Thursday, December 15, 2016

December Tea and a Book: No Holly for Miss Quinn (Christmas at Fairacre)


Quick take: So COZY.
(Special thanks to Laura B. for recommending it and to Glenda A. for gifting it!)

Goodreads synopsis: Miss Quinn, who cherishes her privacy, intends to spend Christmas on her own as she likes it. But before the holiday, her brother telephones to tell her that his wife has been rushed to the hospital, and would Miss Quinn come and stay with the children? Miss Quinn's unexpectedly hectic Christmas has a significant effect upon her life.

(Above you see Christmas at Fairacre, an omnibus that includes No Holly for Miss Quinn. Check this Goodreads page for reviews and links to various vendors of the individual novel. Or check here for the omnibus.)

My thoughts: My mom has always loved the novels of Miss Read (a.k.a. Dora Jessie Saint, who died in 2012 at the age of 98). I read one or two of them when I was young, but at that time I didn't have quite such a powerful craving for quiet and cozy books. Well, I do now! And amidst all the madness of late, this book certainly hit the spot.

I thoroughly empathized with Miriam Quinn's preference for quiet and solitude. At the same time, it was great fun to see her thrown in with her brother's somewhat feral brood of children. Oh, the appalling disorder! How satisfying to watch her organize them, and then how delightful to see her loosen up and enjoy various sweet moments of connection with each child. My favorite part involved the two nieces, one of whom knows "the truth" about Father Christmas and is aching to spoil her younger sister. Our Miriam deals with that in a lovely way.

No Holly for Miss Quinn is a quick read brimming with warmth and humor, and even a tiny bit of romance. Chime in if you've read it -- I'd love to hear about your favorite moments!

Related favorite things:


I particularly enjoyed the illustrations by J.S. Goodall, which gave me the same cozy feeling as those of Garth Williams (the Little House books) and Pauline Baynes (the Narnia books).


LOOK AT THIS! I have listened to this Enya CD about a million times, and I never once associated this song with Miss Read. How delightful! Do have a listen.

Miss Read/Dora Saint wrote of her own childhood in Fortunate Grandchild and Time Remembered (now combined in a single volume entitled Early Days). Also, for more on her inspiration for the novels' settings, see On the Trail of Thrush Green.

And now for tea:


I tend to make the same treats every year for Christmas, so this time I tried something different: Chocolate-Cherry Snowballs from the Betty Crocker website. Click the link for the recipe, which is pretty straightforward. I will say, however, that next time I'll make the cookies smaller because they really should be bite-sized. (Otherwise, MESS.) Also, I would recommend you wait until they are quite cool before you roll them in the powdered sugar. They need time to set so as not to crumble when you roll, and they get stickier as they cool, which makes the sugar cling nicely. (I learned all this the hard way, of course!) I followed advice given in the comments and used maraschino cherries instead of candied, which worked quite well. (Where does one find candied cherries, anyway?)

Here is a closer view of the "snowballs".

In the pot is Thé des Délices, a black tea containing citrus peel, candied mandarins, and cocoa nibs. So delicious, and only available during the holidays from Palais des Thés.

Don't forget to check out my December Holiday Reading List, and do let me know if I've left out one of your favorites. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Friday, December 9, 2016

Friday Favorites: Holiday reading list!



The following is my first stab at an exhaustive list of December holiday-themed fiction for adults and kids. Books that I have read and recommend are indicated with an asterisk (*). I've linked each title to Goodreads so that you can see reviews and click through to your vendor of choice. (Amazon is featured most prominently, of course, but if you click "stores" you'll find other vendors.)

I know I've missed so many titles. If you don't see one of your favorites, please list the title in a comment and I'll happily add. (There must be more MG, YA, and adult fiction involving Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, yes?)


