A Gift ~ Tied with Heartstrings

Tea and cake for a celebration

Hi Friends!

It felt like a gift! Truly it did!

It was one of those gifts that we wait a very long time for, making it feel even sweeter.

I wasn’t alone, as I waited. Thousands of Girlfriends were also waiting!

Beloved author, Susan Branch, has been hard at work for over a year, pouring through the diaries she has kept since her 20s and all of her cherished, old photos. She was lovingly writing her memoir, watercoloring her illustrations, and choosing just the right photos to tell her story.  Her newest book, The Fairy Tale Girl, published in September, is what we have all been waiting for!

Susan Branch book collection

My treasured collection of Susan Branch books

After reading her books again and again through the years, Susan’s devoted readers already knew many parts of her story. Her charming blog posts let us peek into her wonderful life today on Martha’s Vineyard.

Susan Branch speaking at Westmoreland Country Club

Susan is such a wonderful storyteller!

Over the years, so many of us have been blessed to meet Susan. We smiled as she shared her delightful stories about traveling through the English Countryside at book signings across the country. We listened with rapt attention, at a tea party in her honor, as she told us about the time she met the Beatles.

Susan Branch signing books after tea party

What a joy to meet Susan for the second time, at a lovely tea party!

Last May, Susan’s legions of devoted Girlfriends had the opportunity to pre-order her new book. While Susan was still busy illustrating her memoir, adding the photos, choosing the perfect paper, and ribbon bookmark, we cheered her on. ‘Our’ book was almost ready… and we were eagerly waiting!

Just two weeks ago, our books began arriving in our mailboxes! I was sitting on the front porch with with a guest, when our mail carrier walked up holding a package. I *might* have squealed and hugged the package! 🙂

I knew that it was a true gift, tied with heartstrings!

DSCN5885The long-awaited moment had arrived!

DSCN5889The Fairy Tale Girl ~ by Susan Branch

Oh, the joys of reading Susan’s life story…

With great anticipation, I had carefully planned ahead for some long, lazy afternoons of reading. I wanted to savor her words, her illustrations,… her story! Afternoons on the front porch, with The Fairy Tale Girl and a cup of tea, were such a gift. There were knowing smiles as she shared her childhood stories of growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. Laughter filled my heart and tears flowed. The beautifully watercolored song lyrics had me singing along to the soundtrack of my life. (I’m just a wee bit younger than Susan.)  As I read, I often paused to think about my own life during the very same time, making so many connections.

Each chapter felt like a gift from Susan.

She is sharing her heart with all of us!

What a privilege it is to know the real story

of  the author who has inspired me in so many ways over the years.

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It is so enchanting to watch Susan grow into the amazing woman we all admire today!

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The diaries that Susan has kept since she was in her 20s fill her memoir with vivid details

and the pure emotions of each chapter in her life.

She is very open and honest about her adventures in life,

her happy childhood, hopes, dreams, heartbreak,

and starting over.

It’s easy to see why Susan cherishes both her lifelong girlfriends

and the Girlfriends (fans) that celebrate her today.

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I had planned to read the entire memoir very slowly, savoring each moment.

However, when Susan’s heart was broken,

I just had to keep reading nonstop, trying to pull her through those years.

As the chapters of her life unfold,

Susan reminds us all that life is sprinkled with both sad and joyful parts.

It is just another one of Susan’s gifts ~ tied with heartstrings!

♥♥♥

Susan writes,

“A part of ALL of us is written into the pages

of The Fairy Tale Girl.”

♥♥♥

So true…

You might enjoy reading The Fairy Tale Girl, too!

As you read Susan’s story,

you will certainly reflect on your own life

(or perhaps your mother’s life),

growing up at a time

when women’s roles were evolving.

♥♥♥

It’s the very best kind of book ~

the kind that leaves you wanting more!

Susan leaves us with a real “cliff-hanger” at the end of the book.

Now we are anxiously waiting for Book Two of her memoir,

Martha’s Vineyard ~ Isle of Dreams.

Book Two will be published in Spring of 2016.

I can’t wait to read about how Susan runs away from heartbreak in California,

buys a little home of her own on Martha’s Vineyard, in Massachusetts,

and makes all of her dreams come true!

It’s sure to be another lovely gift ~ tied with heartstrings!

♥♥♥

Whether you are a seasoned Susan Branch fan or brand new to her books,

you will love her engaging writing style and charming artwork.

Autographed copies are available now at SusanBranch.com

Visit your favorite independent bookstore soon.

Amazon will have the book later this month.

