Category Archives: Traveling

Finding Community at the SCBWIOK Spring Conference

The 2018 Spring conference for SCBWI Oklahoma, “Striking at the Reader’s Heart,” will be held on April 6-7 at the OKC Embassy Suites on S. Meridian. If you write/illustrate for children and young adults, I highly recommend you check it out. You’ll certainly gain useful information about the craft and business of writing, but perhaps even more importantly, you’ll find community.


Attending a writing conference is a great way to connect with other writers who are working in the same genre and/or looking for a critique group. I met my writing group at an OWFI conference well over a decade ago, and it didn’t take long for three of our group to realize we were particularly interested in writing for children. We knew that SCBWI was the best organization for kidlit writers, and thus in 2007 we made a trip to the national conference that takes place every winter in NYC. What an eye-opening experience!


It was only after attending a national conference that I attended our Oklahoma regional events. (I do things backwards sometimes.) Since these local meetings and conferences were a little smaller, the prospect of “networking” was much less daunting, especially for a somewhat socially anxious person like me. The above photo actually was taken at the 2008 SCBWI summer conference in Los Angeles, but how nice it was to find my Oklahoma tribe whilst there. The national conferences can be a bit overwhelming, but connecting with affiliate members makes everything more manageable.


And when, after countless rejections and heartbreaks, I finally got a book deal, my Oklahoma SCBWI buddies celebrated right along with me. No matter where you are in the process, there’s always someone in your regional affiliate who has been there, too. A conference like SCBWI can help you connect with people who understand the particular challenges of this path.


More often than not, these new connections help boost mood and confidence, sometimes even leading to DELIGHTFUL SHENANIGANS. (Writers are weird in the most wonderful ways!)

Hope to see you in April!

Tea with Jane Eyre

Charlotte Bronte’s 200th birthday last year inspired me to re-read Jane Eyre, and I decided to make this part of my Read Harder Challenge by watching two film adaptations for comparison to the original text. I’d been meaning to re-watch the 2006 BBC version with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson, and I’m always eager to watch the 2011 theatrical version with Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska. What a pleasure to read the book*, watch both adaptations and compare! It also was great fun to pair the book with tea and a sweet treat, as you’ll see below.

(*Actually, I alternated between reading the e-book and listening to Thandie Newton’s spectacular audio performance.)


I’d forgotten that both the 2006 and 2011 adaptations were filmed at Haddon Hall in Derbyshire (as was the 1996 Franco Zeffirelli version with William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg!). I’ve visited Haddon Hall in both the summer and at Christmas time, and it’s one of my favorite old piles in all of England. It seems perfect for Thornfield Hall–castellated and gloomy in a Gothically romantic way, also boasting a rushing stream and lovely terraced gardens. The 2006 version makes a little more use of the Haddon Hall interiors, whereas the 2011 version uses Broughton Castle (another lovely place to visit!) for many of the interior shots.


So, which adaptation did I like better? The 2011 adaptation will always be my favorite, but the 2006 TV movie is quite good in its own right. Excellent performances from Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson, and a teleplay by Sandy Welch that is mostly true to the original. Welch departs from the book by presenting Rochester as a naturalist, and by introducing house party discussions of the scientific study of twins (???), as well as musings on the paranormal. There’s even a scene with a table transformed into a talking board. (Why add a talking board when you already have gypsy readings?)

The 2011 theatrical version is stripped-down, but effectively so. I like the Rivers family as a frame, and I do prefer Fassbender’s darker Rochester–he has a bit more menace to him and doesn’t babble so much as the original. Mia Wasikowska truly does seem little and plain(ish) in this adaptation, but also strong-willed. I think the scene that really seals the 2011 version as my favorite is when Rochester begs Jane to stay after the revelation of his dark secret. “I cannot get at you, and it is your soul that I want!” (Watch the scene–you know you want to!) I also love the ending–very compressed from the original, but somehow more satisfying to me.


I’ve probably mentioned my Haddon Hall china from Minton before. I first saw the pattern at the Haddon Hall gift shop, but it just wasn’t feasible to ship a set back to the U.S. Fortunately, I later found pieces from various sets at Replacements.com. They don’t match perfectly, but I think that makes the collection all the more charming. And, of course, the Haddon Hall china seemed perfect for a Jane Eyre tea!

For my tea treat, I made parkin, a spicy oat cake from the north of England, particularly popular in Yorkshire (home to the Brontës).

[Parkin] is eaten in an area where oats rather than wheat was the staple grain for the poor. It is closely related to tharf cakes – an unsweeted cake cooked on a griddle rather than baked.[7] The traditional time of the year for tharf cakes to be made was directly after the oat harvest in the first week in November. For festive occasions, the cake would be sweetened with honey. In the seventeenth century (about 1650) sugar started to be imported from Barbados[b]- and molasses was a by-product of the refining process. Molasses was first used by apothecaries to make a medicine theriaca, from which name the word treacle is derived.[8] As molasses became plentiful, or treacle as it became called at that time, it was substituted for honey in the preparation of tharf cakes. (From wikipedia)

After a disastrous attempt with a different recipe, I had success with this: Parkin–a Guy Fawkes Night Tradition. The recipe is accompanied by a helpful explanation of Parkin’s connection to the 5th of November, and it uses U.S. measurements and ordinary ingredients. (I happened to have golden syrup on hand, but according to the recipe corn syrup will suffice.)


It looked a bit like a pan of brownies when it came out of the oven, but oh, the glorious spicy smell!


This parkin was very moist and filling. If Jane Eyre had tucked some of this in her pocket, she might not have suffered so much on the moors before the Rivers family took her in! For tea I needed something strong to match the spice of the bread, so I chose the Irish Breakfast from David’s Tea in honor of Charlotte Brontë’s Irish heritage through her father, Patrick Brontë (originally Brunty or Prunty from County Down, Ireland).

Some related links for your edification and amusement:

The Best Yorkshire Recipes (some nice options for sweet treats here)
–A Jane Eyre tea blend from Adagio
Every Meal in Jane Eyre, Ranked in Order of Severity, from The Toast
–A Tea with Jane Eyre necklace at Etsy
Jane Eyre Tea Cozy patterns for knitters!
Walnut Tea Sandwiches inspired by Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre, the Fragrance, from Ravenscourt Apothecary (this is a NEAT site!)
–And finally, this long-time favorite: Dude Watchin’ with the Brontës from Hark, a Vagrant.

Also, some of my previous Jane Eyre-related blog posts:
Brontës on the Brain (Nov 2013)
The Problem of Kissing in Jane Eyre ’11 (Aug 2011)
Derbyshire Top Ten, including photos of Haddon Hall (July 2011)
I saw Jane Eyre yesterday (April 2011)

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!

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!

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!