[books alphabetized by title]

For (so-called) adults
Burning Bright: Four Chanukah Love Stories, by Megan Hart et al.
Christmas at Fairacre, by Miss Read
Christmas at Rose Hill Farm: An Amish Love Story, by Suzanne Woods Fisher
A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings, by Charles Dickens
*Christmas in Cornwall, by Marcia Willett
Christmas Journey, by Anne Perry
*A Christmas Party (Envious Casca), by Georgette Heyer
*Christmas Pudding, by Nancy Mitford
The Doctor's Christmas, by Marta Perry
*An English Murder, by Cyril Hare
Festival of Deaths, by Jane Haddam
Hercule Poirot's Christmas, by Agatha Christie
*High Rising, by Angela Thirkell
Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett
Holiday Miracles: A Christmas/Hanukkah Story, by Ellyn Bache
Lighting the Flames, by Sarah Wendell
An Informal Christmas, by Heather Gray
A Merry Little Christmas, by Anita Higman
A Midnight Clear, by William Wharton
Miracle and other Christmas Stories, by Connie Willis
The Mistletoe Promise and *The Mistletoe Inn, by Richard Paul Evans
Old Christmas, by Washington Irving
The Old Peabody Pew, by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Dogs, by Eleanor Hallowell Abbott
A Redbird Christmas, by Fannie Flagg
Shepherds Abiding, a Mitford Christmas Novel, by Jan Karon
*The Sittaford Mystery, by Agatha Christie
*The Sugar Queen, by Sarah Addison Allen
Tied up in Tinsel, by Ngiao Marsh
*Winter Solstice, by Rosamund Pilcher

For teens, kids, and kids-at-heart
*The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson
*The Box of Delights, by John Masefield
*The Children of Green Knowe, by L.M. Boston
*A Child's Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas
Christmas After All: The Great Depression Diary of Minnie Swift, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1932 (Dear America), by Kathryn Lasky
Christmas Fairy Tales, by Neil Philip
*The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper
Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares and The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily, by David Levithan & Rachel Cohn
The Family Under the Bridge, by Natalie Savage Carlson
Greenglass House, by Kate Milford
Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances, by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle
*Letters from Father Christmas, by J.R.R. Tolkien
*The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis
London Snow, by Paul Theroux
*My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories, edited by Stephanie Perkins
Nutcracked, by Susan Adrian (forthcoming in 2017!)
The Nutcracker, by E.T.A. Hoffman
The Power of Light: Eight Stories for Hanukkah, by Isaac Bashevis Singer,
What Light, by Jay Asher
When Christmas Comes Again: The World War I Diary of Simone Spencer (Dear America),
by Beth Seidel Levine
Winterspell, by Claire Legrand

Picture books
Babar and Father Christmas, by Jean de Brunhoff
Bear Stays Up for Christmas, by Karma Wilson
Chanukah Lights, by Michael J. Rosen
The Christmas Day Kitten, by James Herriot
The Christmas Mouse, by Elisabeth Wenning
Christmas Time, by Sandra Boynton
Eight Winter Nights: A Family Hanukkah Book by Laura Krauss Melmed
The Golem's Latkes, by Eric A. Kimmel
*A Guinea Pig Nativity, by Bloomsbury Publishing
Hanukkah! by Roni Schotter
Hanukkah Bear, by Eric A. Kimmel
Hanukkah Haiku, by Harriet Ziefert
The Hanukkah Mice, by Ronne Randall
Hanukkah Moon by Deborah daCosta
Kevin's Kwanzaa, by Lisa Bullard
The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story, by Lemony Snicket
The Legend of the Poinsettia, by Tomie dePaola
The Lost Gift: A Christmas Story, by Kallie George
Maccabee!: The Story of Hanukkah, by Tilda Balsley
The Miracle Jar: A Hanukkah Story, by Audrey Penn
My First Kwanzaa, by Karen Katz
My First Kwanzaa Book, by Deborah Chocolate
*The Night Before Christmas, by Clement C. Moore
*The Polar Express, by Christ Van Allsburg
Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story, by Angela Shelf Medearis
Snowmen at Christmas, by Caralyn Buehner
The Story of Hanukkah, by David A. Adler
*The Story of Holly and Ivy, by Rumer Godden
The Tailor of Gloucester, by Beatrix Potter
Together for Kwanzaa, by Juwanda G. Ford
The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Peek-Through Picture Book, by Britta Teckentrup

Books/series with lovely Christmas chapters
Harry Potter series, by JK Rowling
Little House in the Big Woods (& sequels), by Laura Ingalls Wilder
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame

Next week I'll feature one of the novels listed above for my December "Tea and a Book" post, so stay tuned!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Spooky Films for Younger Viewers


To conclude my 2016 "Spooky Films for Halloween" series, I offer suggestions appropriate for younger viewers (and those adults who aren't quite up to the intense horror options I've previously recommended). Please mention your own favorites in the comments, and I will gladly watch. Always looking for options to feature in next year's post!


