An Austen-inspired Weekend in Seattle

Diana Birchall, Laurel Ann Nattress and Syrie James after the play "You are Passionate, Jane" in Seattle (2012

It’s almost been a week since my august guests, authors Diana Birchall and Syrie James, departed from Seattle to their homes in Los Angeles, but the memories of their visit are as sharp and engaging as the moment when they transpired. What a whirlwind of Austen-packed five days we had together. Much talking, eating and laughing ensued! I have never been in such company of clever, well-informed ladies who had such a great deal of conversation in my life! Jane Austen herself would have been highly amused. I, dear reader, was in a constant state of amazement and laughter.

Jane Austen Made Me Do It, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress (2011)How this Austen weekend came to be is a great story in itself that I will of course share with you! I had visited both Diana and Syrie in Los Angeles, not once but twice last year when I was promoting my anthology, Jane Austen Made Me Do It. Both ladies are contributors: Syrie’s “Jane Austen’s Nightmare” and Diana’s “Jane Austen’s Cat” are amazing pieces of Austen-inspired para-literature. After their gracious entertainment, I was selfishly determined to get them up to the Pacific Northwest and show them the wonders of my adopted State. (“What are men to rocks and mountains?”) Fate would present an opportunity through my Puget Sound Chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), who needed a guest speaker for their August meeting. Hmm? My mind started whirling. Didn’t Diana write a playlet about Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen meeting in heaven that she sent me last year? Yes. Would they be interested in performing “You are Passionate, Jane” for my group? Definitely! After playing agent and negotiating with the chapter on their behalf, the wheels were set in motion. It was that easy, sort of. I felt quite pleased with myself for about 10 seconds until I realized the challenge ahead of me. My cottage needed primping and the garden? Oh good gracious, the garden. It was sadly lacking in proper shrubberies to walk in. *gulp*

Authors Diana Birchall and Syrie James (2012)

You may well ask what one does to entertain such witty and well-traveled ladies in a fashion that they were accustomed to? I asked myself the very same question after I dreamt up this scheme. I knew the bar was high. Syrie has traveled to England, Italy, France and Greece in the past few years – and – lived in France and traveled throughout Europe as a young girl with her family. Diana had journeyed to England no less than thirty times, let alone trips to Italy and goodness knows where else. If Mr. Darcy thinks young ladies should improve their minds with extensive reading, then I would argue that extensive travel should be added to his list in the twenty-first century. These two ladies would definitely be among his list of “half a dozen, in the whole range of acquaintance, that are really accomplished.” Ack!

Woodston Cottage garden mixed border summer (2012)

After months of planning and planting a garden at Woodston Cottage, they arrived on Friday, August 10th, a day that will live in infamy (for me). To say that I was all anticipation is an understatement. Mrs. Bennet had loaned me a dose of her nerves and only she knew how I suffered! But from the moment we were reunited at the Alaska Airlines baggage claim carousel number 14, all my fears were assuaged. It was just the lovely Diana and Syrie, and not Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen, the two authors that they were portraying in Diana’s play on Sunday, that had arrived. Now, on to having fun.

Tea at the Queen Mary Tea Room with Shannon Winslow, Laurel Ann Nattress, Syrie James, Diana Birchall and Susan Mason-Milks (2012)

Our first stop was at the famous Queen Mary Tea Room in Seattle. I had planned an author get-together with fellow Seattle area Austenesque authors Shannon Winslow (The Darcys of Pemberley) and Susan Mason-Milks (Mr. Darcy’s Proposal). Five Austen authors and two hours later, we had chatted, ate scones, tea sandwiches and drunk tea until we would pop. Susan gives the blow by blow in more detail on her post at Austen Authors. Stealing among fellow tea drinkers not-with-standing, I lifted her lovely photo that our gracious waitress snapped of the group. To say the least, we had a great get-together. Now, off to my Barnes and Noble in Lynnwood to sign copies of the ladies books and meet the staff, then off to Woodston Cottage for the grand tour of my home and garden. Evening would bring a trip to Redmond for the welcome dinner at the Three Lions Pub with the JASNA – Puget Sound members: Charlene, Marion, Julie, Jeanne, and Ken, the token male who sported a bow tie emblazoned with the British flag! This was just the first day. Phew!