Happy Reading!

♡ Dawn

P.S.  Can’t wait to chat about this book! If you are a nearby Girlfriend, let’s get together over tea to talk about the book. 🙂  Please share your thoughts with a comment or via email.  I look forward to chatting…

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Celebrating Susan!

 

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Celebrating Susan… today and always! ♡

 

Hi Friends!

Inspiration is all around us. But every once in a while, if you are very fortunate, you will discover someone who inspires you in so many ways! If you are very, very fortunate… you may even meet that special someone who has influenced your life, and have the chance to share your gratitude. I’ve been saving this story until this week ~ for it is such a warm and joyful memory. Hope you will feel a spark of my excitement, too!

Today we are celebrating Susan Branch!

Susan Branch in her garden on Martha's Vineyard

Susan in her garden on Martha’s Vineyard    {Photo Credit ~ Joe Hall}

Susan Branch is the delightful author and illustrator of fourteen best-selling ‘Heart of the Home’ books. Each book is a hand-lettered, watercolored treasure to be enjoyed again and again! It was my good fortune to discover Susan in 1986, when her first book, Heart of the Home, was published. This special book was the perfect gift for my mom, who loves making home a warm, cozy, happy place! Over the years, my collection of Susan’s books has grown. Her books have been given, with love, as special gifts of the heart. Susan has hand-lettered and painted so much love into each of her books. Filled with whimsical charm, Susan’s books feel “like children’s books, written for grown-ups!”

Her creativity is stirred, blended, and mixed with Susan’s kindness, joy, and caring ways.  She is adored by her fans worldwide!! Susan has always had a strong desire to connect with her readers, through personal letters, lovely newsletters, and her delightfully engaging website. Through her charming blog, Susan has gathered a community of kindred spirits, who enjoy the small moments that make each day special! We are the ‘Girlfriends’ ~ kindred spirits, one and all!

What joy the Girlfriends felt when Susan and Joe decided to celebrate their 25th anniversary with a crossing on the Queen Mary 2, and two months spent meandering through the English Countryside! We shared the adventure right along with them on her blog. Susan’s letters, photos, watercolors, and videos thrilled us all. As they traveled, Susan kept a detailed diary and upon returning, spent many months hand-lettering and watercoloring her latest book,

                  A Fine Romance ~ Falling in Love with the English Countryside

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Heart-shaped gingerbread scones and a cup of tea greeted my copy of A Fine Romance… hot off the press. What a joy to read again and again!

A Fine Romance is a lighthearted, hand-painted treasure sharing her affection for Joe, their time in England, and the beauty of a homemade life. It’s part love story and part travel guide… and proof that dreams can come true!  I laughed, cried, and my heart danced as I followed Susan and Joe’s journey through the English countryside. Susan’s charming diary leads us through wildflower meadows, along grassy fields filled with lambs, and takes us into the historic homes and gardens of her favorite artists and writers. Together we travel footpaths that lead to lovely tea rooms, quaint antique shops, and cozy inns. An interactive index on Susan’s website provides so many helpful tips, resources, and ideas for enjoying an adventure through the English countryside ~ a real journey or a shared dream!

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 While hand-lettering and painting in her studio on Martha’s Vineyard,

Susan promised herself that when the book was finished, she would come…

meet the Girlfriends!

So, last summer, Susan and Joe packed up their ‘A Fine Romance’ van and set out on a cross-country booksigning tour. Two events were planned in Chicagoland and Girlfriends came from throughout the Midwest to greet her. You can only imagine my excitement and joy!! I would have the great fortune to meet the person who has inspired our cozy home, several of our family traditions, our holiday gatherings, my garden, and so much more! ♡ These magical events happened exactly one year ago this week…

 

 Visiting with Susan Branch… 

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Girlfriends crowded into Anderson’s Bookshop to meet Susan Branch.

Anderson’s Bookshop was completely filled with chatty Girlfriends ~ kindred spirits and special friends meeting for the very first time! Susan had designed special name tags for us to wear, so that we would recognize one another. (It felt like we already ‘knew’ one another from our conversations on her blog over the years). It truly felt like a reunion! Susan shared wonderful stories about their adventures in England. She answered all of our questions. We were enchanted, as she took time to talk with each one of us, before signing our books. We all enjoyed the chance to chat with Joe, too.  I will always remember being the first in line to visit with Susan… and the big hug she gave me! I was so thrilled and excited, that it took my breath away! Just thinking about it today makes my heart smile!

