What a joy it is to find you here on my front porch! You must have seen the flag I put out announcing a Sandy's Tea Society party here today. Won't you stay and join us? Please settle yourself into one of these rocking chairs while I finish my last-minute preparations for this afternoon's tea, and I'll tell you all about Sandy's Tea Society before everyone else arrives. The Tea Society is a unique group of friends who have developed very special friendships by delighting one another with creative ideas and a warmth of kindness at their tea parties. These six ladies open their hearts and homes and share with each other-and with us-their original fashion styles, tea party themes, special recipes, and thoughtful acts of kindness. It is the tea society's dearest hope that their example of friendship will encourage other ladies to join together to take tea and to build true friendships.

This group of ladies honored me by naming their group Sandy's Tea Society, for I was the one who introduced them and suggested that they have tea together. You'll see right away that they are kindred hearts and possibly very much like you. The Sandy's Tea Society motto is "Joining Kindred Hearts with a Cup of Friendship," and a tea party is the perfect place to do that. I'll let the ladies introduce themselves to you when they arrive. They've been invited here today so I can surprise them with a new friendship idea that might inspire you as well!

Now, I'll just place this platter of cookies on my favorite embroidered cloth topping the tea table, and it looks like I'm just in time. Do you hear the welcome sound of cheerful chatting? Let's wave at the ladies as they hurry up the walk, and please join me in giving each of them a fond welcome as they come up the porch steps.

I'm so delighted to see my tea society friends looking about at the porch swing draped with a pretty wedding ring quilt, the flower garden quilt on the wicker settee, and the collection of rocking chairs. That's Gloria who is clapping her hands in delight. And all the ladies are smiling broadly. See them rush to try out the rocking chairs-yes, they realize we're having a front porch tea party!

The first time these ladies came to tea at my home, they didn't know each other at all. Today, they are such good friends that I've asked them to introduce each other to you.

Lillian speaks up quickly. "Ruby is an artist with a creative mind like quicksilver and a heart of gold. She is usually as short on time as she is long on ideas, but we always count on her colorful personality to sprinkle our time together with a little fun!"

Suzette does not hesitate to add, "Gloria is an outdoor girl. She loves a good game of croquet and long nature walks. She is also a bride-to-be, and I wouldn't be surprised if this dear young lady is planning a garden wedding at sunset."

"Lillian's gentle spirit is like a rose without thorns," Laura volunteers. "She adores the romance of roses and decorates everything with roses and rose patterns. Not only is she a very good seamstress, she's always ready to help someone else who can't sew a stitch."

Claudette shares, "Laura is quiet and elegant, as you can see, and a mother-to-be-as you can also see! We're all excited about helping her and her husband welcome their first child into the world. Books are so special to Laura that I wouldn't be surprised if she were already reading aloud to this precious, unborn baby."

Ruby presents tenderhearted Claudette. "She collects well-loved old things like vintage teacups and antique silver and lace. She doesn't look for perfection in antiques or friends, but instead looks for the character that the chips and cracks of life impart."

"Suzette's name is almost synonymous with 'cottage garden,'" Gloria says. "Her countenance is as refreshing as the daisies she grows, and her home is as rich and cheerful in color as the vintage printed hankies she collects."

Ruby has brought her new neighbor, Veronica, to our group. This lovely lady is very stylish, yet comfortably unassuming. Although her husband's business has caused their family to move frequently, her warmth and friendliness help her to fit in very quickly.

Suzette's mother, Claire, has recently moved in with Suzette and her family, and she has joined us for the first time today. She has a winsome personality and so many creative skills we would all like to learn. We wouldn't be surprised at all if she started a "Silver Tea Society" as soon as she meets some ladies her age here.

What a charming and gracious group of friends!

As I begin to pour the tea, Gloria remarks, "What a delightful idea to have a tea party on the porch! What made you think of it?"

"Actually, I frequently sit out here to enjoy my tea," I reply. "I think of it as a peaceful island between the chores inside and the errands outside."

"Oh, look! The cake is decorated with patchwork squares like a quilt!" points out Suzette, as I cut a square of cake for each lady.

"And the cookies are square, too, and iced like gingham, striped, or dotted fabric," adds Claudette.

