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Friday Favorites: Tea in Cedar Falls, Iowa

Recently we attended a reunion in Iowa, as my brother and his wife had flown in from Japan to introduce their son to the American side of the family. I loved meeting little Hal (he is DELICIOUS) and spending time with people I don’t see as often as I’d like. I also enjoyed exploring Cedar Falls–in particular when my stepmother introduced me to The Tea Cellar.

Would you join me on a virtual tour?


Feel free to go straight to the counter and place your order. Treats are on display under glass, and featured teas are listed on the chalkboard. The staff is happy to open the tea canisters so that you can see and smell the leaves.


Once you make your choice, they will brew the tea in a small or large pot. In the meantime you are free to choose your own cup and saucer. (There’s something so satisfying about this!) Everything is placed on a tray for you to take to the table of your choice.


After you’ve finished your tea you’ll want to peruse the wares. The Tea Cellar offers an impressive variety of Black, Green, Oolong, White, and Herbal teas, along with kettles, teapots, and so much more.

I visited The Tea Cellar each of the three days I was in Iowa and thus was able to sample various tea blends and sweet treats. Everything was delicious, and the atmosphere was welcoming and cozy.

Like what you see but aren’t planning to visit Cedar Falls anytime soon? No worries. You can peruse their fabulous teas and accoutrements at their online store!


Just for fun–a candid shot of my first meeting with nephew Hal! (Photo credit to cousin Jacqueline Kehoe)

Literary Walks: Dorothy Sayers’ Oxford

If you know me at all, you know I love Oxford. You also might recall that I adore the mysteries of Dorothy L. Sayers. While in Oxford this summer I was determined to put together my own literary walk to celebrate Sayers’ Gaudy Night and its two main characters, Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey.

I even made a map with the help of Google:


Google says this is a 50 minute walk. If you really want to soak it all in, however, 2-3 hours would give you plenty of time to see everything. If you wish to linger and visit colleges/pubs/bookstores along the way, you might give yourself at least half a day.


The walk begins on Brewer Street, where you’ll find a plaque that commemorates the birth of Dorothy Sayers in this very building. Her father was headmaster at the Christ Church Cathedral Choir School and a chaplain at the cathedral. This will be a brief stop, as you can’t go inside, but it’s a nice quiet street and no one should mind you taking a photograph. (I do it every summer!)

From here go east to St. Aldates and continue north. On your right you will see Christ Church College. In Gaudy Night, Harriet runs into Peter Wimsey’s nephew, Lord Saint-George, who is a student at Christ Church. When Saint-George hurts himself rather badly in a car accident, she must write to inform Peter. And thus the plot thickens… (If you have the time, this college certainly is worth visiting.)

Follow St. Aldates as it turns into Cornmarket, Magdalen, and then St. Giles. Bonus: At the intersection with Pusey Street look left and behold The Eagle & Child, a pub famous for hosting meetings of The Inklings. Sayers was friends with the Inklings, but never an official member, according to the Mythopoeic Society.


Finally you will come to Somerville College, Dorothy Sayers’ alma mater and an inspiration for Shrewsbury College in Gaudy Night. This college ordinarily does not welcome tourists during the summer, but they did allow me to stand in the doorway and take some photos. Perhaps you might be allowed greater access at other times of the year?

Google suggests that you return to the city center via St John Street, which should be less crowded and will take you by the Ashmolean, a museum well worth seeing that also offers a rooftop restaurant and a cozy cafe in the basement. I always get very hungry when touring Oxford!


Balliol College, Lord Peter Wimsey’s alma mater, is just to the east of the Ashmolean, but you must take Magdalen Street to Broad to find its entrance. The fee to tour the college (as of a couple of weeks ago) is three pounds, and it’s well worth it. Do visit the chapel, explore the grounds, and tour the dining hall. Somewhere on the grounds is a portrait of Lord Peter Wimsey that was presented to the college many years ago. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it (even with the porter calling everyone he knew to determine its location). Perhaps you’ll have better luck?

Upon leaving Balliol, turn south at Turl Street and take a left on Brasenose Lane. Straight ahead is Radcliffe Square (the featured image at the top of this post). Radcliffe Square is the center of Oxford, and you could spend quite some time ogling and photographing the gorgeous architecture. Do take a nice gander at the Radcliffe Camera–in Gaudy Night Harriet Vane tries to get some work done here–and also the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. For a moderate fee you can climb up to the church tower and get a wonderful bird’s-eye view of the city. AND if you didn’t stop for lunch at the Ashmolean, I suggest you venture into the Vaults & Garden Cafe. Even if you already ate lunch, you might stop here for afternoon tea! You’ll find delicious, wholesome food in a setting that is comfortable and offers sublime views.


