Boatloads of Tea

What warms me up while a Minnesota blizzard rages outside my door? Hot tea. Fireside Spice from TeaSource is one of my winter favorites, but usually any steamy cup of black tea with a bit of fruity sweetness will do.

Not surprisingly, January is officially known as “National Hot Tea Month.” And with French lessons and ballet lessons cancelled this afternoon because of white-out driving conditions, it’s a perfect time to thank God for the gift of hot tea and to reminisce about a warm day last July when we explored a boatload of tea in Greenwich, England.

To know our family well is to know that we collect loose-leaf tea and sailboats. I adore tea partying as much as my husband adores boating. So what else could we do to escape London’s crowded sidewalks? We climbed aboard a “river bus” at Westminster Pier and headed down the Thames River to Greenwich to see the historic Cutty Sark, one of the fastest tea clippers ever built.

On the boat, the girls enjoyed munching on black currant Skittles candies. (American Skittles don’t offer this flavor, you know.)

Traveling by river turned out to be our favorite way to see London. The air is much fresher than what you breathe in the Underground, and the sightseeing is fantastic. Plus, traffic and weather are not so much of a concern.

The river bus dropped us off right at Greenwich Pier, just a few steps from the Cutty Sark, which has been dry-docked and restored. It was raised and converted into a museum of sorts that opened in 2014.

Built in 1869, the three-masted Victorian sailing vessel could make the tea run from Britain to China and back in eight months, carrying enough black tea to make 200 million cups of tea!

That actually might be enough cups of tea for me, Queen Victoria and C.S. Lewis.


Clearly, the British are passionate about their tea. And that all began in 1662 when Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese royal, married King Charles II and became Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland. Crates of Chinese black tea were part of her dowry. And because drinking tea was already a custom among the Portuguese nobility, she introduced it to the British court and made it the fashionable thing to drink.

Thank you, Queen Catherine.

According to best-selling author Steven Johnson, the mass adoption of tea as Britain’s national beverage coincided with population growth in the early part of the 18th century because drinking tea helps ward off waterborne diseases like cholera. In his book The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, Johnson explains that brewed tea possesses several crucial antibacterial properties. The steeping process releases tannic acid, which kills off bacteria that have survived the boiling of the water.

“The explosion of tea drinking in the late 1700s was, from the bacteria’s point of view, a microbial holocaust,” he writes.

Dysentery and child mortality dropped dramatically, physicians noted, and thus England’s population grew.

That’s yet another reason to adore tea: It could save your life!

But let’s get back to the ship.

The Cutty Sark’s main deck boasts lots of rope, a nifty wooden ship’s wheel and a brass bell.

Its copper hull is impressive to see from the café area built right below it.

And who could resist having afternoon tea (with scones) beneath the hull of the world’s only remaining tea clipper?

Also below the hull is the world’s largest collection of Merchant Navy figureheads.

My girls kept asking me to photograph close-ups of these colorful figures so that they could draw them later. Many portray historic characters such as Florence Nightingale, William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln.

I was surprised by how much our family enjoyed this unusual collection, which originally belonged to a gentleman who wore an eye-patch and assumed the nickname Captain Long John Silver.

So that’s all from the Cutty Sark. Up next time is another key stop in Greenwich: the Royal Observatory. Until then, I’m off to sip another cup of hot tea.

Happy National Tea Month!





Did someone say ‘Tea Party?’

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” -C.S. Lewis

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A sweet friend of mine recently informed me that January is National Hot Tea Month. How did I not already know this? Thankfully, we had ample opportunities to celebrate last week — with multiple tea parties in multiple locations.

One tea party included this darling little 3-year-old friend that my oldest was babysitting.

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My youngest was a guest at a tea party with her friend and her friend’s grandma. Meanwhile, I served a tea luncheon to my oldest and one of her best friends.

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And then tonight three of us had a little post-Paddington movie tea party. I won’t spoil the movie for you, but I must note that it is quite delightful and includes a very memorable scene in an antique shop during which the bear and Mrs. Brown are served tea from an enchanting toy train. It is simply magical!

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This week we aim to have at least one tea party a day, during which my youngest will likely continue to practice speaking with an English accent. Yes, we are indeed Anglophiles.

Homemade scones with Devonshire cream, crust-less cucumber sandwiches and Walker shortbread cookies are some of our most favorite items to enjoy alongside a cup of hot tea. And for the tea itself, well, we have some wonderful connections at a great place called TeaSource, which serves hot tea by the pot and also sells an extensive variety of loose leaf teas. Three of our favorites that we brought home — all black tea blends — are Georgia Sunshine, Blueberry Fields, and Roasted Chestnut. I hope to try the Fireside Spice, too.

Happy tea-sipping!


Fairy Tea: Take 2


When my oldest daughter turned 6, I threw a fairy tea party for her. Evidently, she has fond memories of it because she wanted another fairy tea for her 8th birthday earlier this month.

This year’s menu was much simplier! We served mini-pizzas from Pizza Hut, baby goldfish crackers, fairy-sized carrot sticks, raspberries and blackberries, ginger peach tea, lemonade, chocolate cake, and raspberry floats.

Here are the photo highlights:

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5 Tips for a Tiny Tea Party

1. If sending out invitations, hand-written and hand-delivered adds a very special touch.

2. If eating on the patio with two dolls, two female relatives and too many mosquitoes, make it short and sweet. What’s more, be especially thankful when the mosquitoes land on your doll instead of you.

