Tuesday, 26 July 2011

A Celebration: Tea In All Weathers

Well, that’s my second 90 day challenge officially finished! To celebrate, I went into Glasgow with Hayley and Debbie to commemorate 90 days of a different tea each day with a proper ‘afternoon tea’ and cocktails. We went to The Saint on Bath Street, where they celebrate the 1930’s prohibition era by serving fantastic cocktails in beautifully fragile teapots and teacups. Apparently, it was what was done at the time to sneak around the prohibition laws, and pretend you were having a nice cup of tea while still enjoying the forbidden fruit.

The one we chose to have was the Strawberry Cream Martini. It was so strange to see a cloudy pink liquid being poured out of a teapot – I’m so used to the clear streams of tea that it surprised me a bit. I inhaled the scent first, and it did have a very strong smell of strawberry, which was lovely on a sunny day. Hayley said she felt like she was in Paris or some posh European city (I suppose much more posh than Glasgow) sitting in the front courtyard with the sun streaming in through the vines and the other people drinking their illicit tea next to us.

The taste was absolutely lovely. Creamy indeed. The description on the menu was “Raspberry skyy vodka & strawberry bols liqueur, infused with a touch of double cream, strawberry & champagne jam, topped up with cranberry juice”.

We enjoyed every aspect of it – and you could see the little strawberry seeds from the jam remaining at the bottom of the cup. The afternoon tea included cucumber and egg sandwiches, with a dark chocolate cake, buns, and scones with jam and cream. I think I had more cream and jam than I’ve had in a very long time! It was a proper tea, on a beautiful day, with excellent company. Absolutely ideal way to finish off and celebrate my 90 days. (We added a few cocktails, too, just because.)

My summary of the tea journey is as follows:

There are far more tea varieties than you could possibly imagine. I never had an instance where I ran out of teas to try – I could easily have carried on for the entire year with this project. I did run out of teas in my own cupboard, but that’s simply because it gets expensive buying an entire box of tea, and then realising you’ve got to go get another one for the next day! I had green teas, black teas, red/rooibos teas, white teas, fruity teas, and herbal teas. I had iced tea, hot tea, lukewarm tea (not recommended); tea with milk, with lemon, with sugar, with honey. I drank tea in Scotland, England, and America, and I tried teas originating from Africa, Thailand, India, Arizona, Japan, the Netherlands, China, and Russia. I drank tea alone, sipping quietly and enjoying a time of rest; at airports, rushing along to catch a flight; in groups of laughing people; with a close friend over long conversation; at business meetings; with family; at home; and in restaurants. There were a few teas I really did not like, but even those I came to appreciate in some way. I’ve had my entire perspective opened up, and I can’t think of a single tea that I wouldn’t at least try once. I’ve learned how to guestimate what’s in a tea without even knowing its name, and I’ve dissected tea leaves to discover the answer. I’ve fallen in love with loose leaf tea, and even more with the green variety. I still don’t like a cup of hot tea on a warm summer’s day. And I’ve enjoyed my days of rest, too.

My walking has continued well. It hasn’t been as varied as my walking blog, but it’s been more consistent, and more enjoyable in that my thoughts can ramble along to themselves since I know exactly where I’m going.

I can say confidently that it was an exercise well worth completing, and I again feel that sense of accomplishment and pride that I would set out to do something, and finish it to the end. There have certainly been days when I really didn’t want to do any of it – walk, blog, drink tea, take photographs, anything – but I did it anyway. (And a few days where I didn’t want to, so I just didn’t.) As always the life lessons are:

  • Any long term project is very, very hard in the middle, and towards the end. When you’ve gone long enough that you feel you’ve achieved something, but you really wish you could just be done.
  • Doing something every single day is difficult, and incredibly rewarding. It is possible to write a blog post every day, to walk every day, to do what you’ve set your mind to every day.
  • Being willing to try something new and away from your standard is valuable for all areas of life. It makes you think differently, see differently, and in this case, open up new worlds of taste!
  • Rest is critical. It’s as much a part of the journey as the hard work, and makes the achievement possible. Trying to achieve at a high level every single day is not only impossible, but foolish.
  • Celebration is a very important part of the process, too. Once you’ve achieved something fairly momentous (if only in your own mind), it’s important to recognise that with some kind of ceremony or acknowledgement – and bring friends along. Celebration doesn’t work alone.
  • People notice things. Even more than the last walking challenge, I felt like no one was really reading the blog, no one commented for days or even weeks, and I wondered why I was even bothering. But everywhere I went, literally all over the world there were people asking how my tea journey was going, offering me different teas to try, joining me in the process, and even starting challenges of their own! That was the most flattering and encouraging, to realise that my own efforts had inspired someone else to do something similar. Who knows how far the encouragement of their challenges could reach?
I’ll end this blog with a tea quote, as I began it. This one seems to encapsulate what I’ve experienced in my journey:

“We can make of bread and water
Sweet feasts of toast and tea.”
- Oakland Tribune, 1903

There are such simple ingredients involved in making such a beautiful, restful, peaceful, enjoyable experience.

