A Good Home, Afternoon Tea, Humour

Afternoon Tee-hee

My friend and I planned to have afternoon tea at an historic estate during colder weather. It’s known for its grand mansion, beautiful gardens and tearoom.

The day before, she sent me an email.  “The tearoom is open but the online reviews were kind of nasty, which is sad.”

But we had fond memories of tea in the conservatory attached to the mansion.

“How can they mess up tea?” I argued. “Let’s go anyway.”

blog photo - afternoon teapot

The estate’s enormous black wrought-iron gates were wide open. A sign pointed the way to the tearoom – not in the conservatory, but a small 2-story house on the grounds. 

We pushed the heavy wood front door, but it did not budge.

Hmmm.  The sign clearly indicated the tearoom was open. 

We knocked. Then knocked again. 

Through a glass section of the door, we saw a woman’s face, grimacing with the effort to unlock the door. We almost cheered when she succeeded but settled for thanking her, warmly.

~~

It was colder inside than out.

“But the tea will warm us up,” I said.

“The place is empty.” My friend raised her eyebrows.

“But we have our choice of table!” I said.

We chose one beside the window overlooking the grounds. We kept our coats on.

We admired the view, then the table-setting: crisp white tablecloth, pretty vintage teacups and saucers.

blog photo - afternoon tea cup and saucer 2

“Would you like some tea?” Our server asked, shivering, despite her thick sweater.

“I’ll have coffee — if you have it, please,” my friend replied. She was taking nothing for granted.

“I’ll have Earl Grey tea, please,” I said. Tearooms always have Earl Grey.

“I don’t think we have Earl Grey”, our server replied. “We only have Tetley.”

Shorthand for orange pekoe, we guessed.  But tearoom staff should know that Tetley makes many teas. This was not a good sign.

~~

Our cups were frozen. 

“Could you please warm the cups?” my friend asked. “Just some hot water should do it.”

The server removed our cups and disappeared into the kitchen.

Minutes later, she returned with coffee, tea and a teapot. She also brought scones.

“I warmed them up for you,” she said, eager to please. “And I warmed the butter too.”

The scones were indeed warm; the butter was frozen solid.

But by now we knew: we liked her. She was an older lady, maybe close to 80; a volunteer, likely filling in for someone else.  Here alone, freezing in this icebox, she clearly didn’t know tea.  But she was friendly, polite and trying her best. So would we.

~~

Coffee and tea served, my friend and I were just about to begin sipping, glad for some warmth, when we noticed — coffee was seeping out of her cup. Rapidly.

We grabbed our napkins, sopped and dabbed and wiped. It was no use. My friend rushed to the kitchen.

“She’s knitting,” she whispered when she returned.

“I’ve never seen that before,” the server arrived and said,  staring as if the leaking cup was an alien creature.

“No worries,” we said, consoling her.

She returned with the coffee in a different cup, and waited, shivering.

“It’s cold in here,” I commiserated.

“The furnace broke down”, she replied.

~~

Two women and a girl arrived and sat at the next table. The server greeted them warmly and left to fill their orders.

A few minutes later, a loud clatter and men’s voices; the furnace-fixers appeared in the hallway.

Nearly an hour passed before the room warmed. We spent the time sipping,  chatting and giggling.

“I wouldn’t trade this for the world,” I told my friend.

“You wouldn’t?”

“Imagine if we’d gone somewhere else. How could it possibly be more interesting?”

We giggled some more.

~~

A frightened shout came from the next table.  One of the women jumped up, shook herself and stared in horror at something on the floor.  A long brown bug. 

Their unwelcome guest dispatched, the women settled down again. The server brought their order and their chit-chat turned to knitting. The server showed them her blanket; the women oohed and aahed.  It was a lovely thick wool, in shades of blue.

Two new customers arrived. The server placed her blanket on a nearby table and hurried off to greet them.  It slowly slipped off the table and onto the floor. My friend jumped up to rescue it.

~~

“I seem to remember telling you this place got some bad reviews,” my friend said as we drove away.

And I said: ‘How can anyone mess up tea?’ I replied. “I think we just found out.”

