Victorian Tea

joani pours her victorian teaYou had a sneak peek here. Now, it’s time for tea! In honor of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, we hosted a Victorian tea with all the trimmings. It was an ambitious, fun, and fully immersive historical program. Definitely one of my top five most favorite programs of all time. The tea was hosted at, and catered by, Palmer House, Princeton University’s bed & breakfast.

palmer house

Photo courtesy of Palmer House

Palmer House was built circa 1823-24, and was bequeathed to the University in 1968. Much of the furniture in the house is from the University’s collection (check out this amazing clock I posted on Instagram). It was absolutely beautiful. A big shout out to Innkeeper Jodi Pianka for allowing us to take over the entire downstairs the day of the program. She even let us use Palmer House’s historic front entrance!

front entranceUpon arrival, the kids were greeted by our “maidservant” (otherwise known as Anna, a sophomore at Princeton). Anna stayed in character the entire time. Let me tell you, she does an extremely authentic curtsy and fantastically demure “Yes ma’am.”

The kids were shown to the library, where they awaited the arrival of the matriarch of the house (that was me). While they waited, Marissa and Joani, (who played my “daughters”) helped them settle in and personalize a tent card for the tea table. We used images of Victorian calling cards to create the tent cards (thank you, Google image search).

table cardsWhen everyone had arrived, I was officially announced by Anna. I sashayed into the room, greeted everyone, and proceeded to do a 15 minute PowerPoint presentation on the history of tea in England.

power point presentationThe historical content and connections for this program were quite extensive, and this post is already going to be rather long. So I’m going to describe the historical content in very broad brushstrokes. At the program, kids learned how tea was initially an expensive import available only to the upper class. It was also heavily taxed (sometimes over 100%). This resulted in a roaring trade in smuggled and adulterated tea. However, as tea became more affordable, it was enjoyed by all the citizens of England.

We talked about the advent of Victorian afternoon tea, the progression of the tea set from handle-less cups and bowl-like saucers to super fancy family heirlooms, and how “High Tea” was originally associated with the lower class. The presentation was full of historic photos, paintings, humor, and interesting facts.

Then it was time for tea. I escorted the kids through the gorgeous grand parlor…

grand parlorTo the dining room where our splendid tea table was laid out!

tea tableWaiting at each chair was a unique teacup and saucer. The kids got to take home these cups and saucers as mementos. They were so excited.

tea cup 3The take-home teacup was something I really, really wanted to do when I first conceptualized this program. So I sent a request through our library’s recycling program. The response was amazing. I couldn’t believe the incredible teacups my co-workers donated! Here’s one of my favorites. Look at the little feet!

teacup 2I also stopped by Nearly New, a local thrift store/consignment shop. They completely hooked me up with some delightful cups and saucers.

Once everyone was seated, and before we started serving the goodies, there was a little more history. I decided not to use PowerPoint for this portion of the presentation, opting instead for props and photos reprinted on 8.5 x 11 card stock. This is because while we were at the tea table, I wanted things to feel very natural and low tech.

One of the things I demonstrated was how tea was traditionally brewed (i.e. loose leaves steeped in a pot). I had some more modern tea infusers, as well as loose leaf green and black tea on display.

tea instructionI couldn’t resist demonstrating tea pods as well. Have you seen these things? They are dried herbal pods you drop into hot water, and they “bloom” as they steep in the hot water. I first spotted one in Sophia Coppola’s movie Marie Antoinette. As luck would have it, Infini-T, our local tea shop, had them!

tea pod demo

Finally, tea. We served Twinings English black tea (decaf of course) in teabags. To avoid  scalding hazards, kids brought their cups and saucers over to a silver tea urn.

tea urnI was stationed next to the urn, offering milk and sugar. I can’t resist sharing this little history fact…way back when, sugar came in big cones you had to break apart with a special tool called sugar nippers. This resulted in irregular lumps of sugar. Hence the question “one lump or two?”

When everyone had settled with their cups, The maid and my daughters circled the room, bearing trays filled with mini-cupcakes, mini-scones, mini-croissants, and cookies. Jam and butter were also available. Mmmmm.

cupcakes

joani servestea table 5

tea table 1anna servestea table 3tea table 6tea table 4tea table 7Having coached the kids on Victorian etiquette earlier in the program, I am happy to report that our young ladies and gentleman did very well indeed. Napkins were on laps, voices were not raised. We conversed very genially about their activities, interests, holiday doings, and travel adventures.

