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Emilie Barnes & Susan Rios

Author of  Everything I Know I Learned Over Tea

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt  |  Interview

CBP:  Tell us about your book, Everything I Know I Learned Over Tea.

Emilie:  I think one of the nicest things that I learned from my mother was how to make the perfect pot of tea.   I grew up in a Jewish home, but I came to know Christ through my husband Bob when I was 16 years old.  Sometimes I would come home from school and my mom would have the tea kettle whistling and the pot of tea, ready to sit down.  Those were times that I think parents learn about their children, what’s going on in their life.  It doesn’t always happen when the teacup is full, but as you drink more and more it seems like you become more relaxed and you start talking about the things that are really meaningful.

So that was the beginning, and then my first tea book was, If Teacups Could Talk.  And that was a wonderful book because I was able to put great recipes in there from family and all, and tell stories.  So when that proceeded, and then we did the Twelve Teas of Christmas, and The Twelve Teas of Friendship. I’ve learned all these things, and now it’s fun to be able to put them in a book and share what can happen over tea, and what we learn when we sit down with a friend or our husband or our children or grandchildren.

So the book is not only beautiful to look at because of the artwork, but it’s beautiful to read as well, and to fill yourself with good, positive feelings; particularly in a woman’s heart.  I started doing tea and really got into it more when our granddaughter was born.  Of course, she was too tiny to have a cup of tea, but as soon as she was old enough we started having tea parties.  We would just sit down and pour the tea from the teapot, and when she was little she just loved it.  To sit at these little tables and chairs, then as she began to get older she was always saying, “Grammy, let’s have a tea party.  Let’s have a cup of tea.”

Things that we learn over tea, many times we learn about ourselves, and we learn about whomever we’re having that cup of tea with.  And if it’s your children, your family, you learn about their world.  It’s amazing how when you sit and you’re quiet and still, that those things begin to come out.  Not only from the person you’re having tea with but from you, yourself.  

I started doing tea parties with Christine, our granddaughter, and she would invite a little friend over.  So that got us into the kitchen and we started making cookies for the tea party, we started making scones for the tea party, and then they would go out and pick flowers to put in the little vase to sit on the table.  They learned to set the table for the tea party.

One of the most fun tea parties – I’ve done several – but one that I recollect was really special. We only have one granddaughter and we have four grandsons, so it was fun to do girly things with her.  When she was little and her girlfriend would come over, I’d let them go into the bathroom and make their faces up and put my clothes on and tie them up so they don’t trip on them, put a hat on them, and gloves; they were just sort of transformed into little women, so to speak.  When we’re little we always like to do things that Mommy does.  So they’d put lipstick on and earrings and hats.

Anyway, when this granddaughter got to be 16, I was thinking a year before her 16th birthday that I wanted to do a little tea party for her, but I wanted it to be something that was very memorable for not only her but for her friends that she invited.  So during the course of that year when we were doing seminars in different parts of the United States, one the things the host or hostess usually asked us was, “What would you like to do while you’re here?”  

And we’d say, “Well, we would really like to go to antique shops.”  So they would take us to their antique mall or whatever, and I had in my mind that I wanted to buy little demitasse tea cups.  And my limit was five dollars because I wanted one for every little girl that was going to be at Christine’s tea party.  

CBP:  For them to take home?

Emilie:  Yes.  So I started collecting these little teacups.  And then when the time came, I put all the teacups on a tray and the little girls were sitting at the table and I’d pass the tray around so they could pick whichever one they wanted.  Now they didn’t know at that point that it was theirs to take home.  They drank out of their little cups, we had our scones and jam and curd and whipped cream.  And then after we had that part of the tea party, I went in and washed all the teacups ad put them back on the tray, and then I told them a little story that is in my book, Fill My Cupboard.  And it’s a cute story about a grandma and grandpa who want to buy a special thing for their granddaughter, and the process of what the teacup goes through before it’s actually beautiful.  So we become transformed.  

So I kind of told them that little story and I said, “If you have a teacup that may be cracked, or maybe there’s a chip on it, don’t throw it away.  It’s still good.”  And I related that to our lives.  And I said, “I know you girls are still young yet, but there’s going to be times in your lives that maybe a boyfriend jilted you, or maybe you were upset with Mom or Dad because you couldn’t go somewhere, or whatever.  These little chips and things mean that we become pure in that we know more, we learn more, and we’re wiser.”

One little girl said, “Oh, I’m so excited!  I have a chip in my cup!”  They each got to take home that teacup.  

Now our granddaughter is going to be 21 next month.  And all these little girls that were at her tea party are 20 and 21 years old today.  So things like that are what are in the book.

CBP:  What do you say to women who say they’re just too busy to sit down and have a tea party, or to have a friend over for tea, or sit with their children and have tea?  What would you tell them?

Emilie:  Well, what I would first of all say is that we have a very small window of life for those children and it’s important. I can remember thinking that to mop my kitchen floor was a priority.  Today I would say, I’d rather sit on the floor and play with the children than mop the floor. Our children are now grown and they have children and it was such a blink of an eye it seems like that they’re here and then they’re gone.  And we can make all kinds of excuses that we don’t have time.  But people will often times spend time on the telephone or time watching television or maybe reading the newspaper that is going to be old news in a couple of days. Having a tea party doesn’t have to be elaborate.  It’s like my mama did for me – a cup of tea and a teapot.  

