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.

SUNSHINE, SPRING TRAINING AND SURVIVAL

The missing Harold mystery, Rich Paschall

George and his ever talkative wife Martha had just about enough of the Midwest winter. They were tired of snow,  tired of cold. At close-to-retirement age, they were just plain tired. When another cold night forced them to stay at home rather than visit a favorite neighborhood stop, they realized there was only one thing which could pull them through to warmer weather. Baseball! Right then and there, they began to talk about a trip to sunny Florida for a round of spring training games.

A year before, they had traveled to Florida on a rare road trip to see the Chicago Cubs play. The Cubs lost, of course, but they deemed the trip a success. They had visited a ball park other than Wrigley Field, spent a day at the beach, and wandered through town to do some typical tourist shopping. They had some very hot days, but did not suffer the kind of stifling humidity Lake Michigan can serve up in July. Now, in March, they were ready to go south again.

Always sunny Florida?
Always sunny Florida?

George sat down with spring schedules to see what teams would be playing, so that he could  find the best matches for the days they could go to Florida. Martha researched the ball parks themselves and the surrounding night spots on the internet. When they had chosen a few games they might like to see, they looked at hotels, air fares and rental cars. After a full night of debate and delay, they made their choices.

They would return to the familiar spots of St. Petersburg. From there they could go to Tampa to see the Yankees, then down to Bradenton to catch the Pirates and from there to Sarasota to see the Orioles.

Unlike the famous George and Martha of Broadway play and movie fame, this couple rarely had arguments. In fact, they were in agreement on just about anything that meant parties and good times. When almost all of their arrangements were in place, and they were congratulating themselves on another “road trip extraordinaire”, Martha had one more good idea. Of course, the good idea may have been fueled by the German beer she had been drinking all night, but it was an interesting idea, nonetheless.

“Why don’t we call old Harold for the game in Bradenton or Sarasota?” Martha blurted out as if her head had been hit by a rock and she was stunned silly.

“Harold!” George shouted with glee. “That’s a wonderful idea. The old boy probably needs a road trip anyway. Let’s give lucky old Harold a call.”

While Martha dutifully looked for Harold’s phone number, George wondered why the little tapper of Dortmunder beer had run dry. “I am headed to the basement, ” George called out. “I have to find another one of these big cans of beer. You killed the last one.”

“I did no such thing, George,” Martha lied.

When the twosome finally met back at the kitchen table, each was carrying the object of their search. “Well dial the phone and hand it over, old woman,” George said with a laugh.

“I am not as old as you, wise guy,” Martha said as she handed over the phone. Both began to giggle and laugh like school kids up to no good. The phone rang away as the couple talked on until George finally realized there must have been at least 20 rings. He hung up.

“I can not imagine that Harold is not home at this hour. He was never out late.” It was true, of course. In all his life Harold was rarely out at night, and since he retired and moved to Florida, he was always home by dark.

“He’s probably sleeping, you nit wit,” Martha declared. “Let’s give him another try tomorrow.” And so they did. In fact, they called for several days in a row and at different times of day, but Harold never answered. When the day of the trip arrived, Harold was not part of the plan.

Undeterred by their lack of success at lining up Harold for a game, they resolved to try him again once they landed at the Florida airport. They departed from Chicago’s Midway airport. Unbelievably, it was once the busiest airport in the country, but that was before the jet age. Now the crowded airport just seemed like the busiest airport. St. Petersburg airport, on the other hand, was in stark contrast, even for spring training. The crowd was small and the rental car line was short. The couple got their car, got to their hotel, and got on the phone. Still, there was no Harold.

“I hope the old guy is OK,” Martha said, finally voicing more than a bit of concern.

“Sure, Harold is just fine,” George insisted. “He is probably at some nice restaurant right now being fussed over by some cute waitresses. Don’t worry.”

At that very moment Harold was being fussed over by some weary nurses at the Intensive Care Unit of the county hospital. This trip, the retired planner from the Midwest was going to miss the endlessly talkative George and Martha.

Note:  The next Harold story appears in 3 short weeks.

A WORLD FULL OF FRIENDS

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


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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.

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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?

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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!

WHERE WOULD YOU TRAVEL?

