Thursday, 26 May 2011

Day 51: Angels Kiss Green Tea

Today I went with my friend Betty to a tea shop right near her house called Souvia.  I love that ever since I've started this blog, many people have come in very helpfully with tea suggestions, teas that they've sent me (or gift certificates to buy tea), or even, as in the case with Betty today, a lovely place to have tea together.  I really, really love loose leaf green teas.  Even when I finish this blog after the 90 days, I will probably have a lot of loose leaf greens lying around to enjoy - the flavour is just so incredible, and it manages to be light with a little caffeine (enough to get me started, but not too much to make me crash and burn later).  So we came into this shop and I was thrilled not only with the selection of teas, but the comfy chairs, the tea samples you could try, the menu of teas to read through, and the whole atmosphere of tea.

We tried the two samples that were available (green chai and passion berry), and both of them were beautiful.  But I was telling the lady there that I had tried one in Indiana called White Kiss And Tell, and she suggested this green called Angels Kiss, which includes papaya, pineapple, rose petals, and strawberries.  It was amazing.  It was probably the lightest green tea I've ever had, and I think she said it was a blend of green and white tea, although I bought three or four different ones so I can't remember which one that applied to!  I decided to have it iced, since it is nearly 100 degrees here in Phoenix today, and it was incredible. I generally like to have my tea hot, I feel like I get the flavour better that way, but this one was just perfect iced.  It almost tasted like a white tea, and the various flavours mingled perfectly together so that you almost don't know what to say about it other than that it is incredible.  I liked it so much I forgot to take a photo of the tea when I got it, so all I have now is a photo of an empty cup!  But I intend to have plenty more, as I purchased 50g of the loose leaf to bring home with me.  I like the name, Angels Kiss, since it seems to represent something rare and undefinable and memorable and amazing yet undescribable.  That seems to work pretty well.

Betty and I had a lovely chat over our tea - two of my favourite topics, rest and beauty, came up.  I'm passionate about both of them, but I can thank Betty today for saying something which pointed out to me how the two are connected.  She has just retired (semi-retirement, since she hasn't stopped working altogether), and she said ever since she has had more time, she has started noticing beauty a bit more.  Beauty in flowers, in the birds who visit her in the morning, in her vegetable garden.  And I realised for the first time how these two favourite topics of mine, the ones I have taken notes on and journaled about and read about and want to write books on, are actually linked.  It is really only when you are truly at rest that you can fully enjoy beauty.  I encourage everyone to see beauty everywhere - but it is the rushed, the stressed, the exhausted who never see it, who pass by it without a first glance (much less a second one), who complain about heat or other drivers or lack of time or anything in their lives, and all the while there are flowers blooming and little girls dancing and suns setting and tea being poured out all around them, unnoticed. 

So, I encourage you today to take some time to do nothing at all to the glory of God.  Sit outside or inside or go for a walk or a run, but with no purpose at all.  And give yourself a few moments to take in just a little bit of beauty.  Because sometimes you don't have to walk for exercise or to lose weight; you don't have to sit down to 'do' something such as reading a book or even petting a cat.  You can just do it, and let the rest seep into your soul.  I know it feels impossible (especially so for my friends who have four or six or eight children, or who are working at a hospital, or taking care of someone who is unwell, or rushing, rushing, rushing).  But there really is something deep within us which rebels against rest and beauty, and tells us that we HAVE to rush, we CAN'T slow down, not even for a moment.  And yet even just a few minutes of that can open your eyes to beauty.

I'm not even walking today.  I may go out later for no purpose at all, but I'm setting myself free from it today and just enjoying my tea, good conversation with a friend, reading out Bible verses and praying with my mother, reading books with my sister, or - imagine! - just sitting here.


Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Day 50: Thai Bobo Iced Tea (Little Saigon)

Tonight I went to a Vietnamese restaurant called Little Saigon in Phoenix with my sister and her family, and they had a tea on the menu which I hadn't had before: Thai Bobo Iced Tea.  It's a very, very sweet drink which tastes a little like a mild coffee with loads of cream, and then these gummy berry things that look like blueberries and tasted like very gummy, bland cookie dough that doesn't disintegrate.  (Turns out they're tapioca pearls.)  Zach and Luke and I went for a walk on the little trail behind their house, and Zach and I went around it twice, running half of it.  Very helpful to have someone else along for the run!

Overall I had a brilliant time with my sister's family, with lots of laughs with (and at) my four nephews, and I am now going to bed!

Walk/run length: 35 minutes

Day 49: Lipton White Tea To Go (Apple & Cranberry)

Today we went out shopping and found a box of iced-tea-to-go, which I'd never heard of, but since it was a white tea (with apple and cranberry), which is one of my favourite teas, I thought I'd give it a shot.

It came in these cute little packets that you could open and pour into a bottle of water, so I went ahead with that.  Knowing white tea as I do, there was definitely a white flavour to it, but in a very pale, Lipton-like flavour.  Also some sugar to it, I think, which I never usually include.  The faint fruity flavours came through also - white tea is very light anyway, so it's like drinking lightly flavoured sweetened water.

I had absolutely no desire to go out for a walk today.  But the quote of the day was "Champions get up when they can't" (Jack Dempsey) - for me, I think it's more that this champion gets up and gets going when I won't. Today I did that.  It was hot, and I was sluggish, and I could hardly run.  So off I went.

