Let’s talk about Christmas Cards

It’s the middle of December and the Christmas cards are starting to arrive.  Goodie!  I love them. I like to display the cards we receive on  our library shelves  amidst the books.   They’re great, one of my favorite things about Christmas.  Sure, I like the Christmas music and I get plenty of it teaching piano and directing a Children’s Church choir.

And I enjoy all sorts of  other Christmas things…

things like baking Christmas cookies and decorating the dining tables with crystal reindeer and Pomegranetes.  I like pulling out a Teddy Bear in his December sweater, decorating the Christmas tree and setting out another lit tree to brighten up the foyer.  I enjoy all sorts of Seasonal plants, setting paper whites on my secretary desk and  trimming the mantels with fresh greens, but being a letter writer there’s nothing I enjoy more then  sending and receiving Christmas cards.

When I’m ready to write out our cards I put some Christmas music on, make a cup of coffee or tea and spread out the cards I’m planning to send so I can hand pick different cards for different people, but I can get a little frustrated because I know I’ll never have the time to write everyone I care for at Christmas … not in the busy days of December… not writing  cards with personal messages the way I like to write them.

I remember watching my Mom write out her Christmas cards.  Mom was a lovely and very caring person, but the task of sending out lots of cards to a huge family put her in an efficient work mode not a holly jolly Christmas mode.  She approached the job in an assembly line manner. Mom first signed her name to all the cards, she then stamped all the envelopes, then  penned all the addresses.  Her heart was in a good place but not with each person she was writing.

I can’t write Christmas cards or any cards that way.  To me each card is an opportunity to think about the person I’m writing.   This takes time, but it’s delightful time spent!  It’s not a job to me.  It’s pure fun!  I like to write a note inside the card or maybe a long message.

Sometimes I like to draw a little something on the card and if I’m writing to one of my friends I always use sealing wax with my personal “C”stamp for Carol Ann. If the card happens to be from both my husband and me I’ll use a stamp with our “M” initial for McCarthy.  Christmas cards going to my pen friends rate a letter inside the card (and I have a lot of pen friends) so unless I go off to our outbuilding and hide away for a few weeks everyone I care about can not possibly get a Christmas card.  Oh dear.

What to do?

I guess we all have to come up with our own solutions.

Some good people, like my dear pen friend Greg, take the time to write a holiday letter to everyone on their list.  It’s typed and copied. I’m sure composing this sort of  letter takes a lot of time and I’m honored to be on Greg’s Christmas list and the list of other people as well. I really am, but I’m not fond of most Christmas letters.  Greg’s letter was different, better, because he wrote a paragraph in that letter about me and our pen friendship.  That personal touch left me with a smile and a good feeling. Greg’s Christmas letter brought me joy and isn’t that what we want our Christmas cards and letters to do?

Unfortunately many Christmas letters fail to offer any kind and loving words to their recipients. They’re filled with me, me and more me.  I may care about the person who is writing this letter to me (and a million others), but such Christmas letters don’t make me feel warm and fuzzy in any way. In fact, if those letters are filled with only the great accomplishments and good fortunes of the writer’s last year, well, they can be a little depressing. I can begin to wonder how my year measures up to their year.

So how will I handle the subject of Christmas cards?

There’s no way I can send  a personal card or letter to everyone I care about in the  month of December and I’m not about to create Christmas letters all about me and my family.

But this is what I can do.

I can enjoy making a list (and checking it twice) to be sure everyone I care about gets their name on that list.  Next I will declare one day each week as the day to send a special card containing a letter (or at least a special note) to someone on that list.  I’ll keep a log of who gets what when.  In the course of a whole year I should be able to reach 50 to 100 additional people.

Each week a  card may go out to someone with a birthday or anniversary.   I may hear of a friend or relative who is feeling poorly, someone who has had an operation or lost a loved one, someone who needs encouragement or congratulations.  These would be the people to get an extra card or  letter that week.

 A holiday may be approaching – Easter, Halloween, Memorial Day.  Why not send a few greeting cards for each holiday?  Why should Christmas be the only holiday when cards are sent to friends and relatives?  That’s silly.  We can care about people all through the year not only in December, the busiest month of all.

And even if there’s no special day coming up who needs a special day to send a card and letter?  Any time is a good time to think of others and let them know we care about them.

So

Though I wish I could send a zillion Christmas cards out this month, I can’t.  I will however enjoy writing and sending cards and letters all through the year.  I have my regular pen friends, but so many other people are also important to me and deserve to be remembered.  Spreading joy and love is a twelve month proposition.  And when we give (love) good things come back to us. (More love).

We all have our own approach to Christmas cards.  I don’t expect everyone to do as I do, but I hope you enjoy spreading the cheer by sending some cards out to those you love.  It would be a shame if this gracious old world custom went by the wayside.

May I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

(just in case I don’t get a card off to you this month)

But maybe  a card  will arrive when you least suspect it. 

Till that time

Cheers

They say it’s better to give then receive but…

I can tell you from experience receiving can be pretty delightful too, especially when that receiving refers to letters delivered to your mailbox, letters  addressed “just to you”.  Why there’s practically a radiance to them!

Big ones, small ones, in all colors of the rainbow, with artful postage stamps decorating their envelopes.  Ah, commemorative postage stamps.  They are like miniature paintings,  lovely works of art.  Notice the postage stamps in the picture above.  Do you recognize all of them?  Some come from Scotland, The Netherlands and Germany.  I’m happy to have  plenty of pen friends in the United States, but I also enjoy corresponding with people from all around the world.  These people come to visit me  by way of their letters.

I love company, don’t you?  There’s nothing quite like it, but when letter friends come a-calling  you don’t have to clean the house, dress up, or prepare any refreshments unless you’d like to enjoy those refreshments yourself. Of course you probably won’t be getting any of this company, these letters, unless  you’re writing letters.  And why wouldn’t you want to be writing letters?  It’s such lovely fun to sit quietly reflecting,  visiting with a friend via pen and paper. The Art of Letter Writing provides joy in both the giving and the receiving.

Every morning I have a few letters and postcards ready for my postman. He picks them up and off they go – north, south, east and west. Messages can travel by way of the internet, but there’s something very special about a handmade letter.  I write one every morning with my first cup of coffee and then I write another later in the day as a reward for a constructive morning.

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And when my friendly post man comes around I’m rewarded for my efforts for he brings me more letters, replies to those letters I’ve written.   What fun!

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Today was a slow mail day – only three letters and one post card, but every day can’t be a terrific mail day.  Luckily I have a backlog of letters to answer from good mail days in the past.  I’d love to share a few of the highlights from those letters with you on the off chance that you may not have any of your own letters to enjoy, but if you don’t all you have to do is join The Letter-Exchange, a most wonderful letter writer’s organization.  I’ve been a member of this group for years.  If you join you’ll have scores of your own wonderful pen friends in no time.  But till then let me tell you a little about some of my pen friends and about the goodies they share with me in their letters.