When you’re finished admiring Radcliffe Square take Catte Street north to Holywell and walk east until you reach St. Cross Street. Go north until you see St. Cross Church (pictured above) at your right. This building belongs to Balliol College and is now an archive rather than a church, but you can wander the grounds and enjoy the lovely views. This site is very important in the story of Peter and Harriet. For now, however, I won’t spoil it.

Bonus: Explore nearby Holywell Cemetery, a Romantically overgrown graveyard. Kenneth Grahame (author of Wind in the Willows) and his son are buried here, among others. There’s a wooden bench perfect for enjoying an afternoon snack–might I suggest a sandwich from the Alternative Tuck Shop on Holywell? Grab your sandwich and a drink on the way to St. Cross. OR take your sandwich along for our final stop on the tour…


A punt on the Cherwell! Walk south on St. Cross, continuing as it turns into Longwall Street, and take a left onto High Street. Find the Magdalen Bridge Boathouse (look for the signs) and rent a punt just as Peter and Harriet did in Gaudy Night. (Above you see Steve manning the pole most efficiently with Magdalen Tower in the background.) You can try punting on your own OR hire a “professional” who will do all the work and offer a little tour.

If you go it alone, expect some bumps along the way:

[Peter] was, in fact, a pretty punter to watch, easy in action and quite remarkably quick. They picked their way at surprising speed down the crowded and torturous stream until, in the narrow reach above the ferry, they were checked by another punt, which was clumsily revolving in mid-stream and cramming a couple of canoes rather dangerously against the bank.

“Before you come on this water,” cried Wimsey, thrusting the offenders off with his heel and staring offensively at the youth in charge (a stringy young man, naked to the waist and shrimp-pink with the sun), “you should learn the rule of the river. Those canoes have the right of way. And if you can’t handle a pole better than that, I recommend you to retire up the back-water and stay there till you know what God gave you feet for.” (Ch. 14)

Eventually Peter and Harriet move on to the less crowded Isis River–you can, too, if you’re punting yourself.

Bonus: If you still have energy after punting I highly recommend visiting Magdalen College and walking in their Deer Park. It’s a beautiful and soothing place. If you haven’t yet eaten–or need to refuel after punting–do visit the Old Kitchen Bar (dating from the 1300s). The riverside terrace is lovely!

And that is the end of my walking tour of Dorothy Sayers’ Oxford! Any questions? Suggestions? What did I leave out?

Stay tuned for a Friday Favorite post featuring Tea in Cedar Falls, Iowa…

Mothers of Invention — A Tribute

Hello blog friends! It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here. I’ve missed chatting with you.

I should explain that my lovely and loving mother died on May 19 at the age of 71. Since then I’ve alternated between sorrow, anxiety, numbness, and a cautious cheerfulness. Many of you have been through this. No doubt you’d tell me there’s no right or wrong way to grieve, and that I should give myself as much time as I need. I do appreciate that.

This post really isn’t about grief, however. It is about a legacy of love. To honor my mother (and grandmother) I’d like to share a specific example of their magical influence on my life.

I promise this will make you SMILE.

Like many young girls, I obsessed over the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. My fascination began when Mom read Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie to me at bedtime. As Laura and I grew older, I graduated to reading the novels on my own. Wishing to be as much like my favorite protagonist as possible, I demanded that my hair be braided, wore my ruffled calico dress until it burst at the seams, and begged to go to Grandma’s farm where I could practice baking, butter churning, and cow tending. (Working in the garden was less inspiring, but imagining myself as Laura helped make it endurable.) When Mom remarried I decided henceforth that she and my stepfather would be known as Ma and Pa. No one dared to disagree. Even my Barbie dolls were forced to hold down a claim under a tree in the backyard. In their little frame house they cooked on a miniature cast iron stove, slept on straw-filled mattresses, and fed fragrant grass seed to their (plastic) horses.

Mom and Grandma were well aware of my obsession. They shared it, after all. And thus one year they concocted a plan for my Christmas present–a plan so ambitious they must have been as intimidated as they were excited by the enormity of their task. They undertook to sew a complete wardrobe for my Barbie dolls based on Laura Ingalls’ wedding trousseau from These Happy Golden Years.

Each day, as soon as I was safely on the school bus, my mother collected my Barbies and drove to Grandma’s house. Together they pored over the text of the book, taking notes on her descriptions of fabrics and dress styles. They cross-referenced these details with a reproduction 1900 Sears & Roebuck catalog and adapted Barbie dress patterns to the old-fashioned styles. Once they knew exactly what they would be sewing it was time to plunder the ragbag for fabric scraps that closely resembled the dresses described in the book. Only after they’d exhausted that resource did they take out their pocketbooks and travel to the fabric store for the materials they did not already have.