But what an adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

A Good Home, Afternoon Tea, Architecture and Design, Canadian Women, Following your dreams, Unique Businesses

Serendipitous Old Stuff

It’s no secret: I love small towns and villages. Love their main streets, small stores and annual events.

Blog Photo - Warkworth Credit VisitTrenthills.ca

Warkworth, a charming Northumberland County village that’s famous for its many artists and cultural events, is one of my favourites. There’s always something going on in this village 90 minutes east of Toronto  — arts shows, the Lilac Festival, the Long Lunch (below), the Maple Syrup Festival, the Perfect Pie Contest, and others.

Blog Photo - Warkworth Long Table

Blog Photo - Lilac Festival in Warkworth

Our friends who live there often spoke of “Justine”, who ran a painted-furniture business. Recently, they decided it was time for us to visit Justine’s business and meet her in person. So off we went.

Blog Photo - SOS Sign

Justine Vikse’s place isn’t just a painted-furniture store. “Serendipitous Old Stuff Lounge” is an unusual business, inspired by a place Justine “wandered into” while visiting New York state.

Blog Photo - SOS Justine MCU

“I was indeed looking to purchase a building to house my already established painted furniture/design business Serendipitous Old Stuff”, she says.  “Ironically, I drove by the business’ new home everyday, but never entertained its purchase because I always thought of it as a restaurant. I came back from that trip newly- inspired, and consulted a realtor friend to begin the process.”  

And this is Justine’s place on Old Hastings Road today. Enter through the front door and to your left is a lounge and bar:

Blog Photo - SOS Lounge Wide shot

Blog Photo - SOS Bike on top of bar

Step to your right and you’ll find a gift shop and tea store:

Blog Photo - SOS Gift and Tea section

Blog Photo - SOS Tea containers on shelves.JPG

Beyond these spaces is the room where we had a delicious lunch:

Blog Photo - SOS Dining table and chairs

Justine refers to her overall business as “the Lounge”.  She calls it a comfortable gathering place with an unconventional aesthetic. “I wanted the Lounge to be like a canvas for art. Light, airy, elegant, and it had to smell good.”

Blog Photo - SOS Seating area 2

“It’s also homey.  I get to showcase my antiques, painted furniture, and gift items in an environment where patrons/friends can feel as though they’re in a living room of sorts, and get together over a pint, or a glass of wine, and perhaps a great Charcuterie platter.”

In every space, many pieces are for sale.

Blog Photo - SOS Green cabinet

Blog Photo - SOS wall lamp

Blog Photo - SOS Black cat on counter

“When I initially started out in design and refinishing, I didn’t have a lot of money to allocate towards high-end antiques.  I had to be intensely creative.

“I realized that I could pick vintage pieces that were relegated by the homeowner for the ‘ dump’ or auction and I could acquire them fairly cheaply.

Blog Photo - SOS Cigar man

“I studied and honed the art of transformation. Poured myself into art books, read up on techniques, and through trial and error, learned what was appreciated by the discerning eye, and what was not.”

That knowledge came in handy when Justine renovated the new space. Her contractor Wayne Shaw did all the plumbing, electrical and flooring.  She did the rest.

Blog Photo - SOS Justine and Wayne

“I did all the physical artistic labour involved in actualizing the space. Extraordinarily long hours of blood, sweat and tears were extended, but as exhaustive as it was, it was a labour of love.”

Her daughters help in the business.

“The blessing of this biz for me as a woman, is being fortunate enough to have my girls all within reach, and vice versa.

blog-photo-sos-young-lady-at-counter.jpg

“It’s wonderful to know that they can step into the back door at any point during the day, and we can converse about what’s transpired throughout their day, and that two of them actively help me out with working here as servers.”

Justine dreamed of creating a cozy and elegant place for her patrons. With the many artistic touches and personal involvement, she believes she’s achieved her dream.

Photos by Hamlin Grange

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Good Home, Afternoon Tea, Friendship, Gardens

Wisdom, Foolishness and Joy

Once in a while, I do something wise.

Such was the case when I invited some friends from church to our home.

“Come to afternoon tea”, I said.  “On the verandah and in the garden.”