There’s Joanna who lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Joanna is always sending me lovely artful postcards, many with a Scottish subject.  I share her delightful day trips to places like Dundee.   Joanna says Dundee has to be one of the coldest places in Scotland which she says is really something for I guess Scotland is a colder country then I ever imagined.  Joanna tells me Dundee is set on a hillside on an estuary of the river Tay which flows out to the North Sea. It encounters a particular east coast climactic phenomenon – a sea fog that is blown inland.  It’s fun to imagine I’m there with her.  Joanna tells me Dundee is not a wealthy place and has few restaurants, but surprisingly it does have a Mexican restaurant.  She enjoyed a dinner there for $12 and to give you an idea of how this price seemed low to her she said her friend enjoyed a Mexican dinner in London at about the same time, but that dinner cost $80.

Some day I just may travel to Scotland and meet Joanna in person because my husband is an avid golfer and Scotland is one place he’d really like to play some golf. Thanks to Joanna I now know  we must take along our woolen underwear if we make the trip.  She’s full of information about where to stay and what to do in her country.  She’s my personal Scottish travel agent. I bet she has a great recipe for  tea time shortbread.

Then there’s Cindy…   Cindy lives in Milford, Connecticut.  I love New England having lived in Boston. Massachusetts myself.  Cindy shares pictures of her Connecticut neighborhood and the flowers she grows in her garden.  She’s one of my ” girl friends”.  We talk about motherhood, gardening, cooking  and daily life things.  Cindy is an artist and it’s fun to share ideas for our artful projects.  Girls need lots of girl friends.  And since my town of Hudson is in a part of Ohio known as The Land of the Western Reserve (It was Connecticut’s western land holdings back in the late 17th and early 18th century) well, I feel a kinship with Connecticut people like Cindy.

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But I also enjoy West coast people, people like Almita.  Almita lives in Menifee, California.  She and her husband are avid bird lovers.  They love nothing more than traveling around in their RV and bird watching. Thanks to Almita I’m learning a lot about birds.  Did you recognize the birds  in the pictures from her last letter?  Both birds are Black-crowned Herons, but the lower picture features a mature Heron whereas the upper shot reveals a juvenile Heron. Thanks to Almita if I should run across any Black-crowned Herons in the future I’ll  now be able to name them.   Letter friends are full of knowledge and enthusiasm for all sorts of things and in sharing they not only double their joy, but they also educate and inspire us.

If you have a passion for literature, particularly the literature of Mark Twain then you would love Greg as your pen friend. This is because Greg lives in Hannibal, Missouri, the same town where Samuel Langhorne Clemens (who became Mark Twain the author) lived from the ripe old age of 4.  Greg is a Mark Twain enthusiast.  All of his letters bear the Mark Twain commemorative stamp and he even sent me many of these postage stamps so I could use them on my letters to him.  Though he writes about all sorts of other interesting subjects too (especially astronomy) you can count on him for information about Mark Twain.  All you have to do is ask him.

I did,  and before I could say Tom Sawyer there was a large white envelope in my mailbox.   It was filled with post cards and  brochures about Mark Twain and his town.  He also sent me a very nice booklet entitled, A River, a Town and a Boy. After I finish digesting all this information Mark Twain will surely become another of my “dead friends”, one of the interesting people from the past who entertains and inspires me. And to think Mark Twain and I might never have had the opportunity to connect if it weren’t for Greg.

We may only have one life to lead, but if that life includes a lot of interesting pen friends then that one life becomes so much more. Pen friends turn the whole world into a friendly neighborhood.   I can’t imagine life without them.  Another time I’ll share more  of my pen friends with you and if you join The Letter Exchange you just might develop a friendship  with some of these people yourself.

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But before I leave you and because Thanksgiving Day is just around the corner I must share a recipe that my good friend Mary sent to me.  Mary lives in Forestville, California.  She’s an old college friend and a retired Colonel in The United States Air Force.  Though Mary lived in various parts of the United States as well as Germany and England, places far from me, we kept in touch through letters and these days we’re still writing letters to each other.

Often we share recipes in our letters because Mary and I both enjoy cooking.  Well, today one of my three letters was from Mary and a little yellow post- it-note in that letter said, “My friends made this and it was excellent, very moist.  I plan to make it soon.”  And I, Carol Ann,  plan to make it soon too… it being a Turkey while you sleep.  My turkey is defrosting in the fridge as I write.  Maybe now, thanks to the wonderful Art of Letter Writing, you’ll be making this recipe in the next few days too.  If you do you can thank my pen friend Mary for sharing.

Turkey While You Sleep

Ingredients:  1 uncooked turkey, 1 tsp. salt, 2 stalks of celery with leaves, 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted, 2 cups boiling water.

Process:  Sprinkle salt inside turkey cavity and insert celery stalks.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Place turkey on rack in roasting pan and rub with melted butter.  Pour boiling water around turkey, cover pan tightly, and cook for 2 hours for 14 pounds or less, 2 and 1/2 half hours for more than 14 pounds.  After cooking time, turn off heat, but DO NOT OPEN OVEN DOOR.  Leave turkey in closed over overnight (8 hours).  Turkey will be ready to slice and refrigerate the next morning, with plenty of drippings for gravy.

So ’til we meet again I leave you saying

 “Happy Letter Writing” and “Happy Thanksgiving” too.

Afternoon Tea on the Porch

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Afternoon tea is all about relaxation, enjoyment, and taking time to refresh the spirit.

Creating a daily tea ritual is one way to bring a little grace into modern life and sharing our tea ritual with others only doubles that grace.  Everyone seems to be busy these days but how nice it is to stop the comings and goings now and then to spend time around the tea table with friends and family.  This is a most simple but elegant way to entertain.

We have the telephone, e-mail, text messages and social media, but to sit across from our guests, listening and sharing in person… that’s special.  Hosting afternoon teas is one very nice way to celebrate the importance of relationships.

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And so today I’ve invited three dear friends to join me in my afternoon tea ritual.  The door is open ready to receive my guests.  We could be meeting at a tea establishment, but I think there’s something special about sharing tea in a home. After all, we work to make our homes cozy and comfortable.  These efforts should not be for ourselves alone.  Sharing our home doubles the  joy our home gives us. Sharing anything and everything doubles the joy. Sharing in life is important. What have you shared lately?

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Each of my teas is served in a different setting.  Creating these different sets in different rooms is a large part of my fun.  I choose different linen, different china, different flowers and at least one different food item at each tea.  Today I’ll be serving  on the porch, but as guests arrive, one by one,  we’ll gather in the library, then go out to the porch all together.

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An afternoon tea party is a little like a theatrical presentation.  Having details in place and a plan of action helps to make things run smoothly.  Also it’s nice to have pretty things for your guests to enjoy –  music, fresh flowers here and there, fragrance… These and other little niceties may not be necessary but they will delight your guests and make their visit more enjoyable.

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Earlier in the day I made scones, my basic recipe.  Over the years I’ve learned it’s not  important that the food served be elaborate or very plentiful, just that there’s something to nibble on. The most important thing at tea is the tea itself and the sparkle of joyful eyes as they share, listen, laugh and enjoy each other.