After tea, we retired to the grand parlor. I explained that after family teas or parties, Victorians like to play parlor games. And we tried a few period games!

To play “The Laughing Game,” stand in a circle facing each other. The first person says “Ha.” The next person says “Ha Ha.” The third person says “Ha Ha Ha” and so on. This must be done with a completely straight face. The first person who smiles or laughs must pay a forfeit. We never made it past the fourth person.

the laughing gameTo play “Hunt the Thimble,” have everyone leave the room except for one person. That person must hide a thimble somewhere in the room (however, it must be in plain view and not hidden behind anything). The players reenter the room and silently begin searching. If you spot the thimble, you immediately sit on the floor. The last person standing must pay a forfeit.

hunt the thimbleAnd now, for the crowning glory of the program. Joani, who is in Glee Club, agreed to research and perform some popular period music pieces. She sang two, including “How Doth the Little Crocodile.” The song is, of course, the poem from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland set to music. It’s from a rare 1872 Alice in Wonderland songbook from our special collections.

After that, the merry tea drinkers departed, carrying their cups and saucers home in white paper bags. We managed to snap some photos of our guests. On the invitation to the tea, kids were encouraged to dress up. Look at these two lovely ladies!

lovely ladiesWe asked these kids to sit and look “proper.”

looking proper in the parlorAnd check out the breeches on the young gentleman! I do believe those are modified baseball pants. That, my friends, is innovation.

photoBut this “dress up” took the Wonderland cake. Behold the queen of hearts!

queen of heartsSo how did the Victorian tea program go over? Amazingly well. Astonishingly well. We had a jolly good time I tell you! And while I loved the setting, the teacups, the costumes, and the cupcakes, the best part for me was how much history was packed in with the fun. Honestly, I don’t think any of them will ever look at a cup of tea in the same way again.

However, I think it was poor Anna who received the most authentic Victorian experience that day. We ran two sessions, a 10am and a 1pm. Anna was dashing around as the maid for hours. The poor girl was completely wiped out at the end! Thus, a portrait of a very tired maid.

anna is way tired


Thank you again to Palmer House for hosting the tea, McCarter Theater for the costume loans, and for everyone who donated teacups and saucers. You helped make the program truly amazing. Thank you!

How to Screen Your Dragon

popcorn vikingVikings and Dragon Riders! Don your horned helmets, grab your shields, and get ready for the ultimate How To Train Your Dragon theater experience, complete with real reptiles!

blue-tongued skinkAfter watching How to Train Your Dragon with my kids, I was delighted to learn that the movie was based on the book series by Cressida Cowell. When the Princeton Garden Theater (our local, non-profit movie theater) gamely agreed to a book-to-film outreach collaboration, How to Train Your Dragon was the first on my list.

Our program had three parts. Viking activities in the lobby, a live reptile show, and then the film itself. We’ll start with the lobby activities first. There were tables for making helmets and shields, a replica of a Viking game, and a local artist making custom sketches of the movie’s characters.

Viking helmets were a must, and we needed something quick and easy-to-assemble. Here’s the gang, sporting some seriously awesome headgear.

the gangYou’ll need:

  • A long strip of silver poster board (approximately 2.5″ x 24.5″)
  • A short strip of silver poster board (approximately 2.5″ x 14″)
  • White poster board for your Viking “horns”
  • Stapler
  • Metallic dot stickers (optional)

First, circle the long strip of silver poster board around your head (we purchased our poster board online from Blick Art Materials). Staple it. This is your hatband. Next, staple the short strip of poster board to the front and back of the hatband. Tab and staple a pair of white poster board horns to the sides of the hatband (here’s our horn template if you’d like it). Decorate the hatband with (optional) metallic dot stickers.

viking helmet stepsIt never hurts to thrown in a little history, so we included informational table signs at all the hands-on activity tables. Here’s the table sign for helmets. Next up…shields!

shields

You’ll need:

  • 1 silver poster board circle (approximately 5″ in diameter)
  • 1 circle of corrugated cardboard (approximately 14″ in diameter)
  • 2 strips of poster board (approximately 2.25″ x 11″)
  • 2 brass tacks
  • Metallic markers
  • Hole punch
  • Stapler

Since we needed a slew of shields, we used cake circles and – believe it or not – the silver foil circles that fit onto take-out containers. Both were purchased at a local restaurant supply outlet. But you can cut a shield from any corrugated cardboard box, and the silver circle from silver poster board.

