Of England and Tea

I’ve been remiss in writing about my recent trip to Great Britain. Gone for three weeks, we visited England, Scotland, and Wales. This was our fourth European trip in two years and for me, it was by far the most enjoyable. I will write more posts about what we saw and my thoughts, but this post is about tea!

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I’ve never been a coffee drinker. I just never acquired the taste for coffee, although the smell is certainly warm and welcoming. But for taste…ugh. I grew up in Southern California where the need for a hot drink to warm you up just wasn’t necessary. But when I moved to the eastern US and the cold winters, I soon learned that I wanted something to warm me up besides hot chocolate.

So I learned to drink tea. Weak tea. That is where you drop the tea bag in hot water and immediately pull it out again. Barely any color in the water. In fact, sometimes, I would just drink hot water.

A few years ago, a friend introduced me to Chai Tea Lattes at Starbucks. From the first taste, I was hooked. This was no barely colored, weak tea. This was tea with many flavors including peppercorn, cardamom, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and star anise. These spices balance with the milk and a sweetener like sugar, honey or brown sugar, and then strengthened with a strong black tea. It is absolutely delicious and very addictive. Not to mention high in calories.

And so it has been for me for quite awhile. Either the weak tea with a barely dunked tea bag, or the very flavorful chai tea (often made at home with a pre-made syrup).

But that’s all changed. Now I know better.

While in England, we had high tea at a place in York called Betty’s Tea Room. This is how tea is meant to be! A stainless steel teapot for the tea and a second teapot for hot water only, sugar lumps with silver tongs, milk in a cute little pitcher, small cups and saucers, and a tiered plate stand with various scones and clotted cream. I learned how to make tea properly. Just for effect, I stuck my little finger out when I held the small teacup. Ah, yes, this is TEA!

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I collected teabags and loose tea from various stops during our travels in Great Britain. I bought tea bag tongs and a strainer. I bought cute little dishes to put the used tea bags in. I brought home all my goodies and spread them all out in satisfaction. Then I realized that I did not own a TEAPOT! I had gotten rid of it when we moved back to California because it was never used.

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Well, things are different now! I purchased not one, but TWO teapots over the past couple of weeks. One is larger to make several cups, and one is small, just enough for two cups of tea. I have learned to make my tea strong and I brew it in my teapot, using the strainer for the loose tea. I take my tea now with a bit of honey or sugar and I pour my milk from a small pitcher (certainly NOT from the huge milk carton anymore. I’m much too refined for that nowadays!)

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Once I had tea pots, I realized I needed a tea cozy to put over them to help keep the tea nice and hot. I love to sew and so I made one out of some quilted fabric. Actually, I made it out of a quilt that I never quite finished. But don’t tell anyone…if they knew I cut up that quilt to make a tea cozy, they might think I need my head examined.

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It is truly amazing the amount of STUFF you need to make proper tea. But I’ve got it all now. Including some of Oprah’s Chai Tea from Teavana, which is a loose tea. (And by the way, that tea is WAY better than Starbucks!)

Now I go through the morning ritual of boiling a pot of water and then brewing the tea in one of my teapots. I pour it into my cup and flavor it appropriately. I take a sip and say “Ahhh, this is how a cuppa tea is MEANT to be.” And I smile.

Maybe I should invite some people over for a tea party. Mad Hatter, anyone?

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Mind the Gap

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If you have ever been to London, you might recognize that phrase. It’s the painted sign warning you to not step in the empty space between the subway train door and the platform. In the hotel where I am staying, a female voice admonishes me to “please mind the door”. I enjoy that one and wonder what the elevator door is trying to instruct me to do. And what will happen if I disobey?

We visited Hampton Court Palace today outside of London. It seems that Henry VIII expected folks to obey him, too. Here’s a sign that was posted in his quarters…

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Here’s another sign that was posted there by more contemporary authorities. This one is even more scary. I sure won’t be disobeying it!

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And finally, here is a welcome sign I was happy to see. In the States we would call this an exit sign, but I rather like the English for giving me a way out.

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All in all, I am really loving my visit to Great Britain. And I think the English sayings and signs are well said. After all, they did invent the language.

“I love this place so much”

We are not all fortunate enough to live in places that we love. I am not talking about the actual apartment or house or dwelling, but the place itself. I am referring to the surroundings and the general area.