"You usually surround yourself with so much lace and vintage china for an elegant tea that I am a little surprised that you decorated the porch for our party with quilts," notes Laura.

"I especially wanted this tea to have a warm and comfortable feeling since we have new friends here for the first time," I explain. "Besides, this group is like a beautiful quilt that is being pieced together. Every square is different, but harmonious. And like a soft, old quilt, good friends are both comfortable and useful."

"If this group were a quilt, it would definitely be a 'friendship quilt!'" declares Ruby.

"Actually, the quilt that is covering our tea table is a friendship quilt that Claire pulled out of her trunk for me."

"You mean people actually made friendship quilts?" asks Gloria. "Is that why there are names on the quilt?"

"Yes, indeed. It was traditional for each lady to embroider her name-and possibly the date-on a block," I answer. "The whole quilt together made a wonderful remembrance of friendship and happy hours spent together."

Claudette turns to Claire. "Would you please tell us about your friendship quilt?"

"Well," Claire replies, "I didn't have a part in making it. It was my mother's, and it was made by all the ladies who used to gather at our house regularly for quilting bees when I was a little girl."

"Was quilting the main thing you remember your mother and her friends doing together? Did they quilt instead of having tea parties like ours?" wonders Gloria.

"Oh, no. They met together for tea, too, and planned ways to help and befriend their neighbors, as well as each other," Claire remembers.

"I wish they had embroidered their acts of kindness on this quilt and left us a record of the things that they did to give us some ideas," Claudette says thoughtfully as she moves her fingers softly across an embroidered signature. "Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could continue their legacy of helping hands and hearts?"

"Why don't we do what they didn't do!" exclaims Ruby. We could see that her mind was racing.

"What do you mean?" puzzles Gloria.

"Why don't we begin using our tea parties as helping hands and helping hearts for our friends and neighbors," Ruby begins to explain, "andů"

"Yes!" Lillian had caught the vision. "And together we can make a friendship quilt with blocks that illustrate our acts of kindness for others!"

"Exactly!" agrees Ruby.

"And we can pass it down to the next generation to encourage them to show love to others," adds Laura.

Now everyone was excited!

"There is only one problem," cautions Gloria. "Some of us don't sew and don't know how to make a quilt block-much less a quilt!"

"Don't worry," Claire speaks up. "I have plenty of spare time to give instructions to anyone who needs help. Lillian and Ruby both sew. They can help as well. I think your idea is a splendid one!"

"I'll give it my best," promises Gloria. "I only hope that my crooked stitches won't spoil the project."

"They can't," Ruby assures her. "If you do it with your heart, it will be beautiful."

Suddenly Suzette remembers my promise to them. "Is this our surprise?"

"No, actually your surprise is under the cushion of your chair."

The air fills with tinkling and clinking sounds as the ladies stand up and look for a safe resting place for their teacups before they reach under the cushions in their rocking chairs. All of them retrieve identical packages.

Ruby unwraps her first and reveals a lovely, embroidered apron with a card that simply says, "Serving one another in love."

"Is this from you?" she asks me.

"It might be from a Secret Sipper," I say mysteriously.

Laura looks up from her pretty apron. "You mean a Secret Sister?"

"No, a Secret Sipper is a teatime friend who secretly looks for little ways to help and bless you between teatimes-when you least expect it!"

"Do we all have a Secret Sipper friend?" wonders Claudette as the ladies look from one to the other.

"You will after today. Tape to the bottom of your saucer is the name of your Secret Sipper, who is one of this group."

Ruby covers her saucer with her napkin and then peeks under it. She smiles, her eyes twinkling. Following Ruby's lead, each lady in turn finds a way to shield her saucer or turn away to see this special name.

"What fun this will be! We can truly do something kind for someone without expecting anything in return!" cheers Claudette.

"As you focus on your teas for others for your friendship quilt, the Secret Sippers will help you to not neglect your own friendships," I assure them.

"I would love to have the first tea!" Suzette turns to Veronica. "Please be our honored guest at a 'Welcome, New Neighbor' tea-just for you."

"I would be delighted!" says Veronica with a grateful smile.

I invite you to sit a little deeper in a cozy rocking chair with a warm cup of tea and join us for these special tea parties where Sandy's Tea Society uses teapots to pour out love as well as warm friendship.


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