Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Stationery Swap

As I recently described, I love letters! I think letters are one of the best ways to connect with others. Letters provoke deep feelings and shared confidences. They can be written in passion and sent with a flurry, or crafted lovingly over time. They can be re-read and treasured for years. They can be fun, healing, challenging, connecting, honest or soulful in ways that conversation cannot. Conversation sometimes fails us in the moment - we may not find the words. But a letter can be crafted until its meaning is just so.

For me, writing a letter is an indulgence to my senses. I love the thought involved, the colors, the scent, the images, the textures. I love the whole process - both writing and receiving, whether it's a 30-second note jotted in a hurry or a letter I have worked on for a long time.

To share my love of letter-writing, I'm hosting a stationery swap! If you'd like to participate, please let me know. Either leave a comment or e-mail me at
stephw7@sbcglobal.net. (If I don't have your e-mail, please be sure to leave me a way to contact you!)

Deadline to indicate your participation: Tuesday, August 10th.

Here is the format of the stationery swap:
* Send in 5 pieces of stationery
* Send in $1 for postage
* I will select 5 new pieces of stationery and add an additional bonus item and send back to you
* Once I hear back that you'd like to participate, I will respond via e-mail with more details

I hope to hear from you soon!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Family Circles

I'll be visiting my family this weekend to observe an ancient circle. I will welcome new life and honor lives long and well-lived.

My sister is expecting a baby and my grandpartents' health is on the decline. I will gather with other women to encourage my sister and welcome this new life, as women (and men) have done for centuries. I will spend time with my grandparents and tell them how much their presence has enriched my life. In my heart I will whisper that it's OK for them to let go when they are ready. This trip is full of mixed emotions for me, in many more ways than I can write.

I've been working on a project to collect family stories. I'll present a draft to my grandparents this weekend. My Mom has 6 brothers and sisters and they each have interesting personalities and wonderful stories to share! Like the time my uncle caught my great-great-grandmother smoking in the outhouse. Another uncle was a co-conspirator in a big barn fire, at the ripe age of 5. Or the time several uncles dressed like hillbillies to scare away a boy that my Mom liked. (I think it worked - he never came back.) A favorite story of mine is when several of my older girls cousins, whom I idolized, went skinny dipping in the hotel pool at a family wedding. I could go on and on!

I've been compelled to write down these stories as a tribute to my wonderful and colorful family. I hope it will be a way for my grandparents to reminisce and smile, and also as a way for younger family members to learn of their history.

"If you don't believe in ghosts, you've never been to a family reunion." ~Ashleigh Brilliant

I want to hear the ghost stories of my family.

As part of this family story collection, I've also been gathering photos. Here's one of my sister and me. I'm the one standing. I was about 7. The pony's name was Punkin. This photo was taken in front of my grandparents' home, where I will visit tomorrow.

I think this quote from Erma Bombeck sums up my experience of family quite well:

"The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another's desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together."
~Erma Bombeck

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Solitude and Companions

"Strange how a teapot can represent at the same time the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company." ~Author Unknown

I've been living this paradox lately. On the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (a survey that classifies one's personality), I test consistently as an Extrovert. Yet these days I crave alone time in large quantities. I also notice that I really dislike large groups. I used to get revved really high in group situations and now I shy from them.

I think these changes have something to do with working from home. I spend most of each working day alone, in my little corner office of my house. And I like it! I'm not distracted by hallway conversations. I'm not caught up (as much) in office politics. In short, I'm much more productive. And I've grown used to a quiet place and solitude.

The transition from this peaceful setting to a big, crowded world jars me. I'm out of practice for dealing with crowds, and I'm not sure I want to go back. I prefer a cup of tea with a friend or two rather than a party of wall-to-wall people. Occasionally, I do muster up the energy for "going out" and dealing with the press of human flesh, but mostly not. And that's OK.

Monday, July 23, 2007


"Sturdiness - adj. Solidly made and likely to withstand prolonged use."
From the Encarta Dictionary.

This teapot is one of my favorites. I like the colors and the heaviness of the stoneware. It is not fragile; it is made to last.

What is sturdy in your life, metaphorically and practically?

Friday, July 20, 2007

My Harry Potter Pledge

I have a confession.
I read the endings of books first. Well, technically, I read the first chapter, then the last, and then the middle. It's so fun for me this way! I love to try and figure out how the author will get from the beginning to the end. It's the middle stuff that fascinates me most. (I prefer to know the endings of movies before I watch them, too.)

Well, I'm making a pledge for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that will be released at 12:01 am tomorrow morning. I am committing to NOT read the end first. No, I will put aside my normal book-reading indulgence and muddle through from the first page to the last, in that order. The reason is simply that this is the last in a series of books that, for me, have been an incredible journey into a very vivid fantasy world. I want to be surprised at the end.

