Monday, May 23, 2016

What is a teakend? A weekend filled with tea events and tea rooms, of course!

Barb and Rachel-Rose at Sweet D's in Linden

The grand dame of Downton Abbey, the Dowager Countess, delighted fans when she asked the question, "what is a weekend?" As a member of the aristocracy, Violet Crawley, like those in her social circle did not have a job, and consequently did not comprehend - unlike the band Loverboy - what everyone else is working for.

But what about the two days after Friday when they are devoted only to tea?

We at Barb's Tea Service would like to introduce a new word to the English lexicon: "teakend" -  a weekend filled with tea events and tea rooms. It's a term whose time has come! and it perfectly describes how we spent this past Saturday and Sunday.

At the Schoolcraft Community Library, with Director, Faye VanRavenswaay
On the road again, BTS presented two Downton Abbey-inspired teas this weekend. On Saturday, we were at Schoolcraft Library, in a lovely little town near Kalamazoo, at the invitation of library Director, Faye VanRavenswaay. It's a wonderful community and we enjoyed spending time on the west side of our home state.

Refueling with amazing peanut butter pie at Chocolatea

After our tea presentation, we took a short drive to Portage and paid a visit to Chocolatea, a tea venue with a lot going on. Like its name implies, there's chocolate and there's tea, but there's so much more (as if that wouldn't be enough!). They sell a variety of goodies aside from chocolate truffles. There's brownies, cookies and peanut butter pie!

Paying a visit to the Tudor House in downtown Kalamazoo

Then on to downtown Kalamazoo where we found the Tudor House. This tea store was featured in the September/October, 2014 issue of  Tea Time Magazine's (as was the author of this blog!) when the magazine  highlighted Michigan tea venues.  A welcoming store with so many varieties of loose tea, you could spend an afternoon trying to decide which ones to take home.

Getting set up at Sweet D's with Rachel-Rose
We stayed overnight in Kalamazoo, enjoyed a leisurely morning at our hotel and then headed back east and center of the mitten state. About a half hour past our state capital, there is another quaint small town of Linden, where we had our second Downton Abbey presentation. Here we were guests of Dee Birch, owner of Sweet D Confections and Tea Room. The tea room is beautiful - full of period charm and vintage tablescapes. Dee provides an afternoon tea that is delicious and generous in portions. You will never go away hungry!

Dee Birch, Debbie and Marie and Rachel Rose
Many attendees dressed in Downton Abbey fashion and we enjoyed meeting every single lady who came for tea.

We traveled many miles, met so many wonderful folks at our tea events and loved every tea room along the way,

We'll make each stop its own blog story, but wanted you all to be the first to know. . .

What is teakend? It's absolutely awesome!

Monday, May 16, 2016

A weekend of tea events in April: A family affair with a surprise visit from Victoria's Tea Salon

Rebekah C., Associate Director w/ BTS & Doug K., Director - under Martha Baldwin's portrait.

In April, Barb's Tea Service presented four events:  Downton Abbey-inspired teas at the Townsend Hotel and Walled Lake Library and on the third weekend of the month, back-to-back teas in Birmingham and Canton.

The first event was a volunteer/patron appreciation afternoon tea at Birmingham's Baldwin Library. BTS presented Tea History and Etiquette along with preparing and serving tea. We were invited by Rebekah Craft, Associate Director and Doug Koschik, Library Director. The room was filled with volunteers and board members - a truly wonderful and friendly group of people.

Rachel starts brewing the tea before guests arrive.

The library supplied the scones and pastries and BTS brewed up some delicious  Earl Grey and Lomi Lomi, a tasty herbal, both from Socra Tea.

Baldwin supplied the scones and pastries. BTS served up tea from Socra Tea

Centerpieces were fresh flowers in Fiestaware pitchers from Rebekah's personal collection. They added a vibrant splash of color and a bit of spring to the table decor.

Half of the room filled with dedicated volunteers.

It was a lovely time spent at this hometown library that blends the old with the new: a place that has meant a lot to me over the years.  I grew up in Birmingham and came here frequently as a child with my dad and later in high school I well remember clocking in some long hours working on term papers. When my own children attended Birmingham schools, we were once again a collective fixture at Baldwin.

It was really such an honor to spend an afternoon with such dedicated folks who do so much  to make Baldwin Library the fantastic Birmingham treasure that it is.