May the simple ingredients of your life be thus transformed.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Day 90: Green Tea With Pineapple & Grapefruit

It's here. At long last - day 90!!  If you've been reading the last few weeks, you've known that I've gotten a little weary of the whole process.  I love blogging - and walking - and photography - and tea...but the 'every day without fail' nature of it can become a struggle.

I'll write more tomorrow about my thoughts on the whole process.  I've arranged to have an Afternoon Tea at The Saint in Glasgow with two of my girls tomorrow, to celebrate the success of the 90 days!  We're very excited about the little cakes, sandwiches, and not only tea but cocktails in teacups! But more on that tomorrow for the celebratory blog post.  For now, I'm blogging as usual on one of my classics, green tea.

I genuinely thought I'd blogged on all the green tea versions in my cupboard, but I realised when cutting a grapefruit (and wondering if I should try to create my own tea version) that although I've been drinking this one every few days, I haven't officially blogged it yet!  Twinings does a whole series of 'Green Tea With...', and I've tried Orange and Lotus Flower, Blueberry and Raspberry, Mango, Cranberry, and Lemon, just to name a few.  I think I've actually tried a few others that aren't listed on the blog.  All of them are lovely.  The fruit flavour with green is just right.  My friend Moe asked me yesterday, of all the teas I've tried, which was my favourite, and I said I think it's the Green Tea With Mango, loose leaf.  But I'm thankful to Twinings for its green-tea-with series that got me hooked on greens in the first place.

Today's green tea, with pineapple and grapefruit, has a lovely sour kick to it.  I even added a little grapefruit juice to spike it further.  I have a lot of good memories of grapefruit.  The house that I grew up in, in Phoenix, was on land that was once a grapefruit orchard.  We had at least 13 trees on our property alone, and every house on the block had its share, too.  When I was younger, I wasn't as big a fan of grapefruit - too sour, and of course when you're young you want things as sweet as possible.  But as I got older I really enjoyed going out back and picking one of the huge yellow fruits directly off the tree, and taking it inside for breakfast.  Some of them took two hands to hold - and the skin was as thick as your thumb.  Some trees had sweeter fruit than others - some you could hardly eat unless you had liberally dosed it with sugar, and others had a tinge of red to them.  I remember the smell of them, and the white blossoms on the trees in spring, and the green abundance of leaves, and the painted-white-tree-trunks.  And after a storm, the green leaves and brown branches would be flung about, and the yellow grapefruits would be bobbing about in our swimming pool, and we would use them to play mini-basketball, or to surprise the cat.  (If you hold a grapefruit under water, and then release it, it springs up with a pop and the cat jumps backwards ten feet.  Great fun.)  Even just smelling the skin of the grapefruit I bought here at Tescos takes me back to summer afternoons in Arizona, the blue of the swimming pool matching the sky, and round yellow fruits lying about, and me lying about, watching the clouds drift across the sky.

Tea does wonderful things for you.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Day 89: Rest

It may seem a little strange to include days of rest as part of the 90 day challenge.  I've had a few people say that I should take the rest, but not count it as the 90 days.  But if I've learned anything about rest, it's that it is essential to our lives, essential to everything we do.  Rest is just as much a part of our achievements as the work, because it is the rest which enables us to achieve that which we spend ourselves for.  I could not do the walking, the writing, the photography, so consistently if I did not take a day off, completely off, each week.  We still count a week as being 7 days, even when we take the first day off to worship and sleep and read and pray and do none of our usual pursuits.  And so I still count my 90 day challenge as being a full 90 days, even when twelve of those were days of rest.

Enjoy your rest today!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Day 88: Loose Leaf Jasmine Tea

Jasmine. This tea has been haunting my cupboard, waiting oh-so-patiently to be brought out and enjoyed, watching with big sad eyes as the other teas went, one by one, getting their photos taken and generally becoming celebrities.  They returned with great hoopla to the cupboard whilst my poor jasmine tea (which I love) was relegated to a back corner and waited silently until day 88, when I suddenly realised it hadn't come into its own yet.

Truth be told, I wanted to wait and do a blog post on 'tea the dutch way'.  When I was in the Netherlands, I discovered that they have a lovely way of doing tea.  They bring out a teapot filled with hot water, and then glass mugs, and a plate or bowl filled with a variety of teabags.  Their teabags are always made in the kind of packets that describe what kind of tea it is (not just a box of teabags thrown in helter skelter, like we do in Scotland).  So instead of going round and asking what kind of tea everyone wants, they just boil the hot water, bring out the selection, and to each his own.  It's a lovely tradition.  So I was saving up my jasmine tea to use when I finally purchased some little glass mugs, and quite honestly I've never gotten round to it.  So tonight I'm perusing the cupboard and realise that in the name of 'waiting for that special day' I almost missed my loose leaf jasmine tea entirely.  And in the spirit of excelsior I am just going to go for it, my lack of glass tea mugs notwithstanding.