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Raspberry preserves and clotted cream are a perfect accompaniment to the scones and really all the food one would need for afternoon tea is not only about the food.   It’s about the sharing and relaxing together.  Simple and easy does it.  But if you do enjoy cooking and baking the sky is the limit.

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I decided to add some Caper Deviled Eggs and Cucumber Canapes

with Lemon-Pepper Aioli to today’s tea menu.  Something old, something new.

The ingredients for the eggs are: 6 hard-boiled eggs, 3 tablespoons mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard, 1 tablespoon very finely chopped celery, 1 tablespoon very finely minced capers, 1/8th teaspoon salt and a garnish of parsley.

The aioli is made by combining 1/4 cup of mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice, 1/8th teaspoon of pepper with 1/8th teaspoon of salt.  This aioli is piped atop a thin slice of English cucumber which sits on a thin slice of white bread.

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Scones, deviled eggs, cucumber slices,  simple items, quick and easy to make, but pretty finger foods to present at table.

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And though the food is simple I try to make the place settings special by adding flowers. Simple but lovely, flowers create magic with their beauty and grace. Of course if you love to collect pretty things as I do now is the time to use the embroidered linen napkins, the silver, the cutwork tablecloth and the antique china.  These things shouldn’t be collecting dust in the cabinets.  They should be used and enjoyed regularly.

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Without very much work at all  the table is ready to receive my guests.

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And here they are.  Terri, Carol and Joni, three lovely ladies who make my day and my tea a very enjoyable experience.

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The porch got a going over before the girls arrived… a little dusting and polishing.  Cleaning is never my idea of great fun, but when company is coming I  have a good reason to do that cleaning and then not only is the house nice and shiny for the company, it’s also nice and shiny for me and my husband.

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So I encourage you to host your own afternoon tea. You may think tea parties are a thing of the past, but you’re wrong.  There’s something about an afternoon tea that makes it seem just right for us now.  It’s a complete treat – a physical pleasure.  a social gathering,  a chance for  intellectual exchange and  a spiritual  experience for  we’re sharing  plenty of spirit at tea.

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Most of all the afternoon tea experience enriches everyday life by gilding the moment with importance.  It celebrates life in a most genteel way.  When your tea is over you’ll sit back on your porch remembering all the fun you had and you’ll feel a sense of satisfaction knowing  that you and your creativity brought people together sharing joy.

Only you can loosen your day’s demands.

Treat yourself and your guests to the old world pleasure of

Afternoon Tea.

It’s another Afternoon Tea

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For thousands of years people have been drinking tea and enjoying the tea ceremony, but I think there’s something about afternoon tea that makes it just right for us today as well.  The health conscious should approve of tea’s natural goodness and those of us who are busy, busy, busy should enjoy the restful interlude it offers around 4 o’clock in the afternoon.  A tea ceremony has the ability to enrich everyday life and create  gilded moments.  Creating a tea ritual for ourselves is a very lovely civilized affair. but it’s also very nice to share the experience with others and though we can meet those others at elegant hotels or charming tea shops there is something very special about inviting people into our own homes.  It’s The Art of Hospitality,  an art (like the Art of Letter Writing) that is beautiful and should never die.

But who to invite?  We can invite anyone and everyone, old friends, new would-be friends, the young, the old and the in- between.

It’s easy.  Afternoon tea can be as simple or elaborate as you choose – a pretty china tea cup with a few slices of cinnamon toast would work just fine, but today I feel like fussing a bit.

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I recently bought a neat pan from William Sonoma that makes brownies or other simple cakes into interesting elongated shapes.  Today seemed like the perfect day to try out this pan.

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And I’m happy to say the pan worked very well. Aren’t these brownies cute?

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A little powder sugar to dress them up and a very simple recipe can look quite snazzy on the tea table.

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I always like to experiment with at least one new recipe for my tea parties so today that recipe is for a carrot cake and the recipe is a keeper.  Let me share the recipe with you.

Carrot Cake

For the cake:  2 eggs, 2/3 cup light brown sugar, 5 tbsp. vegetable oil, generous 3/4 cup self-rising flour, 1 and 1/2 cups grated carrot, 1 tsp. cinnamon and scant 1/2 cup shredded coconut

For the topping:  1/2 cup cream cheese, 3/4 stick butter,1/2 cup confectioners sugar, grated rind of 1 lime,toasted coconut and grated lime

Process:

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and line a 2 lb. loaf pan or a 7 in round cake pan.

2.Beat together the eggs and sugar until very creamy.  Add the oil and beat hard.  Fold  in the remaining ingredients and turn into the prepared pan.  Smooth the top,  then slightly hollow out the middle to avoid a very domed top on the finished cake.  Bake for 35-40 minutes   until golden and well risen and a skewer comes out clean.

3.  Remove the cake from the oven and turn out onto a wire rack to cool.  To make the  topping beat the ingredients together until light and creamy and spread over the top of the cake.  Make a pattern with the prongs of a fork.

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In addition to the brownies and carrot cake I also whipped up two other goodies to serve to my guests.  These chicken salad sandwiches served on wheat bread provided a little sustenance to the menu…

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as did little phyllo cups of egg salad.

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I also served my stand by recipe for scones.  I like to serve the scones with Devon clotted cream but today I decided to whip up ordinary heavy cream instead …and I always serve the scones with Bonne Maman’s Raspberry preserves.  Yum!

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Now it’s time for a little art play.  I dig out my watercolor pencils and create place cards for myself and my guests.  I’m matching the flowers on the name tags to the flowers on the table.

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These little touches make an afternoon tea special.

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So the food is prepared and the table is set and now all that’s needed are my guests. Today those guests are of the younger generation for as I said before afternoon tea is for everyone and if we adults don’t expose children to the finer things in life (like afternoon tea) who will?  Besides, I believe it’s important to have friends of all ages.  My older friends teach and inspire me and they make me feel young and my younger friends help me lighten up and remember what it was like to be young. Diversity is important, all kinds of diversity.

Well here they are now.

All these young ladies are angels and singing angels at that for they all sing in the Church choir I conduct.  How lucky I am to meet so many sweet young people (and they’re not all girls either). My next children’s tea will hopefully have a few boys attending for as I said before, afternoon tea is for everyone!

I can remember being eight or ten or 13 years old, can’t you?  I appreciated adults taking me seriously, talking to me and listening with interest to what I had to say. Afternoon tea is a great time for friends to share and get to know each other better.  Taking time, in person, with people we care about becomes its own reward.

I find creating the afternoon tea ceremony for guests lets me offer my friends and acquaintances what often seems in short supply these days – attention and the wish to please. Sure, it’s a little bit of work, but tea can be infinitely variable in style and complexity.  The food served can be simply made or for that matter even purchased.  As in so many things it’s really the thought that counts most.

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The time flies at my tea party and before I know it the party is over.  There’s a little washing up to do, but not much.

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And as the last tea pot is set on a towel to dry I’m left with a warm, satisfied feeling.  This feeling comes over me whenever I dabble in The Art of Hospitality. I’ve had such fun today.  I can’t help but start wondering about my next tea.  Who shall I invite? What shall I serve and where shall I serve it?  There’s much fun to anticipate.

