The new book lies on my desk, on my bedside table, on the kitchen counter – a jewel that I’ve been carrying around the house with me. I keep picking it up, drawn by the beautiful cover image, and opening it to flip through to the others inside. Occasionally, I re-read the whole story.
The story is about a young girl whose little brother is very ill. Doctors aren’t able to cure him, so the family calls on a healer. Surprisingly, the healer tells the family to hold a joyful ceremony filled with guests.
In some ways, it’s like a fairy tale. But the story is in no way typical, and certainly not ‘traditional’ in the Western sense.
“From the Lands of the Night” is written by award-winning author Tololwa M. Mollel and illustrated by artist Darrell McCalla. The artwork is astonishingly beautiful and the story is a delightful surprise.
There are angels in this book – angels who dance – and the spirits of ancestors, dressed in shimmering, colourful clothes.
God – called “Mola” – shows up but he’s in a grumpy mood. The humans are making such a racket he can’t hear himself think. “All I want is some peace, some quiet,” he complains. But before you know it, the girl takes Mola by the hand and invites him to join the ceremony for her baby brother.
All of these elements infuse the book with an air of magic, spirituality and celebration. And yet, it is also a book about a little girl, a baby boy and their family. A book about ‘home’ in a wondrous sense of the word.
Launched this month by Red Deer Press, “From the Lands of the Night” is no doubt meant to benefit from interest in Black History Month. But I’d recommend this book for any time of year, and I’d recommend it for both children and adults. It’s lovely.
From the Lands of the Night is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Chapters Indigo and other online booksellers. The ISBN number is: 978-0-88995-498-4.
How hard could it be to make your own Christmas arrangement? Looks easy enough in the magazines, and on the internet, right?
It’s almost Christmas and I’m surrounded by women who cook and bake AND do great home decor. My sister, daughters, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, girlfriends: domestic goddesses, every one. Some even sew and knit.
I, meanwhile, am a failed domestic diva. I baked a cake – once. I failed knitting – twice. I try – Lord knows I try – but I’m still an exceptionally underachieving cook.
But it’s Christmastime, after all. A time of great hope.
So I decided to make Christmas stuff. The kind of stuff that won’t give my family indigestion, catch fire and burn (as the solitary cake did), or that anyone needs to wear. (That sock I tried to knit is indescribable AND a family joke.)
In the past, I used branches from the trees in my garden, tied together with a big red ribbon – and called it a Christmas bough. Hanging on the front door, it was only seen from a distance, or when we had visitors. Very polite visitors.
But this year, I decided to go big or …. no, I was already home, so let’s forget the rest of that saying. I decided to be ambitious. To arrange greenery in containers. One in the plant-stand outdoors, one in a container indoors. Artfully composed, of course.
Did I mention that I failed BOTH art and photography in school? Something to do with composition.
I collected branches of everything that grew right next to the verandah of our home. I’m under a kind of house arrest, you see – mandated by my doctor because I overdid it with the book-related activities and also started a new medication with woozy side-effects. I figured that as long as I went no farther than the verandah, it would still qualify as “resting at home”.
I put a double layer of plastic in the bottom of the containers, and placed the wet florist foam on it. (The foam was wet, not the florist.) Then I stuck branches of stuff into it. Spruce. Juniper. Euonymus. Boxwood. And pine cones on sticks. I stepped back to admire my handiwork.
It needed something. Aha! More red dogwood sticks.
It still needed something. But I was worn out and achy and very woozy. I wisely took to my bed.
Two days later, I felt brighter. Contrast, I thought! I need contrast!
So I fetched some “brownery” –– brown-leaved branches from last Christmas, forgotten in a tall container in one corner of the verandah. But when I cleverly tried to add them, the florist foam had frozen hard due to cold weather and the brownery crumbled, leaves falling from brittle stems.
I searched the house and found a little fake bird and some loose pine cones and judiciously placed them among the greenery.
But it still needed something. I just never figured out what.