Walk length: 30 minutes

Day 48: Vanilla Chai Decaf Tea

So I've been having so much fun with my sister and nephews in Chino Valley that these blog posts are going to be pretty short!

Tonight (Monday) we sorted through my sister's tea box and chose the Vanilla Chai decaf.  I had great help from two of my nephews, and my favourite photo was of the youngest, who held up the tea packet with a very grave face.  'Smile,' I said, and this amazingly happy, sunshiny, beautiful smile broke out.  Love it!!

As with all chai teas, milk or cream is required to make it taste like a 'proper' chai - so we added a Cinnabon Creamer that we had gotten that day at the grocery store. Amazing. Added that cinnamon flavour to the vanilla, just perfect for a chai. 

Early in the morning I went for a walk in Flagstaff, on a nearby trail to where we were staying, with a little running, but not much.  It's hard to run when I don't know how far the trail goes.  But it was beautiful weather - even at 6am not even that cold, with a blue sky and only a few clouds.

Walk length: 30 minutes

Day 47: Rest

The second full day of our Sister Weekend was truly restful.  Worship in the morning, a full lunch, a walk through the woods with a beautiful vista across the miles, and hours of resting and sleeping and reading and writing and talking and drinking a variety of teas and lying about.

Interestingly enough I took a fairly decent walk and drank tea, but it was completely restful - no blogging, no choosing a tea I've never had before, no pressure.  

Ahhh, I love a day of rest.

Day 46: Organic Green Moroccan Mint Tea

Today (Saturday) was the first full day of our annual Sister Weekend.  Every time I come back from Scotland, my four sisters and I get together for a whole weekend of resting, relaxing, girl time, and just enjoying being together.

This time we stayed in Flagstaff, which is where almost all of us went to university.  Flag is a small town, filled with small shops, organic tea cafes, trains, bicyclists, beautiful mountains, and on a good day, some of the best weather you could hope for.  We got three good days in a row.  Sunshine, blue skies, a few friendly clouds, a slight cooling breeze, and the kind of weather that you hardly even notice because it's just right.

Pin and I took a dander down to the town centre so I could take a few photos, and what do you know but that we ran into an Armed Forces Day Parade, complete with marching soldiers, small boy scouts, a multitude of different military vehicles, Harleys, waving flags, and red white and blue everywhere.  I enjoyed taking some photos of the parade and the nearby train station, and then it was on to Macy's coffee shop for beautiful tea and coffee with my sisters.

Macy's is a classic, every-table-filled, straight-talking servers, a hundred different coffee varieties, little corners everywhere coffee shop.  It was very tempting to try one of the amazing coffees, but I stuck with tea and chose the Organic Green Moroccan Mint.  I expected it to taste a little 'greener' (being an aficionado of green teas), but the mint flavour swooped in and overpowered it, rendering it more of a mint tea than a green one.  I liked it, but it definitely doesn't make my top list of amazing green teas.  It's the kind of tea that would be good when you have a cold, or need your throat cleared out a bit.  Pretty powerful!

We had a beautiful day - coffee was followed by pedicures, shopping at a surprisingly amazing little clothes shop, lunch at our little cottage, a walk in the sunshine and through the woods, and an incredible dinner at the local Thai restaurant, Dara Thai, where I had my favourite Thai dish, which I ordered the first time round simply for the name alone: the Evil Jungle Princess.  And then chillax time with the sisters and bed! 

Walk length: 1.25 hours

Day 45: Earl Grey with Lavender

Today (Friday 20th) I spent the day with my dad up at his new property in Sedona.  Our whole family has already spent countless hours trying to come up with names for the place, since it's incredibly amazing and the story about how it came about is pretty phenomenal too.  We've thrown around Reyburn Ranch, Reyburn Resort, Kingdom Creek, Covenant Creek, and (my personal favourite) The Angle.  (There's a very long story to that one.)  It's the kind of property that has great potential, and is liveable, but with an endless supply of projects to keep dad (and all his daughters and sons-in-law) continually occupied when going up there!

I dandered around all day taking photographs, taking in the vast beauty of the place and most of all the little red caboose which sits at the front drive and in my mind is the most amazing part of it all.  It's an original railroad car from the Arizona Railway and probably almost a hundred years old.  Maybe not that much, since the entire state of Arizona is only turning 100 years old next year, in 2012, but the point is that it's historical and very, very cool.  I've decided I would like to have it for my photography studio when I'm in Arizona.  The inside has this intricate red carpet with funky designs that just looks like it was the original carpet when the train was running.  After cleaning out the whole thing, sweeping and then hoovering said carpet, I now definitely believe it was the original.  It's doing well to hold together at all.  But the caboose has little seats and hundreds of cubbyholes and places for belongings, and best of all a little cupboard where the trainmaster kept all his bits and pieces of paper.  There are old glass oil lamps and a secret door and a multitude of windows and a sense of history that just breathes creativity into you as you stand inside. At least, it did that for me.

After all our hard work, Dad and I drove into Sedona to have lunch at the Wildflower Bread Company. I knew that they wouldn't let me down in terms of tea, and they didn't.  They had a whole selection of miniature tea boxes (each of which had those little loose-leaf infusion teabags I am coming to love), and I selected the earl grey lavender.  I do love earl grey, but I have to say this particular tea tasted like drinking perfume.  A bit too flowery and intense on the lavender - the earl grey was still there in all its glory, but I prefer it plain, with a slice of lemon.  (That may actually be one of my new favourites, earl grey with lemon.)

