Friday, August 22, 2014

Sunshine on the Water

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy, sunshine in my eyes can make me cry.
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely, sunshine almost always makes me high.
~John Denver

(Now we'll be singing that song all day!)

Thinking of my family today and the happy times we spent recently at the ocean where we took these photos.  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

"Chief Encouragement Officer" - Thoughts on Marriage

The DH and I enjoyed a few quiet moments together, sharing an herbal tea, as part of our anniversary celebration

The DH (dear hubby) and I recently celebrated 18 years of being married.  It feels good, really good.  I know you're thinking, "Why, Steph you must have been married at 14!"  Not quite that young, but as grown up as I thought I was at the time, I had so much to learn.  It's a serious thing to be an adult living in a committed, conscious relationship with another human.  The DH and I still have our challenges.  But they're much fewer and more preventable now,  if we each stay conscious about our own "stuff".

We've worked hard at making our marriage good and that includes seeking outside help for enrichment and for managing the tough times.  One of the most valuable lessons I've learned is that what my partner needs most from me, and me from him is to be each other's "Chief Encouragement Officer."  He doesn't want or need me to be his mother.  Nor should I be.  I've learned over time that's not my job.  Instead, it sure feels good to have a life partner on my side to believe in me and cheer me on through it all.  That's what he wants from me, too.  We sometimes disagree or need to hold one another accountable.  But for our marriage to work at its best, the ratio of encouragement/praise/thanks/celebration/support/dreaming far outweighs the complaints and dissatisfaction.  And here's the real secret - it's up to me.  Where do I put my focus*?

If you've been in a long-term relationship, what is your #1 tip for going the distance?

*Please note - I'm not suggesting we overlook destructive behaviors.  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


From one of my favorite authors, Alexandra Stoddard:

"The 'art of tea' is a spiritual force for us to share."
"If we could make our house a home, and then make it a sanctuary, I think we could truly find paradise on Earth."

Friday, August 08, 2014

My Brew This Morning

I have a mix of folks who read this blog...first, of course, there's Mom and other family and friends.  :-)  Then there are people who enjoy Afternoon Tea.  In addition,  some readers  are interested in Chinese or Japanese style tea.  And then there are the "all of the above" readers.  I try to write about a mix of topics, to hit on something interesting for everybody now and again.  

Today's article is for those of you who are interested in dipping your teapot in the water of "small pot" or "gong fu" style brewing.  I wanted to show how easy it is to get started. This is how I brewed this morning. (Here's another similar posting.)  I'm brewing an Alishan tea (a high mountain oolong, very aromatic).  I pre-warmed this small little porcelain pot in a bowl and poured out the liquid into the bowl so that the pot could sit in the bath and stay warm while it brewed.  The towel is used to blot the bottom of the teapot before I pour.  I'm not using a serving pot here (also called a "fairness pot") because I'm pouring straight into my cup.  That's it!

And then again, there's always more. A few tips:
* This style of brewing uses a lot more tea and less water (in proportion) than a typical large teapot.  That means the steeping happens fast and you'll want to pour off quickly.  I typically pour off the first brew between 30 seconds and 1 minute, depending on the tea.

* These little pots each have their own pouring quirks.  Play around until you know how to minimize drips.  And keep a towel handy.  Drips happen.

* For a starter pot, I suggest glass or porcelain.  That way, you can use it with a variety of teas.  

* In the brewing style above, I will generate a fair bit of water in my small bowl quickly and need to dump it into the sink or a larger container.

* Be sure to look at the leaf - both dry and wet.  And smell the tea.  These things will enhance your enjoyment.  

* Try to brew in this style when you can focus on the experience.

* Just Go For It!  The spirit of gong fu brewing is to practice,  learn and improve.

What other questions do you have or what other tips would you give?

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Hello Kitty Chabako (Traveling Tea Box)

My friend is serving a bowl of matcha which she has made using her Hello Kitty chabako set

I recently spent a glorious Oregon summer afternoon in the company of a tea friend and fellow chanoyu student.  She is my senpai (senior student) and invited me for a hike and tea.  Well, that's perfection!  

Me, in the Tree House

We decided to wear yukata, casual summer kimono.  The sun was out, there was a light breeze, we were in nature and on our way to have tea.  I was definitely in my happy place!  We hiked in the Hoyt Arboretum to the Tree House.  It's a small grove of trees that form a canopy over a secret hideaway.  There we settled.  We began with a  picnic of tea eggs and onigiri (sticky rice balls) with roasted barley herbal tea.


Then it was time for the tea (matcha) and sweets! My friend brought her fun chabako set.  A chabako is a portable, lidded box that contains the necessary equipment for making tea - bowl, tea container, scoop, whisk, sweets container, etc.  All you need is a thermos and you can host a traveling tea ceremony!

This wasn't any ordinary chabako set (not that any are really ordinary).  This set was brought to life by my artistic friend who put her skills to good use! She used Hello Kitty as her theme then made and re-purposed items in creative ways to make a whimsical and yet functional chabako set!
My friend and the basket that held the thermos and chabako box

This natsume was originally a toy from a vending machine!

Setting things out to make tea

Whisking tea

The Hello Kitty chawan, tea bowl

There are so many details that I'm leaving out, yet I hope you can get the idea of how clever this chabako kit was and how lovely of an afternoon!  It is an experience that I am still savoring.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Little Things

"In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed."  ~Khalil Gibran

I really do have wonderful friends!  One of them once observed that I choose little things for my tea equipment.  I hadn't thought much about it and began to take an inventory.  She was right!  I'm drawn to the demi-sized stuff.  Partially because I like the look and partially for practical reasons.  I simply don't drink a lot. Left to my own style, I drink several tiny cups of small amounts of tea in one sitting.

I have a number of small pots useful for brewing in the Chinese style, and yet I didn't have one quite small enough for when I'm brewing solo.  Now I do, thanks to another friend who knows my tastes well.

This diminutive brown yixing teapot (zisha clay) is from the early 1980s.  It holds 70 ml of liquid (just short of 2.5 oz), as compared to the one behind it which holds ~150 ml (a more typical volume).  One little pot produces 3-4 of my thimble-sized cups in one steeping.  At this rate, I can do several rounds.  ;-)  Perfect for me!

Another little treasure: This rock, which I brought back recently from the Oregon coast, has a tiny hole just big enough for one blossom or a very small bouquet.  I'm borrowing from a lesson I learned in my chanoyu studies.  In the summer, suggest coolness...and thus, the dribble of water on the rock.  It reminds me of being at the ocean.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fly Awake Tea Garden

Kevin, brewing tea at Fly Awake Tea Garden

One could call Fly Awake Tea Garden a dream come true for Arati and Kevin, the owners.  I mean that rather literally because they both use dream work as a tool in their lives (and help others learn to do so).  But that doesn't mean the journey was easy.  Kevin and Arati worked very hard on the practicalities of making this dream a reality.  For example, dealing with zoning and construction and all the minutia of starting a business.

So what exactly is this space?  It's several things at once.  To start, it's a mobile tea cart that serves tea in the garden in nice weather and tea in the converted garage when it's rainy or cold.  Beyond that, it's a community space, a performing arts space, a discussion group space, a hangout for the regulars and a welcoming space for first-time visitors like me.

Come rain...

I visited recently, expecting to spend a half hour with a bit of tea. I ended up staying an hour and a half, enjoying my conversations with the other tea drinkers.  We discussed tea, of course, but also the making of fig preserves and lacto-fermented foods, the precarious position of tea drinking culture in the US, lucid dreaming and much more.

Or shine...peaceful tea-drinking space is there!

I hope to return soon!