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!


Laurel Ann

© 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Holiday Austen Potpourri

Holiday Jane Austen stuff  (2011)

I am so behind in blogging, so here are the whirlwind highlights of what I have been doing at Woodston Cottage and in California these past two weeks…

My Trip to California

I left my snug cottage in Snohomish and flew to Los Angeles for a quick Jane Austen-inspired long weekend. On Friday, author Syrie James and her husband Bill picked me up at LAX airport and whisked me off to a screening at the Writer’s Guild Theater in Beverly Hills for a viewing of Twilight: Breaking Dawn. (is Edward really the new Darcy?). Inquiring Janeites would like to know!

Mr. Darcy or Edward Cullen?Darcy vs. Cullen?

On Saturday we attended the Jane Austen Society of North America – Southwest Chapter’s Winter Symposium at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. Four of my authors from Jane Austen Made Me Do It were in attendance: Syrie James, Diana Birchall, Laurie Viera Rigler and Brenna Aubrey.

Laurel Ann Nattress and Syrie James signing Jane Austen Made Me Do It Dec (2011)

Signing Jane Austen Made Me Do It

We signed copies in between speakers and three of the ladies read excerpts from the anthology during lunch. The symposium was one of, if not the best run, events I have every attended. Beautiful historic building with amazing California plein air art, gourmet luncheon of prime rib and poached pears, and three fabulous speakers: Dr. Cheryl Kinney spoke on “A Dangerous Indulgence: Women’s Health in Jane Austen’s Time;” Arnie Perlstein spoke on “Concealed Pregnancies in Jane Austen’s Novels;” and Walter Nelson spoke on “Quackery, Snake Oil & Flim Flam Medicine.” Before lunch there was a wonderful toast to honor Jane Austen’s birthday cheered by all with mulled wine. What a fabulous event. Many thanks to JASNA – SW RC Nancy Gallagher and her team of organizers for graciously including me and Jane Austen Made Me Do It in your wonderful day in honor of Jane.

Yvonne Yao Jeweler Jeweler Yvonne Yao

Next we were off for a brief visit to a local craft show to meet Syrie’s daughter-in-law Yvonne Yao who is a talented handcrafted jewelry designer.  I was tempted — and succumbed. Who can resist beautiful bling?

Union Station, Los AngelesUnion Station interior

Then we were off to rejoin the event speakers and anthology authors from the JASNA event that day at dinner in the historical Los Angeles Union Station. Wow! Of course I had to tell the family story of how my father left Union Station in 1944 to go off to WWII. He almost missed his train because he was in the bathroom shooting craps! My dad always lived on the edge and fondly told that story.

A Day at The Huntington

Syrie and Bill James at the Huntington Library & GardensSyrie and Bill James

The Huntington Library and Gardens Rose GardenThe Rose Garden

Japanese Garden at the Huntington Gardens and LibraryThe Japanese Garden

Sunday saw us journeying to the happiest place in my Janeite world. The Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino. When I lived in California, I visited it frequently, but had not been there in over ten years. We were lucky to get in. The Pasadena area had been hard hit by a powerful and dangerous wind storm and the roads to the Huntington were littered with downed trees and debris. They had closed the grounds for two days to try to clean up.

Huntington Garden ancient live oak blow over after wind stormAncient California Live Oak blown over

There were still branches everywhere, paths blocked and huge live oak trees totally uprooted. That of course did not stop us. The weather was beautiful and clear (huzzah) and we walked the sumptuous gardens. I saw the new Chinese Gardens and many new building that they have added in the last few years.

Pagoda at the Chinese Garden at the Huntington Library and GardensThe Chinese Garden

The Tea Garden at the Huntington Library and GardensThe Tea Rooms

The highlight of the day was a high tea in the Tea Rooms followed by tour through the Art Gallery which includes the Thornton picture gallery and the rest of the palatial manor house. The art collection contains some of the most fabulous Georgian and Regency era portraits anywhere. I of course visited my two favorites:

Lady Emma Hamilton by George Romney

Lady Emma Hamilton, by George Romney

Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse by Josiah Reynolds

and Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse by Joshua Reynolds.

Both ladies were great beauties of their generation and infamous for entirely different reasons. Lady Hamilton was Admiral Nelson’s mistress, which scandalized Britain, and Sarah Siddons, the most famous dramatic actress of her day. Jane Austen wanted to see in London but missed the chance.