Jasmine tea is probably one of my all time favourites. It's one of the first loose-leaf teas that I began to really enjoy, when a friend gave me some when I was visiting his house.  I drank the entire cup and I think two or three more that night, so he sussed out pretty quickly how much I liked it, and instead of losing his entire tea cupboard to my visits, gave me some of my own for my birthday.  He also kindly gave me a slotted tea-spoon that is perfect for a cup of loose leaf tea, and which I've used almost daily, if not weekly, for the last few years.  Jasmine tea also reminds me of going out to eat with my dad at chinese restaurants - the tea that they give you in those tiny little cups, where you fill and refill it a hundred times in a night and still the teapot is not empty - as it has just enough flavour to enjoy, but not so much that you feel 'full'.  There are some teas that really make you feel like you've eaten something.  Assam tea, which I had earlier this week, is a pretty heavy duty tea; even Candy Cane tea is like eating sticks of peppermint; and Thai Bobo Iced Tea is like a medley of fruits and sugar, and it's difficult to find the tea, almost.  

But Jasmine tea is light. Fragrant. Peaceful. Restful. Calm. Unassuming.  It brings to mind light, fragile flowers, and Japanese gardens, and glass teapots. It's the kind of tea that can wait in the cupboard for 88 days, and not be bitter or resentful when it's finally brought out.  I'm enjoying this tea just as much as I ever did, and it's a happy reunion.

Day 87: Nando's African Nectar

Tonight I went to Nando's for dinner, and discovered that they not only serve tea, but more importantly 'tea infusions' - the closest thing you can get to loose leaf tea whilst still using a teabag.  "Silken pouches of fruit, herbs, spices, and whole tea leaves", as the menu proclaims.  I decided to go for African Nectar, which didn't have a description but I think after 87 days of tea I'm pretty capable of guessing the basic ingredients, at least.

It's a reddish-gold tea, and with the name African definitely suggests rooibos, with its distinctive red colouring.  The word 'nectar' hinted at golden honey, and inhaling the smell definitely lent credence to that theory.  After a sip or two I was confirmed in those two flavours, but there was something else too.  Something almost citrusy - I'd think maybe orange or lemon, although something more exotic wouldn't be a surprise.  And once I'd drunk the tea, I actually dissected the tea bag to see if there were any further hints.  It almost seemed like there was something like cloves, although that could just be larger pieces of the rooibos bark, and perhaps lightly coloured rose petals?  Or some other very light, fragile flower.  If that's not what's in the tea, it would definitely make for a good choice, in my opinion!

The tea was lovely.  The various secondary flavours supplemented the rooibos well, and it was light enough to drink as much as you want, whilst flavourful enough to let the tea steep for longer, if desired.  Now that I've analysed it myself, I went to the Mighty Leaf site and looked up the African Nectar variety, to see how close I was.  It turns out I was very close indeed.  It's definitely a rooibos, and other than 'natural flavours' which weren't further described, there are organic hibiscus and marigold flowers.  That's the petals I saw.  Very light indeed.

I'm pretty proud of myself for discerning the tastes so well.  I'm really beginning to enjoy this tea journey!  There are only three days left, which is hard to believe.  It's been a long one, but a good one, and has spanned several countries and will definitely be missed.  And all the lessons I've learned will be valuable any time I drink tea in the future!  But there are still a few days left, so I look forward to the final steps in the journey.

Walk length: slim to none. Wasn't very well today!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Day 86: Candy Cane Tea (Holiday Decaf Green)

If yesterday's tea was a campfire in a cup, then today's is Christmas in a cup.  This has been a favourite tea for many years, but I generally only drink it during the holidays.  Interestingly enough, I've only discovered today that it's a decaf green tea (no wonder I like it!).  There's a very strong peppermint flavour - so strong that you feel you could get the same taste by heating hot water and dropping several sticks of peppermint candy into it.  The green tea is an excellent flavour enhancer, though - much better than black tea.  It's lighter, and I'm discovering that when green tea has another flavour with it, the secondary flavour becomes the primary one.  I think green is a very humble tea.  It insists that the other flavours go first, have more of an impact.  It's content to sit back and just be the base, the capability, the opportunity for these other flavours to shine.

Candy cane tea is also an excellent choice if it's cold, or wet, or grey, or rainy, or if you're getting a cold.  There's something about anything minty that not only soothes, but provides contentment, too.  I'm struggling a little to drink this tea on a summer July day, but summer in Scotland is all over the place, and within the last hour it has gone from a warm, clammy, summer's day to a very grey and wet one.  So I feel I'm justified in having this mint infusion while I "chillax".

