Tag Archives: recommendations

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…

A Tour of Washington DC Indie Bookstores

I’ve made a resolution since returning from Brooklyn–when joining my husband on business trips I will endeavor to research, patronize, and publicize my favorite independent bookstores. (In case you missed it, you’ll find some wonderful Brooklyn options in this post.) On this trip our hotel was in Georgetown, so I picked bookstores within walking distance.

Perhaps the most famous indie bookstore in the District is Politics & Prose, but it was more than an hour’s walk away, and since I’d been there when we lived in D.C. it seemed appropriate to explore other options.


On Connecticut Avenue near Dupont Circle, Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe is a large, bustling store open from 7:30am to 1:30am, except on Friday and Saturday when it’s open until 3am. (Wow!) It has a hip and energetic vibe that encourages both leisurely, uninterrupted browsing and boisterous socializing in the cafe/bar. I appreciated how much space they devoted to recommended books, and when I saw Ghosted by Rosie Walsh on prominent display–and noted its blurbs–I had to have it.

Kramerbooks has so much to offer, but it isn’t a cozy sort of bookstore. Lucky for me, I found plenty of cozy in the two used bookstores I visited.


Also near Dupont Circle, Second Story Books is open 10-10 daily and offers a wonderfully ordered, inviting, and tranquil environment perfect for browsing. It also has a fascinating history of expansion and consolidation dating back to 1973. At one point they had six stores from Alexandria to Baltimore. These days there are two: the 16,000-square-foot warehouse store in Rockville (oooh!) and the Dupont Circle location, which celebrated its 40th Anniversary in 2018. They offer so many interesting services beyond the typical appraisal/consignment options. Learn more here.

After a leisurely stretch of browsing, I came away with a neat edition of Jane Gardam’s Bilgewater and the ginormous Complete Old English Poems, translated by Craig Williamson.

(I really need a running list of obscure titles on my phone so that when I go to stores like this I can search with a purpose instead of wandering in a fog of overwhelmed delight.)


My favorite bookstore of the D.C. visit was this lovely shop in Georgetown. Founded in 1996, The Lantern is run entirely by volunteers and all the proceeds fund scholarships for Bryn Mawr student summer internships. I could have browsed this store all day, and perhaps I will actually spend a day there in the future, armed with that wish list on my phone, eh? I was tempted by so many books on their shelves but managed to walk out of there with just one–Margaret Drabble’s The Witch of Exmoor. (How could I resist that title?) Of course I am a big fan of A.S. Byatt, and won’t it be interesting to read something written by her estranged sister? Drama!


Here are the lovely new editions to my library.

Stay tuned for a blog post about–you guessed it–TEA in Georgetown!

Tea at Thistle Farms

Note: I did not take the featured photo above, but it inspires me to more seriously pursue tea photography!

As I mentioned in a previous post, last week I had a wonderful visit with my friend Michelle. (Even strep throat couldn’t keep us apart!) If you know us at all then you understand when we get together we do our best to find a good afternoon tea.

We found that and more at The Café at Thistle Farms in Nashville!


Isn’t the tea tray lovely? To drink we chose the Firepot Breakfast black tea (which they described as lively, dried cherry, fresh oak) and the Iron Goddess of Mercy Oolong (mineral, stewed peach, walnut). Both teas were tasty, but I actually preferred the Oolong, which was Michelle’s choice.


Here’s a closer view of the tea tray. We started in the middle with the scone, cream and jam before making our way to the sandwiches and other savories on the bottom tier. It all looked like a manageable amount of food, but I have to admit that the deserts (top tier) nearly, but not quite, did me in.

Before and after we ate, Michelle and I perused the lovely shop and its offerings of essential oils, jewelry, clothing, and body/skin care products. I found some lovely items for myself and a family member. It became clear to me there was a charitable purpose to this shop, but I was so wrapped up in all the good smells and cool things that I didn’t take the time to read carefully about their mission.

Later I decided to purchase a few more items from their online shop. The box arrived in two days.


