Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Twelve Days of TeaPunk

I hope those who celebrated the holiday had a lovely Christmas. That was just the first day, however. There are twelve days of Christmas so let's keep the celebrations going. At my December TeaPunk Soirèe, the participants all wrote a song: I present the Twelve Days of TeaPunk!

On the first day of TeaPunk my true love gave to me a steaming pot of tea.
On the second day of TeaPunk my true love gave to me two sugar plums and a steaming pot of tea.
Three cups of mint...
Four spoons of honey...
Five tea cozies...
Six grandmas chatting...
Seven teas of comfort...
Eight boys  eating biscuits...
Nine tea-balls steeping...
Ten teabags brewing...
Eleven lemons squirting...
Twelve Mad Hatters slurping...

and a steaming pot of tea!

And Happy New Year!

Rise untethered.
Move with intention.
Be grand.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Chocolate Rooibos Tea

"Not only in the usages of polite society, but also in the arrangement of all our domestic details, do we feel the presence of the tea-masters." Okakura Kakuzo

This final chapter of The Book of Tea is about the revered tea masters and their lasting influence on Japanese culture and design. Well, Kakuzo, it's been a long sip of tea with you and your writing. I like this last chapter as it gets to the heart of tea.

What I have learned is to strive for beauty in the simplest acts because they echo into the bigger song of our lives. Perfection is not when everything is orderly with no mistakes, rather, when it is just-so.

"Perfection is everywhere if we only choose to recognize it."

In ourselves when we reflect on the wonder of our existence. In others when we truly listen. In the world around us when we take a moment to stop and feel. How do we do this? By making a cup of tea. It is an old and world-wide ritual to place pauses into our day. Like music, the rests are just as important to the whole piece as the active notes. 

Thank you, Kakuzo for your wisdom. *deep bow*

"Those of us who know not the secret of properly regulating our own existence on this tumultuous sea of foolish troubles which we call life are constantly in a state of misery while vainly trying to appear happy and contented. We stagger in the attempt to keep our moral equilibrium, and see forerunners of the tempest in every cloud that floats on the horizon. Yet there is joy and beauty in the roll of the billows as they sweep outward toward eternity. Why not enter into their spirit...?"

Rise untethered.
Move with intention.
Be grand. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Dark Rose Bubble Tea

"Nothing is real to us but hunger, nothing sacred except our own desires. Shrine after shrine has crumbled before our eyes; but one altar forever is preserved, that whereon we burn incense to the supreme idol,- ourselves." Okakura Kakuzo The Book of Tea

Flowers. I was once part of a CSA (community supported agriculture) and would pick up a box of vegetables from a local farmer each week during growing season. The farmer also had a side garden of flowers, and members were welcome to pick a bouquet each week. It was delightful. Throughout the season, we had a vase of bright flowers on our table alongside our locally grow, beautiful produce. 

In this chapter of The Book of Tea, Kakuzo, dude, you really are messing with my lovely memory! You go pages about the horrific violence towards chopping down flowers and sticking them indoors. The anthropomorphic flowers are simply tortured by humans' greedy, grubby hands ripping them from their sweet home and into an artificial location for our perverse enjoyment. 

"Why were the flowers born so beautiful and yet so hapless?" The poor defenseless creatures? I think you've gotten a bit too dramatic here. And you agree, "However, let us not be too sentimental." Good, let's get back to tea:

"When the tea-master has arranged a flower to his satisfaction he will place it on the tokonoma, the place of honour in a Japaneese room...It rests there like an enthroned prince...When the flower fades, the master tenderly consigns it to the river or carefully buries it in the ground." Oh, the attention to detail in the Japanese tea ceremony! It can sound intimidating, perfect, or ludicrous. 

"The tea-master deems his duty ended with the selection of the flowers, and leaves them to tell their own story." That gets to the best way, Kakuzo, doesn't it? Knowing when to let something or someone tell their own story. When to back off. When to allow events to take their course and appreciate the outcome without trying to control it. Attention to detail yes, but basking in the imperfection of it all. 

We are not perfect. Yet we are beautiful. And we have stories to tell. Give a place of honor to those around us, make them a cup of tea, sit, and let go of time and expectations and control and desires. Listen to each others' stories. Sip and savor the bright flowers of an open heart.

Rise untethered.

Move with intention.
Be grand.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Cinnamon Pieces, Anise Hyssop, Raspberry Leaf with Honey

"A master has always something to offer, while we go hungry solely because of our own lack of appreciation." Okakura Kakuzo The Book of Tea 

 Oh, Kakuzo, how do you define a master? In this chapter of The Book of Tea, you present the importance of the art within a tea house and how it enhances the experience of the ceremony, the conversation, and of course, the tea. 

