captures our spirit.  Even if we’re not present a visitor can walk into our house and get a real sense of who we are.

So

if we’re trying to get to know people better and we want them to get to know us,  I think inviting them into our home is the best way and place in which to cultivate and grow friendship.  I’m surprised so few people share my thinking.  Don’t you enjoy being invited to someone’s home – for dinner, tea, cocktails or anything?   I sure do, and I equally enjoy doing the inviting.

I love to host intimate events where good conversation abounds.  Cooking and baking are two of my favorite things so it’s great fun for me to plan a dinner, luncheon or tea,  but even if cooking and baking are not your favorite things it’s still easy to entertain.   So why don’t more people share my thinking?  I wish I knew.  It’s not so much about food as it is about the sharing of spirit.

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Joy and Carol Ann

Recently I had a delightful day of sharing with one of my pen friends.  Meet Joy.

I first met Joy through The Letter Exchange, an organization for letter writers.  She was living in Switzerland at the time, but later she moved to South Carolina.  Through letters we’ve been sharing for years and getting to know each other very well.  We’ve become kindred spirits entirely through our letters.  But what a thrill when Joy told me she’d be passing through my town and wanted to stop by for an in person visit. How delightful!

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The day of Joy’s visit arrived.  I made  a batch of my cream scones with raspberries and whipped cream, pulled out my Laura Ashley Tea for Two china and strolled around my house and garden deciding where we should settle in to do our sharing.

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The weather has been beautiful this Autumn so I decided we should have our tea and conversation outdoors on the porch and since it would just be the two of us why not choose the small, open porch with a view of nature.

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I set a small cloth on the table and proceeded to arrange the china, going out to the garden to snip a rose and some mint and lavender. Nothing like flowers and herbs.  I wanted everything to be pretty for my friend.

Here, in this peaceful setting, we could talk and listen to each other, deepening our friendship.

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It’s not necessary to fuss with settings – food, china, flowers,  but I think these things are a very nice touch.  They can help in creating a very pleasant situation for a friend’s visit and can only help to make that friend feel special and highly valued.

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I’m a Romantic and beauty in any of its forms delights me.  Though I try to create beauty for my guests I must say I get a lot of joy and satisfaction from this beauty too.  Beauty seems to become us.

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Joy seemed to enjoy the scones – just that simple little food treat, but the real treat (at least for me) was the sharing of our spirits.  Friendship is a wonderful thing.  I don’t believe we’re meant to live solitary lives.  Friendship doubles the joy in life just as sharing doubles the joy.

We can share in a variety of ways.  I love the old fashioned ways – the art of letter writing and the art of hospitality. I encourage you to practice both arts.  They may be forgotten, but both arts are as delightful today as they ever were.

When you give good things come back to you.

Letters, Invitations to tea, friendship,  and more . . .

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I wish for you the wonderful kind of friendship Joy and I share.

Truly.

Carol Ann

Remembering a Summer Tea from Days Gone By

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When birds are singing and flowers are blooming and all of nature is bursting out in lush greenery it’s lovely to move Afternoon Tea outdoors. We in the North have plenty of opportunity to sip our tea in dining rooms, living rooms and libraries during the cold Winter months, but in Summer it’s important to take advantage of outdoor living spaces.

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Nature is so marvelous and here at The Jeremiah Brown House I care about the grounds outside the house as much as I care about the settings indoors.  I try to enjoy and use every inch of the property and sharing it doubles my joy.

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It’s been this way since my husband and I purchased the 1853 Jeremiah Brown House some seven years ago. This house and grounds had good bones but additions and improvements were needed. Way back when I’d look out the kitchen window at a trellis room, old and romantic, and though  I loved it, the years had taken a toll on its untreated wood.  The Trellis  room was beyond repair.

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But I loved looking up in this open-air room that had no ceiling.  There was nothing to block the view of puffy white clouds and blue sky. We knew this room’s days were numbered though.  It had to go in order to make way for the house addition we were planning.

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The old stone patio just beyond the Trellis Room with its view of the side yard would have to go too.  Sad, but necessary. The stone was crumbling and needed too much repair.  The years had taken its toll on the patio too.

