Monday, October 11, 2010

A Victorian Spark

A Victorian Spark

“We do not remember days, we remember moments.”
                                                             Cesare Pavese

    Reconstruction on our house covered our windows and screens with stone dust, which would take days to clean. “Mom, you need a holiday,” one of my daughters told me when she saw I was “under-the-weather.”
    Secretly I thought, “A holiday? That’s the last thing I need.” She meant the word to be encouraging. It brightened her face. Could it be that our family celebrations over the years were memorable to good measure?

    Holidays don’t make themselves. Moms make holidays. And I had no “umph” for making anything that resembled a holiday.
    It was the end of a drab week of rain and cloudy weather. Whatever room I was in was dark and chilly. Outside, between raindrops, I clipped the wet, wilted flowers off my perennials. Inside I rearranged closets and brought down the sweaters from the top shelves. The word “holiday” revisited me and I remembered my book, Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions. For years this book, embellished with color Victorian illustrations and old black & white photographs, had equipped me with ways to make a holiday festive. My copy had been unread for too long. It was time I reopened it.

    The author, Sarah Ban Breathnach has an old fashioned, genteel, but friendly flavor to her writing. She wraps her readers in such a warm outlook on family and family celebrations that a mother who enters her pages can’t help wanting to try at least one of her ideas. The first edition, in its wide landscape format, is out of print. Yet you can still find used copies online.

    Knowing I’d wish to bring Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions to your notice I took it with me to New Jersey. Dean and I had an important appointment there. The book proved to be a romantic match for its surroundings – the Victorian bed and breakfast where we stayed overnight. This post’s photographs are of Main Street Manor in Flemington. Donna Arold, the proprietor, is a lady who has been an avid reader since girlhood. She was curious to see Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions. I left it on the oak buffet – in the room with the pretty red flower wallpaper, so she could leaf through it at her leisure.

    First Dean photographed it on the rocking chair. But at my further suggestion, for I could not make up my mind, he photographed it in the parlor. A corner cupboard filled with dishes is also in the parlor.

    That evening Donna met us by the stairway and told us that she found Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions to be so lovely that she had a copy on order for $5.00. For a hardcover book this is a deal. In one of the photographs you can see that Donna sets the table for breakfast as part of her evening preparations. 

    At breakfast I sat in Donna’s dinning room gazing at her collection of antique teacups. One of her large sunny windows was open and I watched how gently the morning breeze blew the lace curtain while Dean and I chatted. I savored the moment. My hands were folded. How strangely splendid it felt to have idle hands. Donna was in my place. I mean, she was the one cooking and serving. A home cooked meal made in the heart of the house – the kitchen – is unsurpassed. And served to a homemaker who, year ‘round does the cooking, makes it all the more ministering.     

    “Nothing will live up to Donna’s breakfast for the remainder of the week,” I said to Dean as we drove along the interstate highway headed for home. He agreed but cautiously. Donna’s fresh berries that topped stemmed glasses of vanilla yogurt, the mint leaves in her quiche, the thyme and shallots in her potatoes and chicken sausage, the apples chunks in her and cinnamon muffins were dainty, delicious touches I was resolved to incorporate in my own cooking.     

    When we returned to Pennsylvania I acted upon a spark of renewed enthusiasm. I systematically removed the clutter from our long table. I ironed my autumn colored tablecloth, spread it on the table and topped it with gourds, a jack-be-little pumpkin, a candle, and started cooking. Baked butternut squash with pumpkin pie spice filled the air. I called my daughter and her husband to an October Sunday dinner and said okay to my son for inviting a friend or two from church. When the young adults arrived I lit the candle. Lo and behold, out came the cell phones for photos of the table. I smiled at this gesture, unheard of when Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions was written in 1990. But of course that was another century.

Thank you Ken and Donna Arold for letting us photograph your gorgeous house. Our stay was delightful.  


  1. Great post. I too love Mrs. Sharps' books. Such wonderful writing in them.

  2. I, too, felt the importance of clearing the table of all of my work....tons of candles and bags, etc. this week. A bouquet of Autumn colors and a candlelit dinner of lasagna made for a special evening.

    It is so good to take time as you did and be refreshed. None of us do this frequently enough....I can just picture you enjoying that B&B in New Jersey. So pretty and perfect.


    Becky K.

  3. I am going to look for this book!

    I love to make special touches a part of our lives...I need to do more of this when preparing food and in it's presentation!

    Have a great day, friend!

  4. I treasure my copy of Mrs. Sharp. What a beautiful B&B. You do not see charming Victorian B&B anymore. Isn't amazing how a lovely environment inspires us in our own home. Clarice

  5. I love Mrs. Sharps Traditions. Have you ever read "Mrs. Dunwoody's Excellent Instructions for Housekeeping?" I think you would it if you enjoy Mrs. Sharps.

    A mutual friend told me about your blog and I have been checking it weekly.

    Will visit again soon,

    S. Beals

  6. Hi Karen,
    it was nice to meet you in the Manor House!
    We are now back home in the Netherlands, and after a good night sleep, are enjoying Sunday; the weather is a bit gray and rainy, the cats are happy that we are back, and I checked out your blog: I love it! Will be back here, that's for sure! Enjoy your Sunday!
    kind regards
    Anne-Marie van Walraven,
    Oegstgeest (NL)