And every time I take a sip, I'm transported a bit.  I see wrapping paper and ribbons and sparkling baubles.  I smell the tangy green scent of a Christmas fir, with the needles flinging themselves with joyful abandon all over my white carpet.  I hear "I Saw Three Ships" playing while I write out Christmas cards, and families laden with good things laughing and sometimes arguing as they return from the shops.  I feel the sharp softness of velvet ribbon and the sleek slidiness of silk dresses and tops.  And I can just taste those Christmas cookies we used to make every year back when I was younger - pink and white striped, twisted all along and curved at the top, and sprinkled with crushed peppermint.  (My friend Heather blogged the recipe here, if you're interested.) Candy cane cookies, they're called.  It's the only thing missing while I drink my Christmas tea in July.

Walk length: 15 minutes

Monday, 18 July 2011

Day 85: Lapsang Souchong Tea (aka "Smoky Tea")

Today I actually selected and purposefully chose a tea I know I absolutely don't like. I might even go so far as to say that I hate it.  Actually, it's not so much the flavour or the smell or the taste that I'm opposed to in and of themselves: but I don't think any of them belong in a teabag, or a cup of tea.  In my mind the connection just doesn't match.  When my dad was in the Navy, one of his worst food memories is the day he took an entire plateful of what he thought was hash browns, the way the Americans make it: grated potato, fried golden-brown and absolutely delicious.  Unfortunately he took one bite and discovered it was sauerkraut, which he doesn't like.  Of course being in the Navy you don't exactly leave behind food you just can't be bothered to eat, so he had to finish the entire plateful.  I don't think he's had another bite of sauerkraut since, and that was close to 50 years ago.

The same applies to this tea.  We like to call it 'smoky tea' because that's what it smells like.  It has all the aroma of a barbeque, a campfire, or woodsmoke.  It's exactly that smell you get when you've been standing in front of a bonfire all night, and you get home and take off a piece of clothing and suddenly stand back a bit, realising how it smells so smoky.  That's what this tea smells like.   If you close your eyes, you can almost hear the crackling logs, see the sparks flying up and disappearing into the night air, listen to the laughter of friends and someone softly playing a guitar.  There are marshmallows being roasted and maybe even some freshly caught fish being cooked over the open coals.  The trees creak with the wind and the breeze fades in and out - and the smoke wafts in, and you're back to your cup of tea.

Which is why I think it's odd.  When I'm having a cup of tea, I'm generally in my house, or at a lovely restaurant, or a beautiful tea room.  I'm sitting on a sofa, or even in bed, or at a table.  It conjures up images of teapots and sugar bowls and milk jugs and silver teaspoons and slices of lemon and, quite frankly, fairly girly things.  Flowers and roses and pink and pale pastels.  So to have all that in your mind and then suddenly with one sip to be transported to a very male situation, with dirt and wood and fire and forests and wild animals calling out into the night, is a bit of a shock.

The even stranger thing (and this is slightly annoying) is that after the first few sips I really start to quite like it.  I rebel against it for a while ("Ew! I hate this tea! Blakthp!"), but I keep going back to it!  There's an addiction, a draw, that I just can't seem to resist.  Once I realise I'm at the campfire, I'm really enjoying it.  I'm almost reaching out to roast a marshmallow!  May as well, I figure.  I thought I was going to a tea room in the city, and found myself outside in the woods, but when in Rome....

Partly to try to figure out just how I like this tea, and also partly to get rid of the remaining teabags which are using up precious cupboard space, I have today tried drinking this tea in four different forms.  First, normal steeping, nothing added.  Secondly, longer steeping, so that it's almost black.  (It's a very dark tea.)  Third, with lemon.  And finally, with milk.  I almost never do that, but I really am curious what happens to this tea with these changes, and as mentioned it's a great way to exhume my cupboard and salve my conscience and move on from this very confusing tea!  My reviews are as follows:

Normal steeping - best. As mentioned above, I hate it at the start and then find myself drinking it to the dregs.
Heavy steeping - not bad. Brings out the best of the flavours and is not bitter, surprisingly.
Lemon - disaster.  Campfires and manly things like heavy boots, axes, fire, and rugged places do not go with little slices of lemon (or drips of lemon juice from a bottle).
Milk - it's okay, but I can feel the tea protesting.  "I'm complete in and of myself!" it insists. "I don't need these additives - you're simply weakening me, sapping my strength! Let me fight, let me stomp around in my camping gear, let me put up the tent!  Don't send me to a corner and add a baby's drink to me!"

The conclusion is, I hate this tea.  You should definitely have some!

Walk length: 35 minutes

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Day 84: Rest

Today is a day of rest. It was such a beautiful day, I went out a walk again just for the sheer joy of it. There's such a difference - I listen to quiet, beautiful music; walk slowly; look around a lot; and try to take in the rest and beauty all around me.