ParaNorman (2012) -- rated PG
A misunderstood boy takes on ghosts, zombies and grown-ups to save his town from a centuries-old curse.

A good choice for young viewers who enjoy potty humor, mild body horror (e.g. zombie arms falling off), and extended chase scenes. The tone takes a more serious turn in the climactic scenes, which are really quite stunning to watch.
Watch the trailer. Rent at Amazon. Available on DVD from Netflix. Metascore: 72/100


Frankenweenie (2012) -- rated PG
Young Victor conducts a science experiment to bring his beloved dog Sparky back to life, only to face unintended, sometimes monstrous, consequences.

This poignant and suspenseful homage to classic monster movies bogs down just a bit in the middle (in my opinion), but patient viewers will be rewarded when disaster and hilarity ensue! (Is it just me, or does Victor resemble Cillian Murphy?)
Watch the trailer. Rent from Amazon. Available on DVD from Netflix. Metascore: 74/100


Coraline (2009) -- rated PG
An adventurous girl finds another world that is a strangely idealized version of her frustrating home, but it has sinister secrets.

I loved Neil Gaiman's book, and this adaptation is eerie, odd, and totally endearing. Highly recommended!
Watch the trailer. Rent from Amazon. Available on DVD from Netflix. Metascore: 80/100

Also recommended -- two ghostly mini-series from the UK:


From Time to Time (2009) -- rated PG
A haunting ghost story spanning two worlds, two centuries apart. When 13 year old Tolly finds he can mysteriously travel between the two, he begins an adventure that unlocks family secrets laid buried for generations.

Julian Fellowes' adaptation of Lucy M. Boston's Chimneys of Green Knowe is more mystery than horror. I love stories involving WWII child evacuees, and the setting of this film is wonderfully Gothic. Gently paced and at times a bit twee, this story will appeal to young fans of historical fiction.
Watch the trailer. Available to stream from Netflix. Rent from Amazon.


The Secret of Crickley Hall (2012) -- unrated
A year after their son goes missing, a family moves to Crickley Hall. When supernatural events begin to take place, Eve feels the house is somehow connected to her lost son.
I've seen this twice now, and I liked it even better upon second viewing. Caution: It's not for little kids, but I think it might work for family viewing with kids 12-up. Great setting, strong performances, and an interesting mystery. Please keep in mind its emphasis on loss and grief, and understand that there are many scenes involving children in serious peril.
Watch the trailer. Rent from Amazon.

[all synopses from imdb.com]

In case you missed them: This year's Spooky Film round-up Part I and Part II.

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Spooky film round-up, part II -- 2016* releases


The Witch -- Rated R
A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.
Many fans of mainstream horror have panned this specimen of "cerebral horror" for being slow and hard to follow, but I was caught in its spell. If you have a passing familiarity with early American history and/or the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, you understand how Puritan paranoia could warp individuals and destroy entire communities. This film imagines the worst Puritan fears actually coming true for a family living in exile. Brilliantly realized, but not easy to watch.
Watch the trailer. Available on Amazon (free for Prime members). Metascore: 83/100


The Boy -- Rated PG-13
An American nanny is shocked that her new English family's boy is actually a life-sized doll. After she violates a list of strict rules, disturbing events make her believe that the doll is really alive.
I loved the wacky premise of this film, and the Gothic setting was right up my alley. Lauren Cohan (The Walking Dead) and Rupert Evans (star of The Canal, featured in my last blog post) offer sympathetic performances as their characters negotiate this bizarre situation. In fact, I was quite enjoying the film...until a certain frustrating reveal. As The New York Times said, "It still has enough scary moments to satisfy horror fans, but you're left wondering whether it might have been more disturbing had it stayed on its original path." I will watch this one again.
Watch the trailer. Available to rent on Amazon. Metascore: 42/100


Lights Out -- Rated PG-13
When her little brother, Martin, experiences the same events that once tested her sanity, Rebecca works to unlock the truth behind the terror, which brings her face to face with an entity that has an attachment to their mother, Sophie.
I appreciated this film conceptually--light is used in interesting ways, especially in the final showdown. I never really cared about the characters, however, which undermined the tension considerably. (Note to self: backstory is no substitute for real-time character development.) Still worth watching, but I'd wait for the rental.
Watch the trailer. Available to purchase from Amazon. Metascore: 58/100.


