Stuff and Nonsense



Tea at the Phelps-Hatheway House

I recently had the pleasure of attending a tea in honor of Jane Austen’s birth anniversary at the Phelps-Hatheway House in Suffield. The afternoon began with a tea tasting led by a representative from Rishi Tea. We tasted Quince Eucalyptus and Cinnamon Plum, both organic caffeine-free botanical blends. The Quince Eucalyptus (a blend of quince, eucalyptus, ginger, black pepper, yuzu) was both bright and citrusy, but there was an underlying astringency I did not find pleasing. Much better was the Cinnamon Plum, a blend of plum, currants, hibiscus, and Saigon cinnamon. Already a fan of hibiscus tea, I was really taken with the perfect balance of flavors. Cinnamon Plum is definitely moreish lets-brew-a-whole-pot-just-for-me tea.

After the tea sampling, we retired to the "tea room" where we were served what were described as refreshments popular in the early 19th century and conversed at length among ourselves about Jane Austen and her delightful novels. We ate a variety of scones and quiches, plus cucumber sandwiches and a delicious (if anachronistic) Victoria Sponge.

The afternoon concluded with a tour of the first floor of the Phelps-Hatheway House and a brief vocal performance by one of our guides. All in all, it was an extremely pleasant way to pass a December afternoon.

The Phelps-Hatheway House & Garden highlights the luxurious lifestyle enjoyed by two wealthy 18th-century Connecticut Valley families until their fortunes collapsed. Suffield native Shem Burbank built the center chimney structure in 1761 where he and his wife Anna Fitch Burbank raised nine children. A merchant of British goods, Burbank’s business suffered during the American Revolution. In 1788, he sold the house to Oliver Phelps originally of Windsor, who served as Deputy Commissary under George Washington and later a successful land speculator. In 1794, Phelps commissioned the addition of a substantial wing decorated with imported Parisian wallpaper. A depressed real estate market forced Phelps to foreclose on the property in 1802 and move to Canandaigua, NY where he died in 1809.


(Hopefully Not) Bringing Down the House

I don't know what you do when you buy your house of dreams, but we immediately began ripping it apart. Oh, I apologized to Little Branch Ranch every time I unscrewed a light fixture or came upon my dad bashing holes in walls. I have promised the house it will be worth it in the end and, fingers crossed, I expect to keep that promise.

Whenever my beloved visits the scene of destruction he grouses that the house looks worse than it did when we bought it, when it was just "old." He is correct. Little Brick Ranch is 100% rocking the money pit look. But it's only a look. Little Brick Ranch possesses a very solid, maintained structure with a new furnace as well as newish roof and windows. Many of the changes and improvements we make will be cosmetic rather than structural. There are necessary system updates lined up -- the electrics, for example, are Very Nope -- but those are easy, if not inexpensive.

The kitchen, though, the kitchen needs everything.

Why, yes, that is a circa 1959 KitchenAid dishwasher! 

Goodbye, light-blocking wall that served no purpose except to hide the laundry area and back door. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye. (I was, admittedly, a little shocked to walk in the other day and discover a missing kitchen wall. I swear, get my dad going and there are no brakes on the man).

Gonna spend the next three months tripping over the radiator.

The drafty cockeyed backdoor will be replaced with a super-insulated full lite door and all the remaining woodwork will be painted white to brighten things up. The radiator will Go Somewhere Else. In the meantime it is, as my beloved says, a big mess. A big, beautiful mess. And it's ours.

In case it isn't obvious enough we're not doing this all on our own, we have largely outsourced the basic fixes to a retired professional, my dad. Dad genuinely wants to help and, as a retired general contractor cum building and zoning officer, I like to think he knows his stuff. While Dad might be a wee touch too enthusiastic about knocking down walls and smashing cracked pink sinks, I know what comes after the destruction will be everything it should be.