I didn't have a long walk to speak of today, but I worked pretty hard on cleaning up the caboose, so I'm calling it a day.

Walk on!

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Day 44: Green Tea With Peach

Today (Thursday 19th) was an early morning. Up at 4.45am, and my amazing sister brought me a cup of green tea with peach at 5am. There really is something about green tea that brings me from complete grogginess to actually alert and looking forward to the day in just minutes. Even faster than coffee, for me.  I think it's also because coffee has a thickness to it that doesn't go down the throat as smoothly - and I know too that coffee is much heavier on caffeine than green tea.  It's the clarity, the cleanness of green tea that seems to match the early morning.  Like dew on leaves, early morning breezes, and flowers opening up to the sun.  And, as mentioned before, the fruity flavour gives it an additional freshness (like that of fresh fruit).

It was good I started with my green tea, because today was a full one.  I worked for several hours and then went out for my walk, a good long one with some running.  Not as much as I would like, but I'm learning to let the running come as it will, and not pressure myself to try to do more.  As my sister (who is a personal trainer) points out, it's impossible to incrementally increase every single day.  You eventually have to stop or die.  So therefore, going for a half hour, then forty minutes, then forty five, then an hour, usually means you need a day that's much slower - or a different kind of exercise.  I'm still learning a lot about this walking thing, but I'm really enjoying the journey.  My first foray into the walking blogging (Walk In All Weathers) enabled me to have the discipline to do some kind of exercise every day; my current blog is helping me focus on writing every day, and even taking photos every day - and not letting that become an exhausting or impossible task.  I'm starting already to think about what my next blog will be.  I have so many books I'd like to write that in the past I've been completely overwhelmed by it; but now that I have this habit in place I'm starting to think about how I can use this discipline, this daily writing, to encourage me along in those endeavours.

And, to enjoy some pretty amazing cups of tea in the process.

Walk length: 50 minutes

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Day 43: White Tea With Island Mango & Peach (Lipton)

Today's tea was a very pleasant surprise.  It has been my experience (strengthened by a whole variety of Lipton green teas) that in general Lipton should stick to iced tea and leave other flavoured teas well enough alone.  But today at my sister's house she offered me white tea with mango and peach, and I just couldn't refuse. I really, really love white tea.  I didn't even notice it was Lipton until I was taking the photos - but the tea was in this great little infusion packet, which means it's not just a teabag, it's the closest thing to loose leaf that you can get without buying a packet of it at Tea's Me!

It was definitely a winner.  White tea is fairly light at the start (particularly if you don't oversteep) and with the fruit flavours especially requires no sugar or additives of any kind - which is my favourite kind of tea to drink.  The mango and peach came out surprisingly well; it's the kind of tea you can sit and inhale almost instead of drinking, the scent so powerful it's like taking a sip.  I like the word 'island' in the tea title...perhaps it's my vibrant imagination, but when I close my eyes and breathe it in, I really feel for a moment that I could be sitting on a beach house, about to be offered fresh fruits from the mango and peach trees.

It really is almost addicting, white tea. I find myself drinking several cups of it, and not even realising it until I'm feeling all awake and alert because of the extra caffeine. White tea doesn't have a great deal of caffeine (less than green), but enough to prevent sleep if taken late enough at night, which Heather and I discovered a week or so ago when we tried the White Kiss-And-Tell tea.  I had forgotten that the white kiss-and-tell had a pinkish colour until I re-read that blog post: the tea today poured out with a slight peach colour, which made sense.

Sylvia and Laura's girls got in on the tea party with a teapot and cups of their own, and wanted to be part of the photo-taking as well.  They were keen that they all be evident (with their tea cups) in the photo, so I think we did fairly well (some teacups taking priority over faces).  It started raining while we were chatting inside, and for Phoenix that is an odd enough circumstance, resulting in almost all the children rushing around for umbrellas, opening them, and then carrying them about the house, strangely enough.  One of the girls handed her open, wet umbrella to her mother saying "Hold this for a minute", and Sylvia sat there with her cup of tea, laughing a little as she twirled her umbrella at the kitchen table.  "It rains so infrequently here, we really don't know what to do with umbrellas!" she said.

My walk this morning was a shorter one - I haven't been getting as much sleep as I should, and have been up at the crack of dawn most days, so Pin and I went up the hill and around where the expensive houses are, and back round to our house.  About a half hour, which was enough to wake me up and refresh my senses without completely wearing me out.  I did feel very sluggish and laggardly as I tried to encourage my feet to move along smartly.  Pin's feet seemed to be with the programme a lot better than mine were, and mine weren't even being competitive.  They were happy to be second rate today, so I gave up after a while and just enjoyed the walk.  I did love seeing all the desert flowers and cacti so I think I sense a blog post coming just on that.
Walk length: 30 minutes

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Day 42: Schlotzsky's Orange Spice Chai & Very Berry (Double Feature)

Today I bring you a double feature. My sister and I went to Schlotzsky's for our traditional Sister Lunch (tag line: Funny Name, Serious Sandwiches) and lo and behold they had not just plain old iced tea, but four different flavours of iced tea awaiting my arrival. It's amazing. It's like the whole world has diverted itself towards the tea line everywhere I go!  Or, I suppose, it's that thing that happens when you start looking for something.  You are thinking of buying a Mini...suddenly they are zooming around everywhere.  My mum said when she was pregnant with my oldest sister she suddenly realised that there were so many other pregnant woman who weren't there before! So I guess the principle applies...or else the world is, perhaps, realising the value of tea - proper tea, tea in many flavours, intensive tea that is much better than the run of the mill whatever that the world used to be happy with. No longer.  I'm on day 42 and realising that 90 days may just not be enough. 