Art Gallery at the Huntington Library Dec 2011 Art Gallery

The Huntington is renown for it’s incredible library of books, including a Gutenberg bible, and first editions of all of Jane Austen’s novels. Scholars come to visit and study its numerous and unique selection, all locked up in the rare collection room. In the main house there is also a small library of twentieth-century editions that I always enjoyed skimming through in the past. All the classic are there, including a Chawton edition of Jane Austen’s Novels. Syrie’s eyes lit up when I mentioned that I always searched for them every time I visited the Huntington. It had become a ritual for her too. As we oohed and aahed over the leather bound volumes, a kind gentleman with a great camera took this shot for us and emailed it to me. The binding is much bluer in person, but it is great to have the image and know that Syrie and I, two ladies passionate about Jane Austen, had admire them so independently of one another until this day! Ironically, the set is next to an edition of The Brothers. Do any other Janeites see the humor in these two authors paired together? The first person to know the answer, and leave a comment, wins a signed copy of Jane Austen Made Me Do It! (shipment Internationally)

Chawton Edition of Jane Austen at the Huntington LibraryChawton Edition of the Novels of Jane Austen

Of course the day would not be complete without a trip to the gift shop, one of the best museum shops I have ever been to. I purchased some treasures: Jane Austen magnets which I featured in my recent Austen-inspired holiday gift selections, beautiful tree ornaments of pie slices, candy and gingerbread houses and a hat! Syrie and I enjoyed the special Jane Austen section which featured her novel The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen and Margaret Sullivan’s Jane Austen Handbook. Monday I traveled to San Clemente to visit my sister and mother and then Tuesday I flew home. My cat Herman was VERY happy to see me after being looked after by family. It’s so nice to be missed! ;-)

Syrie James and Laurel Ann Nattress at the Huntington Library Gift shopSyrie and Laurel Ann in the gift shop

Home at Woodston Cottage

Jane Austen attends the JASNA - PS Dec meetingJane attends the JASNA – Puget Sound birthday party!

Since I returned home, I have been trying to catch up on email and blogging — and the holidays. I attended my own Puget Sound Chapter of JASNA’s birthday celebration of Jane Austen birthday last Sunday.

Julie A., Mary Robinette Kowal, Laurel Ann Nattress and Marilyn LaBeck at JASNA - PS Dec 2011 birthday partyJulie A., Mary Robinette Kowal, Laurel Ann Nattress and

Marian LaBeck at the JASNA Puget Sound December Austen birthday soiree

Guest speaker, novelist and puppeteer Mary Robinette Kowal from Portland, discussed the challenges of writing a Jane Austen-inspired Regency era novel. Her highly acclaimed Shades of Milk and Honey was embraced by Jane Austen fans as very Austenesque in style and language. She discussed the evolution of language since Jane Austen day and its challenge to modern writers. Determined to get it right, Mary had used a database of words from Jane Austen’s novels and letters in an attempt to check certain words against her new novel, Glamour in Glass, that releases in April. I had a chance to chat with her after her talk and mentioned that she might find the Austen Thesaurus helpful. She was not aware of it – and if you are not either – you can put any word in and it will pull comparable words that Jane Austen used. It’s called Write Like Jane Austen – and they are not kidding.

Charlene Kern with Jane Newly elected Regional Coordinator Charlene Kern with a friend

The JASNA – PS celebration was very festive with toast to Jane by Debra Alderman, pictures with Jane, and a food spread that Jane would definitely have approved of. It was great to see my chapter friends Marian LaBeck, James Nagle & Julie A. A very enjoyable day was had celebrating our favorite author’s birthday.

Jane Austen Birthday Soiree 2011

The Jane Austen birthday celebration is building for Friday, December 16th, an all day long birthday bash by 32 bloggers. Don’t miss out of the blog hop with each of the participants writing a post in honor of Jane, and giveaways galore.

Austenprose's Jane Austen birthday giveaways 2011

Austenprose’ birthday swag

I will be joining the festivities with a discussion of the new Fourth Edition of Jane Austen’s Letters and a giveaway of Austen-inspired note cards by Jennifer Shaphren, designer of Jenny Did it!, a copy of Jane Austen Letters (third edition) and a signed copy of Jane Austen Made Me Do It. It should be a very busy day on Friday hopping around the blogosphere and leaving comments on all the blogs to qualify for the giveaways.

Laurel Ann's Infamous Golden Fruitcake the fruit cake

Lastly, yes, I am almost finished. The holiday decorating continues at Woodston Cottage. I am decking the halls with wreaths, garland, candles, poinsettia’s and fruit cake. I talked about my famous golden fruitcake last year. It’s not that sticky, gooey, candied fruitcake that people joke about being shipped around the world ten times. This is made with dried fruit soaked in bourbon. It is a knockout and tastes fabulous. May I brag about it some more? It takes two weeks to make, and no time at all to consume! Here are few slices showing how the fruit and nuts make it so showy! I am now qualified to be called the fruitcake lady.

