Sunday, March 30, 2008

An Austentacious Weekend at Pemberly Pines

Salutations Dear Friends,

After a weekend at Pemberly (Pines), and a media stimulus of Austen-inspired tales, I had no better choice for afternoon tea than my dear, and sadly, depleting supply, of Earl Grey tea from the celebrated Pump Room in Bath. As many Austenphiles know, the Pump Room was quite the social gathering place in Jane's time and it was the scene of much spirited conversation and activity in some of her novels. Although, from most accounts, Jane was not entirely happy during her stay in Bath, we found it to be a most charming place to visit when we traveled to England almost two years ago.

And, although, this particular tea from the Pump Room is not my favorite Earl Grey blend, it does - like Calgon - "take me away" to this wonderful city of Bath and a "reconnexion" with one of my favorite authors. I am such a fan of Jane's, that one the most famous estates of her books, "Pemberley" (impressive home of Mr. Darcy) has become the namesake of our most humble up- north cottage. We've "Americanized" the name a bit, by dropping the last "e"and "northernized" it by adding "Pines". We think Jane would be amused at the irony, since Mr. Darcy's estate was most formidable in size and, in most conservative measurement, Pemberly Pines is but barely 1,200 square feet.

However, we believe we pay appropriate homage to the spirit of Darcy's Pemberely from Elizabeth Bennet's account of her first visit to the estate. She states that "she had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste." With respect to Mr. Darcy's expected condescension due his superior rank and pride, we believe we have achieved the same with Pemberly Pines.

And, so, in our sojourn to northern Michigan this weekend, my husband downloaded a books-on-tape version of "Pride and Prejudice" to, of all things, our dashboard-mounted GPS! At a guaranteed 12 hours-plus of listening pleasure, we were able to take in all of Part One (of Two) in one round-trip excursion. We also found "Becoming Jane" as a pay-per-view choice this weekend and spent another two hours in the Regency Period. It was, if you will forgive my impertinence, as though we were at Steventon itself for a reunion with the entire Austen clan.

There are consequences to such intense Austen-immersion, however. My husband will have to suffer my addresses to him as either "Mr. Gulley" or "Squire Gulley" for the next fortnight. I will find much felicity in our household activity and greet all invitations with undying alacrity; however, if the occasion requires it, I may become appropriately vexed as well.

To all Austen fans: the newly initiated due to Keira Knightley's Miss Bennet and Anne Hathaway's Jane Austen or the more "mature" of us admirers who became loyalists in 1995, after Colin Firth's quintessential Mr. Darcy, (and who should have read the book in its entirety for high school English class), I take such liberty as to say Jane would have been most flattered by all the attention and all the wonderful entertainment her life and novels had provided generations of followers. But, alas, it is 2008 and I am back at home, away from my fellow regents and my thoughts of balls and excursions to country estates must be laid to rest momentarily. Other chores, of a less-exciting nature, must be attended to. Another cup of Pump Room tea and it's off to the rest of the days diversions. . . until next week.

Yours, most respectfully, in tea and friendship, etc.

Mrs. Gulley

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Hello Friends!

Today, I had absolutely no difficulty deciding my tea selection - it had to be "Royal Wedding Blend". My eldest son, Rob, and his girlfriend, Karyn, got engaged this weekend and we've been celebrating since we got the news on Friday!

So, today I went down to the treasured tea vault and cracked open one of my last remaining boxes of Royal Wedding. It's a wonderful darjeeling - limited edition - that was packaged in a beautiful blue and gold box to commemorate the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles. I stocked piled it when it was first offered, as it not only was a satisfying darjeeling, it also made a great gift for wedding showers and engagement parties. Now, that we find we're heading down that same path, we couldn't be happier.

And, although, we're not exactly (meaning not at all) royalty, my husband and I will be commemorating 25 years of marriage in May. The fact that our son and soon-to-be-daughter-in-law happened to get engaged this very same year just seems to make it all the more special.

It's so cliche, but where does the time go? Except for a few of the "high school years", time has gone by at warp speed. It doesn't seem all that long ago that I was standing at our family room door wall, watching our three children in the backyard, hanging from (not actually swinging on) the swing set, digging tunnels in the sandbox and eating their peanut butter sandwich lunches on their Lil Tykes picnic table. Now, suddenly, this year, they're all at milestones: my oldest graduating from college (and now engaged!), my youngest graduating from high school, and my middle son turns 21! It's so exciting and rewarding and emotionally-charged - - thank goodness my drink of choice has such a calming effect.

