A CEREMONY OF TEA

For Rashmi Kashyap of Soul n’ Spirit, this post is for you.


I don’t remember exactly when, but a while ago … a month? two? It’s hard to keep track of time. I mentioned in a post how difficult it is to get good tea in the U.S. It isn’t impossible, of course. If you have sufficient resources, you can get anything.

Ordinary folk are limited to local shops and the ubiquitous Internet. The problem is not that tea (in general) is not available. It is quality tea, fresh tea, which is nearly unobtainable. By the time we get it, it’s old. Tired. Teabag tea is not tea. I’m not sure what it is.

tea pot, tea canister, tea

I’m sure there are sources for better tea, especially in cities which are home to large Asian communities. But not here. In this part of New England, items people can find routinely in shops elsewhere, are unavailable.

We won’t starve. Beef, chicken, some fish. If you want something more exotic (by local standards, anything other than brown gravy, white bread, and hamburgers is exotic), for example items you need to create Asian cuisine, are not for sale. For years, I couldn’t even find matzoh meal, which I never considered remotely exotic. Perhaps I am exotic.

We live in the country. Rural. On the plus side, we are blessed — in season — with fresh produce from local farms. Milk comes from cows who graze in green pastures and sleep contentedly in the shade on warm summer days. Eggs are laid by chickens who wander about, pecking and clucking. They don’t know how lucky they are.

glass teapot

We’ve got horses, goats, and the occasional llama … but fresh tea? Rice other than Carolina long grain? Spices? Fresh curry powder? Light or medium soy sauce?

It’s no wonder Americans are not tea drinkers considering the tasteless dust which passes for tea. I’m pretty sure our local Chinese restaurants makes its tea made from teabags in the kitchen. The only good tea I’ve had in years is the green tea at our Japanese restaurant.

tea in teapot

The miracles wrought by the Internet are not limited to exchanging email and reading each others’ blogs. Rashmi Kashyap of Soul n’ Spirit heard the yearning in my post. Last week, a package arrived from far away India.

Wrapped carefully in fabric, packed for its long journey around the world. Tea. Fresh, beautiful tea. Not the dry, old stuff you get here or even online, but tea so young it can remember growing in the earth.

teapot and canister

I have a big earthenware teapot and made a pot that same night. It was amazing. Garry admitted he had never tasted tea like that. It was a different experience.

I needed a smaller, brewing teapot suitable for a couple. I have owned several over the years, but since coming back from Israel, it has seemed pointless. Now, though, I have a reason.

brewed tea in glass teapot

Amazon to the rescue. One glass, brewing teapot, perfect for two people. A small canister to store the tea, seal out light and seal in freshness. A tea measuring spoon because (blush) I don’t remember how to measure tea anymore. After 33 years in the U.S., I can’t think metric.  I thought I couldn’t forget. I was wrong.

It took a couple of days to get my teapot and other things. Finally, I could properly serve tea.

It is a soul-enriching experience. Tea in the evening. A couple of crispy things on the side. Garry drank three cups (they are little cups, tea cups) as did I.

I thank my friend on the other side of the word with each sip. I cannot begin to express my gratitude. Maybe this post will help.

A WORLD FULL OF FRIENDS

Daily Prompt: Cut Off – When was the last time you felt really, truly lonely?


72-flying junco-Birds-II_055

Until this morning when I saw this prompt, I was feeling pretty good about the friends and relationships I’ve formed during the past three years of blogging. Now why would you go and ask this question? The people who write these prompts must be very young. They are forever bringing up depressing topics that are real downers. Only the young think it’s fun to explore bad times.

But here’s a real, no kidding, response. Because Garry and I were talking about this very thing last night before bed.


Years ago, when I moved to Israel, I was suddenly a single mother in a new country with no friends, or acquaintances. Most people spoke English only a little and the customs were different. Emigrating to another country and culture is hard, but that’s what I signed up for. I wanted culture shock. I wanted something different, new. I wanted to tough it out and discover I could do it on my own. I was just 30 and I was ready to take on the world.