Blog Photo - Garden - Red Wiegela

Of course, the plan was immediately followed by a piece of brash foolishness.

“I’m doing it all myself,” I proudly told my husband.

Silence.

By myself, I had rarely entertained more than one person at a time, afraid that I wouldn’t be able to handle it.

“Okay,” he finally said.

Blog Photo - Garden - Begonias and Muskoka Chairs 23 006

~~

Carefully, I made a menu, a shopping list and a detailed schedule.

Checked them a million times.

Tidied up the verandah.

And prayed for good weather.

Blog Photo - Afternoon Tea Verandah 1

~~

Daughter and son-in-law kindly took the list and went shopping.

My good man left me alone to get everything ready.

Then he phoned: “Shall I pick up a couple quiches?”

“No,” I said. “I have enough food.”

“Hmmm…” he said.

~~

The garden looked lovely.

Blog Photo - Afternoon Tea garden with hosta and tree

Flowers bloomed.

Blog Photo - Afternoon Tea Pink Poppies

Blog Photo - Afternoon Tea  Clematis Burgundy

Birds sang their welcome.

Blog Photo - Afternoon tea cardinal

~~

I took a deep breath.

Our guests were arriving.

My husband smoothly took over the greetings, drinks and garden tours.

Blog Photo - Afternoon Tea Rev Claire and HG

In the kitchen, I smelled something delicious.

Quiches warming in the oven.

~~

I started out very well.

But before long,  our friends ordered me to rest. I wisely obeyed and everyone helped everyone else.

Blog Photo - Afternoon Tea Group on Verandah1

Everything unfolded according to plan, prayer and an abundance of good sense (not mine).

Blog Photo - Afternoon Tea guest in garden

Perfect weather for garden-touring.

Blog Photo - Afternoon Tea Poppy deep pink

Happy and helpful guests and one very thoughtful husband.

Blog Photo - Afternoon Tea Miss G and Me

There was also this frequent visitor.

Blog Photo - Afternoon Tea Cardinal 2

And yes:  the quiches were a hit.

~~

It’s such a great blessing: having a caring church family to call our own.

For years we’d kept telling Claire, our priest: “We’d like to invite you and others to visit.”

But I simply hadn’t felt up to the task. So Claire wisely nudged us and last week, it finally happened.

~~

Blog Photo - afternoon Tea Group shot 1

Watching their happy faces made my husband and me happy.

We ended the party by saying ‘the grace’.

As we held hands and prayed, my cup ran over with joy.

~~

Great thanks to photographer Gundy Schloen.

A Good Home, Afternoon Tea, Amaryllis in Bloom, Flowers, Re-blooming Amaryllis Bulbs

FLOWERS FOR MARILYN M.

For Marilyn Mirabelli, tea sommelier and blogger extraordinaire, these Amaryllis flowers:

Blog Photo - Amaryllis Blooms CU1

My way of saying: welcome back!

Marilyn injured her foot last fall, and has steadily been working at her recovery.

Blog Photo - Amaryllis Blooms CU2

Marilyn — you may recall — is the Canadian grande dame of tea and I was delighted that she read my book. Her tea company, Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas even created an apple cake in my honour.

Then, last summer, I fretted about an upcoming interview on national radio to everyone who would listen to my wimpy whining.

Marilyn knew that the interview would likely stir up very painful memories. She kindly offered to be nearby. And she created an afternoon tea party for the CBC Radio team and me after the interview. It was the perfect thing to do.

Blog Photo - Amaryllis Blooms ECU

Marilyn: we have missed your posts about tea and tea lovers, as well as your comments on this blog.

These flowers are to say: we wish you a full return to both afternoon tea and blogging  — soon.

Blog Photo - Amaryllis Blooms MCU1

p.s. The Amaryllis bulbs may re-bloom next winter, if I let the leaves grow after blooming, through the summer months. I stop watering in late August, let the leaves dry, then store the bulbs in a cool dark place for 3 months. Doesn’t always work, mind you, but these enormous flowers are great in the pot or a vase, and are an inexpensive jolt of colour in winter.

Blog Photo - Amaryllis Blooms in Vase