When Your Destination Is Not A Place, Rich Paschall

Where would you go if you could travel anywhere at all?  Where would your sense of adventure lead you?  Would it be around the world or around town?  Perhaps it would have to be domestic.  You could go to St. Louis and see the Gateway Arch and the mighty Mississippi River.  You could go up river to Hannibal, Missouri and see Mark Twain’s home.  From there you could head east to Springfield, Illinois and see Abe Lincoln’s wonderfully preserved home, maintained by the National Park Service.

You might have one of the great wonders of North America in mind.  So you could head north of Buffalo, New York to Niagara Falls and ride the Maid of the Mist right up to the Falls, or you could climb down the cliff to a point where the water falls between you and the land.  On your way home you can stop in the Anchor Bar, home of Buffalo Chicken Wings.  Yes, that’s the place that started what is now a full-blown food craze.

If this does not suit your taste, perhaps you would run up to the northwest corner of Illinois and stop in Galena, the “town that history forgot.”  You can walk through the mid 1800’s.  You can stop at the spot of a Lincoln-Douglas Debate or visit the home of President U.S. Grant.  At this time of year, you could travel down to the Mississippi River, just west of Galena and, with any luck at all, see the proud American Eagle.  The very site of the bald eagle, waiting to come down from the cliffs to fish or even sitting on a junk of ice on the Mississippi waiting for dinner to swim by, will make the trip worth it.

If none of these northern stops are what you desire, then perhaps you could fly to Orlando, Florida, take in a Magic game and drive to Tampa, Clearwater, Sarasota, down to Miami and onto the Keys.  A stop in the Everglades means you can see alligators up close, REAL close.  The Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Coast can be a playground.

Seeing a rainbow over Germany from France
Seeing a rainbow over Germany from France

If Europe is your adventure you can fly to Frankfurt and go on to Stuttgart for museums and festivals.  You can visit Strasbourg, France or cross the Rhine into Allemand (Germany).  You can visit the magnificent ancient notre dame cathédrale de Strasbourg or ancient castles of Alsace.  There are vineyards and wine festivals and if you like, you can visit the Statue of Liberty in Colmar, France.  It is in the middle of a busy traffic circle so you have to run fast and dodge the cars if you want to get over to it.

If Germany or France are not on your list, how about London?  It is one of the great international cities.  In 1777, author Samuel Johnson, writer of an early English Dictionary, stated words that are still true, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”  A few days or even a few weeks are not enough for the sights of London.

Why do I bring up all these travel ideas?  It is because this week I am on another journey.  It may lead some of my friends to say, “Are you going there again?”  I am off to the northeast of France.  It is the sixth year in a row my trip will end up there.  In 2010 we made a trip to Stuttgart for an Oktoberfest type celebration, then on to France.  In the  summer of 2013 I went with some friends to Paris, and then on to Strasbourg.  In 2012 I met my friend in Baden-Baden, Germany so we could fly together to London for the Summer Olympics, then we went back to France.  Last year I made it all the way to Selestat, France on my own.  These trips were all at different times of year.  Some years my friend came to Chicago as well.

In all of these years we had some specific plan in mind, but we did much of the trip spontaneously.  When I reflect on these trips I realize there was no destination.  I could have been going anywhere.  We dreamed and we went, but it didn’t matter where.  The ultimate destination was never a place.  It was a friend.  Yes, we will visit new places and familiar places this week.  There will be new adventures, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t matter where we go.  We enjoy our trips, large and small, because we are doing them together.  Every stop is fun, every place is exciting, everywhere is new, even if we have been there before.  It is because I am with a great friend.

Good wine and good friends, the best destination

We have been together on all the adventures I have mentioned above.  Of course, we often set off to see great sites or experience great things, but they were made special by the fact that we shared these adventures.  So this week I have gone to Frankfurt, Germany to catch a bus to Strasbourg, France.  From there I will take a train to Sélestat, France. “J’arrive à la gare de Sélestat à 17 heures, 10 minutes.”  The final destination is friendship, the best destination of all.

 

THE COMEBACK

The first thought I had this morning was “The phone is ringing. Answer the phone.” Getting to the phone from bed is a stretch and a twist. I could make it easier by moving my Disney “Someday my Prince will come” lamp, which would make it harder to reach. I use my lamp more than I use my phone, so the phone stays put.

Regardless, answering a ringing phone from a dead sleep is one of my more acrobatic moves. Most times, when it rings early in the day, it is either a telemarketer or a doctor’s office reminding me about an appointment. This time, it was a friend from whom I was very glad to hear.