72-junco-Birds-II_048

It has been a long time since I felt that way. Nothing I could do in my native land and language, could match or exceed the isolation of being on my own on foreign soil.

Of course I felt lonely and isolated. I really was isolated. It wasn’t a mood I was in, or a feeling. It was reality, even though it was in a place I had chosen. With all its perils, change is healthy.

I am not lonely anymore. Being physically challenged, if this were even 25 years ago, I probably would be. The Internet lets me reach out and find friends all over the world. You — yes, you with your pot of tea and crumpets — have rocked my world. You are my friends, my support. How can I be lonely with wonderful friends like you?

72-two juncos winter Birds-II_046

Across continents and oceans, from every corner and culture around the globe, you are my friends. I have a whole world full of friends. What a wonder this blogging thing has turned out to be!

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY SERENDIPITY — A QUARTER OF MILLION VIEWS

I wrote when I hit 200,000. Then vowed I’d wait until I hit 250,000 before I’d write again. I got here faster than I expected. During the past few months, Serendipity had lots of traffic, even during holiday periods which are typically slower.

250000-Views

Meanwhile, my third blogging anniversary was February 4th. Oops. Missed it. I guess I’ll have to wish myself a belated anniversary. I’m nothing if not fair. I forget everything and everyone equally.

3 YEARS OF BLOGGING
THREE YEARS!

It would have been delightfully symmetrical if I’d hit a quarter of a million on Serendipity’s third anniversary. I came close, just 16 days later. It’s hard to predict precisely.

Views come in bunches. The first year was slow starting, yet I finished my first year with numbers I wouldn’t duplicate for two more years. The whole second year was about steady growth. Not many big days, but few bad ones, either.

During this third year, I doubled the average daily views. The end of 2014 was a roller coaster. Big days then slow days. Bursts of views, then nothing. Followed by another big day.

new stats

250,000 feels like a lot of views. I know there are lots bigger blogs, for whom 6,200 followers is no big deal. Where a quarter of a million hits is a drop in the bucket. Considering that I expected nothing, I’m amazed I got here. I started blogging knowing nothing except that I could do it. I learned along the way using the best tutor in the world: trial and error.

Each time I think I’ve worked out “the formula,” I discover I haven’t. I’m pretty sure there is no formula, at least none which works for everyone. The best part of blogging is its lack of structure, the freedom to be whatever (whoever) you want. To keep redefining yourself without answering to anyone.

A note about followers: Until about a couple of weeks ago, follower totals included WordPress blog followers, plus Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. In January I had almost 8,000 followers. At some unknown recent moment, WordPress stopped including all but blog followers.

I don’t mind the new formula. This is how it should have been from the outset. It is, however, a bit jarring to see ones followers count drop like a rock for no apparent reason. A warning would have been nice.

My years in blogging
My years in blogging

I’ve written more than 3,200 posts. So many, I can’t remember most of them. Or find them in the archives. I’ve posted I-have-no-idea-how-many pictures. I keep waiting for my blog to collapse under the weight of all those posts and pix. So far, so good. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Serendipity blew up tomorrow. If I disappear, remember me kindly. I’ll always be out there, somewhere.

I’ve had a difficult year. For me, this journey has not been about popularity. More about perseverance. About writing even if I’m sick and can’t find my muse. No one is more surprised — and pleased — than I am to have survived and done pretty well.

I’ve been blogging long enough to know each post won’t be a winner. It doesn’t mean I should quit. Writing is important to me in ways I can’t explain. If I stopped blogging, I don’t know what I would do with my days. Blogging is communication, networking, self-expression, and a focus … all wrapped up in a pretty bundle. And I don’t have a boss (YES).

I know — because I’ve done it — it’s worth hanging on. Numbers go up and down, but when you stick with it through the valleys, eventually, you get to the peak.