So there were four tea choices, and first I picked Orange Spice Chai.  It was pretty good, but not a very intense flavour. There were vague indications of chai, but as Pin pointed out, since there was no milk, it's hard to 'feel' it as a proper chai of any kind, even an iced tea chai.  I could taste vague inklings of cardamom and a slight, very slight tartness of orange, and there was definitely some spice in there, but overall it was merely a slightly dressed-up version of iced tea.  Like it had thought about going out on the town but decided to just put on a nice pair of jeans and an ironed top, and leave it at that. Maybe even a pair of flip flops since it's warm out.  I added a packet of sugar (which I almost never do to tea, but I really needed some help here), and even a little lemon-green-iced tea and some Sprite. I was really trying (probably too hard), but I just couldn't get a sense of a flavour that I could really delve into.

So, when I went back for my refill (ahhh, America, the Land of Free Refills!!), I decided to try the Very Berry tea.  I don't usually confuse the palate with different teas - plus I like to save them for another day in case I need a different one - but I'm starting to realise, as noted above, that I may not need to save them.  I took a sip and just loved it.  The berry flavour was powerful enough to overcome the black-tea darkness, and bring a sense of cheer and joy to it.  Like this one not only dressed up, but also grabbed a little flag and started waving it about jubilantly.  I didn't add anything.  No sugar needed - the berry sweetness was enough to bring plenty of joy to this tea - and I gave Pin a taste and she supported it fully as well.  I drank probably two big cups of the Very Berry before I realised that I was drinking black (ie caffeinated) tea and was going to start shaking from the caffeine soon!

Our walk this morning was a pretty intensive one - I was able to run at least four portions of it, and we went out later than usual (it was around 8am, so it wasn't overly warm, but getting that way), so by the time we finished our lunch and did a miniscule amount of shopping, we were completely beat.  We gave up on any further shopping and came home for a little siesta.

Walk/run length: 50 minutes

Monday, 16 May 2011

Day 41: Snapple Papaya Mango Tea

One of my favourite things to do when I'm in Arizona is just hang with my nieces and nephews as much as I can.  Today I watched two of them while my sister and her husband were away, and it was such fun just to spend normal time with them, doing regular daily things like eating lunch, folding laundry, going for a walk, and having a water fight.  (In Arizona, in May, that's a regular daily thing - or it ought to be.)  My nieces and nephews always end up saying something just so matter of factly that always makes me feel like crying a little - not in a bad way, just realising that they miss me and would like to have me around.  Today it was Jude's prayer at lunch: "God, we thank you that Auntie Karen is here with us because we hardly ever ever ever get to see her, so this is really nice."  I thought it was, too.  We played with my iphone, recording the kids' voices and then playing them back as 'Robot', 'Guitar', 'Underwater', and a number of other funky recordings.  We laughed ourselves crazy.  Kids love iphones.  (And almost accidentally purchased an upgrade to the free app for me - whooops! A little too easy to buy things!!)

We decided to go for a mini adventure, so we just wandered down to the local petrol station (gas station!!).  The kids were awesome - Jude brought along his skateboard and had to carry it most of the way back (because he was holding his slushie) and never even complained once.  Audrey said that her feet were tired, but made sure to explain that she wasn't complaining, just stating a fact.  (She even kindly gave me an example of what 'complaining' would sound like so I would realise that this wasn't it.)  Audrey is big on telling stories - she wanted to hear stories of when I was little, so I dredged up the story of Auntie Karen And The Bees, Auntie Karen Gets Attacked By Large Dog, and a more recent story (in the last five years or so) of Auntie Karen And Melissa Nearly Get Run Over By A Stampede Of Highland Cattle.  (True story.)

The kids got slushies and I picked out my tea for the day.  Snapple is one of my favourite cold drinks in the States, especially on a warm day.  (It wasn't even close to hot, really - barely 30 C.)  This Snapple was a new flavour (my favourite is kiwi strawberry), and I think I like it because it's not sweet.  It has all the natural sweetness of fruit, but doesn't make you more thirsty by pouring in lots of sugar.  The funny part was, I had it in my head there was pomegranate in it, and was drinking it thinking yes, I can taste the pomegranate now, and have just realised that it's papaya mango. Flavours are funny things.  I read somewhere that there have been blind taste tests done and as long as something is coloured pink or red people will say it's strawberry, or raspberry, or cherry, even if the flavour is more like grape or pineapple.  Our minds decide so quickly on so many factors. I have to think really hard about my teas - although I will say that the hot teas seem to bring out the tastes more.  But I enjoyed my Snapple ("Auntie Karen, why are you taking so many pictures of your Snapple? Do you really really like it?"), and then when we got home we had an impromptu water fight. We couldn't find the water guns or even how to turn the sprinklers on, so we made do with water bottles.  Jude had one that he filled and just flung it at us shouting 'Water Bomb!!!' and then he and Audrey turned themselves into sprinklers, spinning round and round while the water squirted out of their water bottles.  They got soaked and I managed to get damp (they're short, so I mostly got wet on my legs and shorts, not so much my top half), and I looked at Jude and said, 'My goodness, you're completely soaked!'  His response was, "I know, isn't it awesome??"