 

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Susan and Joe traveled across the country in their special ‘A Fine Romance’ van, bringing joy and happiness everywhere they stopped!

We just couldn’t let this magical, long-awaited evening end. So, our conversation continued outside later in the evening.

We ended our first visit by saying, “See you again at the Tea Party!”

 

Two days later, over one hundred Girlfriends gathered at the Westmoreland Country Club for an Afternoon Tea with Susan Branch. It was such fun to meet even more Girlfriends. Susan would be so thrilled to know that so many of the Girlfriends that met in person that afternoon have kept in touch, becoming true friends! We are ever so grateful to Susan, for bringing us all together! When Joe and Susan arrived for the Tea Party, Susan spotted me (with my camera, of course) and greeted me with a cheery “Hi, Dawn!” It was a perfect afternoon… a Tea Party with Susan!

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Joe and Susan arrived at the Westmoreland Country Club for a grand Tea Party.

 

 Susan shared many of her favorite stories about their adventures in the English Countryside.

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She charmed us with the story of how she met the Beatles!

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As she enchanted us all with her storytelling, I peeked over at Joe, listening closely, from across the room.

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Love filled the whole room that afternoon!

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{Photo Credit ~ Joe Hall}

Then it was time to wait in the looooong line to talk with Susan, as she signed our books. When you are waiting in line with kindred spirits, it is a true joy!

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(Photo Credit ~ Karen P.}

 Can’t you just feel the happiness? 

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It was just lovely to meet you, too, Susan!

You are such a blessing in our lives!

{Please come visit us again!}

Scatter sunshine!

♡Dawn

                                        P.S.  Susan is currently working hard on her next book… and we can’t wait!

Just My Cup of Tea…

Let's relax and enjoy a cup of tea together!

Let’s relax and enjoy a cup of tea together!

 

 

Hi Friends!

I cannot sit and chat with you,

The way I’d like to do,

So brew yourself a cup of tea,

I’ll think of you… you think of me.

{via ayuliyana.tumblr.com}

 

Enjoying a cup of tea is one of my very favorite things to do. It’s lovely to sip tea while enjoying a great book. It’s even lovelier to enjoy tea with a good friend!

Taking a few moments to walk out to the Herb Garden to pick herbal ‘tea’ leaves always makes me smile. The sunshine, gentle breezes, and birdsong fill my heart and this small moment feels like a little celebration!

True tea, in over 3,000 varieties, all comes from just one plant ~ Camellia sinensis. It only grows in regions where the climate, soil, and altitude are just right. So, I actually brew an infusion or tisane from our herbs. The word ‘tea’ brings such warm thoughts, so I always call our tisane  ‘tea,’ for the pure pleasure it brings!

Herbal teas are made with the leaves, flowers, roots, fruit, berries, or bark of certain plants.  The leaves of the mint and sage plants, in our Tea garden bed, make wonderful tea. It’s so easy to brew a cup of herbal tea made with Candy Mint, Chocolate Mint, Peppermint, Sweet Mint, Lemon Balm, Apple Mint, or Pineapple Sage. It’s nice to create your own custom blends, too!  Let’s walk down the path to the Herb Garden together…

Our unseasonably cool July afternoon is just perfect for a hot cup of Chocolate Mint tea.

Old basket handles make nice supports in the herb garden!

 Although there are different ways to make herbal tea, I have always used this very simple method:

♥ Pick several leaves from the plant.

♥ Wash the leaves gently.

♥ Bring fresh, cold water to a boil.

♥ Place leaves into a teacup and add boiling water.

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♥ Place the saucer on top of the cup  and let tea brew for five minutes or longer.

Flavor, rather than color, will determine when your herbal tea is ready.

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♥ Carefully remove the leaves.

♥ Enjoy your freshly brewed herbal tea!

Of course, you don’t need an Herb Garden at all…

Just a small mint or sage plant, in a pretty pot on your windowsill, would be perfect!

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Having tea with friends is always so delightful. On summer afternoons, friends often enjoy going into our Herb Garden to touch the leaves of each plant, smell each scent, choose their favorite variety, or experiment with their own unique blend. It always becomes an impromptu ‘tea party!’

Jen Roffe Print on Etsy {via Pinterest}

Jen Roffe Print on Etsy {via Pinterest}

 

This has been a week filled with serendipity ~ pleasant surprises!

Just this morning, a sweet friend reminded me that today is the birthday of a truly remarkable woman.

It’s Beatrix Potter’s birthday!

