Tag Archives: recommendations

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!

Tea and Books for Christmas

I come to you with tidings of tea and holiday reads!

For young (and young-at-heart) readers:


Christmas with the Savages, by Mary Clive: Seen through the eyes of a prim little eight-year-old, and based on real events and people, this novel perfectly recaptures a Christmas holiday of 100 years ago, and is effortlessly funny.

This delightful story, first published in 1955, brings to mind a “Downton Abbey” Christmas, only from the perspective of the nursery children. It’s episodic, lighthearted, and lots of fun! I purchased a used hardcover, but there’s a very pretty paperback available from Amazon and other places.

The Night Before the Night Before Christmas, by Richard Scary: It’s the night before the night before Christmas, and Mr. Frumble wants to be helpful. When he stumbles into Santa Bear’s workshop and mixes up the dates, everyone thinks it’s the night before Christmas! Santa dashes off to deliver the presents, but then gets stuck in Mr. Frumble’s chimney! Find out how Mr. Frumble saves the day in this funny, topsy-turvy Christmas story.

I adored Richard Scarry as a kid and loved reading the books to my little siblings later on. I’m not sure how much Scarry actually had to do with this book considering when he died, but the characters are familiar and the story will entertain your young ones.

For fans of romance:


A Holiday by Gaslight, by Mimi Matthews: Sophie Appersett is quite willing to marry outside of her class to ensure the survival of her family. But the darkly handsome Mr. Edward Sharpe is no run-of-the-mill London merchant. He’s grim and silent. A man of little emotion–or perhaps no emotion at all. After two months of courtship, she’s ready to put an end to things. But severing ties with her taciturn suitor isn’t as straightforward as Sophie envisioned…

This is just perfect for the holidays, particularly if you’re in the mood for a heart-fluttering yet chaste Victorian romance. The author is well-versed in the era, having published various non-fiction books and scholarly articles. Bottom line: this novella is fun, romantic, and free of cringe-worthy anachronisms.

For fans of “Literary” Christmas fiction:


Mr. Dickens and his Carol, by Samantha Silva: Charles Dickens is not feeling the Christmas spirit. His newest book is an utter flop, the critics have turned against him, relatives near and far hound him for money. While his wife plans a lavish holiday party for their ever-expanding family and circle of friends, Dickens has visions of the poor house. But when his publishers try to blackmail him into writing a Christmas book to save them all from financial ruin, he refuses. And a serious bout of writer’s block sets in…

I’m right in the middle of this story and enjoying it even more than I’d expected. Samantha Silva brings to life the people and places of Victorian London and makes Dickens appealing even as she draws attention to his personal failings. It’s quite an absorbing read.

(I’d wondered if the book had anything to do with the recent film, The Man Who Invented Christmas, but that was based on a novel by Les Standiford. Anyone read that one or seen the film? Apparently there are several novels dealing with the creation of A Christmas Carol.)

And now for tea:


I made my usual ginger cookies and frosted sugar cookies, but perhaps you notice another item on the plate above. Yes, it’s a mince pie! Steve and I love indulging in these when we’re in England over Christmas, but they’re not ubiquitous here in the States. One year I made crusts from scratch and filled them with mincemeat I’d purchased at Chatsworth. This year, however, I found orange & cranberry mince pies from Walkers on Amazon! All you need do is warm them up in the oven (one at a time or all at once), and voila! Scrumptious.

As for the tea blend, I learned of Chado Tea’s Noel while reading the Holiday issue of Teatime Magazine. If you like black tea blended with cinnamon, orange zest, vanilla and almond, you’ll no doubt find this tea delicious and festive. Check out all the offerings from Chado Tea here.

***Remember that you can click the Christmas tag below for past recommendations for holiday reading, drinking, and eating!

What are you reading/brewing/baking for the holidays this year? I do love recommendations!

Tea and a Book and a GIVEAWAY for Thanksgiving: A Long Way from Verona

Quick take: Quirky and endearing.

From the book jacket: Jessica Vye introduces herself with an enigmatic pronouncement: “I ought to tell at the beginning that I am not quite normal, having had a violent experience at the age of nine.” A revered author has told Jessica that she is, beyond all doubt, a born writer. This proves an accurate prediction of the future, one that indelibly colors her life at school and her perception of the world.

Jessica has always known that her destiny would be shaped by her refusal to conform, her compulsion to tell the absolute truth, and her dedication to observing the strange wartime world that surrounds her. What she doesn’t know, however, is that the experiences and ideas that set her apart will also lead her to a new and wholly unexpected life.

My thoughts: Such a delight! This was my second reading and I’m sure there will be many more. Jane Gardam somehow captures the awkwardness and alienation of adolescence while also managing to make her heroine thoroughly charming. It is a very English sort of book, just so you know. (Among other things I had to google “viyella,” which is a certain type of dress, and now I see why Jessica was in agonies.) I’ve very much enjoyed other books by Gardam, but I will read Long Way to Verona again and again.

Scroll to the bottom for a giveaway!

And now for tea: I was in the mood for something autumnal so I made pumpkin spice cookies from this recipe at A Family Feast. They were simple enough to make, but do keep in mind that the dough is sticky even after chilling overnight. The cookies turn out quite soft–not the same chewy texture as a ginger cookie–but rest assured the flavor is excellent. For tea, I’d recommend one that doesn’t compete with the pumpkin spice–an Assam, Ceylon, or perhaps a blend of the two. I chose St. James from Mariage Frères. The “Autumn Tree” cup and plate featured in the photo are from Pier 1–soon to go on sale, I’m sure!