Hot glue a 5″ silver circle onto the center of a 14″ brown cardboard circle. Push the prongs of 2 brass tacks through the cardboard shield (one on each side of the silver circle). Decorate the shield with metallic markers.

viking shield stepsNext, loop 2 strips of poster board loosely around your forearm. Stapled them closed. Punch a hole in each loop, then thread the prongs of a brass tack through each hole. The back of your shield will now look like this:

back of shieldDone! And here’s the shield table sign. By the way, did you know that metal knob in the center of a shield is called a “boss?” I did not know that.

girl with shieldNot far from the helmet and shield tables was the very talented Keenu Hale, a local artist who is the master of quick cartoon sketches. The kids kept him very busy drawing their favorite Dragon characters (they got to take the sketches home too)!

keenu hale

Here’s a set I posted on our Instagram. Keenu drew these in minutes. Wow.

hiccup and astridThe final activity table was a replica of a Viking game. It was WAY popular. Marissa found it in Hands On America Volume 1: Art Activities About Viking, Woodland Indians, and Early Colonists by Yvonne Y. Merrill (Kits Publishing, 2001). It’s a snap to put together.

viking game being played

You’ll need:

  • 1 white bandanna
  • Fabric or permanent markers
  • Air dry clay

Use markers to draw the game board below on a white bandanna (I bought ours at Michaels Craft Store). The runes are optional, of course. Our runes spell out the names of the different types of dragons. Can you spot “Night Fury?”

game boardThe game pieces are little birds (about 2″ long), made with air dry clay.

game piecesTo play the game, toss the clay birds onto the game board.

You get 1 point if a bird lands upright anywhere on the board
You get 2 points if a bird lands in a circle
You get 3 points if a bird lands upright in a circle

Here’s the game table sign, should you need it. We offered winners 2 prize choices. The first choice was a plastic gemstone. Each gemstone was worth 1 point. Win 6 points, and you got to select 6 gemstones! We provided 3″ x 4.5″ cotton drawstring bags to hold your riches (I bought my bags from Nashville Wraps).

bag of gemstonesThe other prize was a chance to win a cardboard Toothless standee (purchased on Amazon for $30). Kids automatically got a chance to win when they first entered the theater, but at the Viking game table, 1 point equaled 1 extra chance to win. So 3 points equaled 3 more chances to win. The kids really liked that!

12309783_1681519225431817_5305117223597780915_o

Image courtesy of the Princeton Garden Theater

In addition to the hands-on activities, there was a reptile exhibit and live show by Enzo from The Lizard Guys. Enzo brought a terrific array of critters, and shared an astounding amount of knowledge with the kids and their parents.

reptiles

Here’s Marissa bonding with a blue-tongued skink. Soon, she will be a mighty Dragon Rider of Berk!

marissa pets the skinkFinally, it was time for the film. Having only seen it on my laptop, I can say I was completely blown away watching it on the big screen. The flying! The fire! The CLOUDS!

how to screen your dragon

I’d like to express my extreme gratitude to the Princeton Garden Theater for collaborating with us on this program. They were up for anything, and didn’t bat an eye when I asked if we could take over the lobby with multiple craft projects and bring in live reptiles. In fact, their response was a very enthusiastic “YES!” Thanks so much guys!

viking enjoying popcorn

A Fuse #8 Interview

fuse 8 setToday, I’m over on A Fuse #8 Production, a School Library Journal blog helmed by the amazing Betsy Bird! That’s her in the red dress, perched on a vintage Barbie Dream House chair. Alas, I didn’t have time to craft a house band, but Betsy assures me that if I did, they would be Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra.

Follow this link to the interview

Betsy has appeared on this blog as well! In 2014, I interviewed her about what it’s like to write and publish your first picture book. And, if you’d like to see the monstrously fun project I designed for her book, Giant Dance Party, twirl over here.