Beatrix was born on July 28, 1866, in London. For generations, her charming characters ~ Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle-duck, and their friends ~ have warmed the hearts of readers everywhere, as they live and play amongst the gardens and flowers. Beatrix loved gardening and plants. Her sweet watercolor illustrations bring each story to life! Over the years, I delighted in sharing Beatrix Potter’s classic tales with my young students.

Unknown{www.gutenburg.org }

“The secret to a well balanced life

is a cup of tea in one hand

and a good book in the other.”

{via Tumblr}
 
 
 

Currently, I’m reading the wonderful biography,  Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life by Marta McDowell. It’s fascinating to read quotations from Beatrix Potter’s letters, journals, and books to discover the path that led to her love of gardening. It’s such fun to learn about  the plants that grew in her garden at Hill Top Farm and influenced her stories. In addition to publishing more than 23 books, Beatrix is much admired for her work in land preservation in The Lake District, in England. The more I read about her life, the more I appreciate her gifts as a writer, an artist, and a visionary.

As I sip my tea and read, I find so much garden inspiration…

and travel inspiration, too!

I dream of exploring The Lake District, Hill Top Farm, and the countryside that inspired Beatrix.

Walking where Beatrix Potter walked…

In fact, today would be the perfect day to watch the wonderful movie, Miss Potter, again.

Beatrix Potter will always be ‘just my cup of tea!’

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My favorite author and illustrator, Susan Branch, shares her heartwarming diary of her visits to Hill Top Farm, while traveling through The Lake District,in her latest book, A Fine Romance.  Her hand-lettered, watercolored diary is such a treasure!  It is a wonderful book to read again and again…and dream!

                                                                               

  You will LOVE Susan’s blog posts: Beatrix Potter and Me.

I think she will be ‘just your cup of tea,’ too!

 Scatter sunshine!

♡ Dawn

 P.S.  Please share your memories of Beatrix Potter’s stories with us. Perhaps you grew up hearing these tales, shared them with your family, or shared them with your students. If you have been lucky enough to visit Hill Top Farm, we would love to hear your memories of that very special place!

 
 
 

The Heart of My Garden ~ Built with Love!

Our story begins in 1995, when The Summer Book, by Susan Branch was hot off the press. The moment I read it, a new dream began to grow!

Our story begins in 1995, when The Summer Book, by Susan Branch was hot off the press. The moment I read it, a new dream began to grow!

Hi Friends!

It all began with a very special book… and a big dream! Perhaps we should step back a few years to the beginning of the story…

As a young, single homeowner, nothing made me happier than restoring my little 1922 bungalow, adding my own creative touches every step of the way. My dad (my hero!) has always been there with the knowledge, expertise, tools, and his gifts of time to help make my dreams a reality. Together, we would work on big projects, as he patiently taught me how to plan, measure twice, use all kinds of tools, and choose the very best materials.

After my parents retired and moved to Arizona, my dad continued to help me build my dreams! Every Spring, Dad would ask the special question, “What project should we do this Summer?” Then Dad and I would begin to make our plan over the phone. That year, it was different. We wouldn’t be stripping woodwork together, building a pantry, or updating the electricity. I had a special plan… a dream for my garden!

The Summer Book by Susan Branch inspired

Reading The Summer Book* by Susan Branch was my inspiration! I dreamed of creating an Herb Garden, surrounded by a white picket fence, just like Susan’s Kitchen Garden.                                                              *This special book is now out-of-print, but still lovingly sought after by her devoted fans. Keep your eyes open… and you may be lucky enough to find this treasure somewhere!

 

I had just finished reading The Summer Book by Susan Branch. She shared the story of how she wished for a Kitchen Garden, surrounded by a white picket fence. Joe built it for her in their yard on Martha’s Vineyard. I wondered… Could Dad and I build a special Herb Garden in my yard that Summer?

With many phone conversations, our little plan took shape. I chose the location and dug out huge evergreen bushes that filled that corner of my yard. Sawing and digging ~ digging and sawing, day after day. I wanted to have the area cleared by the time that Dad arrived for his Summer visit! Dad shipped the tools we would need all the way from Arizona, so that they would be waiting here upon his arrival. I was so excited that this special dream was coming true!

I will always remember how hard we worked together to level the ground where the huge bushes had been growing. Chopping out the stray roots to make way for two raised beds was a big challenge!  As we worked, we laughed and talked, and dug and sawed. Dad is a wonderful storyteller, so the time passed quickly. We leveled the garden paths and added a white picket fence around the new Herb Garden. Although I expected the project to take a weekend, Dad and I worked together for two weeks to build my new Herb Garden. It was truly a ‘labor of love.’

