Several summers past I turned onto a road that was so hidden in the trees that I missed it the first time I passed. The road was lined with tall evergreens and consisted of a dirt and gravel lane that wound through the woods. It led to a quaint old house that was once the home to an Admiral. As the car stopped, the back door opened and out popped Clarice and her two lovely daughters. Warm hugs and friendly words were shared as everyone started talking at once. It was our first meeting, but you'd have thought we had been friends forever. The Wren-like warmth of this trio made me feel right at home. I was directed through a old-fashioned kitchen to the living room. A cozy coverlet-lined sofa provided a comfortable place to sit, but I couldn't sit for long because there were so many interesting things to see. Clarice's china closets were lined with unusual vintage pieces and bits of artwork. Mayra, a black, floppy-eared rabbit hopped across the floor. It's crate was open nearby with a bowl of bunny food beside it. Throughout the house, interesting vignettes created pretty places for the eyes to settle. A wooden doll house that was completely furnished and artfully decorated by Chloe for an upcoming holiday was set at a focal point. It fit into the decor in the most charming way. Aubrerne's passion for Tolkien and characters in that genre could be seen in her artwork and the books she surrounded herself with. In the center of the living room, a large, antique table was set. An assortment of wooden chairs surrounded the table that was draped with a colorful vintage cloth. Mismatched vintage china and real silverware was set at each place-setting. Dainty ladies hankies served as place mats. The effect was so unique and charming, you would have to be there to completely experience its appeal. Even with all the lovelies throughout the room, one's eyes were always set on coming back to rest on the beautiful table. While Clarice was putting the finishing touches on making the food for tea, her sweet daughters gave an enticing tour of their cottage home. The girls, Auberne' and Chloe, shared of the projects they had been stitching, crafting, and enjoying. A beautifully appointed library was lined with rows upon rows of old books. A comfy sofa with a plaid covered table beside it encouraged the reading of a good book and some time out. Here, Mr. Fox-Hughes was cheerfully ensconced, watching some television in this cozy man-den, keeping out of the way so that the ladies could enjoy a special afternoon. Upon completion of the tour, we sat down for tea. The menu was unique and the food delightful! Summer Hill tea spoke of rosemary and lavender as it was poured into china teacups from a crown-adorned Roseanna teapot. Individual pots of thick chocolate mousse, walnut-lavender scones, homemade espresso truffles, and lavender honey gave the palate an experience not soon forgotten. Chattering voices shared topics near and dear to our hearts, covering everything from crafting, home education, home remedies, recipes, and more. The time flew by swiftly. Those moments shared cemented a friendship that is cherished still and meaningful beyond measure. Kindred spirits are always connected, even when distance complicates togetherness.
It is with this scene in mind that I opened the colorful cover of the novel, Wren Bay. It is the very personal and cherished work of Clarice Fox-Hughes. As I read its pages, I came to realize more and more that the protagonist, Wren, truly was the substance of Clarice. Clarice's creative spirit was reflected so well in the story of Wren as she worked to create a warm and loving home for her beloved Devlin and herself. Wren's privileged upbringing and appreciation for fine things reflected the childhood of Clarice, a child raised with foreign travel and affluence. One couldn't help but feel that Clarice really knew her subject as her writing voice speaks of European elegance and Boston society. It was obvious that Clarice had researched her subject well as she wrote of herbal remedies, fine-crafted stitchery projects, delicious dishes made from gourmet recipes, and more. Clarice described Wren's experiences of learning to milk a cow with equal assurance and expertise, although after meeting Clarice I really doubt she has ever milked a cow herself. The characters in Wren Bay are well-developed and become intertwined not only in the life of Wren, but to the reader as well. Aunt Sophie could be any one's favorite spinster aunt, and Mimi obviously cooks with the talent of Julia Child. Mary becomes a reassuring figure to Wren, taking on a mother-like quality for her, as the reading audience is aware that Wren was orphaned a child. Heart-strings are pulled by the child, Lily, whom Wren takes under her wing, teaching her about life by the same whole-child techniques that Clarice used to home educate her own daughters. Holistic and creative, using nature and objects from daily life, these methods were illustrated by the experiences of Wren and Lily as the child learned effortlessly by natural teaching techniques. Wren's practical ease in creating a nurturing environment is reflected in Clarice's home. As I completed the last page of Wren Bay, reading the final sentence which consists of the words "Wren's blessing tonight. . ." I could not help but say three words of my own. Wren is Clarice.
Wren Bay, the story of making a home, exudes charm, creativity, and warmth. It is skillfully mixed with grace and elegance, with a true mix of practicality, economy, and the careful use of natural resources. Later, as I pondered this delightful book, I remembered the day that I sat at Clarice's table and she shared with me that she agonized over any aspect of her life that required writing. Her life-long experiences with dyslexia has caused her moments of concern and learning challenges. I recalled how she shared that writing a blog post was agonizing at times as she struggled to choose just the right words and to place them correctly in a paragraph with spelling that was true. These obstacles, the technical aspects of writing a book, were overcome by Clarice as she allowed her vivid imagination and creativity to shine forth. She has written a novel that is fully developed, with settings the reader can picture, and with characters the reader comes to know as friends. Wren Bay is a delightful book and a joy to read!
Great job, Clarice! Thank you for sharing a piece of your heart! I anticipate volume two of the delightful life of Wren Bay.
You may read Clarice's blog, Storybook Woods, here. To visit other posts on Gracious Hospitality, click here or click on the header.