Our grandson one day said to me, “Grammy, how come you always have tea parties with Christine and we don’t get any of that?”

So I said, “Go pick a teacup.”  I have a teacup collection.  They’re bone china teacups, and they’re beautiful teacups and I’ve collected them; my mother passed them down to me, my aunt passed them down to me.  I would tell the grandchildren, “I do really want you to be careful because they’re very special teacups, but if an accident should happen, you’re far more important to me than the teacups.”  So they take even better care of it when you tell them that.  

They went and took a teacup and I went in the kitchen and I was fussing around making the teapot and pulled some cookies out of the freezer and popped them in the microwave for ten seconds, put them on a plate.  This was like an instant tea party; and so I began to pour from the teapot into their teacups, hot cocoa and they said, “Grammy, we didn’t know cocoa could come out of a teapot!”  

CBP:  So it doesn’t have to be tea, you’re saying; just whatever you want to have.

Emilie:  Exactly.  And in the summertime, maybe it’s iced tea.  You sit down and have a glass of iced tea together.  You can put juice, you can put anything.  When they’re little, their coordination isn’t real good yet; so you just do something that doesn’t have red dye in it, and you just sit down and maybe have hot water and lemon, or put honey in it.  

So it doesn’t have to be elaborate, but what I would say to that mom is to take time to gear into those children and do something for them.  Three minutes, five minutes, it doesn’t have to be a long period of time.  We can all find time to do that if we want to.  We’re the ones that set the thermostat in the home.  It’s very true.  And if we’re a very busy mom who’s working, maybe a single mom, trying to make a living for her children, and comes home totally exhausted, and you’re saying, “Oh yeah, I’m going to have a tea party with my children.”  It kind of sounds like, “I don’t think so!”

But if we could chisel out just a little time to do it.  It would make all of us happier and feel in a better mood.  And even if it’s a difficult time – the other day I had a friend call me and say, “I just really need to talk to you.”  And within seconds she was there and I had the tea kettle going, and we sat at the table over a cup of tea.

CBP:  It’s good you mention that too because it’s not just our children but it’s our neighbors.  And I know that when I bring out the teacups, they just feel more special.  It feels like you’re bringing out your fine china or something.  I think it’s just a sense of hospitality even though it’s just a casual get together or something.

Emilie:  And you know, they love picking their own teacups.  And sometimes I’ll say, “How did it happen that you picked that teacup?”  And I have a teacup that’s not my style at all.  It was a gift somebody gave me and so I tuck it way back in the corner and so one day – it was my editor, we were working on the book together – and she picked that teacup.  And I said, “Oh my goodness.  Why did you pick that teacup?”  She said, “Well, it just looked so lonely.”  And I thought, “I’m going to move that teacup now a little closer to the front.”

It’s different personalities, different colors.

CBP:  That’s a good question to ask.  “What do you like about that one?”

Emilie:  The story that Bob was telling about the boys being the waiters.  Our one grandson, he was really getting into it, he just loved it.  When they were all finished and they were picking up the plates and putting them on the tray, he just reached over and he kissed one of the little girls on the cheek.  It was so cute.  

CBP:  It makes me think of the British a lot.  Something bad happens; let’s make the tea.  It’s a very comforting, soothing sort of ritual; to pull out the tea.

Emilie:  Every year I do a Christmas tea.  In fact after last Christmas I set the date for this year because things can pile in and you just suddenly don’t have time to have that tea.  The first year we moved in our neighborhood, I was recovering from a bone marrow transplant so I was still on a lot of medication and I was weak and a little spacey. I wanted to have a tea party for the neighborhood and some of my other Christian friends, which I did.  And this really sweet little lady who lives a couple of doors down from us -- at the time she was 82 years old -- she came and she just loved it and the next day she knocked on the door and handed me a thank you note for the tea party and she said, “You know, that was my very first tea party.  I’m 82 years old – not only that, I’ve never been to anything so lovely.”  Now, it wasn’t the loveliness of the teacups or the table or whatever.  

We do a waffle bar.  Here are these ladies all dressed up and they’re just piling these with whipped cream and nuts and the whole thing.  And she said, “Not only was it my first tea party, but it was the loveliest thing I’ve ever been to.”  

That’s what went through my mind; it wasn’t the tea, it’s not all the elegance or whatever, it’s the spirit of the tea party, and what you said, a spirit within the group.  You have the fireplace going, you have candles lit, and then different women sharing.  Reading a story or a book – it’s really short, maybe five minutes, and then just closing in prayer.  And if they want to go home – some of them just linger on because it’s just so fun.

CBP:  One of my friends gave me a baby shower that was a tea.  And like you say, you just sit up a little straighter, you feel a little more feminine.  It’s just a whole different feeling; it was very memorable.  

Emilie:  You can also do a tea party in a basket.  It was our anniversary, I was in the hospital.  He brought me a tea party in a basket.  And he had a Battenberg little placemat, sparkling apple cider.