And, that was just Saturday! The next day, we were at the Canton Library - another great community treasure - for our Tea from China program. This was part of the "Everyone's Reading" program which featured "Shanghai Girls" by author Lisa See.

Next day, Tea from China at Canton Library

Because this was a tea tasting, we brought in extra staff. Rachel had company with her older brother, Rob.

BTS staff, Rob and Rachel, keeping it all in the family

We had another wonderful treat from Victoria's Tea Salon. Vicky O'Neil, who also catered the Downton Abbey event we were part of at the Southfield Public Library, brought trays of scones and pastries for the guests. They were as beautiful as they were delicious. Many thanks to Vicky for coming out and serving such a fabulous afternoon tea fare.

Vicky O'Neil of Victoria's Tea Salon brought tasty tea treats

Scones and pastries from Victoria's Tea Salon, as beautiful as they are delicious!

Along with the presentation on the history of tea, guests sampled four different Chinese teas.

Some of the guests getting settled before the program.
The guests and staff at the Canton Library were wonderful. It was another amazing tea afternoon. A heartfelt thank-you to the library, the guests, Victoria's Tea Salon and BTS' charming staff.

Thanks to Canton Library, Victoria's Tea Salon and BTS' excellent staff
And, we're not done yet. Another back-to-back weekend of tea events is coming. This Saturday, we will be near Kalamazoo at the Schoolcraft Libary and on Sunday, we will be in Linden at Sweet D's Tea Room with our Downton Abbey-inspired afternoon teas. For more information, see our events page at Barb's Tea Service.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Lightner Museum in St. Augustine: Rockin' the Gilded Age and Dressing Downton

The Lightner Museum in St. Augustine was once the Alcazar Hotel

Where can one find a museum that once was a Gilded Age luxury hotel, currently filled with an enormous collection of treasures from the past and soon to host a Downton Abbey exhibit?

If the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine came to mind, you would be amazingly correct!

This Florida landmark is right across from Flager College which was also once a Gilded Age resort, both the creation of Henry Morrison Flager, wealthy industrialist and co-founder of Standard Oil, with John D. Rockefeller.

Dressing Downton event coming to the Lightner Museum in 2017

The college was home to the Ponce de Leon Hotel while the Lightner Museum began as the Alcazar, built to house the overflow of its sister resort  across the street and was just slightly more "economical". Keep in mind, its appeal was still to the 19th century one-percenters , so not quite the Motel 6 type of economy.

Alcazar was reborn as the Lightner Museum in the 1940's and is a showplace to an almost unfathomable collection of furniture, art, china, glassware and curiosities from around the world - all of which once belonged to Otto Lightner. Lightner was a newspaper editor and publisher who held on to his wealth during the Depression and scooped up estate furnishings that were being sold cheaply after the stock market crash. He felt everyone should have a hobby and his was collecting.

Steam room - pretty much how it looked when it was the Alcazar

The museum is actually the back half of the Alcazar:  the casino, which we learned did not refer to gambling, but to entertainment. This is where the ballroom, baths and swimming pool were located and you can still see remenants of its former purpose in certain areas.

It is beautifully restored and every room is filled with so many lovely and unusual objects, it's almost overwhelming. Many of the items are from the Gilded Age where more was more was more. And,  yet, there's still there's more.

Every beautiful room is filled with collections. 

There is cut glass, Tiffany lamps, marble sculptures, ornate furniture and Wedgwood and that's just on the second and third floors. The first floor displays a variety of miscellany from antique typewriters to rocks and minerals. All interesting, but my favorites were on the upper levels.

Rockin' collection - I think my brother-in-law would like this.

View of the casino.

A malachite urn from the Russian Czar, circa 1830

Cut glass and crystal in colors, shapes and sizes

In the Wedgwood collection, there is  a 19th century potpourri jar. These jars would be filled with rose petals to cover orders inside the home. This was before Febreze.

Wedgwood potpouri jar, before there was Febreze

 Among the over-the-top furnishings for the rich and famous, there was a servant's chair which was literally over the top with its upholstered hood. These butler's (or porter's) chairs were found in entry halls of English manor homes and then adopted by the Gilded Age crowd. It was a practical perch for the head butler who could watch family and staff coming and going while being protected from drafts. This will be featured in the upcoming Downton Abbey exhibit.