Ice Dam Feb HDR

“Hey R. !” I said. You’ve got to love Caller ID.

“I’m alive,” he said. He sounded great. Considering he had two heart valves replaced during the past week, that’s not such a small thing. I was amazed, delighted. Impressed he sounds so perky and clear-headed.

R. goes way back. We met at the college radio station, where it seems everything important to me began. He was 13. I was not quite 18. I felt very superior, being so much more mature than he.

He had such a baby face, full of freckles. He still does, though the hair has become mixed with gray. Such a kid. Our lives continued to intersect throughout the decades. When he was 14, he got cancer. He was treated. Went into remission. Decided to skip college because he figured he was going to die young. Not.

He taught himself computer programming and morphed into a cracker jack software developer. He learned to fly and bought a small plane. I got to fly … even a pretend run as “co-pilot.” It was fun, and scary, and made me realize I love to fly … as a passenger. No piloting for me, thanks.

He went to live in Brussels. I went to live in Jerusalem. Both of us came back and married. My first husband — with whom we were all friends because he ran the college radio station where we all met — died following a mismanaged mitral valve replacement. I was married to Garry by then, having met Garry at that same radio station. No exaggeration — everything started there.

So you can see why everyone in our crowd is more than normally nervous about heart valve replacements, even though Jeff’s death was at least partly his fault — but more the fault of an arrogant doctor who failed to take the most fundamental precautions in post operative care.

Hearing from R. was wonderful and heartening. He had two valves replaces, the mitral and the aortic. He had previously, some years back, had a coronary bypass, so he was a little cranky this surgery. He takes exceptionally good care of himself — and his wife, M., would personally fight back death with her bare hands. I wouldn’t mess with her.

We had talked several times about surgeons, hospitals, mechanical versus tissue valves. I explained why I preferred tissue. No blood thinners and with all the other medical issues I’ve got, who needs to deal with that too? R. is not exactly free of other medical problems, either. He’s got that cancer lurking in the background, so less is more where medication is concerned.

But he sounded terrific. Alert. Alive. He made it. If you live around here and you need serious heart surgery, I highly recommend Beth Israel. They are terrific. If there’s such a thing as a great hospital experience, you will have it there. I don’t say this lightly, having been resident in pretty much every one of Boston’s highly regarded facilities.

R. is going to be okay. I could hear it in his voice. He sounds better less than a week post op than I sound 11 months after mine.

It is deeply reassuring to not lose another friend. Given how the herd has thinned, we are even more precious to one another than we have been in the past. No more taking for granted.

This totally made not only my day, but possibly my year.


Daily Prompt: First Light – Remember when you wrote down the first thought you had this morning? Great. Now write a post about it.

EVERYDAY IS A BEAUTIFUL DAY

Fireside Chat  — What person whom you don’t know very well in real life — it could be a blogger whose writing you enjoy, a friend you just recently made, etc. — would you like to have over for a long chat in which they tell you their life story?


I'll tell you how the sun rose ...

I woke up this morning to the bubbling and gurgling sound every asthmatic recognizes as a head cold with benefits. When I finally got my coffee, the computer turned on and all the other small things and not so small things done, and it was time to check the Daily Prompt. Lo and behold, it suggested I invite someone over and listen to his or her life story.

That didn’t appeal to me today. Too much bubbling and gurgling in my bronchial tubes. I would prefer inviting someone over to listen to my life story. It’s that kind of morning. I initially considered Sigmund Freud. He was a notoriously good listener, but his “penis envy” shtick never worked for me. I want a gentle, sympathetic ear to listen to my tale of woe. I need Harvey.

ELWOOD P. DOWD (Jimmy Stewart):

Harvey and I have things to do. We sit in the bar. Have a drink or two. Play the jukebox. Very soon the faces of all the other people turn towards me and they smile. They say: “We don’t know your name, mister, but you’re a very nice fellow.”

Harvey and I warm ourselves in these golden moments. We came as strangers — soon we have friends. They come over. They sit with us. They drink with us. They talk to us. They tell us about the great big terrible things they’ve done and the great big wonderful things they’re going to do. Their hopes, their regrets. Their loves, their hates. All very large, because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar. T

hen I introduce them to Harvey, and he’s bigger and grander than anything they can offer me. And when they leave, they leave impressed. The same people seldom come back, but that’s — that’s envy, my dear. There’s a little bit of envy in the best of us. That’s too bad, isn’t it?

