Outing: Tea Demonstration at the Chado Urasenke Tankokai Washington D.C. Association

This is a bit of an exciting outing post. You see, when I was a child, I remember a local museum having an exhibit where they recreated a Japanese tea house inside the museum. I wondered recently if the exhibit still existed, or if it was a temporary one, so I was looking around the internet. I did not find the exhibit, but I did find out that my city has its own tea ceremony association, the Chado Urasenke Tankokai Association of Washington, D.C., which holds weekly open houses by appointment.I decided to send them an email and see if they would make an appointment for me to come by, see their tea house, and learn more about the Japanese tea ceremony. I was fortunate enough that they not only invited me by, but also allowed me to take a few pictures to share with you.

The tour began at the front door to the tea house, which is on the second floor of a rather unassuming office building downtown. My host, Mioko, opened the locking door and showed me the closet where I could trade my street shoes for house slippers and leave my purse safely out of the way. Then, she showed me into the tea lesson room. We both took off our house slippers to step up into the tea house, which consisted of two rooms: a six-tatami less formal room and an eight-tatami more formal room. The formal room had an alcove with a scroll and a small flower. Mioko explained that they can also open the divider between the two rooms to make a large formal room.

She showed me around the rooms and explained the significance of the various elements, from the recreated tea garden on the tea house’s balcony, to the particular clay color of the walls. Much of the design of the tea house comes from the preferences of the shogun at the time the Urasenke school’s master lived. After that, she showed me to the formal tea house and began the demonstration of the tea ceremony.

The ceremony began with the presentation of a tray of sweets, which I got to contemplate as Mioko returned to her preparation area to bring out the various elements of tea preparation: the tea bowl, whisk, scoop, linens, and a waste water bowl. She then performed a ritual cleansing of the tea canister and scoop with her cloth. Then, she invited me to have a sweet while she prepared the tea. I bit into the crispy biscuit on my paper, and then tried the pressed sugar confection, letting it melt on my tongue, while I watched her make the tea.

The idea behind the timing of the ceremony is to allow the guest just enough time that the sweetness of the confection is still in their mouth as the tea is served. Sure enough, just as the last bits of sugar melted, she presented me with my bowl of tea. I hadn’t mentioned that I drink matcha, so I think she was surprised that I enjoyed my tea. The matcha was very smooth, both in flavor and consistency. It was eye-opening to have a bowl prepared by a true master. It was also quite delicate and floral, with an umami flavor that melted into sweetness as an aftertaste. Truly excellent matcha.

After I finished my tea, she invited me to examine the tea canister and bamboo scoop, explaining the history and process used to make these items. The canister she used for the demonstration had a flower design that was once again a favorite of the shogun at the time of the master’s life in Kyoto.

Once she had finished the demonstration, she invited me to try making a bowl myself. Of course, by this time, my feet were starting to get very sore from the sitting! But I endeavored to try the process. She had us move to the informal room, where a small tea kettle made it easier to serve the water without the elaborate ritual of using bamboo ladles. She also helped me set up my own tea equipment on a tray, making it easier to carry in and out of the room.

I won’t pretend my attempts were anything but humorous, but she was impressed with how quickly I picked up the particular method of folding the cloth used in the ritual, and how well I was able to create froth in my tea. After I made my bowl of tea, she suggested I switch back to playing the part of the guest so I could taste my own bowl of tea. After two bowls of matcha and the satisfaction of completing the elaborate ritual, I was exhilarated.

The whole experience took just under an hour and was a wealth of information, both about tea preparation, and about the context of the tea ceremony in Japanese history. What I found particularly interesting was the strong connection to the context of the time in which the master lived. Certain elements are admittedly due to the preference of the ruling shogun, not for any supposed mystical reason. I found it down to earth and refreshing. I also found Mioko a pleasant guide. It is always awkward for me to go places with the purpose of sharing them on the blog sometimes, and she helped put me at ease. If you’re in D. C. and curious about the tea ceremony, I would definitely recommend you email the association to make an appointment.