A chair for Carson?

Dragonfly Tiffany lamp, Alcazar Motel 6, we'll keep the light on for you

Desk with 200 drawers, believed to belong to Napoleon's brother

Empire style clock by artist Thormire, circa 1830-ish

Renaissance revival grand piano, 1878

Chris in lobby, checking out the art.

Otter Lightner and his urn.
This museum has so many things, there is something sure to interest everyone whether your interested in 19th century furnishings or rocks and minerals.

And, what a perfect place for a "Dressing Downton" exhibit. This event is scheduled for October, 2017 to January, 2018. Crystal, paintings and clocks for Granthams and that over-the-top chair that's just perfect for Carson.

Lady Mary & Lady Edith look perfectly at home and Carson looks for his perfect chair

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Happy Mother's Day! Make it one for the books!

Me and my Mom always ready for a day out, if it's scheduled

Mother's Day is time to honor all moms for all they do and all they mean to us. I'm no exception to paying tribute on this holiday, but seriously consider my good fortune all year round.  I was lucky to have an incredible mom. I'm also equally fortunate to be a mom to three amazing children.

Although it's been twelve years since my mom passed away, there's not a day that goes by that I don't think of her. I know she'd be thrilled to hear about how her grand-kids are doing, although she wouldn't be surprised by any of their successes, as she knew them to be the smartest, cutest, and most wonderful grandchildren ever. Part of her legacy lives in their strong will and independent thinking, but for me I've also got a collection of books that keeps me connected to her all the time.

December, 1989 when I became a mom of 3 (Rob, Rachel and Matt)

But a little backstory first. .

The fact that my mom was only eight when she lost her own mother, (and my dad when she was only 52), makes her story of strength, selflessness and devotion to her family even more incredible and, always from my perspective, inspirational.

We were close and enjoyed each other's company, although we differed in so many respects. My mom was a neat freak, with a schedule that was never departed from, even if something fun came along. I keep a clean enough house, but if you want to invite me for tea or shopping, I'll cancel the utensil drawer reorganization in a New York minute.

Along that ordered lifestyle, my mom would fill up her gas tank when it was still  three quarters full. A constant source of anxiety for my mom was my habit of  never pulling into a gas station  until the "E" light was flashing on my dashboard.

But my mom and I agreed on a lot more than we disagreed:  passion for family, politics, fine dining, vacationing, and bar none, that she had the best grandchildren in the world.

There are so many times, I wish I could call my mom and say, "you were right!", or, even at the age of 58, I'd desperately ask, "what should I do now?", because she would always know.

But we're still connected by memories, photos and oh, so many books!!

In recent years, I've found my mom talking to me through her book collection. After she retired,  and the newspaper strike ensued, my mom poured into books of all subjects. She frequented Borders and used-books stores with her list of tomes that she had read and those she wanted to read.

One of my favorite books from my mom's collection, The Mitford Sisters.

My brother, Ed, wisely, collected up all her books and stored them away, not letting them go in the estate sale. With additional wisdom, my sister-in-law, Sandy, organized a book sorting party a few years back with the family. She and Ed brought out all the boxes of books and with  my brother, Glenn, my hubby and some of the  kids, selected those that interested us most.

I gathered my selection with some focus and a lot with "that looks interesting".  I didn't really know what all I had. That is, until recently.

As I was doing research for my "historical teas" I found a wealth of books on a variety of relevant topics in the bookcase filled with my mom's collection. When I was searching for anything connected to the British aristocracy, once Downton Abbey came on the scene, I came across "The Mitford Sisters" by Mary Lovell.  It's a fascinating account of a wildly eccentric family with connections back to the 1500's, traced to Bess Hardwick. Making this even more extraordinary was my manager had given me the Bess Hardwick biography (also authored  by Mary Lovell) to read only a few months before.

I ended up interviewing Mary Lovell when I was writing for the on-line newspaper, The Examiner. Ms. Lovell thanked me for all I was doing to promote the reading of biographies.

In turn, I thank my mom.

And, now that I'm all about the Gilded Age, with a return visit  to my mom's collection,  I found two of Edith Wharton's most popular books, "House of Mirth" and "Age of Innocence", both of which I've read, courtesy of my mom.