Slices of Laurel Ann's Infamous Golden Fruitcake the proof is in the pudding

Also on my dinning table are two new arrivals: Downton Abbey season two screener from my friends at Masterpiece Classic PBS (happy dance), and an advance readers copy of Forbidden, by Syrie James and Ryan M. James. She co-wrote it with her son Ryan and it is one of the most highly anticipated teen novels of the season. My reviewer Christina can’t wait to get her mits on it.

Phew. I did it! So much news that just needed to get told. Please check back on Friday for Jane’s birthday bash. It shall be an incredible day for Janeites!


Laurel Ann

Woodston Cottage

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

JASNA Puget Sound Celebrates its 20th Anniversary

Puget Sound JASNA logoI was privileged to attend the festive 20th anniversary celebration of the Puget Sound chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) at the elegant, Georgian-style Mayflower Park Hotel in downtown Seattle this Sunday last. The beautiful paneled library of this landmark hotel was filled to capacity with many ladies and gentlemen in Regency-attire who enjoyed a warm welcome by Regional Coordinator Marian LaBeck, followed by a set from Jane Austen’s songbook by the talented Charlene Kern.  A champagne toast to our dear Jane by Kimberly Brangwin, one of the chapters founding members, was the highlight of the day for me. Kimberly kindly agreed to let me share her moving speach with my readers.

Puget Sound JASNA member Kimberly BrangwinTwenty years ago, in this hotel, fifteen people gathered to discuss an adored author, Jane Austen.

Over the ensuing years, we have analyzed and argued over all of Austen’s writing.

We have learned about

Fashion and foodstuffs

Regency and religion

Navy and nobility

Love and loss

Estates and entails

Family and friends.

After all this time together, we have made a family from friends.

And so a toast—To us and the muse we adore—Jane Austen.

I had arrived in Seattle unfashionably late after encountering a traffic accident on the 520 bridge and had the great fortune to be seated next to chapter newsletter editor Julie A. who graciously introduced me to many members during the course of the day. She enthusiastically showed off her gorgeous new Kate Spade Pride and Prejudice clutch handbag that I had only heard tell of on Facebook. You can see by the photos that it is a stunner and perfectly finished off Julie’s fashionable summer frock.

Julie A. and her Kate Spade Pride and Prejudice clutch bag

The Mayflower Park presented an elegant three-course meal of chicken saltimbocca, garlic mashed potatoes, prosciutto, goat & asiago cheeses in a roasted garlic-tomato-basil sauce, or vegetable Wellington, with Portobello mushrooms, zucchini and sun dried tomato pesto for our enjoyment. While savoring my dinner, I had remembered that some of the cast members from the popular television series Downton Abbey had stayed at the hotel while they were in in town for a PBS donor event that I attended the following week. Dan Stevens had Tweeted about his visit to Oliver’s, the hotel watering hole, where bartender Steve had create a martini in honor of the show. Inspired to discover the drink, Julie and I ventured into the bar and asked the bartender on duty for a Downton Abbey. The look of surprise on his face was classic, but he soon found the recipe stashed in the cash draw and proceeded to mix the cocktails while we watched in anticipation. For those interested in designer martinis, it is made from Hendrick’s gin, St. Germain (elderflower liqueur), lime juice and a splash of champagne.  Wow! It did not disappoint and may be my new signature drink. Back at our table, it was certainly the conversation piece and Marian LaBeck soon followed our example and trekked off to the bar to order her own glass of the potent concoction.

Bartender at Oliver's in the Mayflower Park Hotel preparing our Downton Abbey martinis

Bartender at Oliver's at the Mayflower Park Hotel preparing Downton Abbey martini's 2

Laurel Ann Nattress & Julie A. sporting Downton Abbey martinis from Oliver's at the Mayflower Park Hotel

Lest you think that the afternoon was spent entirely in wine and song, there was also the premier of an original playlet written by member Judith Fiedler, featuring Mary Laney, Loveday Conquest, Kimberly Brangwin and Nichelle Hilton portraying Elinor Ferrars, Mrs. Ferrars, Fanny Dashwood and Lucy Ferrars respectively in honor of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Sense and Sensibility. Bravo to the cast for an amusing reading, and to Judith for giving Lucy Ferrars the hilarious last line.

Puget Sound JASNA group in Regency finery

Even though I had met some of the Puget Sound members previously and corresponded with James Nagle (who was sadly out of town), I had not attended one of the local chapter meetings previously. It is a trek to drive from Snohomish to Seattle for events, but what is fifty miles of good road when Janeites are gathering?

Many thanks to the chapter members for their gracious and warm welcome.  I look forward to many future soirees and am anxious to share my Austentini recipe at the next get together.


Laurel Ann

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

images © 2003–2011 James Petts & Julie A.