This will be tough! My habit is not one that will be easy to leave behind. But I know I can do this!

I'm not standing in line to get a copy of the new book at 12:01. In fact, I'll wait for my copy from the library. (This is not a book I find the need to purchase.) However, I don't mind enjoying a little Harry Hype along the way! I'll be downtown with a girlfriend tonight. Maybe we'll apparate into a bookstore just to see what's going on.

I've been reading book 6, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, over the past 2 days to remind myself of the plot subtleties. For those of you who didn't have time to re-read all 652 pages of the last book, I find that this wikipedia site has a great summary of the remaining issues to be resolved. Scroll down to "Unresolved plot elements."

I'm guessing it will be a quiet weekend as kids of all ages enjoy the last Harry Potter adventure.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

St. Mary-of-the-Woods

I visited St. Mary-of-the-Woods this past weekend. It's both a small college campus and the motherhouse of the Sisters of Providence. The campus served as the perfect backdrop for our weekend dedicated to writing. I enjoyed lush views, secluded nooks, lots of benches and gazebos, a labyrinth, and pretty gardens. I hope to return! One of the missions of the Sisters of Providence is Eco-Justice, which impressed me! I wish more religious folk would see the connection between spirituality and the environment. Here are some photos of the campus.

Does anyone know how this grassy space might be used? I could imagine games of croquet.

I loved how the sunlight fell on this statue.

I enjoyed walking the labyrinth.

The cemetery was a powerful place. A "sea of sisters." I spent some time writing about this, especially how I thought it unfair that priests have tombstones much larger and more ostentatious than the sisters.

The inside walls of the Shell Chapel are literally covered with shells from the Wabash river.

The Sisters of Providence have Eco-Justice as a mission. They host a weekly farmer's market and have a community garden, which I believe is organic.

I spent a lot of time at this pretty spot.

The Sisters of Providence also raise alpacas.

And they have their own semi-truck. I'm not sure why.

Plus a sense of humor!

Monday, July 16, 2007


I've received many gifts lately and I am truly humbled! Here are just a few...

* Community. I attended a Women Writing for (a) Change weekend retreat and was profoundly inspired. Writing has been something I've used to process my emotions and experiences since I was a little girl. This workshop helped me take this into new depth. The best thing about the weekend retreat was learning how to receive comments on my work given in a supportive, rather than critical, way. I found myself wondering what the educational system would be like if children experienced this type of support! Perhaps we, as a society, would no longer be such squelchers of creativity. I'm thinking of sharing a bit of my writing from this retreat later in the week. I still need to sift through and do more sitting with it.

* Surprises. Tom and I recently received a surprise delivery of Wolferman's crumpets! Yumm! Original, cinnamon-sugar, blueberry, raspberry. Wow - they are tasty! The friend that sent them recently wrote a thought-provoking blog post about gift giving. Thank you, JP, for putting your thoughts into practice and for sharing your abundance with us. May it be returned.

* Friends. I have been mindful of the gift of old friends that stay in touch and new friends coming that come into my life. One of my oldest friends and mentors recently visited us. That was a true blessing.

* Something old. The DH surprised me with a gift of vintage linens. He found these at a local thrift store. He is a gifted thrift store and yard sale shopper! He finds incredible things! I think it's due to his Virgo nature of thoroughness. He goes through a thrift store in a very methodical and thorough manner. I am blessed to be the recipient of many of his thrift-store treasures.

* A history. I've been collecting family stories to compile into a booklet for my grandparents and extended family. These stories make me laugh, cry and offer thanks to have a network of caring and loving relations. We're not perfect, thank goodness. That would be too boring to write about!

* Abundant life. I feel truly blessed with abundance. I believe we all are if we are brave enough to see it.

Peace, Stephanie

Friday, July 13, 2007

Writing Workshop and Poem

I'm headed off to a women's writing retreat this weekend and I'm very excited -- and a bit nervous! In honor of this event, and in honor of National Chocolate Day (7/7/07), I share with you this poem I wrote two years ago.

Chocolate and Tea, Such Lovely Companions
(Written on 7/7/05 in honor of National Chocolate Day)

Chocolate and Tea, such lovely companions!
They sit side by side on my china plate,
My Milano cookie and my blueberry tea.

Chocolate nurtures love and Tea is inspiration.
I sip my tea slowly, allowing its warmth to
Melt the chocolate in my mouth.

And if I pay attention the Tea will melt
My heart and make it soft
And full of compassion and forgiveness.

For it is in the quiet, still moments that I can
Truly forgive and see my enemy’s reflection
In my own teacup.

And if I pay attention the Chocolate will sweeten
My thoughts and make them kind
And full of hope and patience.