Beauty Review: Naruko Rose & Botanic HA Aqua Cubic Hydrating Mask

NB: This product was provided to me for review, but all thoughts are my own.

When I was emailing with Rachel from Naruko, it came up that I was unlikely to test the magnolia masks she sent me before my wedding because they contain an ingredient to which I sometimes react poorly. Now, it’s the sort of thing that usually takes prolonged exposure, but I didn’t want to take any risks before the wedding. In her infinite generosity, she suggested sending me a few of their Rose & Botanic HA Aqua Cubic Hydrating Masks to try in the meantime. Being a lover of all things floral, I leapt at the offer.

DSCN0230

I first tried this mask on a night when I’d had a fight with someone over the phone and was in a foul mood. I’d been crying a little and was just generally feeling terrible. I must say, the delightful rose scent of this mask lifted my spirits and helped me feel just a little better.

That said, I found that the scent was the only thing this mask had to recommend it. I was a bit worried, since the mask does contain a drying alcohol, but I thought that perhaps the multitude of hydrating ingredients would offset that. Unfortunately, while I didn’t find that the mask dried out or irritated my skin, it didn’t really do much to improve it either.

I did find that the mask calmed down my skin, but no more than just laying a cool, damp cloth over it. I was disappointed, given how lovely it smells, but I just didn’t find anything to really love about this mask. I wouldn’t buy it again.

If you’re looking for a nice rose-scented mask that isn’t overwhelming, and has a nice hydrating and brightening effect, I really like the LoveMore Rosa Hybrida mask. And hopefully the next mask I try from Naruko will be another winner.

Tea Review: Kaoru Supreme Organic Matcha from O-Cha

My recent experience with Matchaeologist renewed my interest in matcha and made me curious to try a real, Japanese ceremonial-grade tea. To that end, I did some researching and found the website O-Cha, where they sell high-quality Japanese teas. I decided to buy one of their organic ceremonial-grade matchas, which came highly rated, especially for the price.

I went with a decision to try a matcha that was in a similar price range as the matcha powders from Matchaeologist, but sold through a more traditional Japanese company. While the Matsu matcha was very good and interesting, I found the Matchaeologist website a bit “slick” for my tastes and I felt remiss not being able to compare it to anything more traditional. So I placed my order, and a short while later, got my package from Japan.

I chose the Kaoru Supreme Organic Matcha based on reviews I’d read around Reddit and other blogs. Upon opening the matcha, I was not disappointed. It has a vibrant green color and a light, fragrant scent. I prepared it both with the traditional whisking method and with an electric frother and tried it with and without sifting.

This is a very enjoyable matcha to drink. It lacks the heavy, almost syrupy textured vegetal flavors of the Matsu matcha, and it displays a much more characteristic “green tea” flavor. I found the flavors a bit more delicate, and it lacked any astringency, but it had a slight acidic bite that made it actually quite pleasant, especially first thing in the morning.

As with most matchas, this gives me a sense of enthusiastic vigor for life, which is why I like it as a morning drink. But the experience of savoring a cup of this tea first thing in the morning is enough to recommend it, even without any particular other benefits. I definitely would consider this a good starter matcha for those interested in getting started with the real thing, directly from Japan.

NB: I purchased this product with my own money and was given no incentive to write a review. All thoughts are my own. If you are interested in learning about partnering with me, please see my contact and sponsorship page. This review does not contain affiliate links.

Outing: Madame Butterfly at the Washington National Opera

As I’ve mentioned before, I love opera. I trained vocally using opera songs and just love the experience of immersing myself in beautiful music and singing. But opera tends to be an annual treat, when Mr. Tweed’s family friend invites us out to the Met Opera. So when I kept seeing advertisements on Facebook for the Washington National Opera’s production of Madame Butterfly, I was intrigued. I opened up the website to find that there were tickets available the Tuesday before my wedding for a very reasonable price. So I jumped at it and invited a friend with me to the opera.

DSCN0320

Madame Butterfly has a special place in my heart as my first introduction to opera. When I was in middle school, we would go on field trips to the Kennedy Center opera house to see opera teasers, and Butterfly was the first of these trips that I remember. I vividly remember the company performing the final scene, and the drama of it. Perhaps that was the moment that planted the seed of opera love in me, though I wouldn’t know it until years later. But I do remember mimicking the singing with my friends later on.