As for the inside container? There was a coup de grace: garlic. Yes, garlic on stems. Harvested from our garden this fall, it’s surprisingly decorative, will deter vampires and spice up my cooking efforts after Christmas.
But that bit of creativity wore me out completely. So I stuck some shiny red Christmas ornaments on branches in the container and called it a day.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY H. GRANGE
Lord, give me strength. Clearly, you withheld the talent.
This post is dedicated to everyone who struggles with domestic arts. And to all domestic goddesses: you give me something to aspire to. Or maybe that’s ‘perspire’.
As Christmas approaches, Marilyn Mirabelli is a very busy woman.
Marilyn, the person behind one of my favorite websites, has a tea catering company called Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, you’ll find her filling clients’ orders and preparing to cater afternoon teas for tree-trimming or other Christmas parties. Marilyn Mirabelli knows her tea. And, since 2004, she’s been living her dream of having a thriving tea business.
As you’ll see on Marilyn’s website, she’s revived the afternoon tea in classic style:
“ASimply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teaunfolds with the well-appointed tea table: Crisp white tablecloth and tea napkins; china teapot and cups and saucers; freshly-made tea sandwiches that are trimmed and quartered, small cakes, biscuits, and of course, classic English scones with imported Devon double clotted cream. This is accompanied by the choicest loose leaf teas.”
Marilyn is also a talented writer who produces a series of high-quality, interesting stories on her website. It’s like having some tidbits of history with your afternoon tea, and enjoying it too! Here’s something I learned from Simply Splendid:
“Queen Victoria made afternoon tea popular, very ‘it’. But she did not invent the tradition. That honour goes to Anna, Duchess of Bedford, a Lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria and prone to fainting spells in the afternoons. The royal doctor was called; he diagnosed Anna’s fainting spells as hunger from the long stretch between lunch and supper and prescribed a cup of hot tea and buttered bread whenever a fainting spell was coming on.
Anna found this so agreeable, she invited other Ladies-in-waiting to join her. Pretty soon Queen Victoria cottoned on to a good idea and she asked for afternoon tea too. The rest as they say, is history!”
As well as bits of history, you’ll find interviews with interesting personalities on the website. It makes you realize that the person behind the site and the company is both extremely knowledgeable and passionate about afternoon tea.
But you won’t find a great deal about Marilyn herself on the website, so here’s a tidbit about her:
The former journalist and communications consultant says she read a book called Dreams Don’t Have An Expiry Date by Deanna Rosenswig in the early 2000’s and decided to start her tea business. She was determined that her cakes, sandwiches and other offerings would all be made to order from fresh ingredients and she’s kept that commitment. Her tea selections come from estates monitored by the Ethical Tea Partnership.
As the company’s fame spreads, a wide variety of clients – individuals, families and corporate workplaces — have asked Marilyn to cater afternoon teas for special occasions. Former broadcaster/politician Isabel Bassett described the tea Simply Splendid prepared for her daughter’s baby shower as “exquisite… the guests are still talking about it.”
I was raised in the tea-drinking capital of Jamaica – Manchester. Afternoon tea wasn’t just a hot drink: it was an occasion, and for some, an almost-sacred ritual. (See “Afternoon Tea”, Ch. 10 in A Good Home.) So I was thrilled when the Simply Splendid website chose A Good Home as its favorite book for the month of July. It was a great boost – the book had only been released weeks before.
Then, this autumn, Simply Splendid gave me a delightful surprise when they created a special apple cake which they named “Lady Cynthia Cake”.
Within days, friends, acquaintances and strangers alike were trying out the recipe, to oohs and aahs of delight. The cake was served at an afternoon tea in Whitby, Ontario, where it was declared “delicious”. Then, a friend invited me for tea in her home, and surprised me by serving the Lady Cynthia Cake she’d just made. Again, delicious.
Marilyn’s tea blends, cakes, sandwiches and other creations are, simply, splendid. Congrats on living your dream, Marilyn, and we wish you well.
For more information about gift packages, special tea blends or to book an afternoon tea – do visit: splendidafternoonteas.com