Enjoy your rest today!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Day 83: Green Tea With Orange And Lotus Flower

I can't believe it, but I'm running out of teas again.  Actually, what's becoming far more difficult is remembering whether I've tried a particular tea or not. I scraped the bottom of the barrel and came up with this poor specimen, a wee packet lodged at the bottom of my handbag that has, apparently, been traveling with me everywhere I go since a meeting I had in Bristol a few months ago. I remember snagging an extra tea packet because they are nice to have, and in case of emergencies like this!, and here it has come in handy.

Fortunately for me and for the teabag, the packet has protected it from all the vagaries and challenges of life and weather, and inside is a pristine bag of tea, with an aroma that brings me great joy.  I'm actually wishing I had saved this one for an early morning tea (I love green tea in the mornings), but it's releasing its orange-and-lotus-flower goodness into the air around me and I'm very susceptible to those charms.

Lotus flower is a perfectly lovely scent, and taste. It really does make me think of Japan, and Bali, and places where light and fragrant flowers abound, leaving petals and powerful scents everywhere you go.  It reminds me also of the 'flowering teas' (or 'blooming teas'), the ones that you drop into hot water and watch them blossom and grow and become beautiful right before your eyes.

Again my walk this morning was bright, and glorious, with sunshine glowing on the green grass and trees with a dark blue-grey sky hovering behind.  The rain has come off and on all day, but I walked in happiness and came home dry.

Walk length: 35 minutes

Day 81: African Honeybush, Mandarin and Orange

Today's character, the person who came to life in my mind as I sipped my tea, is Mma Ramotswe from the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.  If you've read this book, you'll be familiar with this lady, a warm, generous-hearted, confident and humble creature.  It's a fascinating mix, and so is the tea for today.

African honeybush is a lovely phrase. Just makes you imagine you are wandering through the back roads of Africa and there is a flowering bush, sage green in colour to match the rest of the dry landscape, but with light white flowers covering it and being tended to carefully by thoughtful bees.  Somehow the bush gives off a fragrance of honey that wafts to you even from a far distance, and if you are fortunate enough to pass bush after bush, you have to stop with your eyes closed and just breathe it in for a few moments to truly take in the beauty.

This tea is like that, and with some citrus flavour to enhance it all, you can't ask for a much sweeter tea.  It needs to be steeped for quite a while - I'm thinking it would make an absolutely perfect iced tea, because by the time it has steeped to the level that all the flavours are brought out, it's no longer hot.  Maybe that's how Mma Ramotswe likes it, but I prefer my tea to either be hot or cold.

One of my favourite lines from the entire Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith is on the second page of the first book. We are introduced to 'Precious' Ramotswe, and her new business, and to her love of Africa.  "I am not ashamed to be called an African patriot, said Mma Ramotswe.  I love all the people whom God made, but I especially know how to love the people who live in this place."

When I read that line, I associated with it exactly. That's how I feel about Scotland.  I moved here ten years ago from America, and whilst America will always be my 'home country' in terms of where I am from, and where I often return to, and where my family is, I am not ashamed to be called a Scottish patriot.  I love all the people whom God made, but I especially know how to love the people who live in this place.  It's a beautiful thing to love where you are and love who you know there.  Airdrie is a town of 50,000 or so, small compared to Phoenix, where I grew up, which is 1.5 million strong and growing.  It's not the kind of place that people move to on purpose, so I'm constantly asked why in the world I left the glories of America to come and stay in Airdrie, of all places.  We have a few stabbings now and then, and a murder or two, and there are places you just don't go at night (or, sometimes, ever), and some people you pass have a bit of hopelessness in their eyes and in their face.  But when I moved here, it was to help support the little church down on North Bridge street, the block building that doesn't look so impressive from the outside, but inside has the words of life and a people who love God and each other and hope for everyone in this town and beyond.  And after ten years here, I especially love this place, and this country, and am proud to have become a citizen of it.

Took a longer walk this morning - just felt like I needed it.  Went beyond my usual and was plagued a bit by bugs, but overall it was a good walk and a beautiful day and I might just go out for another one later!

Walk length: 50 minutes

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Day 80: Assam

Nearly there. Only ten days to go!  Today's tea was recommended by a friend of mine up on the Isle of Skye...had I tried assam tea?  I haven't, so here we go.

The packet declares it "A deep amber tea with a rich and malty character."  I love the way these tea packets describe their teas. They give them heart, soul, body, and now an entire character.  This tea definitely has that, in spades.  Remember my Lady Grey from the other day?  Well, this is about as different from her as you could get.  None of these floating dresses or silent butlers or silver tea sets...assam tea is rich. Meaty. Heavy duty.  A bodyguard you don't want to mess with.

