Monday, June 30, 2014

A belated obsession with "Downton Abbey"

Finally! I am all caught up on "Downton Abbey," but I sort of wish I weren't so I could have the joy of watching the shows again for the first time. I now know that many (most?) of you must have been clucking your heads at my several admissions on this blog that I had yet to view "Downton Abbey." Friends far and wide had said I'd enjoy it, for all the glorious tea scenes if nothing else, but something in me resisted. When my friend Maureen loaned me Season One back in March, I figured I'd better watch at least a few episodes and get the DVD back to her. You won't be surprised to learn I was immediately addicted. Since I know many of you are "Downton Abbey" devotees, I hope at least a few of you will humor me with a few questions and comments since I am absolutely besotted with this show! (Spoiler alert: I DO mention some things below that will no doubt ruin the viewing for you if you haven't seen the show yet. If you're as behind the times as I was in watching "Downton Abbey," then please, for the love of Highclere Castle, DO NOT read to the end of this blog post. Just to be safe, you might not wish to read past the Republic of Tea mention …)

Midway through my recent binge-viewing, I bought a tin of Republic of Tea's "Downton Estate Blend" tea largely because it featured Maggie Smith as Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, on the front. Oh, how I love her! I do believe I have laughed out loud at something she says in every episode! The Earl Grey and vanilla blend of tea is just delicious, by the way, and I hope to collect the other Republic of Tea blends honoring "Downton Abbey" as well.

When I finished watching all four seasons of the show, I read a book recommended by a friend, "While We Were Watching Downton Abbey" by Wendy Wax. This is the story of three women who bond over Sunday night viewings of "Downton Abbey" at their historic Atlanta apartment building. The book doesn't have quite as much of a "Downton Abbey" focus as I would have expected from the title, but it was still a good book and I've already got a friend lined up to read it next.

I'm still desperate for "Downton Abbey" news, so I started looking in back issues of Victoria and Tea Time for their "Downton Abbey" features. Fun, fun, fun! But as a latecomer to the party, I have several questions/comments for those of you who had the good sense to watch the show all along.

1. I couldn't believe it when Lady Sybil died following childbirth! I LOVED Lady Sybil! Were you as shocked by that as I was?

2. Alas, nosy puss here just couldn't wait and had Googled some articles about the actors online, so I knew that Dan Stevens was parting the show before I saw the episode in which he died. That was sad but not devastating because I knew this was going to happen. I later learned of the uproar that ensued in the UK when this show aired on Christmas night! It aired later in the U.S., but did those of you watching get upset? Did any of you vow never to watch the show again? (I heard that some did!)

3. Who is your favorite character? Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, is my clear favorite, followed by Carson, Lady Mary, Anna and Bates (tie), and Isobel Crawley. (I took two different "Which Downton Abbey Character Are You?" tests and got two different answers: the Dowager Countess in one, Anna in another. Does that mean I'm a blend of upstairs and downstairs?) I really, really enjoy the scenes where Violet and Isobel are going at it, because I admire the strengths in both of them. I like Violet's love of tradition and the old ways, and yet I was cheering on Isobel when she took in the wayward maid Ethel despite the uproar it caused. You go girl!

4. Do y'all think Bates killed Lord Gillingham's valet? I would not mind if he did it, frankly, but I don't believe he's guilty of this. I *would* like to know what he was doing off by himself that day since we're being all mysterious about it!

5. WHY on God's green earth do the Crawleys keep that nasty piece of work Thomas Barrow in their employ? I cannot remember when I've despised a character more. Each episode I want to knock that cigarette right out of his sneaky little hand and have Carson kick him (oh-so-politely) to the curb.

6. I think Daisy and Alfred will eventually get together, don't you? (Although, to show you how obsessed I've become over the show, I dreamed recently that Daisy married Prince Harry. Which would not be a bad idea, actually.)

7. Is there any, any way to rig one's TV or computer so we can see "Downton Abbey" in the fall when it airs in the UK rather than waiting until January when it comes on PBS here?

Thank you for indulging me, fellow "Downton Abbey" fans!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Tea Room Postcard #26 -- The Green Shutters Tea Room (Whitewater, Wisconsin)

There's something about a grand old home that is just so appealing, and I'll bet this house was once a real draw to those visiting the Green Shutters Tea Room in Whitewater, Wisconsin.

