Sunday, July 27, 2014

What Matters at the Jane Austen Festival? . . . Everything (!) including British authors Jo Baker and John Mullan

To paraphrase guest speaker and British author, John Mullan, who asks "What Matters in Jane Austen?" (and then provides us with the answer: "everything!"), it's easy to apply that same dialogue to the topic of the 7th Annual Jane Austen Festival in Louisville and arrive at the same conclusion. Everything matters when putting together an event of this magnitude and, like an Austen novel, exceptional execution delights all who are exposed.

Rachel with John Mullan, author of "What Matters in Jane Austen?"

Last weekend, my daughter, Rachel and I made our annual trek from Detroit to Louisville to attend the Jane Austen Festival hosted by the Louisville Chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), under the direction of Regional Coordinator Bonny Wise. It was our fifth time attending the Festival and with a perfect blend of event favorites (afternoon tea, Dressing Mr. Darcy) and new components (presentations from two British authors, more Regency-period activity demonstrations), we felt this was the best one yet.

John Mullan asks could the apple tree in "Emma" really have blossomed in July?

And, of course, when everything matters, it's hard to pick favorites, but truly a highlight was held under the big tent with visiting British authors, Jo Baker and John Mullan, the latter of whom I referenced back in January's blog An Austen-tacious Tea at Troy Public Library, Chilly temperatures not so important.  This was before I knew he would be part of this year's Festival. Once that was announced, I felt like I was eighteen again and biding my time before seeing Peter Frampton -  another charming Brit - at the local Harmony House (back in the day when there were stores devoted to selling record albums). 

Animated and engaging,  Mullan  rattles off Austen character names (major and minor), destinations they have visited (specified or inferred) and weather conditions of the day, like a favorite uncle who can recite details of  the family's history and connections - from first cousins to fifth - all from memory.

With Jo Baker, author of Longbourn
Jo Baker, author of Longbourn, and equally captivating, spoke about the  "downstairs" members of the Bennet household in Pride and Prejudice on which her book is based. Baker studied English literature at Oxford, and, if she hadn't mentioned having two children and having written four other books, you would easily think she's still an undergraduate. 
Jo Baker reading from  her book, Longbourn
Baker dissected Pride and Prejudice chapter by chapter to note any references to servants and created an entire new story from the members of the downstairs staff's point of view.  It's a fascinating perspective on the Bennet household, a family who lives on the periphery of wealthy society and laments their poor connections, yet seems to pay little attention to those who must really work hard for a living.

Another exemplary Jane Austen Festival, where everything mattered, and everything was wonderful!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Miss America Afternoon Tea: An Elegant Affair to Remember

An Elegant Affair of Roses and Royalty, even the napkins were beautiful

Still riding the Patriotic theme of Fourth of July, it seems like a great tie-in to a charity tea event  I attended this Spring that featured another of our country’s traditions, Miss America. In May, I went to “An Elegant Affair of Roses and Royalty” featuring Kirsten Haglund, Miss America of 2008.  Held at the Glen Oaks Country Club in Farmington Hills (Kirsten's hometown), and under the direction of tea specialist, Linda Pudlik, guests were treated to an “enhanced” afternoon tea, a fashion show, live music, boutique shopping and a special talk and performance by Kirsten Haglund.  Proceeds went to Kirsten’s charity, “The Kirsten Haglund Foundation”, which provides assistance and financial aid to those seeking treatment from eating disorders.

Kirsten Haglund, Miss America, 2008 starts the event with a song

I sat at a table assembled by another tea specialist and fellow blogger, Phyllis Barkey.   As someone who loves a tablescape almost as much as the food, I found this event scored high on both accounts. Starting with the rose-shaped napkins on each place setting and the fresh flowers on every table, accompanied by a multi-course, scrumptious lunch, it truly lived up to an “elegant affair”.  Perhaps, Kirsten was the official “royal”, but we all felt like members of the court that afternoon.

Linda Pudlik speaks to guests about tea and the Haglund family
I hit the jackpot that day, as not only did I get to take part in such a wonderful event, but was seated next to Chef Anita Kern, the chef at O’Mara’s in Berkley and cooking instructor at Sur La Table.  A discussion that started on the cooking technique of sous-vide, (my husband’s latest passion and more about that in an upcoming blog) lead us on to talking about a lot  more common interests, including Downton Abbey.  (This lead to my attending last month’s Downton Abbey tea at O’Mara’s as well as a “Taste of Tuscany” and, of course, signing up for a personal sous-vide class at Sur La Table with our foodie friends at the end of this month – again, more blogs to come!).

Kirsten poses with fashion show volunteers

Beautiful ambiance, delicious treats, spectacular entertainment and amazing company. To borrow from a classic movie title, it was, indeed, an Elegant Affair to Remember.

Afternoon tea hats off to Linda for putting together such a lovely event and to Phyllis for extending the invite to be at her table.  Great people and  a great cause, too – I think that pretty much captures the American spirit!

Ending on a high note:  chocolate biscuit cake!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Two to Tango and One great party on the Fourth adds up to a big "Ten"!

My Fourth of July started with Tango and ended up with fireworks.  I guess one could say, it was a bit of "Dancing with the Stars. . . and Stripes" for the holiday.

Every year, my brother Glenn hosts a spectacular Fourth of July party at his house. Although he still sends e-mail invites to family and friends, it's just a formality as the "core" group doesn't even question what they will be doing that day and anyone else they want to bring along is always welcome. My "kids" have never spent a Fourth in any other fashion and have never missed a year. With a pool, croquet, badminton, and a picnic feast, it's not difficult to understand why.

Rachel (right) takes her turn holding the City Style Tango banner

But, this year, the holiday morning started out with a twist on tradition with a little dancing on Main Street before heading out to my brother's. My oldest son, Rob, and daughter, Rachel, take lessons at "City Style Tango" in Clawson and they were part of the city's Fourth of July parade. I literally had a curbside seat to watch as both instructors and students performed various dance moves down the street. Festive and impressive, they moved gracefully for the duration of the parade route. I could almost see Bruno Tonioli leaping from his desk and shouting "Ten!"

Rob (left, in red shirt) dances the tango with other City Style Tango folks

And this was just the beginning!

Back at my brother's, we started with croquet, moving on to bean bag toss, barbecue feast and then lawn chair badminton. Cooler temps made for more intense sports participation, but the pool was not utilized much except for serving as a major water trap for croquet.

Pool serves as water trap for this year's croquet

Lawn chair badminton: sitting and rotating

New this year, balloon Russian Roulet. Glenn is about to go out with a bang!

Matt is victorious in this game. Next  year, we're addin' water!

Rachel models fashionable croquet wear.

We indulged in some iced tea conveniences in the bottle and readied ourselves for the evening fireworks.

Enjoying an iced tea break with Rob.
 Another Fantastic Fourth.  Like Bruno, we can't contain ourselves. We give a "Ten!" to the Fourth!!

Our host begins the fireworks.

Crystal fountain never disappoints! Another "Ten" for the Fourth!!