I have a picture hanging in my parents' guest bedroom at home in Phoenix.  My sister Janice gave it to me when I passed my CPA exam (yes, for those of you just joining me in the last few years of my life, I trained as an accountant, of all things!).  Taking and passing that exam was one of the hardest things - in terms of study and grunt work and sitting inside when I'd rather be out and not getting enough sleep and wanting to give up - that I've ever done.  I worked 10 hours a day and studied in every free moment - literally on my short lunch breaks, sitting in the car at a red light, and waiting in queues.  The only days I took off were the Lord's Days, and I spent those going to worship in the morning and sleeping the rest of the day.  And I had to take that exam three times.  So the day I got that 'pass' letter in the post was a pretty great day, and my sister recognised it, and as I say bought me this picture that means a lot to me still.

It depicts a dark-skinned man in strange, almost Asian-Oriental-Ancient Biblical times dress - it's hard to even call it 'dress' since much of it is armour.  But the kind of armour that looks like it was made to fit his skin, as light as mithral and just as powerful.  His helmet is silver also, with that intricately worked design that reflects hours and days and even years of labour, and comes to a point at the top.  He holds a gigantic spear, the kind that is higher than his own head (and he's not a small man).  He is standing tall, at attention, with that faraway look in his eyes that goes just beyond you and misses nothing.  And the kind that, like the guards at Buckingham Palace, is unmoved by small distractions or foolish tourists or anything that is part of the usual day.  He manages to look calm, almost relaxed...and yet if you even flinched towards him with malice intent, he would whip that spear around and be pointing it in your face before you could even gasp.

And behind him is a door - a massive, blue-green, intricately carved door that stretches far, far above his head and beyond the edges of my picture.  It's the kind of door that proclaims a king, a kingdom, power, strength, and majesty you can't even imagine.  There is glory there, and beauty, and fear, and justice, and solemnity.  And it is before this door, this palace, that our strong and silent guard stands.  For he is a doorkeeper.

There are other roles he could have accepted, other tasks. He could be with a group of his fellow men and warriors who are fighting for the Kingdom in faraway lands.  He's in the shade of this great door, but he's also alone, and he is on duty morning and night.  You can tell by his eyes and the grip on his spear that he takes this position seriously - that he chose it, wanted it, perhaps even fought for the right to have it.  And he is proud to stand there. 

When I saw that picture the first time, I thought of the great Bible verse, "I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness."  (Psalm 84.10)  I've always loved that verse, because you might think a doorkeeper a fairly boring, mundane task.  Something that you get stuck with while the other warriors and fighters are out doing the glorious work that gets accolades and medals and honour and praise.  But the man who wrote those lines - and the man in my picture - chose this task. It's a task of honour, glory, joy, and intensity.  It holds the promise of great things, because the doorkeeper stands at the door of greatness.  The King who resides inside has built a Kingdom that is worthy of being protected, a Kingdom so great you would rather stand in the scorching heat dressed in armour from head to toe, than go rest in the tents of your enemies, who have cool drinks and fans waving and maidens dancing and laughter flowing.  You scorn their luxuries, because you know that there's a day coming those things won't last.  They're laughing now, but the army is coming.  Your friends and brothers and neighbours and family are marching, and you're at the door watching, and the King is all glorious in the city waiting, and the great moment is coming...and so you would rather be this doorkeeper.

That's what I tasted - and that's who I saw - in my Assam tea today.

Fight on!

Walk length: 35 minutes

Monday, 11 July 2011

Day 79: Orange, Mango, & Cinnamon

Twinings 'Moment of Calm', it says on the packet. Just breathe...ahhhhh.

I love anything with citrus. Today was a very full and fairly exhausting day (and momentous, for reasons that are too long for this blog!), so I enjoyed my orange mango and cinnamon tea and a good long chat with my mum and sister. The tea was heavy on the orange and mango and low on the cinnamon, just the way I like it...and yet it was red in colour, which confuses me a little bit. Orange, yellow, and brown...result? Red. I'm not sure what else is in there but it's a good calming tea, as promised.

Went for my walk at 7.15 this morning even though I reeeeeeally didn't feel like it (was trying to convince myself that I shouldn't go, I needed to rest), but was thrilled that I did and came up with all kinds of great ideas for my photography business and my life in general! More on that in future!

Walk length: 35 minutes

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Day 78: Rest

Today I took a walk for the sheer joy of walking. And I might just have a cup of tea for the joy of that, too.

Enjoy your rest today.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Day 77: Twinings Ceylon Tea

Ceylon is another tea I've wanted to try for a while, but it didn't seem very 'exciting', in terms of exotic flavours and brilliant colours...it just seems like 'plain old tea'.  If tea can ever be described that way.

