Tea parties aren't just for little girls.

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You may spend your summers slinging grub for your brood out on the deck using a grill, a mountain of hamburgers (with cheese) and a fat roll of paper towels. While your home theater system is blaring someone's agonizing effort to hit the high notes of the national anthem, you're working the condiments like a madwoman in a dash to get everything on the table before the game starts -- or the announcer yells "start your engines" -- or someone in the kitchen or the family room shouts "Where's the food?" in that plaintive bellow you've come to love -- and hate -- in equal measure. It's tradition; it's family life; and it's usually just perfect.

Every once in a while, though, the fine china whispers to you from its zippered case, or a filigree of perfectly spaced stitches in a lace tablecloth makes you long for an afternoon on the Orient Express or in the lush, green depths of a formal garden. It may be girly and hopelessly romantic, but sometimes the idea of turning back the calendar to a more leisurely time seems almost irresistible. Tea is more than a collection of blended and dried plant parts. Tea is also a notion, a nostalgic ideal of what it is to live a refined and gracious existence.

If you've been eyeing your tea service with longing lately, harvest some fresh flowers, polish the silver and have a tea party. The real star of these occasions is your imagination. Tea is the party beverage, sure, but it's also a state of mind.

On the next page, let's look at some gracious, nostalgic and imaginative ways to host a tea party. We have some suggestions for tea parties for the younger set as well as ways to make a relaxing cup of tea a decadent pleasure you won't soon forget. We request the honor of your presence.