So enjoy your daily afternoon teas but  I hope you invite others, young and old, to share the experience now and then.  Why?  You know.  Sharing doubles he joy.

It really does!

“I say, old chap. you’ve been invited to join me for tea!”

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On this Country Inn Day I, the Innkeeper, will be hosting a high tea.  As usual I invite someone old, (an old acquaintance) someone new, (a person I like but don’t know very well, (yet) and someone borrowed maybe two (one or both my guests may be asked to bring along a friend. And of course I’m now inviting you to come along and join in my fun.

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My guests today are Andy, an old friend, Mary Fran in the flowered jacket who I met recently at a most joyful funeral and Robin who is   Mary Fran’s good friend.  A more spirit-filled threesome would be hard to find.

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As Innkeeper I rose early and began setting the stage for tea.  After all, staging a high tea is very much like staging a theatrical production.  The setting is most important if we expect our guests to feel serene and special.  I decided this particular tea will be served in the formal dining room.  As Innkeeper I enjoy presenting tea in various locations in and around the Inn.  On a beautiful day it could be tea in the Secret Garden with the birdies singing for everyone’s enjoyment or on an  Autumn’s day I might serve tea in the Outbuilding with a fragrant wood fire blazing in its old fireplace.  Variety adds spice to life and to the Inn’s entertaining.

There’s much to do in order to be ready for my guests.  As Innkeeper I’m in charge of choosing the china, crystal, linens and menu.  I’m also in charge of the flowers.

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Flowers are a must at tea.  Their beauty soothes the savage soul and we all have those savage moments in modern  day life. Roses are my favorite and very nice in the formal dining room.

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I’m also in charge of polishing the silver.  Every tea need not use silver, but high tea in the Inn’s dining room requires nothing less.

Though I’ll be serving three different teas today – Darjeeling, Oolong and Apricot tea I do enjoy serving a glass of Carolans Irish Cream as a postlude treat.

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How many Innkeepers have a luscious blend of Irish cream, honey and mellow Irish spirits named after them?  My name is CarolAnn, CarolAnn McCarthy  – very Irish (though I was born 100% Polish) so it’s rather nice to serve a beverage made in Ireland at this “CarolAnn’s Country Inn.”

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I, the Innkeeper,  can’t do everything for this tea.  I turn the food over to the Inn cook. Of course the Inn cook also happens to be me, but whatever.  Cook planned three courses for today’s tea – first a plate containing chicken salad in puff pastry, broccoli salad and fruit.

In case you might like to whip up the chicken salad here’s the recipe.

Chicken salad

2 cups cooked chicken, cubed, 1 cup celery, finely chopped, 4 small green onions, chopped, 1 cup mayonnaise, 2 tsp. Dijon mustard, salt and pepper to taste, frozen puff pastry, thawed and baked and caramelized pecans chopped.  (To carmelize pecans simply heat 1/2 cup sugar till melted stirring constantly, then add the pecans.  Turn the pecans out onto wax paper and then chop).

The second course is Scones

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The scones were baked and then cut into squares.  Scones are simple to make and usually loved by all.  Here’s Carol Ann’s recipe:  Mix 2 cups flour with 1 T. baking powder, 1/4 t of salt and 4 T of sugar.  Cut in 6 T of butter and then combine 2 eggs with 1/3 cup of cream and mix into the dry ingredients.  Shape into two round or square large scones, put a bit of cream on top and sugar, then bake at 400 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes.

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Cook loves to use the French Bonne Maman’ preserves with  English Double Devon Cream atop the Irish scones making then an international hit.

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This tea cake is the thrid course.  It is a new recipe Cook made for today’s tea. It’s nice to try out one new recipe at each tea keeping the rest of the menu tried and true.  Luckily this cake came out beautifully and was quite yummy.  You ought to try it yourself. I think you’ll like it.

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The recipe comes from this book called “The Great Tea Rooms of America”. It’s written by Bruce Richardson.  Let me share the recipe for today’s tea cake with you.

Ahrens Tea Cake

1/2 up butter, 1 cup sugar, 2 eggs, 2 tsp. vanilla,2 cups all purpose flour,2 tsp. baking powder,1 tsp. baking soda, 1 cup sour cream.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar together and add eggs and vanilla.  Combine and mix flour, baking powder and baking soda.  Add to butter mixture.  Fold in sour cream.  Spoon half of the batter into a greased and floured bundt pan.

Filling

1/2 cup sliced almonds toasted, 2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 cup brown sugar

Combine almonds, cinnamon, and brown sugar.  Sprinkle onto the middle of the batter.  Cover the filling with the remaining batter and bake for 35 minutes.

If you bake this tea cake you can serve it at your very own tea. You are planning to have a tea of your own soon, aren’t you?  I certainly hope so.  Tea is all about enjoyment, relaxation, and taking the time to refresh your spirit and the spirit of others.  Like letter writing it’s a beautiful and gracious art that must not be forgotten.

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So the food is prepared and the table is set.

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The buffet holds the tea cake and the Irish Cream.

The guests arrive and the next few hours are a wonderful time where joy is shared, old friendship is nourished and new ones are cultivated.  Work and worry are sturdy weeds you know, but joy requires cultivation. Sharing tea is one wonderful way to cultivate joy!

It’s been such fun talking, nibbling and sipping tea as I was transformed once again from Innkeeper and Cook into just another Inn Guest.  Quite magical how this happens on my Country Inn Days. But all good things must come to an end.  The guests leave reluctantly and I’m transformed one last time, now into Inn Maid.

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The dishes need washing.

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 The crystal too must be cleaned and made ready for the Inn’s next entertaining event.

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And the linen used today is washed and hung to dry.

The tea party now exists only in my memory and in this blog, but I’m left with a lovely afterglow.  What a nice experience it was.  Yes, there was some work involved, but that work was actually fun and well rewarded.  Not only did I have the chance to exercise my creativity and use those things I collect and love, but I gave of myself to others and everyone knows…

When you give good things come back to you.

That’s for sure.  The glow of friendship is like nothing else and my guests at this tea were so full of spirit and love I came away feeling blessed, in fact, at one point they actually placed hands on me and prayed that my cancer treatments go well .  When was the last time your friends prayed over you?  Like I said, these were very special guests.

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And besides the glow of friendship (as if that’s not fabulous enough) Mary Fran and Robin sent me a present, ordering it from their smart phone right at the tea table.  It was a cd, “Music from a Secret Garden.”  You see,  I mentioned my Secret Garden to them and they told me they had the perfect thing for the next tea I host there.  How sweet is that?

Very sweet indeed!

So that’s about it for yet another very blessed and wonderful Country Inn Day.  My next Inn Day may take me off to a spa or out into nature or perhaps on an adventure or two, but whatever the Inn Day I know it will be wonderful fun and I hope you come along.  So till then be sure you live abundantly.  That’s what God has in mind for all of us and it’s up to us to make that happen.

Go to it!