I love being the cool aunt.

Oh - almost forgot - my walk today was at 5.30am, and Pin and I went together.  It was lovely to walk at that hour of the morning while it's still fairly cool, but you can wear shorts and be comfortable.  We skipped the sprinklers as it wasn't that hot yet.  No running, but it was a good solid walk - and add in the walk with the kids and I'm beat!  But a good tired. 

Total walk length: 70 minutes

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Day 40: Rest

"There's so much of God being revealed every day, and we miss it because we're in a hurry."  -Dr. Del Tackett, the Truth Project

Resting today!

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Day 39: Arizona Green Tea With Ginseng & Honey (Iced)

For my tea today I'm using the Arizona Green Tea that I drank on Thursday.  But that was going to be my tea that day until I was pleasantly surprised by the tea cabinet and teas available by our new friends in Tucson!

Arizona Iced Teas are something completely foreign to my fellow British citizens (my sister says that I like to throw that into the conversation every chance I have - like someone who just got engaged and keeps reaching out for things with her left hand, perhaps!).  Taking perfectly good tea and then icing it? Why would anyone do that?  Well, one of my answers would be that after walking for even a few minutes in 100 degree heat, you pretty much want everything iced.  So I picked up an Arizona Iced Tea at the petrol station (I mean, gas station!), and the only flavour they had was green tea with ginseng and honey.  It was really good, actually.  All the beauty of green tea, and yet the possibility of drinking it when it's absolutely roasting outside.  There are plenty other flavours which I can try while I'm here, so I'm looking forward to those.

Today was a really quiet day. I've been doing a lot, so I said no to everything (and I had some great opportunities) and just edited photos from the wedding last week and answered emails and studied the Bible and wrote some blog posts.  My walk today consisted of going down to the local mexican restaurant for 'father daughter bonding lunch' with my dad.  We do that every time I'm back in Arizona, and pretty much cover life, God, love, my girls, money, inheritances (spiritual and temporal), business, health, family, friends, and anything else important to me and to him.  I sure love my Dad.  One of the things I love the most about him is that he is truly a man of rest. He has learned the balance of working very hard, and doing everything he can do, and when that is done, to do nothing. Or sit and think. Or read a book, watch a film, talk to his family, stare out the window, study the Word, or send emails - but all to enable him to get back up and get working when the time comes.  I've learned a lot from my dad about resting, and today was a fairly quiet and restful day.

And tomorrow is a day of God-prescribed rest. Hooray!

Walk length: 15 minutes

Day 38: Organic Green Tea (Loose Leaf)

When I arrived in Arizona a few days ago, my sister had waiting for me in my room a beautiful basket by MR Designs and Gifts (amazing baskets!) - all about green tea! My favourite!  There were green tea sweets, and biscuits, and a box of organic green tea in little 'infusion packets', and biscotti (to go with the tea), all wrapped up in a beautiful basket and a cup-of-tea-plant-holder. At least that's what it looks like!  I had so much fun taking photos of the beautiful basket that I'm sure my sister was wondering if I was ever going to drink the tea.

I did though - opened up the organic green tea and took out one of the infusion packets and brewed myself a lovely cup. It was amazing. Usually I like my green tea with fruity flavours, to remove any bitterness and give a new taste to it, but this is amazing tea.  ("Only the best for MR baskets," Pin said, and I think that's true.) It had all the best of what green tea has to offer, and nothing that would hold you back from drinking the entire cup.  It's hard to say what I love so much about green tea. I like that it's light, and you don't need to add anything to it to enjoy the flavours. It truly is refreshing: first thing in the morning, when I don't feel like eating or drinking anything, I can drink a cup of green tea and enjoy the beginnings of the new day.  Many times I've gotten up thinking 'I really don't want to start this day' and by the time I've taken a few sips and started my morning pages, things are definitely looking up.  And maybe it's all the antioxidants and healthful aspects...which is surprising, since often the things that are healthiest for you taste pretty miserable (like the 'Green Vibrance' powder my mum was drinking, which smelled and tasted like moldy dirt and grass combined).

I went for a long walk with my sister this morning - even ran almost half of it, which was a nice change.  We made it out before it got too hot, but we were still pretty weary when we got back.  As Pin said, "Instead of 'I am woman hear me roar', it's 'I'm weak as a kitten but I can try'."   I like the confidence!

So in the afternoon I sat in my dad's crazy rocking chair (you sit in it and nearly get flung backwards - true story!), rocking carefully, drinking my organic green tea and feeling pretty happy about myself. And about gift baskets, and sisters, and being in sunny Arizona!

Walk/run length: 50 minutes

Friday, 13 May 2011

Day 37: Irish Decaffeinated Breakfast Tea

My walk this morning was a little late - I wasn't able to get out until close to 11, and in Phoenix (in May) that's just asking for trouble.  I barely made it to the canal, and not even halfway down before I needed to turn back. The last thing I wanted was a raging headache and sunstroke, and I've been there before.  Fortunately I had enough water with me and didn't stay out too long, so my walk (if not a raving success) at least happened!

Tonight we drove down to Tucson where our church is starting a new work there.  It was a fairly long and, I must admit, a little boring drive, but once we got closer to the house we were going to things started to get much more beautiful.  The Catalina Mountains rose up dusky blue and purple in the background, and the dusty and sage greens of the desert mingled with the deeper greens of the trees lining the roads.  We got to their house which was a beautiful, rambling, sprawling ranch house complete with horses and cowboy boots at the front door.  And in this dusty, deserty place we discovered a lady with a cupboard full of beautiful teacups and saucers, and the opportunity for a 'nice cup of tea and a sit down'.