And in many ways Ceylon is just that. It's just tea. My friend Audrey, who turns up her nose at my fancy and special teas, would enjoy this one just fine with a bit of milk and a biscuit.  I suppose it's one of the finer teas that doesn't overwhelm you with a strange or new taste. But what I found most interesting about Ceylon is that when I tried it lightly steeped, leaving the teabag in for a short time, it tasted dark and almost bitter. Not a big fan. So I let the teabag sit and steep for almost 10 minutes while I edited photos, and when I came back and tried the second cup, it was really nice! Either I got the bitterness right out at the start (my green decaffeination process again), or it just does better when steeped longer!

Didn't feel like going out for a walk this morning, so I did.  I'm finding that even at my most tired, my morning walk really does set the tone for the day. Today the skies were grey but bright, and I came back all enthused and glad I went out in the first place.

Walk on!

Walk length: 35 minutes

Friday, 8 July 2011

Day 76: Lady Grey

Lady Grey is one of the choices from my Twinings sampler that Audrey got for me, and one that I've wanted to try for a long time. It just conjures up many beautiful images in my mind. Interestingly enough, I was surprised to find that the packet proclaims it 'zesty and bright'...I was thinking of a lady wrapped in mist and fog, cloak pulled about her, coming in to her ancestral home and pouring a fog-like tea out of her silver teapot. But one taste of this tea, and that image vanished as quickly as the imagined mist.

It is definitely 'zesty and bright'. It's cheery, with a flavour of oranges and citrus combined with the Earl Grey taste.  As though our lady of the mist was wandering through the fog and suddenly the sun breaks out, and she realises she is standing in an orchard, row upon row of green trees laden with succulent orange fruit.  The oranges catch the sunlight as it breaks out from the clouds, and for a moment she thinks she's in an orchard of gold. There is fruit in abundance on the trees, and lying scattered in gorgeous profusion on the ground.  The green grass lights up, too, and the dark blue-grey sky serves as a perfect contrast.  She reaches out (with her lily-white hand, of course) and plucks one particularly bright one, cradling it in her hand. As she walks, the fog disappears behind her, and the sun comes out in full glory, sending rays slanting through the orchard, over the rooftops of her massive home. It's a huge place, rather like something belonging to Mr Darcy, or Mr Bingley (but not Mr Rochester, because there is no gloom in this home).  She reaches the side door, where the butler has laid out the tea for the morning - silver tea set, white china, crisply ironed linen, and of course her husband's tea, the tea he had commissioned (he is an Earl) is there, ready to be poured out.

'Your tea, madam?' The butler inclines his head graciously, and begins to pour, as he has every morning for this beautiful lady.

But what's this? She stops! A hand is raised! She holds out the orange, and the sun's glorious morning rays light up her joyful face, and the little golden orb in her hand.  The butler, apologetic, sets down the tea service. As all butlers do, he understands immediately, and no words need be said.  He takes the fruit - gently, reverently - and disappears in a whisper of movement to the kitchen. In mere seconds, it feels, he has returned.  The fruit has been sliced in glorious perfection and laid out on a white china plate. There are tiny silver tongs laid next to them, waiting breathlessly for their role in the morning. And our Lady accepts this offering, and herself takes the tongs and - hesitating only momentarily, as each piece seems to be perfection itself - chooses a citrus slice.  The butler pours, carefully, quietly.  The Lady places her chosen piece in the cup, with great decorum. No drop is lost, no noise is made.

The butler waits. Not with bated breath, for a butler is ready for all things...but there is slight anticipation in his frame. The Lady seats herself in the ornate (but comfortable) chair, the one she uses every morning, the one that looks out to the gardens, to the morning, to the orchard beyond.  She reaches out - she takes the cup - she sips.

And there is her glorious morning, her golden fruit, her beauty and rest and tranquility and joy, all encompassed in one tiny sip. She sighs slightly, with contentment. The butler, again, does not relax...but if you knew him well, you would see a sense of true accomplishment, understanding, and appreciation there.  He stands at her side, and she sips her tea, and the morning begins.

What a beautiful tea.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Day 75: Tea At The Empress

My friend Heather kindly sent me a tea-care-package to help me along the final stages of my journey.  Her friend had recently gone to a Victorian hotel in Vancouver called The Empress, and had kindly brought Heather some of its afternoon tea.  Heather included me in the virtual tea-party, and sent a few of the teabags along with the description so that I can try it, too.

It's funny, sitting in a hoodie and jeans in my living room at 9 in the morning, drinking this tea and trying to imagine sitting at a white linen covered table, with sparkling glasses and shining porcelain cups and gently steaming silver teapots.  But as Anne of Green Gables would say, "I have an imagination", and that serves me in pretty good stead.

My little teabox summary says, "Top seasonal quality tea from Kenya, Tanzania, South India, Assam, Sri Lanka, and China".  Wow! That's the best of the best when it comes to tea.  It's interesting that Britain (especially England) are known so much for their tea, when really they just borrow the best from these countries.