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Plans were drawn up for a new addition  and work was soon to begin, but first a few final events were held in these old spaces.

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One such event was a simple tea for two old friends.  The  old Trellis Room teamed up with lovey old friends.  This seemed right.  Afternoon Tea served here was a simple affair.  After all, every tea does not need to be an elaborate event.  I wish more people would realize this for maybe then they would enjoy hosting teas of their own.  The Art of Entertaining seems to be a dying art. (Whoa is me!)  People say they’re too busy, but I think there should always be time set aside for gracious hospitality no matter how busy people may be.  That’s just me.

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After all, how much work is involved in making tea?  Not much work at all.

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And if one is not a baker that presents no problem for super markets and bakeries provide all sorts of cookies that will please guests. Afternoon tea is mostly about intimate sharing.  The food and tea are nice accompaniments to the sharing, but not the most important things.

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Of course if one does enjoy working in the kitchen, baking and cooking up goodies, all the better. Food is art and most of us love it!  I like to experiment with new recipes.  I think it’s fun, but as I said, one doesn’t have to do this. To host a tea one simply needs to tidy up the house or tea setting, set a few refreshments out, and then enjoy the afternoon along with their guests.

The recipe I prepared for my Trellis tea was Chicken Salad Puffs, elegant sandwiches with a crunchy, sweet pecan topping.  If you’d like to make these sandwiches for yourself here’s the recipe.




Chicken Salad Puffs

2 and 1/2 c. cooked chicken; 1 c. celery, finely chopped; 4 small green onions, chopped; 1 c. mayonnaise; 2 tsp. Dijon mustard; salt and pepper to taste; frozen puff pastry, thawed; caramelized pecans, chopped.

Process:  In a mixing bowl, combine chicken, and green onion.  Mix together Dijon mustard and mayonnaise.  Pour this over chicken mixture along with salt and pepper.

For the caramelized pecans: Heat 1/2 c. sugar until melted (about 4 minutes on medium heat stirring constantly).  Stir in the pecans.  Pour mixture onto waxed paper to cool.  Use whole or coarsely ch0pped nuts for garnish.

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Chicken puffs, cookies, and a little fruit –  a very simple and easy menu for any Afternoon Tea.  Just add a warm and friendly spirit, some friends, and all are bound to have a very pleasant afternoon, you especially.

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Caring and sharing with old friends and with new ones,  adding a few tea treats,  some smiles and conversation, all in a relaxed manner, is a surefire recipe for a happy day.   It’s also the recipe for gracious entertaining and gracious living.

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The Trellis Room and stone patio are now gone and in their place is this addition built onto the old house.  New gardens are in the plans. These plans will keep our creativity activated.

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I’m thinking of something like this design set in the side yard.  It was pictured in the February/March issue of “Traditional Homes” magazine.  A stone path could connect the new porch to this wooden structure creating a new and very Romantic setting for future Summer teas. I’ll always miss the old Trellis Room and stone patio but I have my memories and my photographs to remember my fine times there.

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Until the new garden structure is added a Summer tea for three or four can take place on this new porch. Here, with a roof over over heads, we won’t even have to worry about birdies dropping surprises on our chicken puffs as we did in the charming but slightly dangerous Trellis room.

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Yes, I miss the old Trellis Room, but onward and upward we all must go.  Cherish the past but keep looking forward to the future and all its possibility.  I hope you have some nice things to look forward to in your future, maybe a nice tea of your own.  If so, I’d love to hear all about it. Do share.  Sharing doubles the joy.

I love the old world, but I’m glad I was not born before tea.

I’ve got Mail

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Yes, I’ve got mail.  I’ve got letters.  I’ve got lots and lots of letters –  letters that come in the mail every day, letters to answer, letters reaching out to new people encouraging friendship,  letters all set to go just waiting for the postman to pick them up and carry them off to places far and near.

It’s funny, but whenever I tell people I’m a letter writer the first thing most of them say is, “Oh, letter writing.  Nobody writes letters anymore.”  Of course they’re wrong.  Lots of people are still writing letters.  They’re just not talking about them.  I’m talking about them because letters and letter writing brings me joy and sharing doubles that joy.

