On Black Tea and the Beginnings of Autumn

After quite a hot August and a September that refused to cool down for long, it seems we’ve finally seen the beginnings of autumnal weather. I was still glad for a weekend retreat to Fiancé’s parents’ house up north, but upon returning home, I found I now need a jacket in the morning and don’t arrive at home again drenched in sweat.

Keemun Mao Feng from Harney & Sons. #tea #blacktea

A photo posted by Madame Elizabeth (@tealeavesandtweed) on

Now changing seasons means changes of all kinds. People change their wardrobe, perhaps even wearing different colors. I know I find myself less inclined to wear pastels, and more inclined to wear heathered knits. Some change their skin care, adding in more moisture and removing products that helped them deal with the sliminess that summer’s heat can bring.

But perhaps my favorite seasonal change is my change of tea. You see, in cooler weather, I prefer richer teas. While I drink all teas year-round, in the summer, I find myself drawn to light, refreshing green teas and lightly-oxidized oolongs. As the weather cools, I reach more for fuller-bodied teas, like more-oxidized oolongs, as well as black teas. While I have had my share of black tea cuppas over the summer, I tend to save them for days when I’m lying about the house, not doing much of anything, and enjoying the artificial coolness of air conditioning. On days when I’m out and about in the heat? No way.

In honor of the changing seasons, I decided to treat myself to a new tea-for-one set and a new sampler of black tea leaves. So far I’ve tried two of the teas and they’re lovely. Rich and malty and just a little astringent. Warming and comforting, like a cozy blanket in tea form. Perfect for autumn.

Happenings and Updates: A New Family Member

A lot has been going on over the last week or so. I’ve continued to plan our wedding, although there’s been a bit of a lull in that. I’ve also discovered a new-to-me television show and because it’s The Great British Bake-Off, that means I’ve also found myself inspired to bake more often. But the biggest news is that we have a new addition to our small family.

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This is the TweedCat. That’s not her real name, obviously, but she’s a rescue and we plan on changing her rescue name anyway. Right now, we just call her “cat” most of the time, and she seems alright with that. She came home on Saturday and has settled in pretty completely.

Her likes include not sitting still, especially for photos, food, and cuddles. Her dislikes seem to include doors, stairs, and when we don’t let her into a room. She’s a very small cat and young enough that she bears being picked up and held with admirable patience, but will let you know when enough is becoming enough. And watching Fiance play with her is a joy. For not-a-cat-person, he really loves her.

So the next few weeks will involve a lot of settling in on all sides. I’m still learning how to cook with a cat constantly coming in and trying to investigate or steal the food. And I think she’s still trying to get used to having as much space as our house affords, but not being allowed to go outside.

Tea Tasting: Yushan Oolong from Beautiful Taiwan Tea Co.

As you may know, I have a particular liking of oolong tea, particularly when the weather starts to chill down in autumn or warm up in spring. After hearing that some of the best oolong tea comes from Taiwan, I’ve started ordering from Beautiful Taiwan Tea Co. They have a nice assortment of teas, with good prices, and their shipping is not terrible. Plus, they ship from the US, so things get here in a reasonable amount of time.

But one unexpected lovely thing is that they include a little sample of some delicious tea in each order. The first time, I got a “green oolong” and this time I got a rolled, lightly oxidized Yushan oolong to try. I brought it to the office to finish out the week and steeped it primarily in my gaiwan. Because it’s rolled, I was light-handed with the tea leaves and a 10-gram sample packet gave me two days of tea, about 8-10 steepings in gaiwan for each serving.

The first session, I decided to start cautiously and steeped it in 180-degree water for an initial minute and a half, and then one-minute steepings after that, until the last couple, when I noticed the flavor was going, so I increased the time by a bit. It’s a subtle and delicate tea, but still has plenty of oolong character and floralness. I actually detect a hint of cannabis in the scent of the leaves and the brewed tea, but not in an unpleasant way.

The second session, I decided to make the first steeping quite long, and then go to one-minute steepings. That seemed to open up the tea a bit more and offered a slight hint of honey sweetness, with more the floral/cannabis notes as well. And there was almost no bitterness to speak of, even with longer steeping times and a final steeping in 200-degree water.