The Conjuring 2 -- Rated R
Lorraine and Ed Warren travel to north London to help a single mother raising four children alone in a house plagued by a malicious spirit.
Argh. I really loved the first Conjuring movie, particularly for its character development and thrilling paranormal investigation sequences. This "sequel" takes another real-life investigation of a haunting and casts the Warrens as saviors, even though they really only spent one day on the case. That wouldn't have mattered to me if this had been a good movie. Unfortunately, it seemed more concerned with showcasing computer-generated ghosts and ghouls. (I swear the Babadook made a couple of guest appearances--so jarring.) That said, I did enjoy most of the scenes involving the children, and young Madison Wolfe was impressive as Janet.
Watch the trailer. Rent from Amazon. Metascore: 65/100

[I think you'll find a more nuanced depiction of the Enfield Poltergeist in this UK mini-series starring Timothy Spall and Matthew Macfadyen as paranormal investigators Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair. Eleanor Worthington-Cox is excellent as Janet.]

*Bonus recommendations:


Ginger Snaps (2000)
Two death-obsessed sisters, outcasts in their suburban neighborhood, must deal with the tragic consequences when one of them is bitten by a deadly werewolf.
How did it take me so long to see this Canadian cult classic? I just LOVE lycanthropy as a metaphor for adolescence, particularly with a female focus. Excellent characterization and conflict, and the horror is tempered by humor in a way that reminds me of American Werewolf in London. This unrated film features adult content and is fairly gory, so perhaps not suited to pre-teen viewers?
Watch the trailer. Available on Hulu or rent from Amazon. Metascore: 70/100


The Eclipse (2009) (Rated R)
In a seaside Irish town, a widower sparks with a visiting horror novelist while he also begins to believe he is seeing ghosts.
I appreciated this film even more upon my second viewing. The Eclipse is a quiet, character-driven movie featuring a few carefully-timed jump scares that may, at first, seem incongruous. I can't adequately express how wonderful Ciarán Hinds is as the haunted widower. I can say that Aidan Quinn is perfectly awful as a self-involved author, and I mean that as a compliment--he is perfect in his awfulness.
Watch the trailer. Available free to Amazon Prime members. (If you buy the DVD, you get a wonderful "Behind the Scenes" documentary.) Metascore: 67/100

[All synopses from imdb.com]

Find part I of my spooky film round-up here.

Coming soon: spooky film recommendations for KIDS!


[Cross-posted at Livejournal.]

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Spooky film round-up, part I

It's that time of year again! This post features "new to me" ghostly/Gothic films, three of which are from this intriguing list of Scariest Ghost Movies of All Time.

(Stay tuned for a follow-up post on spooky films released in 2016.)


Jessabelle (2014)
Returning to her childhood home in Louisiana to recuperate from a horrific car accident, Jessabelle comes face to face with a long-tormented spirit that has been seeking her return -- and has no intention of letting her escape. (PG-13)
I'm surprised by the low IMDB Metascore on this one. Maybe people were misled by the trailer. Entertainment Weekly gave it 3 out of 4 stars, which I think is fair. Great Southern Gothic setting and solid creepiness without too many manipulative jump scares. Unlike some cranky reviewers, I thought the ending was pretty cool.
Watch the trailer. (Or maybe not?) Rent from Amazon, DVD from Netflix. Metascore: 37/100


The Canal (2014)
A man who suspects his wife is cheating on him begins having nightmarish visions of an evil presence that he believes inhabits his house. (Unrated. Warning for R-rated content.)
This dark and stylish film features strong performances, particularly from Rupert Evans (known to me previously from North and South). His character's study of archival film footage is just the sort of thing I love in a horror film. Hard to say much else without spoiling!
Watch the trailer (sex/gore warning!). Rent from Amazon or stream from Netflix. Metascore: 55/100.


Picnic at Table Rock (1975)
During a rural picnic, a few students and a teacher from an Australian girls' school vanish without a trace. Their absence frustrates and haunts the people left behind.(Unrated. PG content.)
This early offering from Peter Weir, director of Witness and Master and Commander, offers a slow burn of Gothic mystery rather than full-on horror. It's beautifully filmed, and how could I resist the turn-of-the-century girls' school setting?
Watch the trailer. Rent from Amazon. No Metascore on imdb.com, but apparently there is going to be an AUSTRALIAN MINI-SERIES in 2017!