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There’s nothing like making a cup of something delicious (for me it’s a cup of dark roast coffee or Earl Grey tea) and getting all cozy with paper and pen.  I’ve been told I must be an introvert for introverts receive energy from solitude, and letter writing is a solitude-type thing, but I must also be an extrovert for I enjoy people very much.. . so  it’s no wonder that I love letter writing.  In letter writing we have solitude and society simultaneously.  We sit quietly relaxing in our house or in a pleasant coffee shop while at the same time we’re sharing with others.

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But it’s not just the writing and sharing I love.  I also love the art play involved in creating my own stationery. Some papers turn out pretty, while others are just playful.   But all art play is fun.  I’m not the only one enjoying art play either.  Have you been to a bookstore lately to see all the many adult coloring books?  Adults must really be enjoying coloring by the looks of all those books for sale and why not?  Kids mustn’t have all the fun, but letter writers have a purpose for their art play.  They can share their art as well as their words – a double sharing proposition.

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Creating  letter papers and writing letters are  wonderful activities, but only half the fun.  The other half of the fun comes when we go out to our mail box and find more than junk mail. Finding personal letters addressed just to us is wonderful fun!  Heartfelt messages just for us.

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The best of these letters share the personal life and the unique spirit of another.  How often do you have chats through the day with people who reach deep into themselves to share the good, the bad, and that which is the essential essence of themselves?  Well, most every day I have these sharing sessions because I’m blessed to have a great number of wonderful pen friends.  You can have wonderful pen friends too.  All you have to do is write letters for good things come back to those who share –  good things in the form of more letters.

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Today I got a letter from my penfriend A.J. who lives in Arizona.  This dear man is hurting because he lost his wife two years ago but he still misses her terribly.  He told me he thinks of her every day because  she was a wonderful woman and a wonderful wife.  A.J. truly was a lucky man to not only have a good companion, but also a wife who cooked delicious meals every day and  took great care of their house. My heart goes out to him.  A lot of people are hurting in this world, but sharing in letters , (and sharing in other ways too) not only doubles the joy, but also divides any sorrow.  I care how A.J. feels. Wouldn’t you care too?  I plan to write him soon and encourage him to tell me more about his wife.  I’m sure he’d like that.   It’s not just A.J.’s spirit that came through in his letter.  I also got a sense of his wife’s spirit as he shared a list she kept on their fridge, and now I’m sharing that list with you.  Here it is.

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Ingredients for a Happy Life

Develop a spiritual outlook on life – Matt. 5: 3

Be content and avoid “the love of money”  1 Tim, 6: 6-10

Keep pleasures in their place 2 Tim,3: 1,4

Be generous and work for the happiness of others Acts 20:  35

Be thankful and count your blessings Col. 3:  15

Have a forgiving spirit Matt. 6:  14

Choose your associates wisely Prov. 13:20

Take care of your body and avoid bad habits 2 Cor.7:  1

Rejoice in the hope set out for you in the Bible Rom. 12:  12

This list is good advice for all of us and it gives me something good to think about today as I’m thinking about A.J. and his wife.

Thinking and caring about people is not a frivolous, unimportant thing and therefore letter writing is more than just a fun hobby. It’s an excellent way to reach out to others in love.  Our letters can make a big difference in someone’s life if we’re thoughtful and careful to address their feelings.  It’s not always easy, but well worth the effort.  Besides, when we take the focus off our own life and focus our attention on other people we often feel all the better for it.

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The next letter that comes to me may be full of joy, or it may come from some far off place and introduce me to  new and  unusual things.  Every letter is different just as every letter writer is different. My life is richer for having lots of pen friends. I hope you have lots of pen friends too.

“Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls.  For, thus friends absent speak. —John Donne

Tea in the Outbuilding

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Ah tea!  

Afternoon tea is all about enjoyment, relaxation, and taking the time to refresh your spirit.  I love tea and its trappings.  I love to take a break each afternoon enjoying a cup of tea either in my library with a good book, at my tea table with some needlework, or perhaps if the weather is lovely I might take tea in the sun room where I can sip and commune with nature. But once a month I invite others to join me in this gracious ritual.  After all, the 1853 property which my husband and I  call home is “not for us alone”.  Sharing it and sharing tea doubles the joy.