The eBay seller says the postcard was mailed in 1946, and I'll just have to take their word for it because I'm only certain of the 19 and maybe part of a 6. It reads, "Dear Maude: Here we are now having lunch and entering Minnesota for our destination. The weather has been excellent and the trip beautiful. Wisconsin is like Vermont. Love, Nora." Like Vermont? Hmm. I'll have to ask some family members in Wisconsin what they think about that! I guessed, correctly, that the home is still standing today, but I was not correct in assuming it is now a residence. What's the Green Shutters Tea Room doing today? Go here to find out!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Southern Breeze Sweet Tea

With iced tea season now upon us, I am happy to try some new varieties of iced tea. When I stopped by an Ingles grocery store last week, I was intrigued by this box of Southern Breeze Sweet Tea. Why?

According to the box of teabags, it "sweetens while you steep."

I also like the fact the box features a cute design of a rocking chair, but I suppose that's rather beside the point. I was curious to see how "sweet" this "sweet tea" would taste. Turns out, the sweetener is Sucralose, the no-calorie sweetener also known as Splenda. The tea was pretty good and definitely sweet, but it didn't quite have that classic "sweet tea" taste I was hoping for. I know some people are fans of artificial sweeteners and others are not. I'll use them in a pinch, but I prefer to avoid the aftertaste I always get with them. For that reason I generally drink my tea without any sweetener except for, on the rare occasion, good old white or brown sugar. Have any of you tried this tea? If so, what did you think?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

"Bowled" over by a birthday gift!

Recently my stepdaughter, Heather, and her family visited us from Wisconsin as they were on the way to and from the beach in Florida. She had fretted over finding just the right birthday present for me this year, so I was very touched to learn this busy mother of two sweet little boys used some of her own "beach shopping" time to find my gift, which included this wonderful set of small, medium and large kitchen container bowls with teapots and teacups on them!

Here's the blue toile design of the middle bowl. I absolutely love these bowls, and as I told Heather, I would definitely have bought them if I'd seen them first myself.

She found these at a shop called Charming Comforts in Apalachicola, and I took a photo of the Le Cadeaux for La Table label in case any of you want to look for these bowls yourself!

The pretty gift bag also contained a VivVere candle (the heavenly Flower Market fragrance is inspired by France) and a "Faith Hope & Love" tea towel featuring that gorgeous eau de nil color I'm so crazy about these days. Some gifts are well worth waiting for, don't you think?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

My personal party planner, Michaels

While out running errands, I just had this feeling I should stop by Michaels, and I'm so glad I did. I got so many great ideas for that fall bridesmaids luncheon I will be hosting, and I got a few goodies for the luncheon as well as something just for me!

These 7-inch tall silk flowers were regularly $9.99 each, but they were on sale for 60 percent off so I got three to decorate a food table, or perhaps the tea trolley. I'm still compiling ideas, but I know I want "vintage" and "burlap" to play a role, so these will be perfect.

And I had decided the other day that I wanted to make a banner to welcome the bridesmaids. I was mourning the fact that I used to have a teapot chalkboard but sold it at a yard sale. This 10-inch tall teapot chalkboard was at Michaels for just $3 and will be perfect to go with the banner I'm planning. The chalkboard will say "Welcome" and the banner will spell out "BRIDESMAIDS" in teapot shapes with letters on them. I can't wait to make it! Meanwhile, could you have passed up a $2 canvas zippered bag with a teacup on it? Me neither.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match ...

Friends, I may be losing my shopping superpowers. Last week I went to four antique malls and did not buy a single solitary thing. At one of the antique malls I almost made it out of the booth with a pretty blue and white teacup, but I happened to be fingering the saucer as I walked out and detected a small chip that I hadn't seen with my eyes. Back to the shelf it went. For that reason, I was very glad when I got home from a day of fruitless antiquing and found an eBay package waiting for me. It contained this saucer that matched the teacup I received from a friend a few years ago, and I'd say it's a perfect match!

This set from Paragon commemorates the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and appropriately enough the teacup was a gift I received at another royalty-themed event, the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. You can see the shamrock, thistle, daffodil, and rose, all of which were featured in the lace of Kate's wedding gown. I happened to be looking at Paragon teacups on eBay when I saw this saucer and knew it was the missing mate I needed!

I love seeing all the pretty flowers ringing both the cup and saucer when you view them from above.

This is the backstamp on the teacup, and ...

This is the backstamp on the saucer. I loved reading the Daily Mail online last week to see what the Queen wore to Royal Ascot each day, so it was nice to end the week using my cup and saucer that have aged just as beautifully as she has!

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Salute to Summertime

It's officially summer now, so I decided to celebrate the season by updating my little tea cart with some beachy decor!

I covered this old white teapot with seashells a few years back, and I still like to bring it out in the summertime to remind me of our many visits to the beach. Hopefully I'll be going back before too long!

It's surprising to me that these seashells have all stayed in place. Hot glue is a lovely thing!