Linnea: “Ha-ha! Linn keeps tricking the mosquitoes!”

3. If serving things that your 4-year-old guest particularly likes to eat, expect to discover some unexpected food allergies.

Laurel: “My Strawberry Shortcake doll is allergic to bread, so can I eat hers? Strawberry Shortcake is allergic to vanilla wafers… Strawberry Shortcake is allergic to chocolate…”

4. If hand-washing the dishes afterward, try not to break the dishes or your sister’s heart.

Mom: Careful, Laurel! Don’t toss the dishes into the sink. They are breakable.

Linnea: And especially because it’s my tea set and I would be horrified!

5. If you are hosting, keep it simple (and spontaneous) so you can embrace the precious time with your special guests. 


Princesses, Tea and Bucket Lists

This weekend my niece is celebrating her birthday by heading off with her parents to have high tea at the Empress Hotel. I’m trying so hard not to be jealous!

The Empress Hotel is in Victoria, British Columbia. It’s one of the first landmarks you see when you arrive in Victoria by ferryboat. With ivy growing up its outer walls, the building truly looks like a palace.

I was 6 years old the first time I visited the Empress, and that happened to be the same week that Lady Diana married Prince Charles.

Most 6-year-old girls adore weddings, and a real-life princess wedding — well that’s even more magical. But top it off with the fact that the princess-bride shared my name! Cinderella and Snow White could not compete. The real story was far better than a fairy tale.

As the royal wedding was broadcast on television, 705 million people around the world watched the grand event. I remember staying up very late and watching part of it in our hotel room. In my memory, the room was at the Empress, but it could possibly have been another hotel in Victoria. Regardless, it was a magical memory from my childhood that I have long treasured, despite the true story’s tragic ending.

So back to the tea. Although I have had high tea in Canada once, and I have walked through the tea room at the Empress Hotel more than once, I’ve never had tea at the Empress. Truth is, until about seven years ago, I didn’t care much for tea. But since my dear friend Dani re-introduced me to the elegance of tea parties, and since I now have two lovely little tea-drinking daughters, I really, really hope to share a princess tea the Empress Hotel with them someday. In fact, tea at the Empress with my daughters would be in my bucket list. If I actually had a bucket list — a list of things I hope to do before I die.

Not too long ago, Bonita over at Encouraging Words for Writers blogged about bucket lists. Compiling one seems like a fun idea. My dear friend Aimee also has recommended the book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, which could be required reading for someone compiling such a list. Another inspiring book on the subject, which also happens to be one of my favorite children’s books, is Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney.

Anyway, since I haven’t read the 1,000 Places book yet or given a bucket list much deep thought, I cannot share any sort of official list with you today. I can, however, share a very rough, very short, preliminary list — from off the top of my head — of some things I’d like to see or accomplish.

  • To have high tea at the Empress Hotel with both my daughters
  • To visit Prince Edward Island (It’s where the Anne of Green Gables series is based.)
  • To go horseback riding in Colorado with my children (I did this several times as a kid, and it was so fun!)
  • To visit Austria, Holland, Italy, Spain and England
  • To write a series of children’s books (I’d need someone else to illustrate them!)
  • To write a book about some amazing and inspiring women I know (You just wouldn’t believe what some have done because of their love for God.)
  • To take a college-level photography course
  • To visit Washington D.C.

What about you? Do you have a bucket list? If so, what’s in it? Do share your comments!

A Dragon Tea Party

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Yesterday we finally had a Dragon Tea Party, which Laurel has been requesting for several months now. We sipped cinnamon plum tea while we nibbled heart-shaped cucumber sandwiches and cheese sandwiches. We ate fiery rings of dragon’s breath (dried cinammon apples) as well as dragon teeth (shortbread cookies) and pink M&Ms leftover from Laurel’s birthday.

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With so much help from Laurel and Linnea, the party required very little no actual planning on my part, and it covered both lunch and storytime. We might have to do a second one with actual, living, breathing guests, but this time around, we were content to have only stuffed dragons present.

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Once we were as stuffed as our guests, we read three dragon books:

  1. No Dragons for Tea by Jean Pendzowil
  2. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
  3. and, only because Linnea insisted, Peek-A-Boo Bard by Julie Aigner-Clark

And, after all the dragons awoke from their naps, I let the girls watch Pete’s Dragon. Just because. I loved that movie when I was little.

Oh, and by the way, if you read about our Teddy Bear Stay-Cation this summer, I should mention that we have two more additions to our list of teddy bear books. They are:

  1. Where’s My Teddy by Jez Alborough
  2. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen (Laurel’s new favorite)

Happy reading!

A Fairy Tea for Linnea’s 6th Birthday

Linnea is 6! Her party was a “fairy tea” with four of her little friends and her little sister. I served flower sandwiches, apple and pear slices, forest fairy trail mix, graham crackers iced with Pixie Dust, shortbread cookies, cranberry white chocolate scones with clotted cream, raspberry cups, chocolate cupcakes with buttercream frosting and raspberry sherbert floats. I also served ginger peach tea, cinnamon plum tea, and lots of apple juice! All the girls looked so lovely, and they had fun decorating picture frames with ribbon and flowers. We read a book about creating fairy houses, and we played with tea sets and felt boards. It was a lot of fun! Many thanks to my dear cousin Rachel for all her help with the party preparations and the party crowd!