I’d just helped Ed Hickey into a taxi. Ed had been mixing his rye with his gin, and I felt he needed conveying.

I started to walk down the street when I heard a voice saying: “Good evening, Mr. Dowd”. I turned, and there was this big white rabbit leaning against a lamp-post. Well, I thought nothing of that, because when you’ve lived in a town as long as I’ve lived in this one, you get used to the fact that everybody knows your name. And naturally, I went over to chat with him.

We talked like that for a while and then I said to him, “You have the advantage on me. You know my name and I don’t know yours.”

And right back at me he said, “What name do you like?” Well, I didn’t even have to think twice about that. Harvey’s always been my favorite name. So I said to him, I said,

“Harvey.” And, this — this is the interesting thing about the whole thing. He said, “What a coincidence. My name happens to be Harvey.”

I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it.
I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I’m happy to state I finally won out over it.

I want a long, pleasant evening with Harvey. Maybe with the wood stove fired up. It’s a nice touch. Homey. It makes the house smell woody and smoky.

Who is Harvey?

P-O-O-K-A. Pooka. From old Celtic mythology, a fairy spirit in animal form, always very large. The pooka appears here and there, now and then, to this one and that one. A benign but mischievous creature. Very fond of rumpots, crackpots, and how are you, Mr. Wilson?

I thought everyone knew but you youngsters probably haven’t seen it. It’s in black and white. No one wants to watch old black and white movies anymore. They want action and CGI in blazing color with lots of sound effect. Harvey is a peaceful, gentle, funny movie without special effects. It is about a 12-foot invisible (mostly) rabbit from … mythology? Another dimension? A Pooka.

Some people can see him. Many others can’t. Regardless,  Harvey is the best friend you always wanted. And I would love to borrow him, just for an evening. I hope the dogs won’t mind.

From the lips of Elwood P. Down:

Oh, yes! Yes. Yes — these things always work out just the way Harvey says they will. He is very, very versatile. Did I tell you he could stop clocks? Well, you’ve heard the expression ‘His face would stop a clock’? Well, Harvey can look at your clock and stop it. And you can go anywhere you like — with anyone you like — and stay as long as you like. And when you get back, not one minute will have ticked by. … You see, science has overcome time and space. Well, Harvey has overcome not only time and space — but any objections.

Harvey. I’ll invite Harvey over for a lovely chat. Tonight, maybe.

VISITING WITH BETTE — AN AFTERNOON IN SKOWHEGAN

Bette’s new novel, DOG BONE SOUP has just been released. I’m about half way through it and I can hardly wait to finish it so I can review it. It is wonderful. She has a writing style so pure, it’s as if the story tells itself. It’s a story of coming of age in a hardscrabble world. Trials and triumph in northern New England.

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This seemed a perfect time to remember the wonderful afternoon we all spend last October in Skowhegan. We were staying at an inn in Jackman, Maine. It’s just up the mountain — about 85 miles via route 201, from Skowhegan. In rural New England, that’s “just around the corner.”

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Down the mountain we drove. Around 85 miles down, same mileage back.

We met Bette Stevens, of 4 Writers and Readers. She was in the middle of a round of editing her next book, but she took a bit of time off to spend the afternoon with me and Garry.

Bette Stevens
Bette Stevens

A great lunch and Ken’s Family Restaurant, a trip to the Magaret Chase Smith Library, and a brief sojourn to see the world’s tallest Indian (statue), created by Bernard Langlais (1921-1977), a sculptor from Old Town who attended the local art school.

Marilyn and Bette
Marilyn and Bette

Garry and I were wearing our matched pair of Serendipity sweat shirts. You could hardly tell us apart!

Garry and Bette
Garry and Bette

We had great conversation at lunch, then spent some time taking picture of each other, visiting the library and admiring the statue, which is oddly located next to a Cumberland Farms.

View from the Margaret Chase Smith Library
View from the Margaret Chase Smith Library

We know each other on the Internet, yet there’s always some nervousness when finally, we meet in person. Will we really like one another?

The Margaret Chase Smith Library
The Margaret Chase Smith Library

No problem. It was love at first sight. I think we are officially best-friends-forever. I don’t know when we will be back this way, but I’m sure we will come again. Maybe next year or the year after that. But we will come back. How could we not return to so much natural beauty and great people?

World's Tallest Indian (Statue)
World’s Tallest Indian (Statue)