For fun, I poured a teacup full of sea glass. (Please note: Not for actual consumption!) A sea-loving friend and I once discussed the fact we have never actually seen sea glass at the sea, but then we have pretty much visited only southern beaches all our lives. So I cheated and bought a big container of sea glass at Target because I love the color! (Have any of you visited a beach where you've actually found sea glass?)

This old shell-theme silverplated wreath underneath came from a friend a few years ago, a friend who knew my longing for a beach house and wanted to help begin decorating for it. It's nice to have a head start!

Those watery blue colors in sea glass and some glassware are so soothing. This is an old glass cream pitcher my mom found for me at a yard sale some years ago. It holds seashells now, which I think is a good "repurposed" use for it!

And of course you can't have a beach-themed decor without lots of seashells. I love the perfectly-formed olive seashells I've found at the beach in recent years, but I also love the imperfect, chippy and pockmarked pieces of shells that have withstood the test of time. They have character, and I've long thought it's a good thing to find beauty in the imperfections of life. So have you been to the beach yet this year? Are you planning a trip?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Tea Room Postcard #25 -- McDonald Tea Room (Gallatin, Missouri)

Some of you may recall that last year, my Saturday project was the sharing of recipes from old tea room cookbooks. One of the recipes I made, Strawberry Jam Cup Cakes, came from the cookbook of the McDonald Tea Room in Gallatin, Missouri. I've often seen black and white postcards of the tea room featuring an image from the cookbook, but I recently discovered this color postcard online and had to have it! The tea room interior is much swankier than I had imagined, especially considering its humble origin. Can you guess what the building used to be from looking at the ceiling? (I shared the history of the tea room here last year, so more info is available if you're interested.) I love the chandeliers, the floral carpet, the needlepoint (or tapestry) seat cushions, the glass goblets, and the teacups with those elegant handles, which I observed on the table at lower right. I love this room!

The only thing that would have made this postcard better is if it had been used, but oh well, just having the image itself will have to do. "Many well-known personalities have dined in this lovely room at the McDonald Tearoom in Gallatin, Mo. Ex-Gov. Arthur M. Hyde once said: 'Their blackberry ice should be reverently held in the hands and inhaled as you would a fragrant rose.'" High praise indeed for a former … hardware store!

Friday, June 20, 2014

The winner of the notecards is ...

The Victorian Girl! If you'll send me your snail mail address via the e-mail button at right, I'll get these headed your way. Congrats!

Sampling some new Teavivre green teas

Recently I was fortunate to receive some new green tea samples from Teavivre, and I decided to randomly choose two of them for a tea tasting. The first tea I tried was this Xin Yang Mao Jian Green Tea, and a fresh, vegetal scent greeted me as soon as I opened the bag, the first time I've noticed such a strong scent from the dry leaves of a green tea. I found this tea had fine, almost wiry leaves.

Steeped, the tea had a vegetal, almost spinach-like scent. The suggested steeping time was three to five minutes, so I steeped my tea for three minutes, knowing I like my tea on the weak side. It had a slight astringency, so I knew that if I steeped it again for just two minutes I would probably love it, and that's exactly what happened! It produced a pale, almost clear brew that had a pleasant green tea taste. I still recall how I used to think I didn't care for green teas, but once I learned to adjust the steeping time to my personal preference, I found I really do enjoy them! (I also like the fact that nearly every week there seems to be some new study touting the health benefits of green tea.)

The second tea I tried was this Premium Tai Ping Hou Kui Green Tea. I'm so glad I chose this tea to try along with the other one, because the contrast in leaf size was so obvious! Some of these tea leaves were about four inches long. The dry leaf had an almost fruity scent, so I was curious to see what it would taste like.

Steeped for just about two minutes, this tea had a nice vegetal scent, reminding me of steamed broccoli. When I tasted it, I found a very robust green tea with a rich, thick mouth feel and a broth-like flavor. It was my favorite of the two, but I definitely give the thumbs-up to both these greens!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Remembering John Harney

A giant of the tea world has passed away, so today I thought it would be appropriate to remember Mr. John Harney, who died on Monday. This is a photo I took of Mr. Harney with his son Michael at the World Tea Expo in Atlanta in 2007.

When I met Mr. Harney, I was expecting a quiet, reserved gentleman, and he was a gentleman but definitely not quiet or reserved! He was loud and boisterous and great fun, and when I told him I was enjoying Harney's Peaches and Ginger Tea, he said, "Of course you like peaches! You're from Georgia!"