Other books that make me thankful because they are endlessly re-readable:
Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons
French Lieutenant’s Woman, by John Fowles
Gaudy Night (best if you read Strong Poison & Have His Carcase first), by Dorothy Sayers
High Rising, by Angela Thirkell
I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
Possession, by A. S. Byatt (tho I skim Ash’s poetry)
The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Winter Solstice, by Rosamund Pilcher
+ practically anything by Jane Austen or L.M. Montgomery

GIVEAWAY — I have an extra brand-new copy of Long Way from Verona up for grabs! All you need do is share the title of a book you’re thankful for in the comments and briefly explain why the book means so much to you. The winner will be chosen randomly with the help of Random.org.Open to US/CA only, please!

2018 Spooky Film Recs, Part IV: Family Viewing

For my final “Spooky Films” post, I’m offering some suggestions for family viewing. If you’re new to the blog and have younger children, you might check my 2016 post that includes solidly PG films. If you have tweens and teens interested in watching horror, the following PG/PG-13 options might appeal. Of course, you are the best judge of what your kids can or can’t handle in a scary film.

As usual, all film synopses are from imdb.com.


Spirited Away (2001) — Rated PG
During her family’s move to the suburbs, a sullen 10-year-old girl wanders into a world ruled by gods, witches, and spirits, and where humans are changed into beasts.
You’re all probably way ahead of me on this one. I’d heard about it for years but didn’t think it was my sort of thing. Then I watched with a friend and her kiddos. Gosh! Such a lovely, haunting, and spooky film. “No Face” (seen above in the middle) now numbers among my very favorite film characters. Those in the know — are there any other spooky anime films I should track down?
Watch the trailer / available on DVD only (from various retailers) / Metascore: 96
(the highest IMDB metascore of any film I’ve recommended!)
Goth-o-Meter: medium-ish?


Down a Dark Hall (2018) — PG-13
A troubled teen named Kit Gordy is forced to join the exclusive Blackwood Boarding School, just to find herself trapped by dark forces around its mysterious headmistress, Madame Duret.
This one had me at “all-female boarding school.” Fans of Lois Duncan should get a kick out of it — the setting is properly Gothic and the cast (featuring Uma Thurman with a believable French accent) is strong. The atmosphere oozes with old-fashioned menace, but the students bring a modern edge to the “haunted boarding school” narrative. Lots of drama and even a little romance.
Watch the trailer / options for viewing / Metascore: 56
Goth-o-Meter: high


Our House (2018) — PG-13
A young genius accidentally invents a device that amplifies the paranormal activity within his family’s house, possibly bringing back the spirits of loved ones, and unleashing things far worse.
I like a little technology with my ghosts, especially when accidental contact occurs. The pacing in this one isn’t without its problems, but I found the family very appealing and right away I cared about their safety. You might call this a “modern domestic ghost story,” and I like that it offers mystery and chills without going too far with jump scares or violence.
Watch the trailer / options for viewing / Metascore: 45
(the lowest metascore of all my recs, but I really did think this was worth watching!)
Goth-o-Meter: medium to high


Beautiful Creatures (2013) — PG-13
Ethan longs to escape his small Southern town. He meets a mysterious new girl, Lena. Together, they uncover dark secrets about their respective families, their history and their town.
I read this book when it first came out and quite enjoyed it, but the trailers for the film turned me off. It all just looked waaaay over-the-top. But when I was searching for films to watch this year, this one came up again and again as a strong option. After all, it does have an incredible cast–Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Eileen Atkins and Emma Thompson–but it’s Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert who make this movie work. If you can get past Ehrenreich’s Forrest Gump-voiceover at the beginning, you’ll see what I mean. They are both sympathetic and have great chemistry together. Yes, there are outrageous moments in this film, but overall I found it intriguing and satisfying — including the (somewhat abrupt) ending.
Watch the trailer / options for viewing / Metascore: 52
Goth-o-Meter: high


Happy Death Day (2017) — PG-13
A college student must relive the day of her murder over and over again, in a loop that will end only when she discovers her killer’s identity.
As I’ve said before, I don’t enjoy slasher films unless they are quirky and/or funny. This horror spin on Groundhog Day was exactly what I was looking for. I’ve seen it characterized as “relentlessly violent,” but I assure you that there’s not much blood/gore at all, and though the film does get the pulse racing, the tone is playful. It’s along the lines of the SCREAM movies, but with much less blood.
Watch the trailer / options for viewing / Metascore: 57
Goth-o-Meter: low

Here’s a list of other PG-13 Horror options, though I’m kind of horrified that The Ring is included. That one really got to me–I enjoyed it, but it’s more at the “disturbing” end of the spooky continuum. There are moments in that film I wish I could unsee.

Also keep in mind that two of the films mentioned earlier in my 2018 recs are PG-13 — A Quiet Place and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. The Endless is unrated, but I think it would be appropriate for teens and mature tweens.

That’s it for 2018, folks! Happy Horror Viewing and REMEMBER, if at any point you wish to browse previous spooky film recs (going all the way back to 2012), click the tag “spooky film recs” in the list below–or in the sidebar–and scroll to your heart’s content.