Art certainly is a good springboard for a connection between people in the same space. But you focus on the connection between the viewer and the creator of the art. That surprised me. How can anyone possibly connect with the artist? What if the artists isn't fully aware, or even cares, why they created what they did? Is our connection with a piece of art anything but a reflection of ourselves? Our filter in how we see the world? If a particular painting speaks to me, touches my heart, am I connecting with the artist or simply using my gift of eyesight and imagination to enhance my own life? I studied classical music and know the masters had many reasons for creating their art, usually for employment. And yet, they had to bring their expertise, genius, and heart into the pieces as well. Or at least the pieces that have stood the test of time. If only the perfect cup of tea could be put on display to be enjoyed by many over the centuries. 

 I suppose in the world of tea, there are masters and they are such because they are fully present when making their creation. But it is so fleeting! If you miss the perfect moment to brew, the cup is ruined. If you are distracted while drinking, you can never get that moment back with that particular leaf. But the art on the wall stays. And hopefully quenches our thirst in another way. 

 "Art is of value only to the extent that it speaks to us." 
But, of course. 

  Rise untethered. 
Move with intention. 
Be grand.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Simple Chamomile

"The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings." Okakura Kakuzo

As I continue to read The Book of Tea, I find I have to be in the right state of mind to get anything out of it. In the latest chapter, I found myself skimming all this zen stuff, thinking, "Blah, blah, blah Kakuzo, we're all one, yup, yup, but what about tea? How do I make it taste good?"

I suppose I'm just not contemplative this week. Probably due to being sick. Or busy. Or stressed. The practical and mundane are all I can focus on. And that's ok. Tea doesn't have to be an EXPERIENCE all the time. It can just be a cup to soothe an achey body.

My daughter started a tea club at her college and is a little taken aback by the tremendous response. Apparently there are A LOT of tea fans out there that were just waiting for someone to organize. I gave her some of my current favorite as a present for their first meeting.

Dark Rose from The Snooty Fox

I hope tea can be a help to all those kids on campus. They must be looking for something if they are getting excited about a cup of hot water with some leaves in it. Will tea help them adjust to being adults? I hope so. Life keeps chucking things at me and I'm trying my best to readjust. But I'm tired. Maybe adjusting means taking a break with a hot mug of tea. Finding comfort can be an art. That's about as zen as I'm getting this week.

Rise untethered.
Move with intention.
Be grand.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Oprah Pumpkin Chai Brulè with Cocoa, Honey and Cream

"To the latter day Chinese, tea is a delicious beverage, but not an ideal...It is in the Japanese tea ceremony that we see the culmination of tea-ideals."

Obviously, Okakura Kakuzo, you are proud of your Japanese culture in The Book of Tea. In this second chapter, you go into a brief history of the leaf during the various dynasties of China. You favor the tea culture of the Sung:

"The enthusiasm of the Sung people for tea knew no bounds. Epicures vied with each other in discovering new varieties, and regular tournaments were held to decide their superiority...tea began to be not a poetical pastime, but one of the methods of self-realisation."

Tea tournaments bringing about self-realization? Really, Kakuzo? I'm not seeing how competition fosters positive reflection on your inner being. In my experience, competition can bring out the worst in people. Though seeing your bad side can be illuminating at times...

You mention the emperors of dynasties a lot, and I can't help but wonder about the luxuries of the upper courts in ancient China and how the pastimes of the wealthy and powerful few were only available on the backbreaking work of the peasants who surely did not spend hours in elaborate tea contests. Then you go on to describe the "barbarian" invasion of the Mongols and the Manchus and the subsequent loss of tea as something more than just a drink in China, with only Japan continuing the Sung tradition. But tea is just a drink, Kakuzo. And this is coming from someone who loves tea. 

"Tea with us became more than an idealisation of the form of drinking; it is a religion of the art of life. The beverage grew to be an excuse for the worship of purity and refinement, a sacred function at which the host and guest joined to produce for that occasion the utmost beatitude of the mundane."

Ah, I see how the specialness is in the sharing of the tea. When are we the host? When are we the guest? In our lives, when do we give? When do we receive? Many religious traditions emphasize that it is in the giving that we receive. In my role of teacher, this is always true. I learn so much from my students. Perhaps that is what you mean, Kakuzo. Every interaction, even something as simple as making tea, can be elevated to beauty of two people dancing in serving and being served, all at once.

"For life is an expression, our unconscious actions the constant betrayal of our innermost thought."