HUNTING FOR A THEME

Having crashed and burned with Blogly, I’m not about to buy another theme. Probably never. Regardless, we all need a theme, a template for our pictures and writing. During this past week, I used two themes I’d worked with in the past: Yoko and Able. Both are clean and simple.

I quickly abandoned Yoko after encountering a problem with font sizes in the headers. I went back to Able which, while uninspiring and lacking pizzazz, is stable and more or less glitch free — at least as far as I can tell. It’s my fallback position. Able isn’t fancy, but it works.

twenty-fifteen

Nonetheless, I wanted a theme with a bit more dash. As I’ve been visiting other bloggers, I’ve also been theme shopping. Looking at templates to see if they might suit me. And — I think — I found one. I hope.

So far, so good.

Twenty Fifteen is the most recent of WordPress’s annual default themes. Each year beginning in 2010, WordPress has created a “flagship” theme for the year. It becomes the default template for new blogs. Thus, if you are a new blogger, this will be the theme you will automatically use unless you pick something different.

When I visited Nancy Merrill today, I noticed she had changed themes, had switched to Twenty Fifteen. I liked the look of it. I asked her how she liked it. She said she did like it, though it had taken a bit of fiddling with the header image (really, in this case, a sidebar image) to make it look right.

Forewarned is forearmed. It turns out that the default proportions of many of my pictures fit neatly in the sidebar. The only problem was getting the text to show up clearly against the picture. And matching the background color.

Lucky me, I have the customization package which lets me change colors of fonts, backgrounds, headers, and links. I can also alter other template features, depending on the theme. Some are more amenable to customization than others and it is often impossible to know exactly what you can do with a theme until you test drive it. The package also gives me a domain and more storage space in WordPress’s cloud.

I have come to appreciate being able to customize themes. Fonts and colors make a huge difference. Any theme you use becomes unique. And I have to admit, it’s fun playing with graphics. I enjoy messing around with fonts and backgrounds.

This theme is designed differently than anything I’ve tried before. It doesn’t allow a standard header picture, which is a big change for me. It does let you put a picture in the left sidebar under the text. Like wallpaper. I can change it as often as I want, but I’m trying to lessen the amount of maintenance my site needs. I want to build a little library of sidebar pictures I can change with the seasons, holidays, or special occasions. Or my mood.

So far so good. I haven’t bumped into any glitches. Of course, I’ve only had it up for a day, but it is a well-supported theme. Maybe WordPress’s best-supported theme, being it is the default for 2015. I’m hoping it’s solid.

I’ve learned a lot about what I want in a theme in recent months. The big one, which I never considered in the past, is support. Ironically, there’s better support for popular free themes than for expensive purchased ones. I think that could be considered ironic. Sort of.

DON’T LET THEM NEAR A COMPUTER

Today, ignoring everything going on in the world, the Daily Prompt is “Five a Day -You’ve being exiled to a private island, and your captors will only supply you with five foods. What do you pick?

It’s a pretty dull prompt. Unlikely to inspire anyone. Trivial. Not funny. Dull, flat, and forlorn. So, instead, I’m going to tell you a true story. The names have been not been changed to protect the guilty.

Just before Christmas this past year, I treated myself to a long-deferred gift: a premium theme. It is/was not WordPress’s most expensive theme. At $49, it was on the low-end, but it was the first one I liked enough to consider buying.

It wasn’t cutesy. Blogly is tidy, squared off. Black on white text, with a choice of background colors. Flexible layout. Many post styles (which, it turned out, never worked).

A left-hand sidebar for widgets. Pictures feel cramped when hedged in by a right-hand sidebar.

Looks good, doesn't it? Caveat emptor!!
Looks good, doesn’t it? Caveat emptor!!

The more I looked at it, the better I liked it. I gave it several test runs. Finally, I bought it. I figured, hey, I’m a blogger. I can have a nice theme. It’s a one-time purchase I can use forever.

It turned out that forever was not long. In January, WordPress decided including an “Edit” link in the “My Sites” drop-down menu would ruin their design. This made no sense. Regardless of any other consideration, the ability to conveniently edit your blog is critical for all of us.