Butterfly is an interesting piece because it was written at the very beginning of the 20th century, at a time when the exoticization of Asian cultures had peaked in the West. But rather than fully buy into this, Puccini obviously uses it as a sort of inside joke. From the very beginning, the household servants are introduced by Americanized, highly poetic names, giving a sense of wonder, but when Cio-Cio-san (Butterfly) describes the tragedy of her early life and how she came to work as a geisha, her American husband can only marvel at her physical appearance. Indeed, the American Pinkerton comes off as oafish and insensitive, even without considering his plan to marry and abandon her.

But it is in the music where Puccini really shows the strength of his modern composing, weaving the American national anthem into the operatic score, and using the famous “Humming Chorus” to give a sense of melancholy and impending doom as Cio-Cio-san awaits her husband’s return. And, without giving too much away (as much as one can avoid spoilers for an over-100-year-old opera), the ending creates a moment that honestly made the breath catch in my throat. In fact, the ending deviates slightly from the original in the WNO staging, perhaps adding to its power.

The staging itself was designed by Japanese ceramics artist Jun Kaneko and shows his signature style of bold, graphic shapes. The spiral floor of the stage gives a sense that the actors are slightly off-balance the whole time, and transforms into an island adrift on an uncertain sea in the second act, when Cio-Cio-san and her companion, Suzuki debate the futility of waiting for Pinkerton’s return. While the staging has some missteps, particularly the use of moving projections, which occasionally become distracting, the use of light and color add to the dramatic effect, and gives appropriate weight to an ending that cannot explicitly show the bloodiness of Cio-Cio-san’s tragic end.

The Post-Wedding Chop

When I first planned to get my hair cut drastically, I had no idea that cutting one’s hair immediately after the wedding was a common phenomenon. But there it is. Personally, I’ve gone several years without a haircut and felt it was time, plus if Mr. Tweed and I decide to start a family soon, I’ll probably want more manageable hair, at least for a while. So I booked my appointment for the day I took off after our wedding weekend. I had plenty of hair to work with, so I also busied myself deciding just how much of this I wanted to cut:

It had been almost five years since the last time my favorite hairdresser had seen my hair, and I could see the glee in his eyes when I showed him the length my hair had achieved. It was lovely for Pygmalion and the wedding, but I do find it a bit unwieldy to wear down and putting it up every day does put some strain on my head. I was ready for a haircut that I could wear loose a little more often. As I sat down in the chair, I told Riccardo that I wanted a pretty big change and I was willing to go as short as my chin, but at least as short as my shoulders. He started cutting and as he went along, I said “Do you think we could go shorter?” So he went a bit shorter.

The end result is almost like an updated version of a vintage middy haircut, shoulder-length with some shorter layers in the front. This was even more apparent when Riccardo decided to curl it after drying it, giving me a very glamorous, Liz-Taylor-esque style. I spent the rest of the day swanning around the city with my giant sunglasses, red lipstick, and gorgeous hair, feeling like a movie star. And then came home to gather compliments from my new husband. A thoroughly productive day, all told.

Outing: Republic Restoratives Distillery Tour and Tasting

I’m back from my whirlwind wedding weekend, and I thought I’d share my fun, post-wedding outing with you. The day after the wedding, Mr. Tweed and I started out the day at our favorite coffee shop to have a little breakfast and see a few of our guests who stuck around town overnight. Then, we ran some errands, including a trip downtown to gather last-minute necessities for our upcoming honeymoon. While we were downtown, my sister (in from Australia for the wedding!) mentioned that she was going to tour a local distillery later that afternoon. So we stayed downtown and met her.

The first thing to understand is that my sister is a bit of a whiz when it comes to whiskeys of all kinds. She runs a sort of educational and networking group that introduces different kinds of whiskeys to a wide audience. As a lover of brown spirits myself, I heartily approve. So when she mentioned a drinks-related outing, I leapt at the opportunity.