Rise untethered.
Move with intention.
Be grand. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Apple Cider-Infused Raspberry Iced Tea

(That delicious brew was from Main Course in New Paltz, NY.)

Last year when I began this blog, I wrote about life and how it relates to tea (most of the time.) This year I'll be flipping things around and exploring how tea relates to life (I think there is a difference. Maybe.) I call upon the expert Okakura Kakuzo, the author of The Book Of Tea published in 1906. I have had this book on my shelf for a few years, purchasing it at The Boston Museum Of Fine Arts after enjoying their Asian exhibit (much of it collected by Okakura while he was curator at the beginning of the last century.) 

Join me as I journey through the words of a man who tried to show how Eastern and Western lives needed to understand each other to survive in an increasingly interconnected world. He used a simple beverage to convey this: tea.

"Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence."

Sordid facts? Kinda harsh there, Kakuzo. Though I'm reminded of what my father told me very intensely during an especially hard year for him, "Sometimes the only way to get through the day is knowing you first take vitamins, then brush your teeth, and finally wash your face." I was a teenager and couldn't relate, but I tucked away the advice for future use. I guess Kakuzo's quote is a similar meaning: focus on the simple to cope with crap.

"[Teaism is] a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life." 

Yes, even on bad days I can force myself to get ready for bed, or make myself a cup of tea. Tea is possible, doable, accomplishable. I boiled water, yes! Added some leaves, points to me! Sipping it, win! And to be honest, there are days when my cup is the highlight.

"...when we consider how small after all the cup of human enjoyment is, how soon overflowed with tears, how easily drained to the dregs in our quenchless thirst for infinity, we shall not blame ourselves for making so much of the tea-cup."

Ah, I don't blame you, Kakuzo. We all want so much. I have a "quenchless thirst for infinity" too. I dream, plan, try, fail, and somehow have new dreams. Sometimes after a failure, I swear I will stop trying. But then the ideas come, the excitement, the passion, and I start again. Maybe with an eye squinted this time around, perhaps with a dollop of cynicism, but hopefully enjoying the process more than the outcome. If making tea into a cult is what gets you through it all- that's pretty good.

I wish I could sit with you Kakuzo. Ask you why life is impossible. If life were possible, obvious, easy, would it be worth anything in the end? I dunno. Life is really tough. Appreciating tea is not. And I make a decent cup.

"Meanwhile, let us have a sip of tea. The afternoon glow is brightening the bamboos, the fountains are bubbling with delight, the soughing of the pines is heard in our kettle. Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things."

Rise untethered.
Move with intention.
Be grand.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Betony Rose in Honey Jar

You have a guest... If they ask you for a cup of tea, there is a desire in mind. Inquire, and oblige with your supplies on hand. Never apologize for not having exactly what they want. Simply offer an alternative; it is the best you can do. They will accept or decline; that is their choice. If they answer, "anything," decide what you will have and share. Often they will be happy to share a sip and company with you- as that was truly their only desire. 

 If you want to offer a cup of tea, first ask yourself why: the polite thing to do? you want one yourself and feel obligated to share? your guest looks thirsty? conversation has stalled? The desired outcome of presenting tea to your guest will flavor the tea itself. 

 To invite someone specifically for tea is the liquid embodiment of intention. It may be to share your excitement over a new find, a setting for a much-necessary conversation, or a gift of service. Be aware of your environment, type of tea, and serving ware, which will create the perfect blend for your desired outcome. 

 It can be difficult to sort through our intentions and purposes throughout our day. Tea is a simple act which gives a perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness. We often serve thoughtlessly, assuming the fact that something is given means it's automatically "good." But gifts can be tainted with negative desires, both our own and the receiver. We can only control ourselves. To serve in obligation is a bitter brew. But a cup shared in compassion is more precious then...well, all the tea in China. 

 Rise untethered. 
Move with intention. 
Be grand.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Make Pink Tea!

Hello everyone! Although I'm taking a June break from blogging here, it doesn't mean I'm not doing lots of stuff with tea. I just had a fun soirèe last night, and recently posted an article on the science behind the color changes in Kashmiri Tea. Here's the link for you to check it out and try yourself!

Making Pink Tea!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Cold Infusion: Earl Grey in Almond Milk

Technically the label on the tea said, "Black Tea With Bergamot", but that's what Earl Grey is. Why not just call it by its common name? There's no trademark on it. Whatever you call it, I made a pitcher of cold yumminess for the family to enjoy on this hot day. Cold infusions have the best flavor, they just take planning ahead.