Finally, I wanted to make a subjective note: I found that this tea made me feel slightly giddy and happy. I’d had a rather tough week and I found myself with almost a bounce in my step and a vigor to complete my lingering weekly tasks. I can’t necessarily guarantee it was the oolong, but I certainly noticed a difference from my mood earlier in the week, and the tea was the only new thing.

Please note: I was sent this as a free sample, but not in exchange for a review. In fact, I don’t think Beautiful Taiwan Tea Co. is even aware of my blog. I just like their tea.

How Playing Pokemon Go Led Me To Mordor

Hi! I’m Elizabeth, and I’m an adult woman that plays Pokemon. Or rather, I did play Pokemon, for a couple months at least. You see, when I returned from a business trip, I found that Boyfriend (oops, Fiancé) had discovered this new game that he thought we should try playing together. He plays a lot of computer and video games and has tried to get me interested in the past, but this one was different: this one makes you go outside. And I love going outside. I found it actually strengthened our relationship because we went on long walks together and then some of the time we spent lounging on the couch on our smartphones we were actually interacting and discussing the game.

Plus, I found a wild Pikachu on my walk to work and they’re adorable.

Now, I walk 3 miles to and from work every day and try to get in a little more besides that. But on days I work from home, or on weekends, I find it hard to get off the couch. Pokemon became a great motivator to walk on normally-sedentary days. I liked the fact that I was walking for a purpose, rather than just for the sake of walking. Walking with a goal in mind. It made me feel rather like an adventurer from one of the fantasy books I read. I couldn’t get where I needed to go other than by walking, so I walked all over the place.

And then Fiancé and I went to Montreal and we REALLY walked. Like, 10 miles a day. We fell out of the habit of playing Pokemon because we didn’t want to be distracted by our phones in an unfamiliar area, but we walked a lot. And it got me thinking about what I really liked about Pokemon Go: the idea of walking for a purpose.

That brought up a memory of a walking challenge I’d heard of a while ago called the Eowyn Challenge, where you log your daily walking and as it adds up, you set goals in terms of the landmarks in the journeys of the characters in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. So you can virtually follow Sam and Frodo’s journey to Mordor by showing how your daily mileage adds up. So rather than going back to trying to catch seven gajillion Magikarp near the lake near my house, I decided to log my daily miles in terms of a walk to Rivendell. And then Lothlorien. And onwards. I know that if I walk an average of 5 miles a day, it’ll get me to Rivendell in about three months, so that’s a good start, and it inspires me to add walks in, and plan longer walks to bump up my average mileage.

It also helps reinforce walking as a mode of transportation for me. When I’m in an unfamiliar city, I walk a lot more, simply because I don’t have a car, and I’m not familiar with the public transit. I’d rather walk a few miles than try to figure out the bus system sometimes. Especially when doing so involves testing my confidence in my French language skills. But in my own town, I default to driving or taking the train a little longer to walk a little less. Why do that? Why not try walking a couple miles to that lunch place I like on my work-from-home day? Why not walk to my favorite coffee shop when I have the time on the weekend? And along the way, I get to pretend I’m a Tolkeinian adventurer, albeit with less hirsute feet.

On Major Life Events, Planning, and Falling Down the Rabbit Hole

As those of you who follow me on Instagram know, I have a bit of a reason for not blogging for a month.

Boyfriend is no longer Boyfriend. Instead, he is Fiancé. He asked me to marry him just before our vacation at the beginning of August. So I have spent the last month, yes, in Montreal for a week, but also in a flurry of preparation. Since we have just booked our venue, I hope I can calm down and devote mental energy to other things.

Just don’t bet on it.

In the meantime, here is the ring, in case you missed in on Instagram:

Because Fiancé knows me very well, he found a simple, vintage ring from the early 20th century in rosy gold with two moonstones, in a setting called “Toi et Moi,” or “You and Me.” It’s simple, lovely, and just a bit old-fashioned, while also seeming very different from many engagement rings I see so often.

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last month. While I still have plenty of planning yet to do, hopefully, I find some time to update this space a bit more regularly.

 

On Traveling With a Complicated Skin Care Routine

A few weeks ago I shared some photos on Instagram of the toiletries bag I took with me on a one-week trip to the mountains of Maine. I wanted to expound a bit on my tips and tricks for travel skin care here.