Working hand-in-hand with Dad made my dream come true!

Working hand-in-hand with Dad made my dream come true!

 

We even had time to assemble a garden arbor before Mom arrived in town. She was so impressed to see the lovely additions to my yard!  Now there would be relaxing family times for the rest of their Summer visit. What wonderful memories and ‘souvenirs’ we have from the Summer of ’95.

Stepping through the garden arbor and garden gate always brings back lovely memories!

Stepping through the garden arbor and garden gate always brings back lovely memories!

 

Today is a perfect, sunny June afternoon to peek inside our Herb & Tea Garden. I’ve been busy adding new organic soil to the raised beds. One bed is filled with culinary herbs: Rosemary, Basil, Thyme, Cilantro, Garlic Chives, Oregano, Sage, Chives, Dill, and Marjoram.

Welcome to the 'Heart of 'our Garden!

Welcome to the ‘Heart of our Garden!’

 

Culinary herbs add a fresh touch to all of our summer meals.

Culinary herbs add a fresh touch to all of our Summer meals. It’s also fun to brush away the Winter snow and gather a few herbs!

 

Rosemary

Rosemary

Basil

Basil

Thyme

Thyme

Cilantro

Cilantro

Garlic Chives

Garlic Chives

Oregano

Oregano

Dill

Dill

 

The “Tea” bed is filled with mints and sages to brew fresh herbal tisanes,  perfect served hot or iced. You might enjoy Candy Cane Mint, Peppermint, Apple Mint, Sweet Mint, Chocolate Mint, Lemon Balm, or Pineapple Sage. It’s fun to create your own personal blends, too!

Our "Tea" Garden

It’s always fun to plan Tea Parties. Guests are welcome to wander down the path to our herbal “Tea” Garden to pick a few leaves for their own unique blends!

Candy Cane Mint

Candy Cane Mint

Apple Mint

Apple Mint

Chocolate Mint

Chocolate Mint

A vintage tea cup (a gift from a student long ago) graces the center of our "Tea" garden. Nestled just below are special rocks collected over the years ~ a cobblestone from Prague, a cobble stone from Bacharach, stones from Red Mountain, and stones from our "secret place' in the Sonoran Desert.

A vintage tea cup (a gift from a student long ago) graces the center of our “Tea” garden. Nestled just below are special rocks collected over the years ~ a cobblestone from Prague, a stone from Bacharach, stones from Red Mountain, and stones from our ‘secret place’ in the Sonoran Desert.

 

My sweet, talented friend, Kristin, created delightful garden markers from river rocks, collected in New Mexico and Arizona, especially for our Herb Garden.

'Garden Stones by Kristin' mark the culinary herbs.

‘Garden Stones by Kristin’ mark culinary herbs.

'Garden Stones by Kristin' highlight some of our herbal "Teas."

‘Garden Stones by Kristin’ highlight some of our mints and sages in the “Tea” Garden, too.

Large stepping stones lead the way through the garden arbor and across the yard to our Herb and Tea Garden. Old-fashioned perennials surround the inside and outside of the white picket fence. Gracing the outside of the picket fence are pink and white Peonies, Stella d’Oro Daylilies, Hostas, and Sedum.  (Many years, I  also plant Gladiolas along the picket fence, in honor of  Susan’s wonderful inspiration!)

The magic happens whenever you step through the garden gate and are greeted by the lovely herbal scents. Along the inside of the fence, we enjoy pops of color from Black-eyed Susans, Balloon Flowers, Pincushion Flowers, Daylilies, Cranesbill Geraniums, Daisies, Bee Balm,  Obedient Plant, and Chrysanthemums. A rustic birdhouse stands tall in the center of the Herb Garden and a folk art Garden Angel watches over this special place. Bees buzz in and butterflies flutter about all day long. Now I’m in search of the perfect bee skep to add to our Herb Garden. This quiet, little garden is one of my favorite places on earth!

My parents just returned to Arizona last week, after another lovely visit with us. We had so much fun reminiscing about the Summer when Dad and I built the Herb Garden together.

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Each Summer, the Herb and Tea Garden is the ‘heart of my garden.’  My hours spent weeding, planting, and gathering herbs are such sweet times!  I always think back to that Summer, so long ago, when Dad and I built this special garden together. Every time I step through the garden gate, it feels like a big hug from my dad! ♡ I will always cherish the hours spent in the heart of my garden ~ built with love!

Thanks, Dad!!

♡Dawn

 

P.S.  Which herbs are your favorites?