My life is planned in chunks. Right now summer is being coordinated, scheduled, and filled in. So far, it's not filled up. That takes thinking ahead. My hubby always felt our kids needed lazy summer time: time to be bored, explore, and invent. Luckily, we never had the budget for much in the way of camps. They are old enough now to be working, but we still coordinate to make sure we have family lazy hot days.

On the topic of budgeting and scheduling: I'm trying to get things accomplished this week because the following two weeks are spoken for. I cancelled (or didn't schedule) my regular work gigs, and am planning a spa week for myself, and then I'm taking a trip. This is not a family thing, this is a me thing. I linger over the ads in magazines for exotic spas, but they are waaaay out of budget. So, a Home Spa for me, by me, is fun to plan.

For my spa week: starts off with a Sunday BBQ Epic Dungeons and Dragons Game (I'm a happy geek with my family and friends), then fantastic breakfasts each morning (favorite meal of the day), use my massage gift certificate (thanks, Bridgit!), read a Scottish romance novel (thanks, Kathleen!), get nails done with a friend (perty toes), have afternoon tea at various places in the area (hopefully with fam and friends but I'm cool on my own too), yoga almost everyday (I'm getting a good deal from a local place), and at the end of the week is the Albany Tea Festival!

The reality check, of course, is that there are some things I couldn't cancel that have to happen, and dealing with home emergency repair issues that recently came up. Whatever- spa week will still be my main focus!

The week after that I am traveling to Minnesota to visit extended family. It is my Aunt and Uncle's wedding anniversary, and my mom felt it was important enough for me to be there, so she bought me a ticket (thanks, Mom!) I'm a little nervous because I haven't been on an airplane in years and honestly...I don't do much. My adventures are in my books and imagination. I remember hanging clothes on the line, looking up at the plans passing overhead and wondering where the people were off to, but that wondering stopped years ago. Perhaps that's a sign I really do need to get away (thank again, Mom!)

My only consideration for my trip is deciding which teas to bring along. And that takes serious planning ahead.

Rise untethered.
Move with intention.
Be grand.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sweet, Sweet Chai

When life spins 
Like the pinwheels in my garden to frighten the crows, 
And I am unable to focus or fly away,
Transfixed by the blurry metallic glare...
It is time to pour the tea.

When a friend cries and cries 
And I stand on the grass barefoot
Trying to be a grounded listener but feeling as helpless
      as the dandelion seeds I kick into the air...
It is time to pour the tea.

When the water is not pristine,
When my favorite cup is missing,
When my hands are shaking- 
     especially there...
It is time, we must make the time
To pour the tea.

Rise untethered.
Move with intention.
Be grand.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Lilac Lime

Tea is really easy to make, but not always easy to make well. I think this is why many Americans don't like tea; they haven't had a good cup. Like everything in life, making tea should not be a half-assed maneuver. This doesn't mean it takes a lot of thought or effort, but it does take some knowledge and experimentation. After all, the point is to make yourself satisfied. Take the time to figure out what that means. Be authentic. (Making someone else a cup of tea requires listening; that's a different virtue.)

First, what do you already have? Clean water? A heating element? A pot to boil water on the element? Huzzah! You're half-way there! Do you have small bits of a non-poisonous plant? Look waaaaay back in your cupboard for a box labeled "tea." Any kind. Doesn't matter. Now put the tea in a mug. Heat up your water. Pour it over the tea. Read the box for how long to steep the tea. If you don't know, just watch the steam for a couple of minutes and contemplate life. Take out the tea. Sip the liquid.


Do you like it? If so, repeat. If not, try again. Experiment: water more or less hot, brewing time longer or shorter, cleaner mug, or your tea could be really old and gnarly and you should probably go out and buy a new box (or two or three.) Be bold! Be creative! The only person you need to satisfy is yourself; how freeing is that? (Very) How many other daily events in life do you have complete control over? (More than you think, but let's start with tea.)

My mother said she wanted to drink more green tea because it's good for her, but she thinks it's bitter. I suggested some possible fixes: don't let the water boil crazy; green tea is delicate and can be ruined easily, then steep it for just one minute. If that's too light, go for a minute and a half. She adjusted and said it tastes better, but still not her favorite drink. And that's ok! Green tea just happens to be in the media a lot for its health benefits, but black tea is good for ya too. And all the herbal (tisanes) have various properties. (I still want to make her a cup of green myself just to see...)

Now that it's warmer out, I am into cold-brewing. This is even easier than making a hot cup of tea because you don't have to worry about the temp of the water or the length of time brewing (as much.) I am currently sipping Lilac Lime tea, a once a year treat. Try it out yourself. If you like it, repeat. If not, experiment!