Republic Restoratives is a distillery and tasting room in the heart of Northeast D. C., where, because of the peculiarities of D. C. law, they can ferment, distill, age, bottle, sell, and taste their own small-batch spirits. Currently, the only entirely-in-house spirit is their Civic vodka, because they are only about a year old. But give it a year or so, and there will be in-house bourbon and rye. Currently, they offer a bourbon and a rye that they blend and finish themselves, as well. The tour and tasting gives you a glimpse into the process, from fermentation to barrel-aging, as well as a taste of each of the three spirits they currently offer. And off to one side is the tasting room, where bartenders whip up cocktails based on each of their spirits. The only rule is that each cocktail must have at least one of their in-house spirits. But apart from that, the bartenders are perfectly willing to get creative.

The tour itself was not only entertaining, as our guide had the personality to make the chemistry involved in brewing interesting to a wide audience, but educational. I had no idea the stringent requirements needed to call something “bourbon” versus other kinds of American whiskey. And I found their Rodham Rye to be particularly enjoyable, both in the Sazerac that I brought with me on the tour, and alone as part of the tasting.

DSCN0317

After the tour and tasting, we reconvened to the tasting room, where we partook of another round of cocktails. This time, I went for a Boulevardier, which is perfect for a warm spring day. Their bourbon was the perfect match against the vermouth and Campari, but I would be curious to try it again with their rye. It was a perfect way to decompress after the hectic wedding days, and enjoy the company of family I don’t get to see often. Plus, a tour and a tasting for the price of a D. C. cocktail isn’t bad.

Today Is a Very Special Day

I may not be on social media much today. You see, today I am getting married. It’s been exciting and stressful and wonderful planning this wedding. And I will share details soon, I promise (although not until after our honeymoon). But for today, I thought I’d leave you with my pre-wedding thoughts.

Despite the fact that I’ve been with Fiancé for over five years, and the fact that I’ve been married before, the reality of this wedding really sunk in this weekend, when I put together my bouquet. Something about seeing that little finished bundle of flowers really symbolized all the preparation, mental and physical, that has gone into both this event and this marriage. As I pushed the last pearl-headed pin into the ribbon covering the stems, it hit me. This is it. I’m really doing this.

I’m really doing this again.

When I first got divorced, and even for a while after Fiancé and I started dating, I was adamant that I might never want to get married again. I had already failed at that once, why would I try again? But sometimes the old proverb is right. Although, I should hope that I will follow W. C. Fields this time and only try again once.

And so today will be a flurry of photographs, family, and a very special moment between Fiancé and me, where we take this step together. I can’t wait.

Beauty Review: Innisfree Jeju Lava Seawater Boosting Ampoule (with Wrinkle and Pore Effectors)

Say that one five times fast. Despite a mouthful of a name, the ampoule alone isn’t much to write home about. But I was intrigued when I learned about the concept. You buy the base ampoule, and then you buy tubes of “effectors,” which are concentrated shots of ingredients targeted at one concern. You can then add the effectors into the base ampoule to create a custom ampoule for your skin concerns.

DSCN0181

I was tempted enough to buy it. It’s just such a cool idea, plus I’ve been curious to try more Innisfree products, despite their fondness for filling a product with more fragrance than substance. Well, this seems like a bit of an exception. While the base ampoule itself is relatively simple (solvents, humectants, penetration-enhancers, etc.), the effectors had some interesting ingredients (although full ingredients lists don’t seem to be available). I went with the Wrinkle effector, which boasts a blend of peptides and adenosine, as well as the Pore effector, whose star ingredient is catechin, one of the antioxidants in tea. Seems like a fated match, right? I ordered the product from the company Jolse, where the ampoule and two effectors cost about $25 when various, publicly-available discounts are taken into account. It got to me in just under three weeks. I started testing it on April 8th and have been using it for about a month now to gauge results.

The first thing I noticed upon opening it was that there is absolutely no scent at all. For those who are familiar with Innisfree products, this is kind of a big deal. Innisfree has released some new products recently with a focus on less fragrance and sensitive skin types, so perhaps this is going to become a new direction for the company. Neither the base ampoule nor either of the effectors had any detectable scent, and I really sniffed hard to try to find something.