What Lies Beneath (2000)
The wife of a university research scientist believes that her lakeside Vermont home is haunted by a ghost - or that she is losing her mind. (PG-13)
I didn't see this movie when it was released because I hadn't yet evolved into full-on ghost obsession. (I think it was The Others, which came out the following year, that really flipped the switch for me.) There are many good things about What Lies Beneath: the cast (Harrison Ford!), the camera work, and its lack of cheap jump scares or over-the-top special effects. (I've said it before and I'll say it again--it's what we DON'T see that builds tension and dread. I'll address this issue again when I discuss The Conjuring 2, grrr.) I liked the nods to Rear Window and, to a lesser extent, Gaslight. I think this film is well worth watching, but it's at least half an hour too long and can't quite keep itself together at the end.
Watch the trailer. (Or not. It is very SPOILERY!) Rent from Amazon. Metascore: 51/100.

[All synopses from imdb.com]

Recaps from previous years:
2015 recommendations: Crimson Peak, Housebound, The Ring, and The Babadook.
2014 recommendations: Mama, Stoker, and Lake Mungo
2013 recommendations: The Changeling, El Orfanato (The Orphanage), Below, and Janghwa, Hongryeon (A Tale of Two Sisters)
2012 recommendations: The Pact and The Awakening. Also (each a separate post) Dead of Night, The Uninvited, The Innocents, and The Haunting.

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Thursday, September 8, 2016

September Tea and a Book: Daddy Long Legs


Quick take: Such a delight!

Official-ish synopsis: First published in 1912, this young adult novel is comprised mostly of letters from orphan Jerusha "Judy" Abbott to her anonymous benefactor whom she names "Daddy Long Legs". The letters chronicle her departure from the orphanage through four years of college. Judy makes new friends, slowly gains knowledge and independence, but also struggles with her humble past and unfixed future. (from Amazon)

Good news: This e-book is available from both Amazon and Barnes & Noble for only $0.99!!!

For years I kept seeing positive references to Daddy Long Legs, and you know how I love stories of orphans and foundlings, so I decided to give it a try. WOW! It took me less than five pages to fall for Judy Abbott. She is clever, hilarious, and quite forward-thinking for her time. And when anyone tries to push her around, she pushes back

Some favorite passages:

I find that it isn't safe to discuss religion with the Semples. Their God (whom they have inherited intact from their remote Puritan ancestors) is a narrow, irrational, unjust, mean, revengeful, bigoted person. Thank heaven I don't inherit God from anybody! I am free to make mine up as I wish Him. He's kind and sympathetic and imaginative and forgiving and understanding--and He has a sense of humour. (53)

Don't you think I'd make an admirable voter if I had my rights? I was twenty-one last week. This is an awfully wasteful country to throw away such an honest, educated, conscientious, intelligent citizen as I would be. (105)

Just back from church--preacher from Georgia. We must take care, he says, not to develop our intellects at the expense of our emotional natures [...] It doesn't matter what part of the United States or Canada they come from, or what denomination they are, we always get the same sermon. Why on earth don't they go to men's colleges and urge the students not to allow their manly natures to be crushed out by too much mental application? (135)

NOTE: As you can see, Judy is very free with socio-political criticisms, but she has her frolicsome moods as well. She reminded me of an L.M. Montgomery character--brimming with imagination and entertaining opinions!

And now for tea:

Judy spends the summer after her first year of college at Lock Willow Farm.

The farm gets more and more entertaining. I rode on a hay wagon yesterday. We have three big pigs and nine little piglets, and you should see them eat. They are pigs! We've oceans of little baby chickens and ducks and turkeys and guinea fowls. You must be mad to live in a city when you might live on a farm. (52)

When Judy mentions picking blackberries on the farm (something I did every summer on my grandparents' farm), I found myself with a powerful yearning for blackberry cobbler. Doesn't that sound lovely for a late summer tea?


I used this recipe from Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman (who lives in Oklahoma, of course!). Simple preparation and very tasty.


It didn't seem like a true cobbler without a little scoop of ice cream. I chose Breyers lactose free vanilla.