I'm trying it with no milk (or sugar), and it's got really good flavour. I admit that since I've begun my foray into loose leaf green teas and herbals, 'regular tea' doesn't have as much of a draw for me.  The royal wedding commemorative blend is so far my favourite, I think because it conjures up so well the beauty and magic of that fairytale day.  And also because I like to be able to taste certain flavours in a tea.  Perhaps one day I'll get to Kenya, and India, and China, and then I will know what the tea is like direct from the source...and then I'll be sitting in my flat drinking a cup of tea and it will remind me of all of these exotic places.  For now, I'll imagine the silver teapots and white-coated waiters and balloon-backed chairs and sparkling chandeliers...and drink my tea.  Thanks Heather!

I went for my walk early this morning, around 7. It started raining (not solid hard rain, just a pitter patter) halfway through, so I had a lot of people looking at me oddly as I marched along in a short sleeved shirt spattered with rain, walking as fast as I could to keep from getting too cold!  By the time I came home I was well glad for my little cup of tea.

Walk length: 35 minutes

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Day 74: African Rooibos, Strawberry & Vanilla

Today my friend Audrey has helped save this blog.  I've really, really lost motivation for it.  Not for the walking - I've been doing brilliant at that.  Even getting up an hour earlier so I have time to write in the mornings, and then go for my walk, and sometimes even run.  It's the daily slog of trying to find a new tea (which is getting harder because I've pretty much wiped out my cupboard), taking photos of it (and trying to make them look different from all the others), drinking it and thinking about what it tastes like, writing out the blog, and then doing it all again the next day! 

I'm moaning, I know. The only way this blog is going to get finished is if I stop whining and start 'grinding', as my friend Seth Baker says.  I love his illustration.  He's talking about a video game he played hours and hours and days and perhaps years of when he was younger, and there was a bit called 'grinding' where you just have to kill slime monsters for hours and hours so you can go up a level.

Well, drinking lovely tea and blogging about it is hardly a slime monster...but it's amazing how it can begin to feel like that.  You convince yourself that it's just TOO hard, and you'll do it tomorrow, and suddenly ten days have gone by and surprisingly none of these blog posts have written themselves in the night!! (Where are my elves?) 

But. Enough of that. If you're reading this blog and want to be an encouragement, write me a comment (here or on Facebook) and tell me to get off my ass and write! Or send me tea! (My friend Heather sent me tea today which I will be trying tomorrow!) Or drop me a text later during the week and ask how it's going.  If you don't, I'm hoping to find the last dregs of my enthusiasm (somewhere on my walk, perhaps!), because I've only got 17 more days to go.

So, as I said, Audrey came in and saved the day today, because she asked how it was going and encouraged me to press on - and to show she really meant it, when we were at Tescos she helped me pick out two boxes of different kinds of teas, and then proceeded to buy them for me! I love it when someone puts hands and feet to their words of encouragement (or in this case, tea boxes and pounds and pence!).

So Audrey and I sat and had a wee cup of tea together - I had the African Rooibos, Strawberry and Vanilla which was just lovely. It truly did have a flavour of strawberries and vanilla, which are an excellent compliment to the rooibos (which has a musty, dusky kind of flavour).  I wouldn't have thought of it, but Twinings did, and they know what they're doing!

Walk length: 1 hour

Day 73: Bigelow Spiced Chai

This is a random teabag I had either in my handbag or in my cupboard, and I have no idea where I picked it up!  But it serves well for a day on which I'm running out of teas (such as today) and I've just gone for it.  This will be a short post, but the gist is: very, very smooth! Excellent combination of chai flavours without being overpowering (some of the other chais seem to grab you and wrestle you to the ground).  I tried it with milk, which I don't often do with these teas - I like to get a real sense of the taste on its own - but it really makes for a lovely drink late at night.

The walk/run is going well, but I'm getting a lot of pain in my legs when I run, so I've had to slow back down to just walking fast.  I have added the new feature of listening to my ipod as I walk, and that really helps. If you get the right kind of music, you can really zoom ahead!

Walk/run length: 35 minutes

Day 72: Rest

Today I rested.

Day 71: Africana Tea (Uganda)

Today, in honour of the fact that I was shooting a wedding here in (wet and rainy) Scotland, I drank some of the African Tea that my friends Jim and Jenny handed out at their wedding back in the States.  Jim and Jenny are missionaries in Uganda, and there were Ugandan tea and coffee to choose from at their reception.

So, after a day of shooting another beautiful bride and groom, I thought I'd choose this tea to enjoy!

It's a very light tea - lighter than I expected. I think because I've been thinking Uganda, dirt, mud huts, etc., I was expecting something a little more like a rooibos tea - musty and almost 'dirty', and full of flavour.  This one is really lovely - you could drink several cups of it easily, and it doesn't need milk or any additions to bring out the taste (or to hide it!).

Thanks Jim and Jenny!