Lilac Lime Tea
Place a bunch of lilac flowers in a pitcher. Slice a lime and put all the pieces in. Pour cold water in. Let steep for an hour or so (not longer than two or the lilacs won't taste good anymore.) Enjoy outside on a warm day.

Rise untethered.
Move with intention.
Be grand.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Jasmine Green

Although last week I typed about creating space, this week I've done a complete turnaround. Adding more to my mental landscape is usually how I deal with stress. But first, my tea:

I am drinking green tea with jasmine outside as I write this (for anyone wondering, I write by hand first.) A couple of weeks ago I would have brought a blanket with me, and now I'm in short sleeves. I suppose I will be in the mood for iced tea soon, but- oops!

(15 minutes later)

I just made some milky rooibos chai for when my sister and nieces come over. I made a bunch last week (there was a honey accident and I had to use it up right away, so I made an enormous cold brew sharing with all) and they really liked it; I promised another batch. But I forgot to make it last night! So I just ran in to make a quicker version. Hope it comes out well. Now what was I writing? Iced tea. Right. I made my tea hot this morning out of habit, but- "What? Now? Sure."

(10 minutes later)

My son has been asking me to watch a silly video for the past couple of days. I've explained that I won't get most of the jokes because it's based on a video game I don't play, but he explained back all the inside stuff so I could enjoy it. It was amusing. Anyway...

I've heard different schools of tea thought on what's best to drink in warm temperatures: cold, tepid, iced? Here's one take on it. Hard to concentrate on that when my brain is in Scotland, specifically the 18th century. Lemme esplain. Too long. Lemme sum up:

Last week, this week, and next were/are/will be very busy. There are things happening right now, and things that need to be planned for both the summer and fall. I am driving around quite a bit, which isn't great physically, and still having sleep issues, which doesn't help. People close to me are also stressed for various reasons (some minor and some very, very major) which I can't help but respond to because I love them. 

So. Scotland.

I started reading the Outlander series way back when it first started (yeah, I'm proving myself to be a true fan, yo.) My aunt gave the book to my sister and I when she discovered it as a so-happy-you're-adults-now-so-we-can-read-grownups-books-together present.  We really enjoyed them too, and all of us have been fans since (haven't read the latest book yet so no spoilers!) 

A friend of mine lent me the DVD of the TV series that recently aired. How was I going to find the time in this busy stretch to watch it? I stayed up past my bedtime several nights in a row drinking tea, knitting, and forgetting everything in real life. And just like an ear worm, this fantasy world has been in the midst of my thoughts for days now.

As difficult as my daily meditation has been on a regular basis, now it's impossible! Seriously. I can't even count to ten without contemplating such deep thoughts as:
"Do I have any plaid in my wardrobe? I need more plaid in my wardrobe."
"I knit, but I'm not that good. I could sing? Be a bard? But I wouldn't know the Scottish songs. Would I have to work in the kitchen? I can't even start a fire!"
"That body is totally from a 21st century workout routine. 18th century men did not have well-rounded pecs like that! I'll need to look this up on Pinterest to compare..."

I'll cut myself some slack. A mental vacation spot is how I stay sane. I need more tea. And I have some research to do on Pinterest.

Sweet Milky Chai
In a small pot heat up a cup or so of water with 1/3 cup of honey, and 3 Tablespoons of loose chai (or 9 tea bags). Stir. When the honey is all dissolved, shut off the heat and let it sit for 15 minutes. Put it in a container with 4 cups of whole milk and stick it in the fridge for at least 12 hours. Enjoy! Keep the chai in the container until it's all done- gets better and better. Adjust the sweetener to your taste. 

Rise untethered.
Move with intention.
Be grand.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Spring Detox

Spring cleaning. That's a thing I should probably subscribe to. Sounds healthy. I see it as environmental, physical, and mental. 

Physical detox: In my final herbal CSA, I received a packet of herbs traditionally used for detox: burdock, dandelion, licorice, cinnamon bark- all yum! For this roots brew I made a decoction (bring to boil and simmer for 10 -15 min) to get the full nutrients. So, I decocted my detox (say that three times without giggling.)

Environmental detox. I did take a box of stuff to a local electronics recycling event this past weekend (buh-bye broken cd player from 1989!) Even though I didn't see that box in my sight everyday, I knew it was there, and getting rid of it was quite freeing. Not doing any other clearing out, though. My to-do list is long enough, thanks.

I know I have control over the crap in my home, but it doesn't always seem that way. It's as if there are invisible strings attached to each object with a person or memory, and if I get rid of it, the memory will disappear, or the person will be alerted and know I threw it away and secretly hate me. (Please tell me I'm not alone here.) I am by no means a hoarder. That 1989 cd player was working until last year ("They don't make 'em like they used to!")