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I like to alternate the location of my tea parties each month because changing locations means different tables to dress with different china. I’ll experiment with different recipes and invite different friends to each tea.  Variety is the spice of life you know.  Entertaining with tea is a wonderful way to reach out to others in friendship while also having the creative fun of designing each event.  My last two teas were held in our Outbuilding.  Come along and I’ll share a bit of those tea experiences with you. Up  the driveway we go…

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 approaching the circle…

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passing the circle…

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and there it is, the Outbuilding, once a chicken  coop back when the estate was a big old farm, but thanks to a few previous owners the building is now  a detached family room where I can get away from it all – or if not everything,  at least I can get away from the house if I need a change of scenery without going too far away..

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We pass the old barn which is now a three car garage and walk around to the front of the Outbuilding…

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and here we are!

Come on in.

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The beamed ceiling gives me the feeling I’m off in the mountains

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and the wood-burning fireplace is especially cozy on a cold or rainy day.

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We have seating close to the fireplace plus two other sofas and there’s a long built-in bench along the wall, plenty of seating in this old Outbuilding if we decide to have cocktails here before a dinner party at the house.  But for a tea I usually serve at the table, a table that was my maternal grandparent’s table once upon a time.  Ah, memories.

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I enjoy coming here on quiet days, sitting in my rocker that also once belonged to my maternal grandparents.  It’s the same rocker that held me on my father’s lap as a child, as I sipped his coffee sweet with sugar and milk, back in the day…  memories and more memories.  I love things old.

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But on the day of a tea there’s no time for daydreaming about the old days.  Instead there’s much hustle and bustle in the butler’s pantry where goodies are prepared and assembled to serve to my guests.  It is a little challenging carrying everything back and forth to and from the Outbuilding, but now and then this extra work is necessary if I’m ever to share the Outbuilding with others.

What will I serve my guests?

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  Meringues with strawberries and whipped cream?

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Shortbread and cookies?

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A simple coffee cake?…

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or perhaps a fancy cake I purchase from the bakery shop?

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I purchased  special antique tea china for the Outbuilding and I like to use a handmade crocheted tablecloth that my mother made a long time ago.

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Or sometimes I use a set of tea china that belonged to my parents.

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Of course we need some tea.  I offer a variety to my guests

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And candlelight is always nice…

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especially on a cool, rainy day.

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When the food is made, the table is set, the candles are lit and everything is ready all that’s needed are some guests…

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be they lady friends, old and new…

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or sweet children who happen to be my music students.

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It’s such a joy to do for others.  I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t enjoy entertaining, especially hosting afternoon teas.

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It is my hope that by sharing my afternoon tea experiences I may inspire you to invite others to your own home and share some tea with them…make it coffee or hot chocolate if you prefer, but reach out to others and share in your own intimate setting.  Make your tea your way, as simple or elaborate as you like.  It’s not the tea, or the food, so much as your  personal outreach and hospitality.

Share Joy.  Share Tea!

Carol Ann’s Recipe for a Sharing Tea

 

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Hi there!  I’m Carol Ann and have I got a fun recipe for you.

Here it is.

Invite someone old, (an old friend) someone new, (a person you recently met and liked a lot) someone borrowed, (ask one of your guests to bring along a friend of their own) or maybe two, (ask both of your guests to bring along a friend).  Add a little tea and lots of conversation and there you have it –  A sharing Tea.

If you have a home which you love and enjoy why not share it?  If you collect pretty things why not invite others to enjoy those things too?  If you like to cook and bake why not share your recipes with friends?  As you reach out to others in friendship you’ll be reaching into yourself and coming up with creative and fun entertaining ideas.

Any Afternoon Tea or Sharing Tea can be as simple or as fancy as you like.  I enjoy hosting one tea every month choosing a different room or setting each time. The room dictates the number of guests I invite,  the type of food I serve and the level of formality.  If I’m serving at a table a high tea could be in order consisting of hot food (savories) as well as desserts. All sorts of dishes and glassware would be used to serve and dress up the table.  Flatware would be needed too, but if I’m hosting in a room without a dining table the food would  be simple and finger-friendly.