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I opted to bring only carry-on luggage, so I was limited to a 3-1-1 bag, as per TSA standards. I found out that sheet masks don’t generally count towards your liquids/gels/aerosol limit, and can confirm that I brought them through security with no trouble. But I still had to fit a multi-step, Korean-inspired skin care routine, hair care for thick, mid-back-length hair, plus deodorant and bug spray into a quart-sized bag. While I managed, it was a tight fit and definitely used my Tetris skills.

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You can see the difference between the compact bag and the laid out contents of just the plastic bag above! Here’s a list of products:

  • Julep Love Your Bare Face cleansing oil, trial size
  • Sulwhasoo Snowise EX cleansing foam, sample packets
  • Skylake Herbal face mist, trial size
  • Missha Time Revolution First Treatment Essence and Night Activator Ampoule, sample packets
  • Assorted foil samples (Tatcha Rice Powder exfoliator, Paula’s Choice Skin Recovery moisturizer, Fresh Black Tea Age Delay cream)
  • Trilogy Antioxidant oil, trial size
  • Mamonde Rose Honey sleeping mask, decant
  • Urban Decay Vice lipstick, two sample blister packs
  • L’Oreal Nude Balm in Plush Plum
  • Missha Signature Real Complete BB Cream in #23, sample packs
  • Sensodyne Pronamel toothpaste, trial size
  • Tom’s of Maine Long Lasting unscented deodorant
  • Sawyer Picaridin bug repellent, trial size
  • Kiss My Face SPF 30 lip balm
  • Homemade lip balm
  • DHC Lash Tonic
  • Skylake Silk Cocoon Conditioner, 2 trial size tubes
  • Skylake Herbal Cool Shampoo, trial size
  • Biore UV Perfect Milk

In addition to this, I brought three sheet masks: Skylake Trouble Care, Evercos Chameleon Leaf, and LoveMore Aloe and Loofah. As you can see, I’ve left a few things at home, like exfoliating acids, vitamin C, and most of my makeup. I chose to focus on skin care, and include just enough makeup to cover a breakout if I needed and enhance my lips naturally. I opted not to bring bright red lipstick to the mountains. Here are my tips for traveling with your complicated routine:

  1. Decide what is non-negotiable: For me, number one is sunscreen. I knew I was bringing a full-sized bottle of a water-resistant sunscreen that I knew wouldn’t break me out. I also knew I wanted my essence. In the future, I will refill my decant jar with my preferred gel moisturizer as well.
  2. See where you can edit: Like I said, I didn’t bring my whole makeup bag or even all the steps I use for skin care. The first thing I decided to leave at home was my vitamin C, as the antioxidant oil has some vitamin C in it, and I didn’t want to risk oxidizing my vitamin C serum by carting it around for who-knows-how-long during travel. Then I also chose to leave my exfoliating acids at home because travel notoriously upsets my skin and the last thing upset skin needs is actives. Finally, I drastically simplified my makeup because the conference I was attending involves a lot of outdoor activities and I knew I wouldn’t be wearing a red lip while hiking anyway. I also chose to buy sunscreen for my body at the conference site because you need enough to get proper coverage, that it’s not hard to use up a full-sized tube during a week of constant daily outdoor activity.
  3. Find trial and sample sizes: I found trial sizes of my shampoo, a good conditioner, cleansing oil, facial oil, and toner. I’ll probably refill some of the trial-size containers with products I use regularly, too. Then I got sample packets of essence, ampoule, cleanser, and BB cream. And I tested literally everything weeks before leaving on my trip. I also had some samples from Sephora and other orders that I’d tried before and knew I liked. Generally not a good idea to bring anything that’s utterly untested on travel.
  4. Decant where necessary: I didn’t have to decant my own products (the Mamonde decant was one I bought off a skincare exchange board), but I will next time. I can replace the cleansing oil with my everyday cleansing oil and the sleeping mask with my night moisturizer. I also have some small travel bottles to decant my other hydrating essence, if I want to in the future.
  5. Supplement with soothing and hydrating sheet masks: I looked around and decided that it was a pretty safe bet to bring sheet masks outside my 3-1-1 bag, so I threw a few sheet masks in my bag. I focused on masks that are good for breakouts and upset skin because I knew that 1.) travel makes me break out and 2.) I would be spending a lot of time outside. And it turned out great. I came home from one particularly long afternoon hike, took a long shower, and sat for a half an hour with an aloe mask on before evening sessions and my skin was very happy indeed.