DSCN0183

The base ampoule is 25 ml of product in a 40-ml bottle, to allow for the extra volume of the effectors (so don’t be surprised if your bottle only looks just over half full), and each effector is 7 ml, so two effectors is probably the most you should add, for space reasons. It’s likely that Innisfree designed the products to work well with the base ampoule and two effectors, so that’s what I did. The base ampoule is a clear liquid that’s a bit more viscous than water. The Wrinkle effector is a thin, creamy liquid, and the Pore effector is a clear gel. I did find that the effector formulas were thick enough to get stuck in the neck of the ampoule bottle when I tried to add them in, but I think I could avoid this next time by making sure to use the pointy end of the effector tube to poke down beyond the neck of the bottle. The ampoule bottle has a dropper top and a mechanism to wipe off drips from the dropper.

I used this product at least once a day, often twice a day, at a rate of 4-5 drops per application. At this rate, I have used just over half the bottle, so I think that with daily usage, you would likely get over two months out of a bottle, and with twice daily usage, just over a month. I found that for the first few days to a week, my skin really soaked up the serum and it was easiest to apply drops directly to my face and spread it with two fingers to minimize hand absorption. Later on, however, I felt like I could get even coverage by dispensing into the palm of my hand and pressing the serum into my face. This was the only serum I used during the testing period, other than my vitamin C in the mornings.

As far as effects go, I didn’t notice any miracles, but then I wasn’t expecting any. I was actually pleasantly surprised with the effects I did notice. The product is at least as effective at keeping my forehead line at bay as my Hylamide SubQ, for a significant financial savings. It also seemed like my clogged pores diminished, although not to the point where it showed up on camera. I did take before and after photos, but I noticed no difference between them, so the positive effects were subtle. I’m curious to see how my skin reacts to stopping using this, as that’s often the only test that will tell you what subtle results a product is having.

I would say that if you’re interested in this product and the price doesn’t seem dear to you, it’s a nice product for the cost. It won’t work anti-aging miracles, but it is a nice booster to a good anti-aging regime.

NB: I purchased this product with my own money and have not received any incentive to review it. All thoughts are my own.

In my Queue: Z: The Beginning of Everything

Recently, I heard an interview with Cristina Ricci on NPR about her new series following the life of Zelda Fitzgerald (née Sayre). The show is called Z: The Beginning of Everything and it is at least loosely based on the novel Z: A Novel of Selda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. Now, as a lover of the cultural and fashion history of the 1920s, Zelda Fitzgerald has come up in my wanderings around the internet. She is often treated as an idolized figure of glamour and a kind of hedonistic debauchery, which is somewhat missing the point. Rather like a Great Gatsby themed wedding.

DSCN0254

I had originally picked up the book for some light reading during a trip to Fiance’s parents’ lake house, but never really got very far in it. After watching the series, I picked it back up again, but was mildly struck with the inconsistencies between the two. Because the two works cannot be separated, I thought I ought to comment on both of them, though I’m focusing on the show, as I still haven’t finished the book.

The first thing that struck me about the show is that it opened up, in the pilot episode, on a shot of the burned-out hospital where Zelda met her untimely and tragic end. This is not taken from the book, though I appreciate how it highlights Zelda as a tragic figure rather than an aspirational one. But for the most part, the show glosses over the darker aspects of Zelda’s early life. For one, there are references to the abuse she suffered at Scott’s hands in the novelization, but those are absent from the first season of the show. The show also seems to suggest that Scott’s infidelity, shown only as a one-off, impulsive act on screen, is somehow partially Zelda’s fault for fueling his jealousy through her close relationship with his friend.

That bothered me a bit because history has made clear that Scott repeatedly and shamelessly cheated on his wife, as she did on him. I wonder how the show will treat her affairs in later seasons. And to bring in the figure of Scott’s friend, whose relationship with Zelda acts as the primary conflict between the two in the first season, and who did not seem to exist in history, somewhat lets him off the hook. And, of course, the glossing over of the physical abuse that Zelda endured at his hands paints less of a complete picture of the domestic life that led her to a series of stays in sanitoriums.