I started thinking about this topic this morning when I read a comment about my England post. One of my readers (http://creativityinthebox.com/) wrote that she loves living in England. That made me think about where I live and that I love it here too. And what a blessing it is to live in a place that you really love. It makes life exciting and joyful when you can look at your overall surroundings and that it brings a sense of contentment to your heart.

I realize that we are the fortunate few. I suppose that the majority of the world’s population cannot say they live in a place that they love. Those living in war torn areas, or ghettos, or other ugly or violent places may not love where they live.  Some may have been forced to relocate to places that feel foreign to them and they long to leave.

I guess there are as many reasons to hate the place where you live as there are to love it.

love where you live

But my focus right now is on places to love. And I wonder why it is that we come to love them and why they give us a sense of happiness and peace.

I can’t speak for others. I have moved around quite a bit in my lifetime. And I can say that I have generally loved all the different places I have lived and all for different reasons.

Washington State was my first venture away from where I grew up. It was exciting to experience the beauty there. I could sum it up in water and green. Puget Sound and Mount Rainer provided the backdrop for a stunning landscape. And the rain provided the source to keep the trees and flowers and ferns a luscious green. I loved it there because of the natural beauty, which calms the spirit.

Connecticut is a place I will always hold dear to my heart. Living in the woods, surrounded by trees inhabited by a myriad of birds was a blessing I will never forget. I felt I was living close to the land and in tune with the seasons. The towns were quaint and charming. I felt a sense of history and pride that this was where I called home.

New Jersey had an abundance of natural beauty too. I enjoyed living there for several years. I had my birds and gardens to tend to and it was peaceful.

I lived in Pennsylvania two different times. And I consider it my second home. I loved it there for so many reasons: experiencing the seasons change year after year unfailingly, the wildlife we had in our backyard, the charm of the Amish county just a short drive away, the history related to the struggle for American independence, and the friendships that I hope will now withstand the distance. Yes, it is my second home there.

Saddleback Mountain

Saddleback Mountain

But my first home and the place I love best is Southern California. This is where I was born and raised. This is where my family lives. This is where I live now and will stay for the rest of my life. I love seeing Saddleback Mountain tall and unchanging and keeping sentinel over the area.  From where I live, I can look down the street and see it and it always brings a smile because it is part of my remembrances from a child growing up here. I love being near the beach for there is a sense of peace and calmness in watching the sea. There are so many other reasons by I love living here, but the main reason can be summed up in family. Family has drawn me back and that is why I love it the most and will stay.

 

And so I wonder, why do you love where you live?

Integrity

integrity

This is a topic that hits home. Years ago, when I worked as a church secretary, I was given a book by Chuck Swindoll called “Quest for Character”. I recall it was a very good book, but the chapter that stuck with me was on integrity.

I had never really thought about integrity before then. It was a term I was familiar with, of course, but had never thought about much in relation to my own life. Reading the chapter on integrity did make an impact on me. It has stuck with me 20+ years later.

Over the years since then, the word integrity has popped up from time to time in reading or in conversations or in my own thoughts. And when it does, I often stop and ponder it.

I think to be a person of integrity is one of highest goals of achievement. It doesn’t matter if I am wealthy or successful or have a lot of influence or a lot of friends. To me, the most important attribute I can have is integrity.

Just what is integrity? How do I know if I have it? Well, I’m no expert, but to me it means being totally honest in every facet of life. It means living out your principles whether in business, family, friends, or community. It means being steadfast in what you believe and acting it out in how you behave.

Politicians do not have integrity. Perhaps that is too harsh. There may be some who do, but we all know of politicians who say whatever they think will get themselves elected. Then they do whatever they think will keep them in office and bow to the influential people around them.

I fall short of integrity many times. I’m far from being the kind of person I wish I was. But stopping to consider my life and gauging it against the ideals that are important to me, is one way to get myself back on track.

We all should do that periodically. That is, stop and spend some time alone reflecting on your life and actions. Be willing to readjust if necessary to get yourself moving in the direction you want to go.

Have the courage to admit the truth about yourself, to acknowledge when you’ve failed, or should ask for forgiveness.

We all fall short, but we can all strive for integrity.

A Journal about a Journey to England

a fine romance

This time next week I will be on my way from California to London. I’ll be on a three week vacation, traveling with a tour group around England, Scotland, and Wales. To say I am excited about this trip is an understatement!!