Country Inn “Dinner Party” Day

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“Some people like to paint pictures, or do gardening, or build a boat in the basement.  Other people get a tremendous pleasure out of the kitchen, because cooking is just as creative and imaginative an activity as drawing, or wood carving, or music.”   Julia Child

Some people like to go it alone, be by themselves.  They feel most safe and happy when they are thinking their own thoughts and keeping those thoughts to themselves but other people get a tremendous pleasure out of friendship.

I happen to be one those people who enjoys cooking.  I am also one of those people who values friendship so it’s only natural I would enjoy hosting dinner parties

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So naturally when I received a letter from one of my oldest friends who now lives very far away announcing that she was coming to town and wanting to get together, well,  having a dinner party for her and her husband seemed like the right thing to do. There was talk of meeting at a restaurant, but we decided restaurants could be noisy, not the perfect place for a long, relaxing rare and special visit and you know what they say – there’s no place like home, or in this case,  there’s no place like my personal  Country Inn where I enjoy playing the  quadruple role of Innkeeper, Inn Chef, Inn Maid And Inn Guest.

So here’s what transpired.

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As Inn Chef the menu needed to be planned so I looked through my notebook of tested recipes and selected a few, but the menu needed to be approved by my guest because she was on a special gluten free diet.  I didn’t want to make her sick after all.  It was decided that baked chicken with rosemary, green beans, roasted new potatoes, salad, and fresh fruit for dessert would be just fine.

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Inn Chef (me) went off to the market and returned to the Inn with a variety of  fruit and a bag full of other  ingredients needed for the dinner.

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But before cooking could begin all the copper pots needed a once over with copper cleaner so they would sparkle.

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Meanwhile the Innkeeper (me) had much to do in order to create a lovely table. There was silver to polish,

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flowers to arrange,

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linen to select

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plus china and crystal to make ready.

All this was a labor of love and hosting a dinner party is even more than that.  Hosting a dinner party is an ART!

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Inn Chef got busy creating the marinade for the chicken.  It consisted of the juice of one lemon mixed with 4 tablespoons of olive oil.  Four garlic cloves were chopped and added along with fresh rosemary sprigs.

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This marinade was poured over the chicken, salt and pepper were added and in the oven it went for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees.  To be sure the chicken was cooked properly an instant -read food thermometer would test the chicken to be at an internal temperature of 165 degrees before serving.

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Chef prepared the vegetables for the salad so at the last minute salad plates could be composed

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and the green beans were set into the copper pot ready for cooking.

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The table was ready for our guests and it was time to transform myself into one of those Inn Guests for the dinner party was about to begin.

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Nancy and Ken arrived bearing gifts.

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Nancy made a hand-quilted trivet for me.  I think she knew I liked to cook and entertain.  The trivet was lovely.

We went out to the porch for some drinks and nibbles and then it was time for the main event – dinner.

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My husband was ready for food and good conversation with my old friend and her husband, but they were brand new friends to him.

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Dinner was served.

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 Nancy and Ken seemed quite pleased with the presentation.  I was pleased that they seemed pleased.

Hours past as we talked and laughed and devoured our dinners.  It was so grand to be with my old friend once again and in the comfort of the Jeremiah Brown House, my personal Country Inn, not an impersonal restaurant.

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Dessert was served – raspberries, blackberries, strawberries with mint from the Inn’s herb garden.  Coffee and tea followed .  Time flew by. Before we knew it the time had come for good byes, but not before a few pictures were taken to record our happy event.

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Nancy and Carol Ann, friends for the last fifty years.  Wow!  Where did the time go?

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We captured our handsome husbands on film, men who have taken such good care of us over the years.

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And then one last picture of Nancy and Ken before they headed way back to the state of Washington.  I was so glad to see them and be able to offer them hospitality.

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The Inn Maid (me) had her work to do after the dinner party was over, but she was happy to do her part.  Cleaning up from such a fun evening is a small price to pay for so much delight.

So if you like to cook and if you enjoy friendship I hope you also enjoy entertaining.  Invite your friends over for a dinner party.  It’s a wonderful way to share the joy!

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“The pleasure in giving a dinner is mostly the pleasure of giving yourself.  The effort you take is your way of showing your company that you care about them enough to give them a good time.”    Marguerite Kelly and Elia Parsons

Country Inn “Lunch Out” Day

 

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If you’re like me you enjoy good food, and if you’re like me, you also enjoy going out to lunch  for that good food every now and then –  and not going out just anywhere, but going out to exceptional establishments that create scrumptious food and present that food with flair.

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If you’re like me you enjoy ambiance, a setting that’s beautiful in some way, a setting that lifts you up. So when I’m choosing a  restaurant I always look for a place that offers its diners some form of beauty. The restaurant might be situated in a lovely natural setting or it might be in the middle of an exciting city aglow with bright lights and activity. I might choose a restaurant with European flair or historic significance, but whatever sort of place it is I expect it to ooze beauty in some way. Beauty is important to me and yes, I’m particular, but I think we all should be particular.  Going out for food is not just about the food.

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And if you’re like me, though you’re perfectly capable of dining out all on your own or taking a “dead friend” along via a book,  you may also know the pleasure of  dining out with a good friend or two or three.

So, because I love good food, lovely friends and places of beauty, I have designed certain Country Inn Days to combine these three elements creating a “triple treat day”.  I call  these days of delight Country Inn Lunch Out Days.  Variety is the spice of life you know, so each of my Country Inn Days has its own special focus and today that focus is “lunch out”.  Yum!

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I hop into my car and drive 45 minutes northwest, venturing into the city of Cleveland.  There,  just west of downtown, in a neighborhood called Ohio City, exists one of my very favorite restaurants, The Crop Bistro.

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This restaurant is in a building which was constructed in 1924 and opened in 1925 as the United Bank Building. It was designed by Cleveland’s foremost architectural firm, Walker and Weeks, men who attended The Massachusetts Institute of Technology studying a form of academic neoclassical architecture called Beaux-Arts.  Their work progressed from neoclassical styles, through Italian Renaissance, and ultimately ended in Art Deco/Moderne.

This was the bank of industrialists John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie.  It is no wonder the building  has a feeling of  prosperity and splendor.

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Every detail in this building is beautiful, a work of art, from its opulent coffered ceiling

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to its massive marble pillars

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to its generous windows and wall fresco.

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It’s no wonder Chef Steve Schimoler admired this building and decided to restore it, converting it into his own very special restaurant.  He designed the Crop Bistro in a minimalist fashion in order to maintain its integrity and beauty.  The restaurant’s dramatic setting takes diners back to an era of pure grandeur and there’s nothing like a little (or a lot) of grandeur on my Country Inn Days.

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I arrive at the Crop and take my place.  It’s a taste treat just to imagine all the entrees that are offered.

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A few minutes later Sarah comes on the scene to serve me.  She is just the nicest  gal with a warm, sincere smile and a lovely manner.  A nice restaurant can be spoiled if the employees aren’t nice too.  Sarah earns a gold star from me.

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A few minutes later my luncheon companion arrives and here we are. Meet my friend Connie.  We’ve known each other since high school days and aren’t old friends just the best?  We order a bottle of wine today because this “Country Inn Lunch Out Day” is a day to celebrate life.  Of course every day is a day to celebrate life, but perhaps not always with a bottle of wine.