This note greeted me upon opening. At that point, I finally read their mission in detail. I’ll include it for you here:

Thistle Farms is a social enterprise of women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction. Thistle Farms houses the bath and body care company, The Cafe at Thistle Farms, and Thistle Farms Global. All proceeds support Thistle Farms and the residential program, Magdalene. The community provides housing, food, healthcare, therapy and education, without charging residents or receiving government funding.

WOW. We (or at least I) just stumbled into this cafe thinking to have an interesting tea experience with a dear friend. It turned out to be an amazing enterprise that I will continue supporting. If you live in or near Nashville, do consider visiting this lovely cafe. Or just visit their online shop–they have lots of gorgeous and nurturing products, and your items will be lovingly packed and shipped QUICKLY.

I’m so glad Michelle and I tried this place. (She did the work finding it, to her credit.) I hope to enjoy their tea many more times, and I’ll keep their online store in mind for my birthday and holiday shopping! I recommend the cafe and store enthusiastically and quite independently–no one at Thistle Farms suggested that I promote them on my blog.

Favorite books read in 2018

I read 54 novels in 2018, five of them re-reads (which I count because my memory is terrible and subsequent readings still manage to surprise and delight). Last year I was determined to raise my overall count and I managed to do that by 6 books!

Here are my favorites (excluding re-reads). Blurbs are excerpted from Goodreads, as are most of my quick takes.

Fiction

To the Bright Edge of the World, by Eowyn Ivey. Blurb: Eowyn Ivey’s second novel is a breathtaking story of discovery and adventure, set at the end of the nineteenth century, and of a marriage tested by a closely held secret. My take: I enjoyed Ivey’s debut, The Snow Child, but this epistolary tale captivated me even more. The characters were so vividly realized, and the epic scope of Allen’s adventure is beautifully balanced by Sophie’s artistic journey. In a starred review, Kirkus praises it as “an exceptionally well-turned adventure tale…Heartfelt, rip-snorting storytelling,” and I agree.

A Month in the Country, by J.L. Carr. Blurb: Tom Birkin, a veteran of the Great War and a broken marriage, arrives in the remote Yorkshire village of Oxgodby where he is to restore a recently discovered medieval mural in the local church. My take: This seemed a perfect read for Thanksgiving week — such a lovely story of healing through art and friendship. (The 1987 film adaptation, starring Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh, is quite good, as well.)

YA/MG Fiction

A Sky Painted Gold, by Laura Wood. Blurb: Growing up in her sleepy Cornish village dreaming of being a writer, seventeen-year-old Lou has always wondered about the grand Cardew house which has stood empty for years. And when the owners arrive for the summer – a handsome, dashing brother and sister – Lou is quite swept off her feet. My take: A very appealing Young Adult story set in 1929 Cornwall and reminiscent of I CAPTURE THE CASTLE.

Elizabeth & Zenobia, by Jessica Miller. Blurb: When Elizabeth and her unusual and fearless friend Zenobia arrive at Witheringe House, peculiar things begin to happen. Especially in the forbidden East Wing. My take: A deliciously Gothic story with a conclusion that defied my expectations. Looking forward to more from this author.

Non-fiction

Take Courage, by Samantha Ellis. Blurb: [a] personal, poignant and surprising journey into the life and work of a woman sidelined by history. My take: A pure delight! This is NOT a straightforward/scholarly/detached biography of Anne Bronte by any means–more a personal account of Ellis’ interactions with the novels and subsequent revelations about Anne’s life, talent, and vision.

Manderley Forever, by Tatiana de Rosnay. Blurb: a vividly compelling portrait and celebration of an intriguing, hugely popular and (at the time) critically underrated writer. My take: This is such an unconventional biography, and yet so compelling. What kept me glued to the page was the way de Rosnay portrayed Daphne’s passion for history, her obsession with place, and her fascination with dark secrets and twisted psychology.

I offer these “Best of 2018” links for your perusal:

Top Ten Books of 2018 from The Captive Reader.
A Box of Books for 2018 from Beyond Eden Rock.
My Favorite Books of 2018 from Modern Mrs. Darcy.
My Favourite Books of 2018 from Michelle Cooper

What were your favorite reads from 2018? I’d love to read (and share) your list!