It was particularly important to me, because Blogly, unlike most themes, had no built-in “edit” link. Without its own link — and after removing the Edit function of the drop-down menu — making even a simple correction became nearly impossible. I was not the only one who got upset. A lot of furious bloggers later, WordPress restored the edit function to the “My Sites” menu.

But — they weren’t through messing with me. They decided to “fix” Blogly because, they explained, it should have its own internal edit link. All themes should have an edit link. So the talented development team (they keep telling me how great they are) put an edit link in Blogly. Not where it belongs, in individual posts, but only when you are looking at posts in “home” and scrolling. So if you had an individual post open to read it, there was still no edit link. I consoled myself that at least they’d restored the link on the drop-down.

Thing is, half the things it says it does don't work. But you won't know that until you already own it. There's only so much you can test in their trial mode.
Thing is, half the things it says it does don’t work. But you won’t know that until you already own it. There’s only so much you can test in their trial mode.

Then they did something else to Blogly. I don’t know what they did, or any idea why , but suddenly, when you clicked a comment, you went to the comment. The rest of the post — the rest of the site — became inaccessible.

You could not scroll up past the start of comments. Getting home was daunting. Complaints from readers poured in. I checked the function in Safari. IE. Chrome. I checked on my laptop, desktop, Kindle and iPad. I had the same problems across all platforms and browsers.

Blogly was dead. I could not re-size graphics. Text got weird. I was never sure what margins I would get — or what size titles would be. So many issues. A couple of nights ago, when all my text got pushed to the far right into an ugly narrow column with pictures glued together in a solid lump, I gave up.

I was pissed. The next time the annoying “How can we help you” box popped up, I asked for my money back. Barring that, I suggested they let me select a different theme that actually worked.

They said it was too late to get my money back -- you only have 30 
days to change your mind.

I pointed out that I hadn’t changed my mind. They had trashed my theme. They broke it and they owed me. They called in the infamous “Happiness engineering” development team. They were sure it would be a simple fix. Not.

Today I got my money back. Apparently it was not simple.

The good news? They did the right thing. Somewhere, somehow, someone in WordPress stopped spouting the party line and acted like a professional.

The bad news? How could this mess happen? And why are they still offering the theme for sale?

It was not always like this. Those of us who have been blogging on WordPress for more than a few months remember when it was a happy place with support, encouragement, and sometimes, inspiration.

They’ve taken all the good stuff away and left us with warmed over prompts and what has got to be the most incompetent crew of developers and customer disservice people anywhere. They are worse than my cable company and I don’t say that lightly.

It doesn’t have to be this way. They have taken a good thing and are destroying it, piece by piece. Bad choices, a determination to create a platform for a market that doesn’t exist. Despite their firm belief that the future of blogging is on small devices, it’s not true. People may view blogs on small devices, but no one writes or creates them that way. All of us use a computer. With a keyboard, mouse, or other pointing device.

The success of WordPress depends on having bloggers who attract readers. That means content creators. Writers, photographers, artists. Chefs, craftspeople. All if whom need professional tools to do their thing — and that thing is never going to be done on a phone or tablet.

We are their customers. We generate revenue for WordPress in exchange for a platform. At which WordPress keeps chipping, making it harder and harder to do what we do. Making it easier to view blogs on cell phones while taking away critical tools bloggers need to produce content is stupid. Short-sighted. It will eventually bring down the house.

So I say, send them all to their favorite desert island. Give them just five foods to eat forever. Most important, don’t let them near a computer.

PRIDE GOETH BEFORE THE FALL

me with debbie's camera

People give me more credit than I deserve. It’s the blogging. They see me as the person I portray. They don’t see me in a bad mood. They don’t have to deal with me when I’m not much fun to be around. All of us put our best foot forward, even if we don’t mean to do it. It’s normal and that’s part of the fun of blogging.