We talk, Sarah serves us our delicious lunch and then she suggests we take a little tour of what’s down below the dining room.  Connie and I are surprised there’s anything down below which we are encouraged to see, but Sarah being an excellent employee, promotes all that the Crop Bistro offers its clientele.

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Sarah point us to Chris Romero who is the restaurant manager and he takes us down below to what was the basement of the United Bank Building, but is now a kitchen and area for private parties.  Steve is very nice too, which again speaks so well for The Crop Bistro.

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And here we are in the kitchen.  Such fun!  It’s like going behind stage at a Broadway play.

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We meet Chris.  Guess what he’s making in his big jumbo pot?  He’s making soup, and he tells us the soup here is extra delicious because there’s a water purifying system in the building (Kinetico) which chef Schimoler installed so that all his food would be the very purest and the best!  Chris is a very nice guy too.  I think The Crop Bistro must insist all their employees are nice and friendly people and I like this policy very much.

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We see the vaults where all the money was kept in the old days,

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yes, actually vaults (plural)

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because Rockefeller and Carnegie obviously had a great deal of money to store in this bank.

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We were also taken to the private closet-like rooms where bank customers of days gone by would study the contents of their safety deposit boxes.

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And we saw the board room of this historic bank.  It was fun and easy to imagine that we were standing in this room way back in the 1920’s.

I expected Country Inn Lunch Out Day to be a delicious treat with a nice friend in a lovely place, but I didn’t expect it to also be An ADVENTURE DAY, but AN ADVENTURE DAY it truly was.  Now I’m thinking I need to go to a library and  pick up a book about the Industrial revolution so I can read all about Rockefeller and Carnegie because these two men are now on my mind.

But that’s a Country Inn Days for you.  Country Inn Days take me out of my usual daily routines.  They help me discover new places and new things. They inspire new thoughts.  They refresh my mind, body and spirit.   Every Country Inn Day is a little different.  And another one is coming up soon.

What will it be?  An “In” Day, an “Outing Day”, a “Dinner Party Day”?  You’ll just have to wait and see.  But whatever kind of day it will be I know it will be a day of delight.  I hope you are having your own delightful days because life is short and we must all seize the magic!

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So till next time then… Take Joy, and remember,

Sharing doubles the joy!

Letters written from the heart

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I love letters, personal letters, letters written from the heart.  Some of these letters are pure lighthearted fun, but others feel more spiritual, and  not necessarily because they speak of faith or religion.  Certain letters just simply ooze love and compassion, they are filled with understanding and encouragement.  Other letters inspire, share joy or spill compliments over their recipient.  All sorts of letters have the power to take us to a spiritual place.

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A letter from Susan early on in her struggle with cancer and chemotherapy

The last letters I wrote to my cousin Susan before her untimely death were such spiritual letters.  Susan was in hospice suffering from lung cancer.  She was only 60 years old when she fell ill.  Over the years, Susan and I had many happy times together. We enjoyed shared outings, family events, and even though we lived in the same city, we corresponded regularly because we both enjoyed The Art of Letter Writing.

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We sent love back and forth to each other through our frequent letters.  So when Susan finally became too ill to receive visitors or even talk on the telephone, I decided the best thing I could do to show her how much I cared  was to write her a daily letter and that’s just what I did – for seven weeks till her death!  These letters were a labor of my love and I like to think they offered her a bit of comfort and joy in her last days on earth.

Susan’s daughter Stephanie would visit Susan and read my letters to her mom and sometimes if Susan was sleeping she’d just read my  letters to herself.  I never really knew Stephanie up to that point but through Susan’s illness we connected and I think my letters helped that connection take place.

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Hopefully Susan is looking down on us feeling happy that I, her cousin and friend, am keeping tabs on the one and only daughter she loved so very much for now Stephanie and I are corresponding. Some day I’ll give Stephanie all the artful letters Susan wrote me, but not yet.  Now when I need a dose of Susan’s gentle spirit I just pick up one of her old letters and she’s with me.  I wish she could be with me in person, but in spirit is good too and much better than nothing.

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Another correspondence that feels particularly spiritual to me was one shared with an elderly gentleman by the name of Harry.  Harry was born and raised in Maine, but was living with his children in Virginia at the time of our correspondence.  I had just lost my father to Alzheimer’s disease when up popped Harry.  We met through The Letter Exchange, that wonderful letter writer’s organization that connects people from all over the world through The Art of Letter Writing.

Harry and I formed our own mutual admiration society.  He needed someone to listen to his reminiscences with interest, for his children seemed too busy to show him much attention, and I needed the support, approval, and encouragement that my loving father could no longer supply.

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Over the years Harry and I exchanged countless letters, sharing our lives with each other like father and daughter.  Some of our letters were serious and others were lighthearted, but all were very caring.  I thought about writing a book describing the beauty and value of our letter relationship, thinking it could inspire others, but for now let me just share a few tidbits from our correspondence.

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Harry loved to send me presents and who doesn’t love presents? They say it’s better to give then receive and Harry obviously bought into that idea – but I’ll tell you, receiving presents is lots of fun too! Harry was a Romantic.  Each of his  letters arrived with flowers pressed onto his letter paper.  He grew pansies in his Virginia flower box expressly for his letters to me.

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He also enclosed tea bags in each of his letters.  The tea bags were gift wrapped and tied with gold chords.  He also grew edible flowers that he dried, pressed, sugared, and gift wrapped, sending them to me for use at the regular tea parties I hosted.  How sweet is that?

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I’d have to be careful what I’d tell him in my letters, for once I casually mentioned never having tasted spoon bread, a food Harry loved.  I told him I never even saw it in my Ohio supermarkets. Well, Harry took care of that!  He sent me a case of spoon bread mix the very next week.  I guess he was pretty confident I’d like spoon bread too.

Food gifts from Harry were regular deliveries – mustards from Maine, fruitcakes at Christmas, chocolates, teas, but one time when Harry revisited the camp in Maine where he lived as a child he was very excited to discover goose tongue greens still growing in the old place.  He picked a basket-full and  wrapped them up sending them to me.  They arrived looking limp and very much like the weeds I pull out from my herb garden.  I was very touched by his kindness,  but not touched  enough to eat them.  Sorry Harry.

But there were so many other gifts.  I can’t tell you about all of them now, but here are just a few.

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Miniature Victorian slippers

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A colorful shawl

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Teacups

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Pictures

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Music Boxes

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Antique Books

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                                        With lovely inscriptions

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But my favorite gift from Harry was this lovely painting created with his own hands.  He took the poem of  Arthur Christopher Benson and carefully copied it in an artful manner.  The poem on friendship read:

“Because of a friend, life is a little stronger, fuller, a more gracious thing for the fruit’s existence. Whether (s)he is near or far, if the friend is close at hand, that is best, but if (s)he is far away (s)he still is there to think of, to wonder about, to hear from, to write to, to share life and experience with, to serve, to honor, to admire, to love.”