Plus, I live with two teens, my husband, and my mom. My mom. She had to move from a large home filled with beautiful things she spent years choosing and decorating (She's got a good eye!) into a very small apartment above us. I gave her a wee storage area under the basement stairs, and there's some space in the garage, but she likes to buy stuff and has no where to put it. So she buys them for other people (aka: me.) Not to go too much into this (since my mom reads this blog from time to time...) but I learned that unhealthy attachment to things from a certain someone.

In the middle are my husband and son. They like certain things to hold on to  (hundreds of Legos...outdated biology textbooks) but a shelf here or there, not entire rooms. Is that a guy thing?

Then there's the other extreme. My daughter spent a couple years getting rid of stuff, taking down things from her walls, and generally getting extreme minimalist on us. It's one thing to declutter, but another to de-everything. This past year she had an epiphany (and I'll keep it vague since this is public; not that she ever reads my blog...) that what she really needed was to declutter her mind. But she didn't understand how, so she kept trying to create space in her physical world instead. 

Mental detox. My daughter and I are both working on this. We are very different people, so approach it in different ways. She's being expressive with beautiful art, journaling, and doing awesome outdoorsy exercise stuff on a regular basis. For me? I've been drawing lame comics (I'm a strictly stick figure person), yoga, and that 10 minute meditation each day (#$$#&*^$%#!!!

I'll focus on what I'm good at. Tea! My detox decocted is a delectable selection (grin.)

Rise untethered.
Move with intention.
Be grand.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Chai and Friendship

I really have to plant these flowers sitting in a too-small pot on my table- a gift from Easter. Today it's supposed to be quite warm, so no excuses! 

Spring is finally here, both on the calendar and in the weather. Time to get out and about. I haven't felt very social during the long winter, but this week I had tea with a friend I haven't seen in months. (I ordered chai, she had a flavored green. Both yum!) We caught up with the periphery events of our lives, but agreed not to let it go that long again for a real chat. Online social media is useful for a general idea of what's going on with my friends and family, but we are becoming savvy enough not to share the real stuff with cyberspace.

In-person is still the best way to connect. Just making the time to go to a friend's house, or tidying up if they come over, or finangling schedules to meet up somewhere- it shows you care about the relationship. I have to admit I am not the best at making meet-ups happen, and so I am very grateful for friends who get the ball rolling. 

There is one friend I have who is so inclusive; I love her. She came into my life when I was having a really hard time maintaining relationships and she just kept inviting me to get together, not worrying if it was my turn, or caring if I was fun enough. I just had to show up. She would introduce me as her "new friend" and that was that. She had made the decision and slowly I came to a place where I could return the favor (somewhat, I'm not that social) and now I count her as one of my solid friends in life.

Of course, maintaining a friendship and having tea at the same time is better.  The pleasant flavor can make me relax and focus on my companion- in real time, in real space. Actually chatting with a friend, drinking tea, and knitting is best. I listen when my hands are busy.

I'm not a phone person- the disembodied voice is weird, always has been. I love texting, email, and real letters and cards. Some friends are too far away for regular face-to-face chats, so I send them tea in the mail in a card scribbled with love. I keep the post in business. Post-a-gram is one of my favorite apps.

Reading what I just wrote makes me sound like a friend who really takes time for others, but that's not being honest. I do get together with people, I do send things in the mail, but not often enough. Maybe. What is often enough? I don't know. I have a family and extended family that take up most of my time and energy- gladly! So friendships are hard work. Not just scheduling but the love. How much can my heart open?

Sages say infinitely. 

Thanks, sages, but I'm not there yet. The most I can do it let the tea steep, the steam rising with good intentions, as I try to savor each sip with a friend.

Rise untethered.
Move with intention.
Be grand.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Ginger Tumeric Tisane

"Life is a series of breathing exercises." Mary Taylor

My niece, eight years old, gave me a helpful yoga pose she learned if you have trouble sleeping: it's lying on your stomach, arms outstretched, and breathing slowly. (Btw, kids are very handy with advice if you are open to ask.) Last night I used the pose to calm my frustration at not sleeping well. Breathing steady allowed me to clear my mind and see possibilities, which led me to find a way to be comfortable and sleep again.

Driving is another time I need to remember to breathe. I often bring a tea-to-go with me, even on short trips. First, so I don't stop and buy a drink (so freakin' expensive!) and sipping tea is pleasant and makes me breathe calmly. (Though my anxiety levels would be so much better if ya'll all learned how to signal.) 

Typing about mugs...