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This month my Sharing Tea will take place in the living room of my 1853 home and since this room is small tea will be an intimate affair with only two guests – one old friend and one new friend.  The refreshments will be limited to cookies, and of course the tea, though sherry and liquers might easily be offered as well.

Though I do enjoy cooking, baking, and presenting nice refreshments to my guests, I have learned that food is not the most important thing at a Sharing Tea.  It’s not even the tea that’s most important.  It’s the sharing.  Guests seem to enjoy learning about each other, sharing their stories, passions and ideas.  Guests are delighted by each other, inspired by each other,  and they really seem to enjoy the opportunity to step out of their busy lives and share in a peaceful and  personal setting.  Restaurants have their place, but being invited into someone’s home is very special and doesn’t happen often enough in my opinion.  Refreshments are nice but simply an accompaniment to all the fun we have in sharing.

As hostess it’s my job to see that everyone is comfortable and feeling welcome and relaxed.  It’s a fun job!  I believe hosting a Sharing Tea is a gift of hospitality given with a personal touch… and when you give good things come back to you – friendships.

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So I pull out one of my favorite tea books, “English Tea and Cakes” and look up a recipe for gingerbread cookies which I’ll make for my guests…

Gingerbread Cookies

Ingredients: 2 and 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour,1 tsp baking soda, 2 tsp ground ginger, 1 stick of butter, scant 1 cup of soft light brown sugar, 1 egg, 4 tsp corn syrup, 4 tbsp royal icing, silver decorations, parchment paper decorating bag.

Process:  Sift the flour, baking soda and ginger into a large bowl.  Add the butter and rub it in with your finger tips until you have a mixture resembling fine bread crumbs. Add the sugar and mix.

In another bowl, beat the egg and corn syrup together.  Tip it over the flour mix and stir well.  Keep sprinkling over flour and working until you have a lovely smooth dough.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and leave in fridge to chill 30 minutes, but an hour would be better.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line 2 baking sheets.

Roll the dough out on a slightly floured board to a thickness of a 1/4 inch.  Cut out required shapes and bake 12 to 15 minutes.  Leave to cool slightly on baking sheet before transferring o wire wrack to cool completely.

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 I bake the gingerbread into the shape of the Hudson Clocktower, a famous landmark in my town.

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Gingerbread is also shaped into stars which I decorate.

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Together they make a simple, but pretty presentation.

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I add some frosted molasses cookies…

Molasses Cookies

Ingredients: 4 cups flour, 1 tsp salt,1 cup butter, 1 cup dark molasses, 1 cup sugar, 1 egg, 1/2 cup hot water, 1 and 1/4 tsps baking soda

Process: In a large mixing bowl combine flour and salt.  Cut in butter with a pastry blender.  In a separate bowl combine molasses and sugar, then beat in the egg.  Dissolve the soda in the 1/4 cup of hot water and add to molasses mixture.  Gradually stir the liquid mixture into the flour mixture and beat until well blended.  Cover bowl and chill several hours. Turn dough onto floured pastry board and roll to 1/4 inch thickness for a sift cookie.  Cut rounds with a cookie cutter and place on greased cookie sheet.  Bake in 375 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes.  For frosting mix powdered sugar with a bit of water.

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add some shortbread which was baked earlier and stored in an air-tight container

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and select the tea cups and linen.

Sharing Tea is the perfect time to share all those pretty things I love and collect.

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And the table is set and ready for my guests.

And there’s the doorbell now!

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It’s Joni, one of my dear old friends

and she’s brought me a pretty plant.  How sweet of her.

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Minutes later Kelly appears.  She’s one of my new friends.

She too has a pretty plant for me.

Didn’t I tell you? – when you give good things come back to you.

Hostess gifts!

So we all get settled in the living room, the candles are twinkling, I pour the tea

And  the sharing begins!

Now that you have the recipe for a Sharing Tea  isn’t it time you have one of your own?

Enjoy!