So those are my thoughts about traveling with skin care. I will have another chance to put the tips into practice soon, but I think that’s a good place to start when trying to curate your routine for travel. Who still has fun vacation plans coming up?

On Taking a Break, Remembering One’s Mortality, and Finding Simple Joy

What an ominous title, I know. But I’ve had a bit of an ominous weekend and I thought I’d talk about it. It has been a long time since I’ve posted here, and this was not the post I was planning for my triumphant return. In fact, I’ll be posting about travel beauty products later. But then this came up.

This weekend, I spent Sunday morning at the Urgent Care center because I thought there was something wrong with my heart.

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Spoiler: there is nothing wrong with my heart.

Anyway, starting about a week ago, I was trying to fall asleep and I felt what I can only describe as a kind of flutter-thud in my chest. My heartbeat felt weird. Like it was skipping every fifth beat. I tried taking my pulse with a heart rate app I have, as well as by feeling my neck, and I had Boyfriend try to take it independently. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that my chest felt… wrong. Now, I know I have anxiety, and I know I have a family history of anxiety sending people to the ER. I also know I have no family history of heart disease. So intellectually, I knew that I was almost certainly not having a heart attack. So I didn’t let Boyfriend drive me to the ER that night. But then the next night it happened. And the next night. When I noticed it during the day the next day, I decided I needed to do something. I called up and got a next-day appointment. And tried to relax until it was time to go.

That night, I really wondered if I’d done the right thing by not insisting on going in right away. What would happen if I’d been wrong and my heart stopped the night before I was supposed to see the doctor. Now, Boyfriend had a big event coming up, so I didn’t want to worry him as much as possible, so I stewed in silence. And I didn’t really sleep.

Sunday, we woke up, showered, and went for our standard Sunday morning coffee date, though I stuck to herbal tea. And then to the doctor. The actual visit was relatively mundane, although perhaps I was forcing myself to see it as mundane to prevent myself from freaking out. Fewer than five minutes after I checked in, I was called in to get an ECG. I made a Matrix joke as they hooked up all the electrodes. Then, I was shown to a bed. Not the waiting room. Not a chair in an exam room. But a bed in a private, curtained room. That was a bit weird. I gave samples of practically all my fluids, and talked to the doctor, who listened to my heart and chatted a bit about what they were up to. Basically ruling out the big stuff so that I could go home with peace of mind. Then I got a gown and a chest X-ray. Then, back to my bed until they looked at all the tests. I joked around and texted hospital gown selfies to Boyfriend, who was still in the waiting room, and messaged with a friend of mine who had dealt with something similar. And then the doctor came in and told me that everything looked clear except a couple of non-time-critical tests that took longer to process. I was free to go once they removed my IV.

And then it was over. I was free. Clean bill of health, nothing immediately wrong. I almost instantly felt better, just knowing that I was okay. Of course, they hadn’t actually done anything, but I had already suspected this was mostly due to nerves.

But then, every time I looked down at my arm, I saw the bruising from the IV. And I would keep getting email alerts of new test results (all negative). And I realized that it wasn’t all mundane and casual.

I woke up the next morning and walked around the lake and looked around me and realized just how much I was looking at the world just a bit differently. Even though I’m still young, it was one of my first real reminders of my own mortality in a long time, and it was poignant, if not serious. And really, the only thing I could think to do was to sit down and write a little bit about it, because I haven’t really fully processed it yet.

Fukamushi Shincha from Tomotcha: First Impression of a New Subscription

I mentioned on Twitter a little bit ago that I was cancelling my subscription to Simple Loose Leaf in favor of a sub with less variety but more likely to provide teas I’m interested in trying. I signed up for Tomotcha earlier this month with the hope that I’d get my first tea in early June. Imagine my suprise when a flat little packet from Japan showed up in my letterbox earlier this week! Immediately after signing up, I was a little regretful, as the Tomotcha website leaves something to be desired. Other than an address confirmation from them, there is no way to sign into an account on their website and check on your subscription. Their Twitter feed hasn’t updated since last winter, and I was beginning to worry that maybe I signed up for a defunct service that was still charging people through automated web services.

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But that wasn’t the case! Yay! I got my tea and wanted to brew some immediately. Of course, it was a weekday evening, so that would have led to some difficulty falling asleep. There was also the fact that I realized a day or two earlier that my gaiwan are not suited to brewing Japanese green teas, which have smaller leaves than the Chinese ones the gaiwan excels at brewing. So I ordered a simple glass kyusu set and some cups for my office. They arrived yesterday, so this morning I was finally able to taste my new tea.