Ever since I was a young girl, I have dreamed about visiting the English countryside. I have always been an avid reader, and it seems that a good percentage of the novels I’ve read over my lifetime have taken place somewhere in the UK. Some of the descriptions were so vivid, I really felt I was there. Of course, I have seen pictures and plenty of momentos from there too. After all, isn’t Great Britain the mother country?  😉

In preparation for the upcoming trip, one of the books I have been reading is by Susan Branch called “A Fine Romance…Falling in Love with the English Countryside.” And wow….this is a book that makes me feel as though I am on her own journey to England right beside her.

Susan is a popular watercolorist, author, and designer. She has a way with words that makes you feel as if you are her best friend and she is writing directly to you. “A Fine Romance” is Susan’s love letter to England. She and her long-time partner Joe, traveled the English countryside, staying in B&B’s, and visiting the most beautiful and romantic places you can imagine.

The book is her journal and is filled with quotes, photographs, and illustrations. It is also hand-written in her own script…no it is not type-faced. She includes some background material on the places she visited and describes what she sees in a very endearing way.

Even if you never had a desire to visit England, I think you would after reading this book. Page after page is filled with delights, including her own love story about Joe.

If you will be traveling to England, I highly recommend this book. Even if you are not planning a trip there, you will enjoy this book if you are partial to cottages, gardens, quaint settings and cooking.

So go get a cup of tea, put your feet up, grab the book and start reading.

The Hummingbird

Humingbird

The next door neighbors have a dead tree in their backyard. When I look out the bedroom window, there is that dead tree right there, so close I could almost touch it.

When we first moved here several months ago, I would see that tree and hope that the day would come when they would remove it. What an eyesore.

But now that we have lived here for awhile, I’m glad for the tree. It is a roosting place for birds. There are often birds perched there and I enjoy watching them when I am in the bedroom and glancing out the window.

We get a variety of birds sitting there. Mostly I see house finches. I had to look in my bird book to identify the phoebe. I’ve seen pine siskins and of course, sparrows.

But my favorite is the hummingbird. The first time I saw it land there, I was thrilled! I had never seen a hummingbird that wasn’t in flight, and they fly so quickly that you can’t really get a good look at them.

The dead tree seems to be a favorite place for this particular hummingbird. He (or she) never stays for too long at a time, but it is fascinating to me that it always lands on the very same little dead branch, facing the same direction. So I figure it must be the same bird coming back over and over.

I’m glad it has a place to rest and perhaps view the area before deciding where to fly to next to search for some sweet nectar.

Ink and Paper

 

 

Ink and Paper

One of the most delightful discoveries I have made in recent years is journaling. I am not talking about electronic writing, but actually sitting down with a notebook and a special pen and writing. For some reason, the task is so much more pleasant when you have a writing instrument that you just love to hold. For me that has been a fountain pen.

I never had a fountain pen before. I never had an interest in one either. Why would I want to be bothered with a pen that would dry up or leak ink on my fingers and paper? Nope, not for me.

A couple of years ago we decided to take a European river cruise. And I decided I wanted to journal along the trip And I wanted to write in a leisurely manner in keeping with the idea sailing down a river. I bought a very nice leather bound, gilded edge notebook. And then I decided I wanted a special pen. For some reason, I decided to look at fountain pens.

I did some research and found that nowadays you can get cartridges for those pens. No more messy ink bottles and trying to suck that ink up into the pen. I was encouraged and ordered a fairly inexpensive one from Amazon that was highly rated.

What a different experience from writing with a ballpoint or gel pen! There is something so unique about actually seeing the ink flow from the pen onto the paper. And the slightly scratchy sound that the pen makes as you write is just so satisfying.

Ever since that trip, I have been journaling. Sometimes I will go for a few weeks without writing, other times I write every day. I’ve recently been writing quite a bit and find it is a good way to sort out thoughts and think about some of the bigger questions in life.

My everyday notebook is a Moleskine and my pen is made by Lamy. I wonder how many others still find satisfaction in writing in this manner.

I would love to know what your notebook and pen of choice are.

Happy journaling!

The perfect house guest

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Last month we had some out-of-state relatives come for a 10 day visit. We live in a high tourist area, so it is understandable that people would want to come here for vacation.

We enjoy having company. And we enjoy showing off our beautiful area. But being retired now, we live in a smaller home and are on a fixed income. The smaller home doesn’t have a guest bedroom, so our company had to sleep on an air mattress.  They didn’t complain and I was thankful for that.