I even got to choose my own teacup, so I picked a blue-green one with a yellow flower inside, and chose an Irish Breakfast Decaffeinated tea to put inside it.  I was pleasantly surprised with the freshness and light flavour of this tea - not too dark or too bitter (although I didn't steep it long).  I've put in teabags and forgotten about them before and the result is something very akin to sludge. Kind of frightening.  Fortunately this was not the case here, and we all enjoyed our tea in lovely, pretty, china cups.

Pin and I went out with one of the girls to visit their horses and came back, and we spent a few hours with the believers singing the Word, praying, and hearing a short exposition on Psalm 120 by the famous expositor, my Dad.  I really love his psalm explanations. I wish that I had been recording them all these years, because if he doesn't write a book of them, I will one day.  He pointed out that Psalm 120 was all about refreshment, reflection, and renewal: all of which I feel pretty passionate about, and was glad to be reminded of.  He reminded us to, like the psalmist, be continually waiting on God: but not a lie-back-and-do-nothing waiting, but an active, looking about, being willing to do things waiting.  The result is all of God, but we do what we can too.

I think what was most encouraging to me was praying with the other believers there.  Praying in community is one of the most powerful things you can do.  For me, there are always several aspects to it.  It reminds me that I am not alone.  If I can't pray, someone else can, and often is praying for me.  When someone else thanks God for who He is and for who Jesus is, and for the salvation we receive, I'm reminded to do the same instead of just leaping in asking for stuff.  And when another believer confesses his own sin and failings out loud in a group setting through prayer, it is a heart-convicting time that reminds me to search my own heart.  Prayer in a group is like a little mini church service: there is encouragement, and challenge, and reminder, and joy, and hope, and struggle...and there are those things Dad was telling us about - refreshment, reflection, and renewal.  Because others are praying, you must sit and reflect for a time on who God is and who others see Him to be. And afterwards you can sit around for a little fellowship - and perhaps another cup of tea.
Walk length: 35 minutes

Day 36: Rooibos Keylargo Tea

Today’s tea was Rooibos Key Largo – another find from Tea’s Me Café, where the people are friendly and the teas are fresh and life feels just a little bit happier.  This was one Heather had purchased – a rooibos tea is naturally decaffeinated, so it’s one that she has grown to love by necessity rather than taste.  “If I could, I’d drink black teas all day long!” Heather said as we poured this tea out.  “But I really like these now.” 

A rooibos has a strange flavor. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what it is.  Heather says it might be because it comes from a bark, rather than a leaf, but I looked into it and it's definitely leaves.  But they're sharp, almost like needles.  Rooibos definitely has an aroma and sense that’s all its own, as well as a slight aftertaste that is almost missing in the fresh loose leaf versions.  It does remind you of bark a bit as it is slightly nutty.  This one that we tried today had the slightly fruity flavours that made up the tropical or 'key largo' aspect: I wasn't entirely sure what they all are, but I looked it up and found that the flavours include papaya bits, mango bits, peach bits, orange peels and marigold flowering.  It makes for a very, very pretty dry tea.  (I'm starting to really love taking pictures of the dry tea itself.)  It’s an odd combination, really, the red rooibos which has a dusty, dusky taste and smell – and then the fresh, fruity, almost tartness from the tropical fruits.  It’s like finding a pineapple growing in the desert, or an orange appearing on a pine tree. 

We enjoyed our tea with Earl Grey biscuits that I had found in a little shop in Brussels and brought back for Heather.  We’re not entirely sure what they’re made of, but using our well-developed sense of taste and smell, we’re guessing a lot of butter and sugar, and fresh loose-leaf earl grey tea.  Heather just loved them, and is making plans to bake her own soon!  We figured that we could bake these little biscuits with just about any loose leaf teas – back to our friends at Tea’s Me!

Before my flight this evening we went out for a little mini photo shoot, but it was so hot and sticky that we only took a few pictures quickly before we dashed off to the airport.  The kids were incredibly good the whole time, and gave me a little help into the airport with all my bags.  I wrote this sitting on the plane, and was hoping to go for a walk with my sister when I got in but I was just too bushed. So, today was a rest day.  Sometimes those happen - and often in places like Key Largo!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Day 35: Raspberry and Pecan Rooibos Disaster

Well, Heather and I set out for a very nice tea at a beautiful tea room today, but it didn't quite turn out as we had hoped.  I think I can safely say this was the worst tea experience of my 35 days drinking tea every day, and I might even throw in the past year or so of drinking tea also! 

We first went to the Indianapolis Museum of Art and oooh'd and ahhh'd at the beautiful flowers and walkways. Heather even took a picture of me! (It's very rarely that I get photos taken of myself, and even more rarely that I like them! Poor anyone taking a photo of a photographer.)

So then we went downtown to this beautiful tea room to have a proper lunch tea, complete with sandwiches and sweets and three different kinds of tea.  We were running a little late, so we rang them to let them know, and they very graciously said that was fine and they would see us when we got there. We had stopped at Roberts Camera Store and spent a little while with a very helpful guy named Scott who gave us the 411 on all the cameras and lenses and camera bags we might need.  We had a lot of questions and he was really knowledgeable. He was the kind of person (like our friend Wayne at Teas Me Cafe) who helps you simply because he loves to help, and believes that it will work out well in the end (instead of pushing on you things you don't want to buy).  At any rate, we were running late but we made it to the tea room in the end.