We get to put on our virtual party clothes and present ourselves the way we want to be. Which is fine. As long as you don’t believe your own publicity.

So last night, I was thinking (always a bad sign). I was thinking about yesterday’s prompt … about talking about what you know best that other people don’t know (or don’t know as well as you do). And I thought this terribly quotable thought:

I KNOW A LOT ABOUT A LITTLE. A LITTLE ABOUT A LOT.

AND SOMETHING ABOUT ALMOST EVERYTHING.

You know what that means? Really? It means … (wait for it) … I’m a terrific “Trivial Pursuits” competitor.

Pride is one of the seven deadliest sins for good reason. It can get you into serious trouble. It’s not (pardon the pun) something to be proud of.


THE DAILY POST: PROUD

RETIREMENT IS SERIOUS BUSINESS

I stopped working more than five years ago. I was too sick to keep going and I was old enough so the market for my services was drying up.

I started getting disability almost 2 years after I was physically unable to work. It turned out my monthly disability check was less than a week’s pay as a working person. I tried intermittently for several years to find part-time work that might bring in a bit of money. So life wouldn’t be so difficult.

Nothing lasted long. More to the point, I didn’t last long. I hurt. I was exhausted. I worked more slowly than I did in the past. Finally, I gave up. I was 61.

96-Rockers-NK

Garry had stopped working too. There were a lots of adjustments to make. On the psychological side, we had to learn to be retired. The world is different when you don’t have a job to define your weeks and days. I had worked at home a lot over the years, so it was not as abrupt a shift for me as it was for Garry. Eventually we slipped comfortably into not-working.

The financial part was — continues to be — challenging. The mortgage had to be lowered or we’d lose the house. Somehow, we got it done. Both of us had no health insurance for more than a year. Me for more than two, during which interval, I nearly died. Because no one would repair me without insurance. Eventually, I lucked into a doctor and a hospital who cared more for my life than my lack of insurance. I’m alive to write this only because of them.

We kept cutting back and cutting back. Last spring, our outgo and income became equal. Exactly. Assuming nothing outside programmed expenses ever occurs, we have the same amount of money as month. Which is absurd. Life is full of expensive surprises. Cars break. Pipes leak. Wells go dry. Appliances wear out. Dogs get sick. Meanwhile, fixed incomes have less and less buying power as inflation eats away at them.

I got sick. A lot. Big time. One nearly dying event was apparently not enough for me. I had to repeat it a couple more times, to make sure I got it right. Then there was breast cancer. Two cancers, one for each breast. I thought, having got through that, I’d earned a reprieve. Sadly, life doesn’t work that way. Life doesn’t let you “pay it forward.”

This year, it was my heart. Five surgeries later, I’m back. Blogging my remodeled, rebuilt heart out.

The other day, I received an invitation from a well-known, quite prestigious website to become a contributing editor. This would require I write two posts a month, minimum. Really, they’d like at least one a week or more.

Serendipity is a personal blog. I write about my life, memories, experiences, thoughts. Occasionally, I put up an issue-oriented piece. The other site is more about issues and news. More impersonal, less anecdotal. A lot of politics. Government. Current events.

The point — for me — of taking on this other writing role would be to have a forum where I could post about different stuff, the stuff I avoid on Serendipity. The thing is, I’m not sure I want another forum. Or need one. Even though I’m flattered. It’s so hard to say “no” when the compliments are flying thick and fast.

Nonetheless, I take retirement seriously. I don’t work, don’t search for work. If I get a nibble (because my résumé is out there and headhunters find it), I have (finally) learned to say “no thank you.” My survival is predicated on not working. Not having deadlines. Keeping my anxiety level low. If I take it easy — low-key, low stress — I can have a pretty pleasant life. No money to spend, but otherwise nice enough. Do I want more responsibility? Can I handle it? I thought I had decided “yes,” but I find myself wavering.

These days, I take retirement seriously. As seriously as I ever took any job at which I worked for pay. It takes dedication to do retirement properly.