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He signed his name beneath the author’s name. Perhaps you’re beginning to see just how generous and how wonderful a friend he was to me. You can imagine my delight each day at mail time.  I never knew what surprise would be awaiting me.

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Then there was the time Harry went to Maine, to a lake that he loved.  He made the journey all alone despite protestations from his family.  They were too busy as usual to accompany him on this trip that he was desperate to enjoy one last time.  I didn’t want Harry to feel lonely so I wrote him every day while he was there.  For this gesture I was awarded the title – “Lady of the Lake”.  He wanted to share this lake he loved so much with me so he took countless pictures and taped them all together so as to create a panoramic view. This foot-long picture he sent to me.  Sharing was important to Harry just as it is important to me.  We both believed sharing doubles the joy.

Harry told me if it weren’t for our correspondence he wouldn’t care to live any longer.  Now that sounds a bit extreme, but I believe he meant every word of it.  Harry needed someone to care about him. My letters told him I cared.  Such a simple thing, old fashioned hand written letters from the heart, but  they can pack a powerful punch of love and friendship.

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I was proud of myself and happy that I could be making such a big difference in someone’s life, and Harry certainly made me feel special and valuable in return.  As I said, Harry and I formed our own mutual admiration society and I recommend everyone belong to such a society.

If you are a person of faith you probably feel as I do – that we all have a loving father in heaven who cares and believes in us, but it sure is nice to have loving people down here on earth who make us feel good about ourselves too.  Harry called me his pearl of great price.  There were, and are, plenty of days I don’t feel much like a pearl of great price, but I just dip into Harry’s letters and reread his words and I get a royal pep talk that makes me feel much better.  I bet you wish you had a Harry in your life too.  Well, go find one. There are people all around and everybody needs to feel  loved and appreciated.

Though Harry was truly a religious person and spiritual subjects did come up, we didn’t need to speak about spiritual matters in order for our friendship to feel spiritual.  Simple caring created the spiritual feeling.

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It is my wish for you to encounter  correspondences like the ones I enjoyed with Harry and my cousin Susan.  You will then see firsthand how letter writing is the best kept secret of the modern world. Letter writing is a physical craft and a very artful one, a social activity that delights and entertains, an intellectual exercise that stimulates, and it can become a spiritual ministry.  This art, The Art of Letter Writing, is a complete treat.

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Sharing my love and experience with letters has been a joy for me and I hope for you too.  I also hope I’ve inspired you (if you aren’t already a letter writer) to pick up a pen and begin your own adventure with letters.  I know this art will enrich your life as it has enriched mine, and I know you will bring joy to others as you reach out to them in love.

It’s a Country Inn Day – Sharing Tea Day

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Here I am on another wonderful Country Inn Day.  I’m so glad you could join me.  What do you do first thing every morning whether you’re at home or off on holiday at a gracious Country Inn or snazzy hotel?

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My idea of fun is to write a letter with my first cup of coffee every day and that’s exactly what I do here at the Inn this morning.  I’m writing to Erika, a professional chef who lives and works in the state of Washington, but as I read her letter and respond I feel as though Erika is here with me at the Inn.  Letters are like that.  They help friends transcend the miles.  John Donne, the late sixteenth early seventeenth century English poet, put it this way – “Letters mingle souls.”

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But I could use more than Erika’s spirit and soul here at the Inn today.  I could use her professional expertise because on this Country Inn Day I will not only be playing the part of Inn Guest, Innkeeper, and Inn Maid, but I’ll also be playing the part of Inn Chef.   I’ll don my special coat and cap in preparation for a Sharing Tea.  I bet if Erika were here in person she could help me whip up some extraordinary tea treats.

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I do have these guys to inspire me.  They “hang out” (literally) in my kitchen, but though they look pretty cute they’re not a lot of actual help.  I get my help from cookbooks, and do I have cookbooks, only about a million of them.  At each Sharing Tea I like to experiment just a little, so I always choose one new recipe and today that recipe  comes from a little historic book.

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The book is called “Victorian Parlors and Tea Parties”.  It’s written by Patricia B. Mitchell.  After reading and enjoying notes on the tea meal and how it came to be, along with information concerning the role of the Victorian wife and details of the Victorian parlor, I settle down to find that new recipe which I can make for and serve to today’s Inn guests.

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High Muck-a-Muck Crabmeat Spread

I look through all the recipes and decide on this simple crabmeat spread which is served on crackers. The little green pepper garnish is my idea.  You might like to try it yourself.  Here’s the recipe.  It’s quick and easy.

High Muck-a-Muck Crabmeat Spread 

Ingredients:  1 lb. crabmeat, chopped, 1 c. Cheddar cheese, grated, 1/3 cup mayonnaise, 2 green onions, finely chopped

Process:  Mix.  Spread on toast rounds, triangles, or crackers.  Heat 5-10 minutes at 400 degrees until hot and bubbly.  Serve hot.

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Today’s tested recipes come from a favorite little booklet called “Tea Time”.  This booklet is created by the Gooseberry Patch people and I’ve discovered many tasty treats within its pages as well as amusing general information concerning the tea ceremony.

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Today I make  “Tea Time’s” Caramelized Pecans.  These sweet nuts are a great garnish for chicken salad puffs ( another recipe in the “Tea Time” booklet), but they can stand on their own quite nicely.

Caramelized Pecans

Ingredients:  1/2 cup sugar  3/4 cup pecan halves

Process:  In a heavy saucepan, heat sugar over medium heat ’til melted (about 4 minutes.)  Stir constantly to avoid burning sugar.  Stir in pecans until well-coated.  Remove pan from heat.  Pour mixture onto wax paper.  Cool.  If stuck together, break apart.  Use whole or coarsely chop is using as a garnish.

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But now as Inn Chef it’s time to do some baking.  How about some Cream Scones?  Scones are  always perfect for a tea party and my “Tea Time” book has a good recipe for them.

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Scones are yummy, generously topped with Devon Cream (imported from England) and jam.  Here’s the recipe.

Basic Cream Scone

Ingredients:  2 c. flour, 1 T. baking powder, 1/4 t. salt, 4 T. sugar, 6 T. butter, 2 eggs, beaten, 1/3 c. cream, milk or half-and-half

Process:  In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.  With a pastry blender or Cuisinart cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  In a separate bowl, combine eggs and cream until well blended.  Stir cream mixture into dry ingredients until they are moistened.  Divide the dough into two 8-inch rounds on a greased baking sheet.  Cut the dough with a sharp knife into 8 wedges.  Brush the top with milk and sprinkle with sugar.  Bake at 400 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or till scones are golden brown.

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Tips for tender scones

Rule No. 1  Thoroughly mix dry and liquid ingredients in separate bowls before combining together.

Rule No. 2  Don’t over-mix when adding dry and liquid ingredients, and don’t over-handle the dough.

Rule No. 3  Over-baking will result in dry scones.  Oven temps may vary so check your scones every 5 minutes before baking time is up.

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The only other tea time treat I’ll be serving today is a chocolate covered apricot which is topped with crushed pistachios.  There’s nothing to this recipe.  All you do is melt semisweet chocolate chips, dip the apricots into the melted chocolate and then roll them in crushed pistachios.