The mad, bad, and dangerous to know Lord Byron (2012)

Since my home (Woodston Cottage in Snohomish) is very snug, Diana was staying in Redmond with JASNA chapter member Julie A. and her cat Lord Byron. He is a British Shorthair and has the attitude befitting his namesake: mad, bad and dangerous to know! Diana is quite a cat lover and Julie the perfect hostess, so it was a great match from the start.

Shopping in Snohomish with Syrie, Laurel Ann, Diana and Julie (2012)

They arrived at Woodston (sadly without Byron) on Saturday morning for our excursion to the city of Snohomish for a day of antiquing and, yes, wait, wait, eating. For the benefit of anyone who has not visited this historic town on the Snohomish River, it is filled with oodles of antique shops. And when I say oodles, I am not exaggerating. One exits ones car and does not know which way to head. Every window reveals enticing delights. It took about five steps and one window before we were waylaid and already buying goodies at DMarie Vintage. The selection of clothing and accessories was amazing. Then, on to refuel at The Cabbage Patch for Dungeness crab Louie salad and more scones. Jane Austen may have written in Mansfield Park that “A large income is the best recipe for happiness”, but I think she forgot to add scones into the mix. After prying Diana away from shopping, we closed down the street and headed to my favorite local fruit stand Stocker Farms to buy fresh blackberries for a pie and local corn for our salmon dinner back at Woodston Cottage.

Syrie James at Woodston Cottage after a day of shopping in Snohomish (2012)

Once home, Syrie collapsed on my sofa!

The table setting for dinner in Woodston Cottage garden (2012)

We dined in the garden at twilight!

Blackberry pie for desert at Woodston Cottage (2012)

Here is the pie. Thanks for taking a photo before we consumed it Diana!

Herman at Woodston Cottage (2012)

Dinner of salad, salmon, fresh corn and sour dough bread was enjoyed by all but my kitty Herman who is not used to so much commotion in the cottage and lived behind the sofa for most of the weekend.

Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte banner

Sunday was all about the playlet, “You are Passionate, Jane”, and it was an amazing day. We all met on Mercer Island where the play would be performed at the Aljoya. Beforehand, I set up the display of the seven gift bags filled with Jane Austen-inspired books, DVD’s, CD’s and jewelry for the raffle. Here is a picture of the lovely Julie and her shocking pink raffle tickets. How apropos.

Julie A. with the raffle tickets for the JASNA Puget Sound raffle (2012)

You can read a full description of “You are Passionate, Jane” here, but in short, Jane Austen is the gatekeeper in heaven for literary souls. When author Charlotte Bronte arrives, they meet and Jane must decide based on their interview if Charlotte will pass into literary heaven. Considering the long standing debate about Bronte’s view of Austen’s writing style, you can only imagine our sharp tongued Jane asking some piercing questions of the passionate Charlotte Bronte. The performance was delightful. Syrie, author of The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, looked fittingly ethereal all in white as Jane Austen, and Diana, the author of Mrs. Darcy Dilemma, was all in black looking passionate and moody as Charlotte Bronte. “You are Passionate, Jane” was a clever imagining of what their conversation was like: Jane pert and perceptive in her evaluation of Charlotte’s life, and Charlotte, defensive and dramatic in her delivery. The chapter members and guests laughed and hissed and had a merry time. Happily, Janeites will be pleased to know that our Jane had a bit of an ego and won the throw down. No contest!

Authors Syrie James and Diana Birchall after play "You are Passionate, Jane" (2012)

Sunday evening found us exhausted, but ready to eat (again) a wonderful light (ha) Chinese meal and then head home to collapse. Whoever said that you are soon hungry after eating Chinese food got it wrong! After day three of eating, and eating, I was stuffed and ready for bed, but no, Syrie and I found our second wind and talked and watched Crazy, Stupid, Love until the wee hours! Too fun.

Monday, our last full day together, would have a Box Hill picnic theme. Both Diana and Syrie love nature and hiking, so I was determined to show them the local scenery. Literally in my backyard (2 miles) is the Bob Heirman Wildlife Preserve with an easy 3 mile hike to the Snohomish River. Even though it is a short drive from my cottage, and it had been highly recommended, I had never visited it before. So, we headed out in my carriage (sending the servants ahead of course) arriving in the hot midday sun, (an unusual event in the Pacific Northwest). It was in the mid 80’s so we applied sunscreen and bonnets and headed out through the pristine alder woods and meadow. Not far into our walk, we encountered a group of handsome young gentlemen bearing fishing poles and entreated them to take our picture which I entitle: a country walk sans sense and servants. Emma Woodhouse, Jane Austen intrepid heroine had the right idea about a country outing to Box Hill. Send the servants ahead with the picnic and pillows. Arrive in your barouche landau driven by coachman James and alight in a delicate frock with a parasol looking the picture of ladylike perfection. Our modern version is, as you can see, in the picture: four Janeites comfortably attired: no makeup, in a state of inelegance, but having a great time. We lost the trail only once. I got us back on track and we made it to a large rocky beach to view the beautiful Snohomish River, but alarmingly, no shady grass for our picnic! Drat! With nowhere comfortably to alight, we rested for a while in the shade of a tree and then headed back to a stretch of verdure by the parking lot that mercifully contained a cool breeze and soft grass. Then, home to Woodston for more talk and eating, of course.