A portion of the bookcase housing my mom's collection

Mother's Day tradition with my kids (aka,  three of "the best grandkids ever"), is to go out to an informal tea and just spend the afternoon together. This year, due to grad school schedules and other conflicting events, our tea will be next weekend - which will be perfect. Doesn't matter the date, just that we'll be together.

Mother's Day tradition of casual tea with the greatest kids!

To my mom, if I'd ever get the chance to make that call, I'd like to say, " I love you, you were right about everything, what do I do now?, the books are great we need to discuss and I filled up the tank today and the gas gauge wasn't even on Empty."  I might add in a whisper, ". . .but the utensil drawer is still crazy messy."

Happy Mother's Day to all and continue to make it one  for the books!!!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Porches and She-sheds: Inspiration from our Southern Exposure

One of many impressive residences in Charleston, land of the charming porches

A recent on-line article from Country Living Magazine, '21 Ways to Revive the  Lost Art of Porching' provides tips for your outdoor habitat including decorating, pastimes, cuisine and, while your at it, even a refresher on how to perfect your 'hey neighbor' wave. This how-to guide came just at the right time, as  I was planning a "porch revival" of my own, inspired by my recent trip down south where patios, balconies and terraces were de rigueur of every place we stayed.

In Michigan, where six months out of the year due to cold and snow,  you see neither bugs nor your neighbors (and mostly, I'm okay with that), it is a nice change of pace to be in a comfy outdoor space from sunset to sundown . Add a flair of southern charm and gentility and it's hard to think of a better way to sit away an afternoon.

Starting our outdoor living with my in-laws

Hello sunset, we've been waiting for you!
We started out our trip in Florida and spent our first evening at the Beach House on Holmes Beach. Here we ate fresh seafood on the patio and watched for the pink and orange sunset sky to appear, as though we were waiting for the crystal ball to fall in Times Square on New Year's Eve. AWE-some!

Now, we're just getting warmed up!

I would have stayed here and porch sat in 1888.

Rockin' out the porch at Flager College

A few days later, we drove up to St. Augustine and visited Flager College, the home of one of the original Gilded Age hotels, the Ponce De Leon. After a tour, Chris took a break on a comfortable rocking chair - an essential porch furnishing.

San Souci veranda at Jekyll Island. We could live on this porch.- and I think we did.

Our porch at Jekyll Island was, however, the most beautiful of any we have seen or sat. It was a classic southern style veranda with views of the river. We watched the sunset, ordered pizza, enjoyed breakfast and sipped tea on that porch.

Watching the sunset over the river.

Carry out pizza on the porch. We can't leave.

Yes, getting in some more porch sitting with room service breakfast.
Of course, morning tea on the porch.

It was hard to leave, but then we came to Charleston, the land of many porches.

Beautiful Charleston home porch .  .  . 

another expansive terrace. . . 

. . . they are everywhere and gorgeous!

In fact, we even dined at a restaurant called Poogan's Porch. It did, indeed, have a lovely outdoor terrace where we sampled delicious local cuisine, including shrimp and grits, and watched the busy and colorful street scene below.

Poogan's Porch, views with grit(s)!

Enjoying views and local cuisine on Poogan's Porch.

How can one stay only two days in Charleston? Well, it's difficult with all these enticing outdoor spaces. Even our hotel had a rooftop terrace overlooking the city.

Hotel rooftop terrace. Yet another lovely evening!

Our final stop before heading back to Detroit was in Asheville. At this point, we just couldn't eat dinner indoors and the weather continued to cooperate. We supped at the Country Kitchen in the historic Biltmore Village. Oh, how one gets used to feting in a dining room sans walls.

The Country Kitchen with outdoor dining.
Our hotel in Asheville had a scenic balcony with views of the mountains. All this got us thinking. . .

Our hotel balcony in Asheville provided us with some inspiration.

Lucky for us, the weather in our home state finally started warming up upon our return. This weekend, we're at our northern retreat and it's really great to be enjoying the outdoors again.

But, with all this recent inspiration, we've decided to up our game - enhance the decks and add some charm to the side patio.

 View just waiting for a she-shed porch.

Oh, and the she-shed, too. That's another Country Home inspired dwelling, and I'm planning out mine. It will, of course, have a porch with a view and be the perfect spot for a cup of tea.

In the meantime, I'll work on perfecting my 'hey neighbor' wave.