For it is in the quiet, still moments that I can
Truly listen and see my enemy’s perfection
In my own teacup.

Chocolate and Tea, such lovely companions!
They sit side by side on my china plate,
My Milano cookie and my blueberry tea.
My compassion and my hope.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

What's Bubble Tea?

In yesterday's post, I referred to "bubble tea" and one reader asked for more details. Here you go...

Bubble tea is a cool, sweet drink, infused with tea and with tapioca pearls sitting on the bottom of a clear cup. Fruit-flavored syrups are often added. Sometimes the drink is made with fresh fruits, milk, and crushed ice to create a smoothie. You drink the tea through a very wide straw, in order to drink up the chewy tapioca pearls. These pearls are usually black.

Bubble tea got its start in Taiwan in the mid 1980’s, as an after-school treat for elementary students. In Taiwan or Hong Kong, bubble tea shops line the streets!

Bubble tea has become amazingly popular among the younger set, particularly on the West coast. Bubble tea is also know as boba tea, tapioca tea, boba nai cha, pearl tea, milk tea, bubble drink, and many other names.

If you’re adventurous, you can find bubble tea popping up all over the US. Ask your local Chinese restaurant for a reference.

Although I’ve had bubble tea several times, the drink is not a favorite of mine. I find it too sweet, but I do have fun chewing on the tapioca pearls.For more information on bubble tea, see http://www.bubbletea.com/

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

For Chicago Friends and Family...

There's a new book out called All the Tea in Chicago. I recommend it! I picked up a copy recently, but it's also at my public library - you might try requesting it from your own.

The book is 75 pages and attempts to cover the tea scene in Chicago. The author, Susan Blumberg, has three main sections to the book. Each describes a different tea setting and includes a description of the service provided, hours and contact information. The tea settings covered are:
* Hotel afternoon tea
* Tea houses and restaurants
* Bubble tea

Throughout the book Susan has added interesting quotes and facts about tea. She includes a tea website section and a glossary.

The book isn't nearly as fancy as the Tea in the City series (London, Paris, New York), but I think it does a fine job of listing the tea opportunities in Chicago . That's no small feat! I really like that the book is thin and narrow. It will fit well inside a bag so that you can take it with you as you head out for your tea destinations.

I'm hoping to put this book to the test in the fall when a couple of girlfriends and I make a trip to Chicago. Maybe I'll see you then!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Stop Buying Bottled Water

First, it's a scam because much of the bottled water is nothing but tap water. In addition, and more importantly, it's a serious drain on the ecosystem. Not only do the bottles end up on the roadside and in landfills, the process of making them is very damaging to the environment.

In addition, I have concerns about bad stuff from the soft plastics leaching into the water. And the most recent "water" trend is to add sugary flavor to it.

Stop buying bottled water.
Watch this news clip. (Thanks, JP)
Then read this article.

Give up bottled water. Instead, purchase a decent filter (you can get a pitcher-sized one for about $20) and use a refillable bottle.

As for tea, I use tap water that's been filtered through my pitcher. It works great. I actually prefer it over bottled water because the quality of the latter is so variable.

Giving up bottled water is a very simple thing to do. The world is worth it.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Mint Tea

When it's hot outside, I prefer light-colored teas and tisanes (I drink them both hot and iced!).

I recently brewed a pot of fresh-mint herbal "tea". I picked a handful of mint leaves growing outside my back door, rinsed, and poured boiling water over them. I steeped the brew until I thought it had the right amount of mintiness. It was delicious and oh-so-pretty in the glass teapot.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Love Letters

I love letters! Writing them and receiving them. Everything about them.

When I write a letter, I experience a moment of closeness with the intended recipient. I picture that person's face, his smile, her tenderness. I love everything about the letter-writing process:

* Choosing the stationery
* Choosing the pen and ink color (I often write with fountain pens)
* Choosing the location to write from (I have a little tea nook that is a common writing corner)
* Choosing the topic and tone
* Thinking of the recipient - bringing that person close to me
* Choosing the stamp
* Sending off with the daily post
* Anticipating a smile when the recipient picks up the day's mail

I also love receiving letters:

* Picking up the mail to find a hand-addressed envelope (or postcard)
* Enjoying the texture of the envelope, the weight, the color
* Opening and taking in the person's handwriting, the type of stationery, the ink color
* Reading the news and thinking of the person who sent the note
* Smiling because I've been remembered

E-mail makes communication so convenient, and I appreciate that. However, there's nothing like a hand-written letter (card, note) to bring a closeness that can't come with e-mail. I keep my most treasured letters and enjoy re-reading them at a later time. The DH (dear hubby) and I even send notes to one another. From this house, through the post, and back to this house. It's a gift and delight to receive his card in the mail! With a letter comes a bit of the person who sent it - the hand writing, the language, the message.