Syrie, Laurel Ann and Diana at the Snohomish River (2012)

Tuesday brought a trip to the airport and sad adieus. How could it be over? So many months of planning – but what memories. Many thanks to the JASNA – Puget Sound Chapter for presenting the premiere of “You are Passionate, Jane”, to member Julie A. and Byron the cat for hosting Diana at their lovely condo, and to my dear friends Diana and Syrie. I am already planning your trip next year!

Cheers,

Laurel Ann

© 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

18 thoughts on “An Austen-inspired Weekend in Seattle

  1. Lovely – I was thrilled to be there for the play, which was wonderful! And it was so great to meet Syrie and Diana. And yes, your pie looks so delicious!

    Julie

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  2. The pie WAS delicious, Aurora and Julie, best blackberry pie I ever had, in fact, but you can quit drooling because it’s ALL GONE! Laurel Ann, it was just joyful to read your lovely account of our epochal, memorable visit. It’s interesting to read about the same events from a slightly different perspective, and I’m touched to read that you were so anxious about things going well. But there was no need for even a jot or a tittle of anxiety! Put us together in Woodston Cottage and we’re bound to have fun. But in truth, it was your efforts that made it so. I’m reminded by what Prince William recently said about royal life – that it looks like smooth sailing but there are lots of feet under the water paddling madly. So, deep thanks for paddling us into such a happy time!

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  3. My dearest Laurel Ann, this is a wonderful recap of our magnificent visit! Thank you for taking the time to so eloquently recap and post it. I will be forever grateful to you for your gracious hospitality and thoughtfulness. All the effort, thought, love, and care that went into every detail of this lovely five-day Austenesque Extravaganza was so appreciated by me–and by all of us who were fortunate enough to be part of it! I fell in love with Woodston Cottage with its beautiful English country décor, collection of amazing books, and magnificent blue and white Spode. Your garden is divine! I cannot thank you enough for your friendship and your thoughtfulness. It was a very special visit that I’ll cherish in my heart always.

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  4. Laurel Ann, your account of your five days in pure Janeite mode was just lovely!! I felt like I was there.Your cottage sounds so charming. You are truly a lucky person who has wonderful friends like Shannon Winslow and Syrie James.

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  5. I agree with what everyone else has said, so all I need to add is my own, “Thank you, Laurel Ann,” for sharing it!

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  6. Everything looked so lovely, Laurel Ann! And your kitty Herman looks almost identical to my mom’s kitty, Miu Miu, who passed away a year ago last month. He is adorable!

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  7. What an assemblage of talent! Your adventures bring back fond memories of my 11 years in Issaquah. That pie! Omigod that pie! My family and I have always considered the Pacific Northwest as the berry capitol of the world with the best raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries anywhere. We used to wade into acre-size wild blackberry patches, fighting off yellowjackets and picking the berries with heavy leather gloves and ice tongs.That handsome British shorthair looks just like my daughter’s feisty Russian Blue! I’m full of envy….what a grand time you all had!

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    • Jeffrey, that pie was every bit as good as it looked (which is saying something). I ate it for breakfast too, just out of the refrigerator. It felt like a distillation of all our heavenly Washington experiences. And I never met a cat I liked better than that funny little boy with his grey velvet catsuit and orange eyes. Such a different creature from my complex, languid trio of torties; he was just a simple, chipper little snooper, explorer and trotter, who enjoyed a tummy-rub between powerful muscled leaps (he could take an entire flight of stairs in a single bound). I couldn’t make friends with Laurel Ann’s Herman at all. Ethereally angelically beautiful, but so, so shy.

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  8. Diana and Syrie’s play was very good. I had a great day at the Pasadena library and they made the experience that much better. It was very nice meeting them as well!!

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