The tea that arrived was a Fukamushi Shincha, which is a deeply-steamed green tea from the first harvest of Sencha. The dry leaves look like most Japanese green teas I’ve encountered and has a strong vegetal, seaweedy aroma. The first steeping is meant to be at about 160-170F for a minute. The first thing you notice is the brilliant color, which reminds me of everything springy and growing. It smells very, very green. The taste is fresh and grassy. It’s very refreshing on a hot day. Subsequent steepings were done for 30 seconds and retain this freshness.

All in all, I’m pleased so far with this service and now I’m looking forward to months to come!

A Hectic Weekend and a Skin Care Retreat

This weekend was pleasantly busy. We started with a Friday date night at our favorite Japanese restaurant, then went to a wedding Saturday night for two of Boyfriend’s friends, and capped it off by getting brunch with an old friend of mine Sunday late morning. Boyfriend was running about prepping for a business trip Sunday night, and was throwing laundry in so he could pack. At which point, he realized he couldn’t find his phone. We tried calling it from my phone, but he remembered he’d never taken off “Do Not Disturb” after the wedding ceremony Saturday. But after about an hour, he did finally find it.

In the washer. After the cycle had finished.

He washed his phone right before going out of town. Needless to say, he felt frustrated with himself and I was mildly irritated that he was going to effectively be out of contact while traveling. It almost turned into a fight while tensions were high.

But instead, I say “screw this” to myself and decided to do a mask. Now, I usually mask on Sunday nights, but I had bumped my masking up to Saturday so I could be dewy for the wedding (which happened in a downpour, so dewiness wasn’t really a trick). But I have a stash of 50 masks and even though some of them might be fancy or expensive, there’s not really much point in buying nice masks if I don’t use them, right?

So I double-cleansed, toned, applied some first essence, and then pulled out an illi Orchid Moisturizing mask. A lush, 2-piece, microfiber mask soaked in an surprisingly thin, wet essence that smells lightly of a beautiful flower garden. It was cooling and soothing and lifted my spirits while I just lounged for almost an hour. And when I peeled it off and topped off with some facial oil and cream, I felt so much of my frustration just disappear.

Self care. It’s a wonderful thing.

On Adventuring

I am not an adventurous person. Oh, yes, I will try new foods or new teas, or even put snails on my face. But when it comes to venturing outside my own house or neighborhood? Not so adventurous. My anxiety spiked when I took a new job that required a one-hour commute into the city rather than a 15-minute drive in my nice, familiar suburb. And the other thing I don’t often is travel.

Now, to be fair, until recently I’ve worked in a field where people at my level don’t get paid enough to travel much on their own dime and where it’s typical to only take time off to visit family once or twice a year. But there are plenty of people who find opportunities to go to international meetings. My ex-husband found himself invited to at least one international meeting per year and I did take the opportunity to travel with him when we were together. And it was a nice easing into the idea of travel because he took care of all the arrangements, but I was still left with eight or nine hours to fill by myself in a strange city where I may or may not speak the language well.

But even then, I tended to stick with European destinations for international travel. It’s my comfort zone. I speak fluent French and the other romance languages come pretty easily to me. And I’ve never really planned an international trip myself.

So this year, my new year’s resolution was to travel somewhere outside the country. And it seemed like it was going to be deferred, until Boyfriend and I decided that our vacation after his graduation didn’t have to be to a comfortable place we’d been before. So I started looking into planning a trip to Montreal — not exactly exotic, but it requires passports and may even put some of my rusty French into use. And it’s placing a toe outside my comfort zone.

Which is a first step.

Because I’ve decided that next year, I want to take a trip entirely outside my comfort zone. I’ve decided to visit Japan.

To that end, I’ve spent the last week learning hiragana and katakana, and even started a kanji study program, as well as lessons in speaking Japanese. I had forgotten how much I love learning new languages (I briefly studied Latin, German, and Romanian in the past, as well as picking up some Italian for a couple trips there). It feels like exercise for my brain. And I’ve been learning about the customs and culture, from the perspective of a visitor. It’s an exciting plan, and I hope to realize it next year. It will certainly be a bigger step in getting me out of my shell.