It's called Signature at the Propylaeum, and it is an absolutely beautiful house from the outside. I was going to take photos of the place after our tea, but I didn't end up doing that.  We went in and were welcomed, and we just loved the little teacups everywhere, the furnishings, the little teacup with sweets in it, and the entire setting.  We were seated at one table, but there was a bit of confusion which table we were supposed to be at.  A few servers weren't quite sure what to do with us, but finally got us settled at the proper tea table.  There were drinks sitting waiting for us, which were I think meant to be a sparkling juice of some kind, but it appeared they had been sitting there since the time of our original reservation a half hour before.  Any fizziness had faded.  We drank them, and they were nice enough, although not overly impressive.  A few minutes later we got our tea food, and I have to say we tried very hard to be positive about it.  But after a little while we admitted to each other that it really was quite poor indeed.  Everything not only looked, but also tasted, as though it had been prepared either first thing this morning and had sat in the fridge since then, or perhaps even earlier in the week.  The sandwiches were dry and squished, the chocolate-covered strawberries looked limp and pathetic, and the sweets a bit dry as well.  And the scones were a disaster.  Having tasted fresh scones at Serenity last week (and knowing that it is the same caterer who provides food for both Serenity and Signature!), we were pretty horrified.  There was nothing anywhere near the lovely, fresh, exquisite experience we had been hoping for.  Our tea never arrived, so we had to ask for it, and when it did arrive it too tasted like it had been made for our arrival some forty minutes previously and kept warm on a stovetop or under a tea cosy. It was raspberry tea, but so dark that it looked like black tea.

Sometimes I'll mention it to the staff or servers if my food is substandard, but many times I let it pass.  It's not a big deal.  But after 35 days of drinking different and beautiful teas every day, I didn't want to miss out on an opportunity to really taste the teas they were giving us - and there were supposed to be three kinds in total.  So we hesitantly (and feeling terrible about it) mentioned that the tea was warm, not hot, and could we get some fresh tea made?  Our server was fairly grumpy and didn't seem too pleased that we weren't just sitting quietly not making a fuss, so he whisked our cups away and brought new ones.  The next tea he poured out was a pecan rooibos, and it was fairly nice, although again still tasted only warm, not hot.  And worst of all, we had to ask where the third kind of tea was, and our server said, "Oh, I guess we used to have a third one, but I have no idea what happened to it" and his attitude added the nonverbal, "and I don't really care".  Poor Heather and I sat there trying to pretend everything was just lovely and we finally admitted to each other that it wasn't. Either the place or the server or the caterers were having a bad day, or else it is like this all the time - we weren't sure.  Heather is very much not the kind of person to make a fuss or complain if things aren't right - but the normal price for this tea was $18 per person, and right now we were feeling that it wasn't worth the $2 we had paid for a voucher to get a discount, much less the full price.  So she went to speak to someone, and the lady she spoke to was very pleasant and friendly and sorry we had a bad experience, but couldn't really do anything for us. She said she would speak to the caterers. So we left it at that and tried in vain to find someone who would take care of our bill for us.  Heather walked around the entire downstairs looking in every room except the kitchen, and finally came back and sat down and we just waited until someone appeared.

The woman who appeared came to take our bill was friendly enough, and asked genuinely, "How was your tea today?"  I hesitated for a few seconds, looked at Heather, looked back at the woman asking, and decided to tell her the truth. I could have just said it was fine and smiled and left, but I really felt that maybe it was just a bad day and she would be horrified and want to fix it so no one else would have a similar experience.  So, I explained.  I told her that to be honest we hadn't really been impressed, and we were sorry, but the tea wasn't hot and the sandwiches were dry and didn't taste fresh, and....I didn't even get to finish when she took the bill from Heather and said, "Well, then don't pay if you didn't like it.  I wouldn't want you to.  I'm sorry you didn't like it.  No need to pay then, you can just leave.  Goodbye".  I was horrified.  I've never been so summarily dismissed by someone to whom I'm trying (as graciously as possible) to explain that my experience was not entirely up to standard.  We were a bit shocked, but there was nothing else to say, as she had cut me off in the middle of explaining what had happened, and walked back into the kitchen.  So we started gathering our belongings when she appeared again, briskly whisking away teacups and teapots, and said, "I'm sorry that it just wasn't up to your standard.  I usually get 100% ratings."  By this time I can't for the life of me figure out who from, since I've since read a good number of reviews online and most of them are saying the same thing that I am.  And since we were going to be the paying customers (we tried to pay), isn't it our standards that matter?  I actually felt much more annoyed and disgruntled after expressing my concerns than before: because now I felt as though she had figuratively grabbed me, whirled me about, kicked me out the front door, and told me to never come back.

Well, she doesn't need to worry.  Neither Heather, nor I, nor (I hope) any of you will ever go there again.  To add insult to her injury, we stopped at our favourite Teas Me Cafe on our way home (to get the nasty taste of bad customer service out of our minds) and ended up telling them the whole story.  When they asked where we'd been and we told them Signature, they got a knowing look and said 'Ooooh, yes, we've heard a few things about them'.  Which makes me and Heather feel a lot less like horrible criminals and much more like normal people who would just like a good tea experience, especially for the money.  Fortunately for us, we got it (as we always do) at Tea's Me.  I told them about the other green and white teas I'd tried already, and they recommended some new ones which I'm very excited to try - a green chai and a green gojiberry.  So, we chatted with our friends, bought some incredible tea, and as we walked out the owner actually apologised that we had had a bad experience at Signature today! If only the lady we had spoken to had done the same - and changed a few things as a result.