For inspiration about letter-writing, I highly recommend The Gift of a Letter by Alexandra Stoddard. She's one of my favorite authors and does a fantastic job of showing the beauty of this art form. Stoddard says,

"Many people do think their written replies will reveal the vulnerability of their souls. And, of course, they do. That is why letters are such a powerful form of self-expression."

"I have come to realize that a letter written from the heart is an extraordinary gift - something that can mean much more than the mere words on a sheet of paper. The gift, I've discovered, is hard to describe, but it's as much a present to ourselves as to others."

Will you join me in writing a letter? Pull out your stationery that's been sitting too long in a drawer. Make a hand-crafted note. Or simply buy a nice greeting card at the pharmacy. Add a heart-felt message to your intended and send it with kind thoughts.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Blueberry Jam

I spent this 4th of July holiday making blueberry jam. The process started recently when I went blueberry picking with a friend at a nearby farm.

I've made jam a couple of times before, but always at my Mom's. (She could do this in her sleep!) So this was a big step for me, especially given that I seldom cook (tho I love to bake). I did engage Mom in a lengthy pre-jam-making phone consultation.

I don't have a top-secret recipe. I simply followed the instructions on the gelatin package, just like Mom whose jellies and jams always turn out great! Here are the blueberries as I stir in the pectin, then stir and stir and stir and stir. I think it's interesting how the berry juice turns bright pink as it cooks.

After stirring in the sugar and boiling hard for 1 minute I filled the jars, wiped the rims, and added the tops. The method I used for making jam included a 5-minute yoga pose (inversion) for the jam.

I had a little extra jam remaining after filling the jars, so I added it to my double-sided jam server (a treasure the DH picked up for me at the thrift store).

After about 45-minutes, I heard the longed-for sound of the tops popping. (Some of the tops will make a noise when the suction takes hold and pulls the seal down, tho not all will.)

And here is the finished product! Having sampled the extra (gobs of it), I can say that I'm very pleased with the product!

Oh, and where was the DH during this cooking adventure? After having answered my question about which pot to use, he smartly left the house! ;-) He is a wise man. He's the king of the kitchen and sometimes feels compelled to offer helpful tips - which I don't always want to hear in the midst of my cooking experiments. Preemptive evacuation was a smart choice. True love - knowing when to get out of the way! I'll reward him with a batch of his favorite jam, blackberry!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


These sweetpea photos are for Jes, who has become a blogging friend. She creates an incredible line of jewelry called Junque Revival that I regularly lust over. (I have one of her pieces.) She calls her blog Sweetpeas. Enjoy, Jes - and thank you for sharing your lovely talents with us!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

About My Blog and Me...

I've had an influx of several new readers lately - welcome and thank you for your comments! I love comments!

I wanted to let folks know that my blog is loosely structured around tea. In the summer, it's also been called my flower-and-tea blog because I love to post pretty pictures of flowers from my garden! ;-)

My tag line reads: "Blog on tea and the larger world around it." I think that sums up my "focus" pretty well. I write about what moves me in the moment.

I want to be more disciplined about using tags (labels) for the blog posts. Common themes you'll find on my blog (I'll turn these into labels):


In terms of tea credentials, I'm a life-long lover of tea and read anything I can get my hands on about the subject! I think that's the most important credential. It's something anyone can learn about, and deeply. In addition, I've completed the Protocol School of Washington's Tea & Etiquette training. I also had the recent joy to complete the Tea Master's class, sponsored by the UK Tea Council and co-taught by Jane Pettigrew and Tim Clifton. This was a highlight of my small tea career!

I have a full-time day job, but on the side I love sharing my tea passion. I teach classes through the local continuing education department about tea, I serve as a guest speaker at tea parties and other types of programs, I host tea tastings and I sell a few high-quality loose teas to a handful of friends and customers. (However, this blog is non-commercial.) I try not to buy any more lovely china! My cupboards overflow!

My husband (the "DH" - dear hubby) and I try to live life simply and consciously. We try to be ever-evolving souls who walk very lightly on the earth, leaving no scars but rather love and joy. I sometimes fall short, but this is my goal.

Back to my blog - I try to share something tea-related out here at least once per week, often more.


Eating Day Lilies

Did you know that Day Lilies are edible? Here are a few beauties we enjoyed the other day. I like them in a salad where they impart a mild onion flavor. I also like them battered and fried, tho I don't eat them that way very often.
The DH (dear hubby) munches on them as he works in the garden.

We grew these yellow beauties ourselves (well, that is - the DH grew them), so we knew they were pesticide-free.

More info on day lilies and how to eat them (scroll down to Uses section).