The one place the show does try to add drama is in the relationship between Zelda and her family. Unfortunately, the show injects drama where none exists in the book, which seems odd considering that they delete drama elsewhere. The show also gives Zelda somewhat more agency, moving the revelation that Scott has been using her diary for “inspiration” to an earlier point their lives. It almost seems like the show’s creators wanted to apologetically give her more agency than she ended up having in a life where a jealous, bitter, and abusive husband thwarted her attempts to make more of her life than being a society wife.

That said, I found the show enjoyable. The episodes are short, easily-digested bits of fluff, and the acting and characterization is superb. I was impressed with Ricci’s ability to communicate the naivete of a teenage and early-20s woman in the first season and I look forward to seeing what they do with the later seasons. I just wouldn’t recommend necessarily reading the book and expecting the series to follow it very closely at all.

On My Bookshelf: The Woman on the Orient Express

I posted a cryptic Instagram post about this book a few weeks ago, but I thought I’d share a full review. The Woman on the Orient Express, by Lindsay Jayne Ashford, was a book I purchased on a whim for my Kindle. I liked the premise of an historical fiction book about Agatha Christie, whose work I enjoy and whose life I wish I knew more about. Of course, the book is entirely fictionalized, if based on real people, but it is an interesting look at characters based at least in part in history.

DSCN0252

The story itself is not serious literature or high art. It has intrigue, action, and plot twists, but nothing ground-breaking. Of course, because it was about Christie, I assumed the story would be a mystery, which it isn’t really. But for some reason, most of the book felt like the setup of an Agatha Christie mystery. In each chapter, something is mentioned or set up that, in one of Christie’s works, would be a clue for a diminutive Belgian detective. Likewise, this book is full of Chekhov’s guns, sprinkled liberally throughout the story.

The plot begins with Agatha Christie planning a trip to the Middle East in an attempt to escape the publicity surrounding her mysterious temporary disappearance and her divorce. She is not only hurting from being left for another woman, but she is trying to balance recovery from a breakdown that has put her in the public eye. Ashford’s picture of Christie as a character is actually quite relatable, although she is sometimes a bit thick. However, whether the Christie of the book is just too stupid to see what’s in front of her or purposely turning a blind eye because she subconsciously wishes it weren’t so isn’t so apparent.

The other main characters are Nancy, based in part on Christie’s husband’s mistress, and the archaeologist Katherine Keeling, who was based on Katharine Woolley, a noted archaeologist of the time. I like how Ashford weaves the other two women into the story, although sometimes the particular plot choices are a bit soap-opera in their dramatism. That said, the characters themselves are well-enough written that they can handle their respective overly-dramatic subplots. If anything, the male characters tend to be one-dimensional, which is perhaps a welcome change in literature, in some light.

The plot does meander a bit, but it does eventually get to the point, with a rather unsatisfying climax, but I thoroughly enjoyed the book as a whole. There is a bit of romance, but the central focus seems to be the relationship among the three women. And it certainly doesn’t ever get boring.

That said, the thing that really grabbed me about this book was the afterwards, in which the author explains what inspired her to write this story. You see, the story is, in some way, an imagining of how Christie met her second husband. And the author calls Christie “the patron saint of second marriages,” which spoke to me on a personal level as I prepare myself to get married for the second time.

In the time in which Christie lived, it was considered a deep failing of a woman to end up divorced, and indeed it was sometimes catastrophic to end up without a husband and without the social dignity of widowhood. But the book goes further than this, bringing up the timeless issues of personal self-doubt, children’s lack of understanding, and the feelings of helplessness that accompany a divorce. Because Christie was fortunate enough to have an independent income in her writing, Ashford can treat her as a somewhat more modern-style divorcee, which helps the story reach a modern audience.

On the whole, I enjoyed this book for what I intended it: a piece of light reading in between other works. But I found a surprising depth of insight in the words of the author about Christie and her divorce and remarriage.