The funny thing is, the photos all make it look so lovely!  But if I've learned anything about doing business in my life it is that even if the venue and sometimes even the product are right, the service makes all the difference - one way or the other.  I just wanted the lady at this tea room to listen to me, hear what I had to say, and want to do differently.  She just wanted me to go away - so I did. 

My walk earlier today was the standard 45 minutes walking and running, but my goodness it is getting hot outside!  I guess I'm getting ready for Arizona weather - which comes tomorrow!

Walk/run length: 45 minutes

Day 34: Pomegranate and Blueberry Loose Leaf

Today's tea was another loose leaf from the Teas Me Cafe which I blogged about a few days ago when I tried the Japanese Cherry green.  If I could, I'd spend probably hundreds of dollars at this cafe...but it's also kind of fun to try to choose from the entire blackboard of teas that are available there.

One of the ones that made it past the rigorous choosing process I put it through ("Does it have a cool name", "Does it smell amazing", etc) was the Pomegranate and Blueberry.  This is one of those teas that almost seems like it doesn't have a tea leaf base because there's so much fruit in it.  You could probably make a snack of the tea itself after you've made it.  (Side note: the boys did this with the green tea leaves a few days ago...I actually had to stop them once I realised that it was almost 9pm and they were cheerfully eating green tea leaves with caffeine in them!)

So Heather and I tried this tea tonight while we sat down to watch The King's Speech, which I hadn't seen yet.  Seemed as though everyone I know has seen it, and I had an opportunity to watch it on the plane over to the States, but I've learned from previous experience that you miss a great deal when watching a film on a flight. So Heather and I poured the tea, and sat down with it to watch our film. It was fitting, to watch a film about a British king while drinking fresh-poured loose leaf tea.

This tea is a refreshing, fruity one - it tastes just as good cold as it does hot.  I definitely could taste the pomegranate, and it pours out in almost a mauve colour.  We drank it in lovely little Japanese teacups that Michael had brought back from Japan, which was a wonderful idea until we realised we'd filled our cups almost to the brim and we couldn't hold them without burning our fingers! We worked it out in the end, and drank every last drop of this tea with no side effects as it's a herbal tea with no caffeine.

My walk today was a good solid one: it turns out that my standard walk, which I thought was about 30-40 minutes including a run (so it matches the one I walk in Scotland), is actually 45 to 50 minutes with no running.  So today (Monday) I walked some and ran some and it was still a 40-45 minute effort.  Perhaps when I get back to Scotland I will just breeze right through my daily trek!

Walk length: 45 minutes

Day 33: Rest

On Sunday I rested from all my labours! And drank tea just for the sheer joy of it.

Day 32: White Kiss-And-Tell Tea

I bought the White "Kiss And Tell" Tea simply for its name. I do love a white tea, but I knew absolutely nothing about this one other than that any tea with a name as mysterious and beautiful and clever as that had to be good. I thought it would taste a little like a wink - cute and surprising and joyful.  And it certainly did.  White tea doesn't have a great deal of caffeine, but what it has it gives generously.

Today (Saturday) was Jim and Jenny Knox's wedding day in Indianapolis.  I spent the day with cameras in hand and slung over my shoulder, having the most beautiful time with some incredible people. I love weddings so much. I've said it before, and I will say it again and again: a wedding is a day where everyone is at their most beautiful, and the most disposed to be happy. Which leads to some very, very fun photographs.  The slightest comment has everyone in fits of laughter, and sometimes words aren't even needed.  As C.S. Lewis puts it, "I divide the causes of human laughter into joy, fun, the joke proper and flippancy. You will see the first among friends and lovers reuniting on the eve of a holiday. Among adults some pretext in the way of jokes is usually provided, but the facility with which the smallest witticism produces laughter at such a time, shows that that's not the real cause. What the real cause is we do not know. Something like it is expressed in....that art which the humans call music, and something like it occurs in heaven."  (Screwtape Letters)  This is absolutely true at weddings. It's not just happiness, it's deeper: joy. 

So, after a day of joy, and white dresses, and first kisses, and beauty, Heather and I sat down with a cup of white kiss-and-tell tea. We talked and drank and enjoyed and were very impressed with this flavourful and charming tea. We used the wedding teacups of an elder's wife in my church in Scotland - she gave the to Heather when she used to live in Scotland.  It was fitting that we drink that tea in those cups on that day.  The tea is light, pink, and with no aftertaste or bitterness of any kind. It is truly joyous and sparkling in every cup - I know, because I drank four cups of it.  And I also know that my expectations of it being a little surprising came true too: there was more caffeine than I expected, and I lay awake for at least an hour or two as a result.  Of course, I had plenty to do - I opened up the computer and edited more amazing wedding photos - but that tea definitely had a little wink in it. 

I did take a short walk later in the day, when the sun was going down, but I made sure to keep it light, too.  It was a full day and I was looking forward also to a day of rest on Sunday.

Congratulations Jim and Jenny!

Walk length: 20 minutes