They watched the clock carefully in the afternoons to ensure my mom would get home before the bus. Each day she returned my dolls to what she hoped was the exact spot where I’d left them. To her credit, I never had a clue of the costume fitting adventures my Barbie dolls had undertaken during the day…


At least, not until Christmas Day brought this box of MAGIC.

Would you like to see what was inside?

[Here’s where I confess to devoting an entire day to a Barbie photo shoot, just so I could show you the clothes that were packed in that box. Many thanks go to Disney’s “Belle” Barbie for standing in for my long lost dolls. And as always with my blog photos, if you would like a closer view, click the image to enlarge.]


First there was the brown poplin dress:

It’s smooth, long sleeves fitted her arms perfectly to the wrists, where a band of plain silk ended them. The neck was high with a smooth band of the plain silk around the throat. The polonaise fitted tightly and buttoned all down the front with small round buttons covered with the plain brown silk. Below the smooth hips it flared and rippled down and covered the top of the flounce on the underskirt. A band of the plain silk finished the polonaise at the bottom. (These Happy Golden Years, 162-63).

I loved that there were two parts to this dress, and that you can see the underskirt’s ruffle peeping out below the silk ribbon of the polonaise. Note: this was the dress Laura wore during the infamous buggy ride in which she shook the buggy whip and startled the colts, all because Almanzo tried to put his arm around her. Cheeky young man! (And “devilish” young lady!)


The pink lawn dress also came in two pieces and was gorgeously feminine. Grandma and Mom were particularly adept at recreating the tuck work that Laura described:

They made the waist tight-fitting, with two clusters of tucks down the back, and two in front…The skirt was gathered very full all round into a narrow waistband, which buttoned over the bottom of the waist to secure them from slipping apart. All down the full skirt, tucks went around and around it, spaced evenly a little way apart, and below the bottom tuck was a full-gathered ruffled four inches wide that just touched Laura’s shoe tips (243-44).


Laura’s black cashmere wedding dress was constructed of soft, fine-waled corduroy, complete with lace at the neck and a tiny wooden brooch painted with an even tinier strawberry. [See a closer view of the brooch.] Grandma and Mom sewed Laura’s straw poke bonnet out of roughly textured green fabric and lined it with blue cotton.

Laura was ready when Almanzo came. She was wearing her new black cashmere dress and her sage-green poke bonnet with the blue lining and the blue ribbon bow tied under left ear. The soft black tips of her shoes barely peeped from beneath her flaring skirt as she walked (279).

(For the record, I simply could not manage to tie that ribbon under Belle’s left ear without it looking ridiculous.)


Being very attentive to detail, Mom and Grandma did not forget Laura’s underclothes. Mom cleverly constructed a narrow hoop skirt of wire and tape–“the very latest style in the East” (161)–and even fashioned a tiny bustle that could be taped underneath for fullness or on top for modest backside enhancement. Knowing Laura preferred a small bustle, I usually taped it on top. (In the photo, however, it is taped underneath for maximum enhancement. Check the side view of the black wedding dress for the effect.) To cover the hoop they provided a soft white cotton petticoat with yellow ribbon trim. Their pièce de résistance, however, was a corset of white satin sewn with the tiniest of stitches to fit the fabric exactly to Barbie’s inhuman proportions.


Mom and Grandma even found time to sew a long-sleeved, flowing nightgown of white flannel sprinkled with delicate purple flowers for Barbie. They also made a girl-sized one out of the same material for me. Sadly, my gown is long gone, but Barbie looks quite cozy in hers, doesn’t she?

As you might imagine, I was thoroughly enchanted by this miniature and very complicated wardrobe, and I spent hours dressing and undressing my dolls. A few items didn’t survive the heavy use, and one dress (a blue calico?) was drastically retooled during my Medieval Barbie phase, but the rest were passed down to my baby sister when I went to college. (I honestly can’t remember how I felt about this. I wonder if I even knew?) Eventually my dear nieces played with them as well, and I’m certain the dresses enjoyed their varied adventures over the years. Their good condition today is a testament both to the care that went into their construction and the delicacy with which we played with them.

A few years ago Mom and I searched through the toy box and collected all the Laura Ingalls items we could find. Just last week I conducted my photo shoot–partly for posterity, but mostly as a way to celebrate Mom and Grandma. They were true mothers of invention, and it is such an honor (not to mention a balm to my sore heart) to share their industry and artistry with you!

I will close with a message for these dearly departed ladies: Thank you, Grandma and Mom, for taking time out of your busy days to enter a child’s imagination, for making her dreams come true, and for gifting her with your love of history and story. Thank you for the magic. You both will live forever in my heart.


Grandma and me (You can see I inherited her mouth) on Christmas Day, 1978? (Photo taken by Mom)


Margaret Ellen (Grandma) and Marcia (Mom), circa 1962

**Many thanks to my sister, Heather Miller, who searched the family albums for the Christmas photos!

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!