My first world problem is that to-go mugs keep the tea so hot! I realize that's the point, but I'm used to a certain temperature of water to pour in the cup, time to brew, and then sip. But pouring it right into the mug to brew prevents any cooling down, and then I burn my tongue in the car. Ow! Ah! Ow! is not the breathing technique I'm usually going for. 

I have one from LLBean that keeps it hot for HOURS. Maybe that's good for hiking, but I'm just going to the bank. Lately, I plan ahead, brew tea in a mug and then pour it into a to-go container right when I walk out the door. Brewing before I leave also takes away the awkward "what do I do with the teabag/basket of loose tea in the car now that it's done steeping?" Perfect temp, perfect tea, good breathing and happiness as I make my way through the day. 

Typing about hiking...

My family and I like day hikes, though we haven't gone much this winter. (Haven't done much of anything outside this winter.) Hopefully soon. I like seeing the waterfalls in the spring. Now that it's not fifty-two below zero everyday ( felt like it) I'm starting to take walks again. The rhythm of my body starts to flow with my steps, arms swinging, breathing the crisp air. Today I traveled in a large cemetery: winding paths, grey skies, bare branches, headstones, it certainly hit a mood. I also got lost on those paths, and when I finally figured out how to get back I was sorta late to pick up my son; I really booked it to the car. Very noticeable breathing (huffing, gasping.)

And back to just breathing...

I recently started meditating everyday. Just ten minutes. Ugh! Why is sitting still so hard? Stop fidgeting and breathe...slow down and breathe...breathe...relax and breathe...breathe...bre- is my tea ready yet?

Rise untethered.
Move with intention.
Be grand.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Russian Caravan Breakfast

"Eat this! It'll put hair hair on your chest!" was a favorite saying of my dad to his two daughters whenever he wanted us to try something strong tasting- usually an Italian cheese, or concoction from the juicer. Russian Caravan tea is bold flavor. 

This morning I had excellent, locally-made sausage with fermented kraut and spicy mustard. I needed a tea to balance out those flavors- a tea that could hold it's own: Russian Caravan  (with a wee bit of sugar and cream.) A breakfast for champions!

Breakfast is my favorite meal, and I like it hefty. Morning is my time when I feel energized, and balanced (literally. I can only do certain standing yoga poses in the morning.) This is when I can be the most productive, so I try to get my thinking work done.

Life, however, does not always allow me to choose my schedule. I have been the taxi driver for my children, and will continue to be until my youngest gets his license (permit test this week!) And although I am my own boss, my work involves other people and their time constraints.

Balancing needs with responsibilities is a constant challenge. In yoga, a good practice involves doing poses and then the counter-poses. They can't be done at the same time! Every day of my week has a different schedule, but I try to keep my week somewhat even with structure vs. flexible time, social vs. quiet activities, physical vs mental work. Yet, despite my planning, there's always something that wonks it up!

Short-term projects (like my son's theater production) mean weeks of non-stop driving around. So I look at the longer view. Did we just have a crazy, busy month? Can I say "no" to activities for next month to let us decompress? Sickness means lots of cancelations. Downtime is good for healing, but then we have to catch up. Seasonal shifts mean being open to altering events (big change), to doing different exercises (small change.) That's looking at balance over a year. 

Long term and short term thoughts. Twenty years is long. I have spent the past twenty years caring for my children with the majority of my time. Very early on, I read this poem by Peggy O'Mara:

There is time still
for sitting in cafes
in Paris
sipping wine.

Time still
for going to meet
the guru.

There is time still.

Now I am caring for eternity,
carrying bodies soft with sleep
to beds of flowered quilts and pillows.

Answering cries deep out of nighttime fears.
Buckling shoes.
Opening doors.

My soul now is dwelling in the house of tomorrow.

Tomorrow there will be time.
for long, leisurely conversations,
for poems to write,
and dances to perform.

Time still.

So I surrender now
to them and this,
knowing it is they
who will teach me
how to do it all.

I try to imagine that life will balance it all out. What will I do for the next twenty years? Time will tell. In the meanwhile, pairing food with the perfect tea is short-term fun. Life: it'll put hair on your chest!

PS: I wrote a post on GeekMom about the first time I tried Russian Caravan Tea:
Russian Caravan Fantasy

Rise untethered.
Move with intention.
Be grand.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wedding Favor Tea

"Come, let us have some tea and continue to talk about happy things." - Chaim Potok 

Because often things are pretty crappy in life. It's been a week of snot and hacking for one. But in the midst of it, I got to attend a joyous wedding between two sweet people. So let's discuss that because tea was also in attendance. 