To pair with the cobbler I chose the Assam Hattiala from Palais des Thés, "a beautiful large leaf Assam with an abundance of tips, a pronounced, very spicy aroma, and dark, full-bodied liquor." Perfect with a warm and sweet afternoon treat!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Summer travel postcards, final installment -- the photo parade of TEA!


For our London stay, a friend recommended The Wolseley, and we were quite pleased with our experience. First of all, it's not a stuffy sort of place in the least. It was very busy, with lots of chatter and laughter, plus great people-watching (& eavesdropping) opportunities. Steve and I both enjoyed the Wolseley Afternoon Blend tea. The scones were freshly baked and still warm, and the sandwiches were deliciously unfussy. As usually happens, we were a bit stuffed by the time we turned to the dessert tier of the tray, but rest assured we did our best. ;)


On our first full day in Cromarty, Scotland, we enjoyed tea and cake at The Pantry. This was a bright, cozy place, and quite peaceful in the late afternoon.


The next day we visited Coupers Creek, a cafe/gift shop also on Church Street. Doesn't that freshly whipped cream look divine?


Once in Gairloch we enjoyed a tray of tea at the Shieldaig Lodge. We each had our own teapot, our own pot of hot water for refilling, and a couple of shortbread cookies. Quite reviving after our long (& winding) drive from the Black Isle!


Finally, a longstanding favorite -- cream tea on the terrace at the Old Parsonage Hotel in Oxford. The silver teapot and strainers are fancy, yet the atmosphere is always relaxing. Over the years I've enjoyed many teas with friends at this spot. (Just for reference, here's what a full tea looks like at Old Parsonage!)

That's it for Summer postcards! I fully intend to return to my "Tea and a Book" posts this fall, so stay tuned!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Friday, August 12, 2016

Summer Travel Postcards: Chastleton House


A field overrun with wildflowers near Moreton-in-Marsh

After our Scotland adventures, it was time to move on to Oxford. We decided to spend our only free day visiting Chastleton House, which involved a train to Moreton-in-Marsh and lots of walking through the Cotswolds. Huzzah!


We were pretty hungry when we arrived. Fortunately the adjoining church, St. Mary's, was offering tea and cake in return for donations to a charity supporting Medical Detection dogs. (This tickled me because I so enjoyed reading Nancy Cataldo's marvelous Sniffer Dogs.) It actually was quite lovely to eat cake in the churchyard among the gravestones!


Chastleton House was built in the early 17th century by a wealthy wool merchant. Hardly any updates were made over the last 400 years, and although the exterior has held up quite nicely, the interior had fallen into terrible disrepair by the late 20th century. (We heard tales of a dotty old lady living there with 30 cats while the house was falling apart around her--you know how I aspire to love that sort of thing!) The National Trust bought the house in 1991 and has been in the process of restoring it ever since.


[As always, click images for a larger view]
In most historic houses, only a few rooms are available for public viewing because the resident family prefers to maintain some privacy. Well, since no one actually lives at Chastleton anymore, we were allowed access to a surprising number of rooms. I was excited to learn that Chastleton was featured in the BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. In fact, a key scene between Thomas Cromwell and Anne Boleyn was filmed in the Long Gallery, seen above at the right. Learn more about Chastleton House as a filming location here.


It was quite relaxing to wander in the topiary garden. I love this description from the National Trust website:
The garden has nods to changing garden fashions but still largely has its Jacobean layout, with divisions according to use. And it still preserves its secret garden feel of 'romantic neglect'.
[*happy sigh*]


We wrapped up the day with an impromptu game of croquet. Did you know that the rules of croquet were codified at Chastleton House? They were written by Walter Jones Whitmore and published on April 7, 1866.

Stay tuned for one last travel post featuring . . . TEA!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Summer Travel Postcards: Scotland, part 2


Loch Gairloch

[Go here if you missed part 1 of the Scotland postcards.]

Our luck with weather continued throughout our time in Gairloch. I couldn't ask for anything nicer than the cool breezes and partly sunny skies we experienced.


We stayed at the Shieldaig Lodge, a former hunting lodge turned hotel. I felt a bit like a character in Nancy Mitford's Highland Fling as I wandered through sitting rooms like this one with the bay window, this one with the coat of arms, or this little library where we enjoyed tea (more on that later).