We tried to think of interesting places to take them. But because they didn’t have much money to spend and we couldn’t afford to pay for their expenses at the normal tourist places…it somewhat limited our ability to show them around. They didn’t have a rental car so we had to take them everywhere. They didn’t have a list of things they wanted to do, so we had to come up with economical ideas.

It was all rather awkward and I longed for a bit of privacy at times. But there they were…always ready for us to come up with the day’s activities.

While they were here, I was thinking about what would be the perfect house guest. I guess it would be someone who has an easy-going, upbeat personality. It would be nice if they had an itinerary of places they would like to go and even make arrangements to go to some of those places on their own. If they had a rental car, they could go out and explore on their own. Wouldn’t it be nice to have them come back in the evening and share their adventures? We could sit and talk about what they saw.

I’m not complaining. Our house guests were far from perfect. But it was still nice to have the visit.

But next time I’m a house guest, I’m going to try to remember what a perfect house guest would look like.

In the meantime, I probably should be considering what a perfect host/hostess looks like too!

Fighting fair

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  Ephesians 4:29

I’ve never encountered conflict and anger such as I have over the past few days. And I realize that I have no idea how to fight or spar. I find myself lashing out and using whatever words come to mind. Hurtful, spiteful words that I don’t even mean.

It never occurred to me that there are such things as ground rules in conflicts and arguments. But of course it makes sense. There should be. I’ve just never considered that before until this morning.

Fighting fair is the only way to handle conflict in a relationship. Otherwise, that relationship or friendship or business partnership is going to suffer irreparable damage.

Flinging words that hurt does not accomplish anything toward resolution. If you value the relationship and want to preserve it, it is important to keep words in check. Once spoken, they cannot be taken back.

Face the issues. Talk about how you feel. Don’t bring up a litany of past mistakes. Wear a mouth guard.

You’ll never reconcile differences if you are both on the defensive. Learn to attack issues and not each other. Placing blame will just push you away from each other.

Instead, try to own your feelings and express them without letting them take over. Your feelings are valid. They are yours and no one can dispute them.

The focus is to fight fair so as to come to a quick resolution while keeping the relationship strong.

“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”  Carl W. Buechner

It takes courage to love

I am reading a book called “One Month to Live” by Kerry and Chris Shook. The idea is to read a chapter a day in a life-changing month. I’m on day 11 and so far some of the chapters have been good, others just so-so.

Chapter 11 was one of the good ones. It is about overcoming obstacles in relationships. Because this topic is close to my heart at this particular time, I found this chapter had some very profound sentences and it made me REALLY stop and think.

It takes courage to love. Normally, I would read over that without giving it much thought. Today I read it slowly and the words really sank in.

Courage to love? Yes! Courage? Yes!!!

I looked up the word courage. The dictionary says courage is the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous. Why would love be difficult or dangerous? Because you don’t know what the other person is really thinking or feeling. So you have to be willing to take a risk. You have to let yourself be vulnerable. You cannot hold back, for if you do, the love will be lost.

You have to love passionately, without abandon. There’s another powerful term…without abandon. It means that you are going to go for something no matter what the cost and regardless of the obstacles.

Yes, it takes courage to love. Relationships are not for wimps.

Relationships are full of miscommunications and misinterpretations, and misconceptions. No matter how well you communicate with each other, these things are bound to happen. We are all human and these are things that happen to humans. All of us, every one. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes. The best relationships are built on forgiveness, because all relationships involve imperfect people who make mistakes.

We have to learn how to compromise and discover creative solutions that meet the needs of both people in the relationship. We have to value the other person enough to seek to really understand them. If we don’t, the relationship could be forever abandoned on a mountain of mistakes and misunderstandings.

The essential for a strong relationship is found in those small loving actions, all the seemingly insignificant things that can mean so much to someone else. When you are inconsistent, telling others how important they are but never following through with loving actions, then the relationship will falter. The clarity and security your loving actions bring to the people around you can’t be underestimated.

How do you communicate your commitment to those you love? Psychologists say that most of us tend to favor one method over the other – we say how we feel but may not show it as much, or we show it consistently, and assume our actions speak for us. I think it is important to discover which way we communicate, understand how our partner communicates, and then practice the other style for a time for extra measure and to show the commitment is strong.

Yes, it takes courage to love. Not to mention hard work.