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These apricot nibbles are a yummy snack anytime you crave something sweet, but they’re also a nice addition to the tea table.

Today’s  recipes are all simple to make and require little preparation time.  Of course, if you happen to be a pastry chef you can go all out and dazzle your guests with impressive creations, but if you’re not, the idea is simply to have some little treats for your guests to enjoy.

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My work as Inn Chef is now complete.  I feel a magical change coming over me.  I am now being transformed from Inn Chef into Innkeeper and as Innkeeper I have other duties.  I must assemble the tea treats onto a tray…

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and I must light the fire, fluff the pillows, turn on the music and stand ready to welcome the Inn guests.  This is the moment I’ve been waiting for and voila…

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The Inn guests have arrived!

Did I tell you how a Country Inn Day Sharing Tea works?  There’s always someone old invited (an old friend), someone new (a new acquaintance on the way to becoming a friend), someone borrowed maybe two (old and new invited guests may be asked to bring a friend).

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Joni is today’s someone old for she’s been a friend for ages.

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Carole is the someone new.

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And Carol brought Lynn along so she’s the Inn’s borrowed guest, just one today, not two.

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The tea is poured and this Country Inn Day Sharing Tea Party has begun.  Once again I am transposed from Innkeeper now to Inn Guest.  This is  the magic of a Country Inn Day!  I can now relax and enjoy.  I wish you could be here with us for there’s nothing quite like taking a nice break every now and then to relax and visit with friends in a serene setting over a cup of tea.  Our worlds are so full and our tasks can be very demanding.  It seems to me relaxing break-times are not only nice, but a must.

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And when the Inn guests take their leave and the Inn Maid (me) does her magic, cleaning up the dishes, I’m left with a feeling of sweet satisfaction, for Henry James had it right when he said,   “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea”, except maybe the hours of preparation leading up to afternoon tea.

It’s all fun – Country Inn Days, Sharing Teas, Imagination, Creativity and Play.  These things are great escapes from ho hum ordinary days.  Don’t take my word for it.  Indulge, and you’ll see for yourself.  Go ahead.  Have your own Country Inn Day and/or Sharing Tea and …

PLAY

It’s a Country Inn Country Club Day

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Lake Forest Country Club

I am not a golfer, but I’m glad my husband is because his love of golf inspired our membership to Lake Forest Country Club and this membership entitles me to enjoy the lovely clubhouse anytime I like. Because I love old world ways and old world architectural design I frequently escape to Lake Forest on my Country Inn Days.

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Some people need to pack their bags and travel far away in order to escape from life’s usual routines, but not me.  With a little imagination (and Country Inn Days are built on imagination) I can escape without even leaving home or at least not leaving Hudson. My home becomes the  “Inn” of my Country Inn Days and sometimes I hibernate there, but other times I leave the Inn and enjoy little outings  to lovely places.  Lake Forest Country Club is one of those places. At this clubhouse  I have the feeling I’m checking into a fine hotel somewhere off and away, maybe in merry old England.

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Because the architectural details in and around the club are so fine my imagination doesn’t have to work very hard in order to take me from ordinary to a romantic state of mind.  Lake Forest may not be Downton Abbey, but it’s the next best thing in Hudson.

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I settle into a corner of the living room and order a glass of wine. Soon my luncheon companions will arrive.  You may wonder who these people will be. Well, this is where my excellent imagination does come into play. My companions at lunch today will be William Faulkner, the Nobel Prize winner in Literature, his son Dean Swift Faulkner, and William’s niece, Dean Faulkner Wells… oh, and here they are now.

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I won’t need to talk much, if at all, for Dean Faulkner Wells is bursting with stories of the life she lived and the family she loved. She takes me back to the 1930’s and a place called Oxford which was a sleepy little one-horse town in the hills of North Mississippi. Dean’s stories are full of intimacies and cherished connections with her family members.

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As I sip my wine and read “Every Day by the Sun”, Dean Faulkner Well’s  book, I exit Hudson to another place and time. Books, imagination and Country Inn Days are a winning combination to create a fun and most interesting getaway day…

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and don’t forget delicious food either.  Food is yet another pleasurable ingredient adding to the delight of Country Inn Days, especially when that food is prepared and served to me with a smile.

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When lunch is finished and my time with the Faulkners is over I stroll into the pub.  All is quiet in preparation for the evening activities.

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The fire in the fireplace is warm and inviting and I’m in no particular hurry to leave it because a Country Inn Day is a gift of time I give myself, a gift allowing me to do as I please.  This luxury of free, unscheduled time is very therapeutic every now and then. We are so often bound to clocks and schedules.   A  free, unplanned and spontaneous day is a real treat. When we stop and smell the roses, get off our treadmill, not only does life seem sweeter,  we seem sweeter to all we meet.

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I strike up a very interesting conversation with Mel, a long-time server here at the club.  She’s usually too busy to engage in conversation, but now is a perfect time to get to know her a little bit better.  She’s so nice.  I wish she wasn’t always working here or at home being a busy mother of three for I’d love to invite her to the Inn for tea.  I would assume the role of Innkeeper and turn the tables on her.  She would become the guest for a change and I would become her server.

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After my nice chat with Mel it’s time to leave Lake Forest and return to the Inn.  My husband and I will be back here later this evening for dinner.  Only on a Country Inn Country Club Day would I indulge in two meals here in the same  day.  But today?  Why not?  I poke into the formal dining room on the way out. Such a pretty room.

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The staff is busy preparing  for what’s to come.

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Back at the Inn what’s to come is afternoon tea.  Ah, the pleasure of tea.  I enjoy this lovely ritual with Earl Grey and a home made butter cookie baked  in house by the Inn chef (me).

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Inn guests have arrived and they’re waiting to talk to me.  They arrive in the form of personal letters – a whole stack of them. There’s Joy who comes from South Carolina, Michelle hails from Washington D.C., Amy from Pennsylvania, Candi from Minnesota and Maggie-Linn from Maine.

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With my cup of tea,  a little imagination, and all these wonderful letter friends the party continues on this Inn Day.  Letter writers are never alone or lonely on Country Inn Days or on any other day – That’s because letter writers  just pick up a pen and write a friend making a connection any time day or night, or they go out to their mailbox and bring back plenty of letter friends for pleasant, old fashioned in depth conversations.  I hope you’re a letter writer.  If you are you know first hand the pleasure personal correspondence can add to life.

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After I’m filled to the brim with socializing I pick up my knitting and spend a little time in solitude.  Knit one, purl one as the minutes pass slowly and peacefully. I must rest for the evening ahead. Country Inn Days are a rich mix of solitude and society.  They combine the work of Innkeeper, (me) Inn Maid, (me) and Inn chef, (also me), with imagination, relaxation, creativity and play.   We adults need play. “It is a happy talent to know how to play” so said Ralph Waldo Emerson.  We need play to keep our spirits youthful and happy.  I hope you schedule play into your life regularly.

 So till we meet again on another Country Inn Day.  Live well, prosper and play.