My daughter (co-founder of TeaPunk) and I drove out to CT for the wedding, and the first thing we did upon arriving at the reception area was scout out the tea location. One, because we both had a cold and really need a hot drink, and two, because we always look for tea. We were pointed in the right direction and found a spot decorated with two tiny tea pots in the shape of houses. So cute! We chose a blueberry flavor tea, which was in the theme of the day's color: purple. I would love to tell you it tasted good, but I couldn't taste anything at the time. But it felt very nice on my throat, so there's that :)

Each table's centerpiece was a decorative teapot. The mother and aunt of the bride spent the last few months keeping their eyes peeled at garage sales and the Salvation Army for all the pots. The one at our table had elegant gold trim. There was a game we were supposed to play to find a winner to take the teapot home, but we all decided instead to give it to the aunt of the bride who had expressed a love for this particular one. I had my eye on a japanese style one at another table, but I thought it might be bad form to just steal it on my way out the door. (You think?) I hope it went to a good home. 

We also received a wedding favor bag that contained: a decorative card with the couple's name and that day's date, two chocolates with purple trim, and...wet wipes? It couldn't be, but what else...oh! A tea bag! Yeah, my daughter couldn't believe that I didn't figure it out immediately. Just like it's human instinct to see faces in amorphous designs, I should assume "tea" for everything. 

In my defense, my brain was foggy from my cold. All week I kept remarking, "This tea isn't brewed enough; I can't taste...oh, right." Remembering I couldn't taste anything. So incredibly sad (Yet effective in trying to eat less. I didn't snack much.)  I've been rating food on texture. Hot tea without milk but lots and lots of honey. Especially tea with ginger in it- that spicy feeling was good.

This morning I drank some tea and said aloud, "Wow! This tea tastes great!...oh, right." Realizing, it was just that I can finally taste again. That's a happy thing.

Rise untethered.
Move with intention.
Be grand.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

High On Breakfast Black Hi-Caf

With curiosity and compassion.

Back in January my resolution was to simply acknowledge myself: physically, mentally, emotionally. There's nothing simple about it when I've spent most of my life denying, cutting off, or trying to alter my own perceptions to reflect acceptable values. Three months in, and I'm having a hard time. Thoughts are tricksy, tricksy. However, when I do remember, it's freeing since I really only have one step: feel.

A yoga teacher once said to be mindful in your practice with curiosity and compassion. I've found that to extend beyond the mat.

I do not want to review teas for this blog. I have gotten offers from companies. The most popular tea blogs do reviews. I could get free samples and more followers. But I don' wanna. There. Feelings acknowledged. 

How exactly do I feel when thinking about tea reviews on Steepings? No judgement, just curious...

Another item on the to-do list, overwhelmed, guilt if I don't do it timely, guilt if I don't like it, sucking all the joy out of drinking tea by making it a measured obligation. It would be like homework, like doing dishes, like the feeling of the entire ugly, cold, wet month of March...

A+ for honesty there. Now, I do write about teas I'm drinking, so what are the feelings about that? Compassionate ears...

I enjoy randomly finding teas. I like to look at the cover art on boxes in a store, or try a free sample in a cafe, or accept a cup at a friend's house and discover something new. I received a packet of Republic of Tea Hi-Caf one month in their catalog and really liked it, so I bought a tin, and when a friend was over and needed a jolt, I brewed it for him. That made me feel happy to recommend.

I'm all for sharing my thoughts on tea but not because I have any authority-wielding tastebuds, just because...well, it's fun! I think of Steepings as inviting a friend over once a week to brew a cup with good intentions, sitting down on a couch together, then babbling about everything and anything on my mind. No expectations, just good company with good tea. 

(Full disclosure now: I did write to Tea-rrific Ice Cream company offering to review their product. I can almost guarantee I'll write a good review if I get a coupon for a free sample. I can make a moral exception for ice-cream...)

I'm currently running a Hogwarts Philosophy discussion group for teens. We're reading selected essays from this book and then chatting. Last week, we discussed the different aspects associated with each House, and how any of them could be extremely evil or good. At one point we wondered what virtue was the epitome of all virtues, and most kids had "kindness" or a variation on it as their answer. I offered compassion, but I said that we had to be compassionate to ourselves most of all. 

That got me confused looks. I tried to explain that we can only be truly compassionate to others if we practice on ourselves first- often we are our harshest critics. Not sure I sold them on that idea, but at least I snuck it in their developing brains. Mwa-ha-ha.

The latest Republic of Tea catalog had dandelion tea as their sample. Haven't tried it yet, but when I do I might write about it. Maybe I won't. 

(Compassionate, I hope.)

Rise untethered.
Move with intention.
Be grand.