After I learned of his death, I found myself looking around the kitchen at some of the tins and teas from Harney and Sons. There are the pretty tins from their Diamond Jubilee blend in 2012, which celebrated Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee, and the Royal Wedding Tea blend, which celebrated the nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. Of course there are also the Harney teas I continue to sip year after year, including their Valentine's blend, Cranberry Autumn, Florence and others. Those of us who love tea and enjoy its popularity today have John Harney to thank for helping popularize quality tea in this country. My thoughts and prayers are certainly with the Harney family in their loss. Do any of you have a Harney memory you'd like to share?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Playing with cards

Over the past seven years of blogging, I have been blessed to receive many lovely tea-themed notecards. They're currently scattered in several different places around the house, but since I'm on an organizing kick I decided to corral these lovely cards in a way that I can easily enjoy them. When I found some unused book rings in a desk drawer, I decided I would take the simplest of paths and punch holes in the cards to make a book out of them. This way I can still read them and also have them close at hand for "tea art" inspiration. The one at front is from a new tea friend, Lori, whom I met earlier this year. Handcrafted cards are extra special to me since I know the work that goes into them!

This card with layered scrapbooking papers and ribbon on the front is from Sandy. I have that same polka-dotted teacup rubber stamp design, but I've certainly never created a card that pretty with it!

Donna sent this cute thank-you card after winning one of my Valentine's giveaways this year. I love that it's cut in the shape of a teacup.

Some of the prettiest tea-themed notecards are from Carol Wilson Fine Arts, and Linda sent me this "quilted" one last year.

Here's another pretty Carol Wilson card, from Bev, and I love the teacup design and also the embossed white edging. It reminds me of fine linens!

And another unique card came from Frances, who introduced me to the amazing artwork of Sasha St. John. I'm just getting started on assembling all my tea-themed cards, and I won't be surprised if I end up with so many I have to buy larger book rings to accommodate them all!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Inspired by Blue Willow

The July/August 2014 issue of Tea Time magazine landed in the mailbox last week, and I was delighted to see the Blue Willow pattern featured on the cover. I'm still on my blue kick this year, loving any and all shades of blue, so this issue makes me very happy. If you're a Blue Willow fan, you'll definitely want to be sure and pick up a copy of this issue of Tea Time if you're not already a subscriber.

I enjoy the page of each issue devoted to a particular type of tea, and I thought it was quite appropriate that blue teacups are featured with oolong teas since oolongs are sometimes called "blue teas."

And of course I loved seeing all the pretty place settings with Blue Willow. I had just one Blue Willow cup and saucer and accidentally broke the teacup last year, so I'm definitely in the market for a replacement. (And surely I need to own at least one Blue Willow teapot as well.) I know lots of you tea friends have Blue Willow teawares, so if you have any hints on collecting them, please share!

Monday, June 16, 2014

A teatime giveaway for June!

Recently I came across at Ross what may be the absolute prettiest tea-themed notecards ever! I love-love-love these Pooch & Sweetheart thank-you notes, so I thought a pack of them would make a fun giveaway for June!

I love that each card features a teacup! I love that the teacup contains roses! I love the touches of gold!

And even the envelopes are pretty!

But wait, that's not all! Even the *back* of the envelope is pretty!

But wait, that's not all! Even the *inside* of the back of the envelope is pretty! OK, maybe I'm a bit touched to get so excited over notecards, but I do think these are quite lovely and look forward to seeing them spread their loveliness beyond Newnan, Georgia. If you'd like to be the happy recipient of these 10 notecards, just leave an "Enter me" to this post between now and Friday, June 20, at 7 a.m. EST. These are so lightweight, I'll send them to a winner anywhere in the world, so everyone please enter! Good luck!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Tea Room Postcard #24 - Danish Tea Room, Eastland Hotel (Portland, Maine)

What caught my eye with this vintage tea room postcard is that it's an American tea room that is a copy of a tea room in Denmark! Now, the eBay seller said this postcard was mailed in 1937. I'm not so sure. I'm thinking 1931. Can you tell from the postmark shown below?

At any rate, I can definitely read the information about the tea room itself: "This room is substantially a copy of Skenkstuen (the room where patrons are served) in Weis's Inn in the market place of Ribe, the capital of medieval Denmark, the setting of brilliant court and ecclesiastical life of bygone centuries. The original tavern is several hundred years old, and the last interior decorating as here portrayed, was applied nearly two hundred years ago. Many of the decorative pieces were imported from Ribe especially for this room." Interestingly, this card was mailed to Mr. C.S. Galvin of N. Easton, Mass., but it's not signed. Surely the sender knew Mr. Galvin would recognize the handwriting. I'm also wondering why the sender didn't write a message and instead addressed the card all the way across the back. Any theories?