Another sip of my wedding tea and I think back to more than thirty years ago when we celebrated my parent's 25th wedding anniversary. It was just on the cusp of my one brother's engagement and before the steady stream of sibling weddings that followed. Because I was the youngest, the only girl and the one with the "shallow pockets", I planned the anniversary dinner in lieu of a major contribution to the total bill. We hosted an intimate dinner party at, what at the time, was considered a pretty fancy dining establishment. At ages 18 through 24, the four of us were quite impressed with ourselves and my parents were thrilled. In fact, the picture we snapped that night of my Mom and Dad at the restaurant table, both in mid-laugh, was an all-time favorite of my Mom's and it remained a permanent fixture on her bedroom dresser.

And, here, my husband, Chris and I are almost repeating history. Rachel is 18 and Rob will be 24 (and we've already covered Matt). We, too, have planned a special dinner - this time up north at our cottage - with the family to celebrate all that weddings can bring: love, happiness, children, tears and, most certainly, lots and lots of laughter. Without a doubt, the camera will catch us all in mid-laugh, and that's just the way we want it.

So, join me in a toast as I raise my cup of Royal Wedding tea to all who celebrate this wonderful "institution" (really, can we come up with a better term?) of marriage. Oh, and of course, another tea cup toast to an afternoon tea bridal shower in the future! And, this is just the beginning. . .

Yours in tea and friendship,


Sunday, March 2, 2008

New Tea Room in Royal Oak - A "Gold" Mine for Tea Lovers

Hello Friends!

Happy March!! It's been a busy, snowy, tea-filled week here in Michigan and, in anticipation of spring weather, today's tea selection is a "S'oo-long" to winter and hello to milder temperatures. Yes, this afternoon's tea is Ginseng Oolong and this particular loose leaf comes from "Goldfish Tea", a brand new tea room in Royal Oak that I had the pleasure to visit last week.

Tuesday, I met with Jim Girling, who co-owns the tea room with his wife, Janice. Along with the other resident tea guru, Mike, we spent a few hours at our designated table and sampled a variety of Goldfish Tea's impressive private label inventory. The Girling's lived in China for a number of years and learned first hand the customs and tea preferences of the country. They have turned their passion for tea into a venue that not only serves tea, but educates as well.

Everyone will feel comfortable in the Asian-inspired decor of Goldfish Tea. Tables, chairs and couches, as well as the modern art canvasses that hang on the wall, are all direct from China. There's a gallery of Chinese teapots and cups that are on sale and in all sizes and for all budgets. You may be surprised that some of the tiny teapots are not just decoration - these miniatures are actually used for serving and preparing tea. (My daughter Rachel brought one of these lilliputian teapots home from her trip to China and I never thought to actually use it. But, Jim assured me, it's quite alright - many folks simply collect them!)

The Girling's run the operation from import-to-counter, so they have control and ownership in the entire process to serve their customers better. The quality, care and pride is evident in every detail of this tea room. Here you can quench your thirst for both tea and knowledge.

BTS gives another gloved-thumbs up for Goldfish Tea.

Mike prepares our beverage of choice at the tea bar.

And, other tea happenings this week. . .

February 27th, BTS held "Tea Tasting - Beyond the Tea Bag" at The Community House in Birmingham. Although, we set a limit of attendees, a few additional guests were added at the last minute and we hosted to a full-house plus! With the help of our Community House volunteer, Paula, we were able to serve all our guests and sample a range of teas from Ginseng Oolong (!) to "Civlitea", an expressive black tea blend from Harney Teas (which is only offered to Tea Etiquette Consultants from the Protocol School of Washington). Along the way, we also sipped on Silver Needles white tea and BTS's favorite herbal - strawberry kiwi. Guests took notes of their tea tastings and it was fun to compare preferences. BTS conducts several tea tastings year round. Be sure to call or email Barb's TEA Shop for more information.

Tea Tasting at the Community House. Barb's TEA Shop conducts in-home tea tastings, too . Call 248-840-4356 or e-mail for information on BTS hosting a personal tea tasting for you and your friends in the comfort and convenience of your own home.

So, dear friends, steep another pot of ginseng oolong and let it melt your cares away like the warmer temperatures of this coming week will hopefully dissolve the ice on my driveway. And, with the luck of the Irish, and a pot of gold(fish) tea at the end of the rainbow, St. Patty's Day will be here and snow-free in the north!

Yours in tea and friendship,