October 23, 2015

Tea Time in London Town - A Warm Memory

It's no secret that there's something wonderfully comforting about tea for those who enjoy its taste and charms. I've been a tea-drinker since childhood - probably a function of my maternal grandmother's influence (as a native of Northern Ireland).

Tea was, and is, always there when I was chilled or wanted something warm and flavorful. I enjoy a wide variety of blends, but Earl Grey is my strong preference. Something about the scent of the bergamot orange is like a warm embrace to me. I prefer my tea with cream (or milk) and sugar.

Often lately, this chilly autumn weather has brought to mind a memory of one of my most enjoyable tea experiences.

I was traveling for business to London, and was booked into a charming townhouse hotel in Notting Hill.

Typical for those flying "across the pond" from the west (I departed from Boston), I arrived at Heathrow airport at about 6:00 a.m. local time, so it was very early to arrive at the hotel. The lovely young woman who greeted me when I arrived, explained that my room wasn't available yet - no surprise, since the current occupants probably weren't even awake themselves at that hour, let alone checked out. As an alternative, she invited me to relax in the "lounge" - a cozy, den-like living room overlooking the garden behind the hotel (essentially a townhouse).

(The rendering at top and photo above are from the now-former hotel's brochure.)

Thoughtfully, she asked if I'd like some tea -- that was just the thing. I was weary from traveling and it was a chilly, early November day. Nothing could have been more welcoming and soothing after a nearly 6-hour trans-Atlantic flight.

I recall vividly the blue and white china on which my "arrival" tea was served. It was a familiar traditional pattern offered by several different makers - Johnson Brothers "Blue Denmark" is one version. You can see it in the photo above as the tea service to the left on the coffee table.

For whatever reason, that lovely china pattern always makes me think of that wonderful cup of tea and of time spent in London, nearly 20 years ago. I returned to that hotel twice more thereafter, in part, because it had two resident cats who were a delightful reminder of my own kitties at home.

The hotel was renovated a few years after my stays there, and it was operated for a few more years before being sold and converted back into a residential property. It probably was the best possible outcome for such a charming old building, but certainly a loss for travelers who appreciated its warm and welcoming environs.


October 18, 2015

Same Time, Same Place, Different Year

Last year, at about this same time - mid-October, I was struck by these glorious sugar maples that shade a path between horse paddocks in the countryside of New York's beautiful Columbia County, in the Hudson Valley. I was passing them again yesterday and I stopped to snap another photo (above) of their incredible, fiery orange/red brilliance. Mother Nature truly is the best artist of all.

After picking up my mail (I still get it delivered at the charming, tiny local post office), I passed these crimson beauties again en route to my favorite annual church sale. The sale always draws a big crowd and there are fantastic bargains to be found, but like any good garage, tag or estate sale, it pays to be early -- and to come back later for mark-downs.

I've been going to this sale for more than 20 years and it never disappoints. I had recently decided that, while I love the various holiday themed transferware Thanksgiving plates that feature wonderful, elaborate images of the feathered and robust "Tom Turkey", surrounded, of course, by border vignettes of gourds like pumpkins and squashes like these English ones from Myott/Queen's,

I have been leaning lately toward a slightly different, but equally historic image of a 1797 3-masted East Indiaman merchant ship, the Friendship of Salem. I'd recently come across several dinner plates of this Johnson Brothers pattern at my local Goodwill. They were in mint condition, so I bought them for about $5 thinking they were an interesting take on the historic theme. No turkeys to be seen, but the ship images are in brown on a white background, so they fit the color palette for the holiday nicely, with its golds, browns, rusts, etc.

So imagine my surprise - and delight - that I came across not one, but two more dinner plates, also in perfect shape, at the church sale in the "make an offer" tent. I didn't hesitate to snap them up and add them to my growing pile of items.  I had at least 12-14 items in hand and paid $10 for it all, so that means the plates were less than $1 each. Quite the coup!

I'm thrilled I got them, of course, but I'm still kicking myself for not acting quickly enough soon thereafter in grabbing a set of 8 of the same plates, 8 cups and saucers and 8 small finger bowls of the same pattern (!!!) located in the nearby church hall, where the more expensive items were individually priced. The set of 8 settings were priced at just $15 for the set. Less than 50 cents each for 36 pieces, but before I could make my way back to the table where they were located, someone was already in the process of buying them. All I could think was the old adage, "He [or in this case, she] who hesitates is lost"...or, equally applicably, "the early bird gets the worm".

I didn't get that particular worm, but I came away with soom good finds and contributed to the church's good works in the community. There's always next year, and a keen reminder during this season of giving thanks, that if you have things you aren't using and a garage sale isn't in your program and you wish to donate them, make the effort to take them to Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or, if there isn't a convenient outlet near you, give them to a local house of worship that collects such things for their periodic or annual sales. I've both donated and bought and they're equally gratifying.

I also arranged for a storage unit this week that I'll begin to use starting in November. I have had storage units in the past, and have been without a nearby unit for about a year, but the trade-off in cost savings is having seasonal things take up space at home that really belong in storage until their seasons return next year. As I begin to move toward my "post-employment" life and other pursuits that interest me, access to the storage unit becomes an even more important resource. I don't have to pay to heat it or cool it, and it just becomes an important adjunct to my living space. The garage, which has served as the overflow outlet during the warmer months, must be freed up to accommodate the car during the snow season. (There is nothing I dislike more than scraping ice and snow off my car - I want it under cover during winter - it's why I live in a home that has a garage.)

The next few weeks will be spent moving things into the garage that are going to storage, so I can load them into the back of my car easily and take them over to the unit. I'm looking forward to having the living space being just that - living space - again and not a variation on expensive heated storage.  I'll have a lot to be thankful for come Thanksgiving - that's for sure!