Here Steve looks out over the Fairy Lochs. We were told at the lodge that this was a fairly easy walk, so we set out shortly after we arrived. It soon became clear that we'd need more time and energy, so we turned back. The next day we were determined to reach the lochs, but despite what all the travel guides said, it was fairly rough going--rocky terrain alternating with muddy bogs, and very steep in places. We had at least four moments of false hope when we thought we'd almost reached the plateau only to find there was SO MUCH MORE ground to cover. This view was well-earned, I tell you! (Going back down was even harder, but we won't dwell on that...)


We enjoyed views like this (and easier paths) on our Flowerdale Glen walk.


Another view of Loch Gairloch.


I'll wrap up by offering this post-dinner selfie taken on our last evening at Sheildaig Lodge. The pictures were so goofy, and we were laughing so hard, that the owner came out and asked if we would like him to take the photo. (We must have been making a spectacle of ourselves.) As you might imagine, his photo featured the lodge much more prominently.

Stay tuned for postcards from our walk to Chastleton House in the Cotswolds!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Summer Travel Postcards: Scotland, part 1


"Now this feels like the Highlands!"

On Sunday we flew to Inverness for five days in Scotland. We spent the first two nights on the Black Isle at Cromarty, a lovely little village. My photographs from the stay aren't that impressive, however, because the weather was a bit dreary. I was terribly fond of Cromarty, but for now let's move on to the more dramatic west coast sights near Gairloch. (We'll revisit Cromarty when I post my blog on tea. Yay!)


First, I must praise my husband and, to a lesser extent, satellite navigation. I've never driven overseas, and Steve hadn't for over a decade (not since we drove to Brontë country and he nearly abandoned the car in Bradford out of terror and frustration). What a difference a built-in sat nav makes! I wouldn't say Steve was relaxed about driving this time around, but he was very good at it, particularly when the roads narrowed to a single lane, which happened A LOT.


One of our first driving adventures was out to the beaches at Red Point. The day started gloomy but turned quite fine as you can see. No filter on any of these photos--it was just that beautiful! And we nearly had it all to ourselves (but were happy to share).


Obligatory (and somewhat squinty) selfie. As we were leaving this beach, we ran into a group of pony trekkers. Later we walked to the Gairloch Trekking Center and watched two children grooming a pair of fat little ponies as part of the "Kids Stable Special" program. Do check out the gallery on their webpage--guaranteed to make you smile!


We were able to explore this rocky outcropping while the tide was out. You can see the Isle of Skye across the water -- it was huge! Why did I think Skye was a wee island?


I didn't have the nerve to walk to the edge, but that's okay because it meant I could take this photo. :)

Stay tuned for more postcards from the Highlands!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Summer travel postcards: London


July evening sky -- no filter!

We just returned from a two week trip to England and Scotland. Steve did not direct the law program in Oxford this summer, but he was asked to plan and be present for some special events for the students. Since the trip would take place over our 25th Anniversary, we decided to add on some personal travel, starting with three nights in London.


Couldn't resist this photo upon our Thursday arrival at Paddington Station. I never was much of a Paddington fan as a child, but the 2015 film was utterly enchanting. (Apparently this statue was part of the promotion for the film. See more about the Paddington promotion statues at this blog post. And read my thoughts on the film here.)


On Friday we visited the Leighton House Museum, once home of Pre-Raphaelite painter Frederic Leighton. (His most famous painting might be Flaming June.) It's a lovely house with Middle Eastern architectural and decorative touches, along with an impressive art collection, but I confess my favorite moment was meeting this smushy-faced ginger cat in the garden.


Friday night we enjoyed dinner in Soho with the incomparable Dominic Mattos!


On Saturday we visited the Foundling Museum, built near the site of The Foundling Hospital, established in 1739 by philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for abandoned babies. The two items above are tokens made by mid-18th century mothers who were asked to ‘affix on each child some particular writing, or other distinguishing mark or token, so that the children may be known thereafter if necessary'. Learn more about the tokens here.

[I've long been intrigued by orphans and foundlings in fiction, and my latest story features a foundling girl who is adopted to replace a much grieved child -- a child who, as it turns out, may not have entirely departed from this plane of existence...]


Saturday night we saw The Taming of the Shrew at The Globe and upon leaving encountered this dramatic view of St. Paul's Cathedral from across the Thames.

Stay tuned for more travel postcard posts!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]