Meditations on Matcha and Father’s Day

NB: Those of you who don’t know, my father died in late 2012, so this is not an entirely happy post, especially since we had a rather tumultuous relationship before that.

It was Father’s Day yesterday in the States, and a friend’s post on Instagram got me reminiscing about how my father indirectly introduced me to matcha. The following story may shock and horrify you, particularly if you’re something of a tea purist, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot from this time in my life, and I’ve tried to bring it to my current understanding of tea.

Since I was a teenager, I had a somewhat strained relationship with my father, which fractured entirely when he divorced my mother. In college, I made the decision to stop speaking to him entirely, a decision that led to seven years of estrangement. Eventually, we reconnected and started rebuilding a tenuous sort of relationship. A couple of years later, I would lose him, so I suppose it was fortunate that we were able to mostly reconcile before his death.

When my father was diagnosed with cancer in late 2011, he embarked on a rather aggressive treatment regimen, and my stepmother, likely in an attempt to bring some sense of control to a terrifying time, threw herself into researching complementary therapies. She particularly looked into diet and supplements that could support an anti-cancer lifestyle. This led to the purchase of a great deal of “health food” and various forms of green tea, including a tin of matcha powder. Now, my father decided he liked the matcha-dusted green tea bags they got, which he dubbed his “macho tea,” but no one much liked the plain matcha powder because it was such a strong green tea flavor.

At the time, I was living with them because I had separated from my first husband, and as both a green-tea-drinker and one who hated waste, I started drinking the matcha. Of course, I also started baking with the spelt flour and flaxseeds and cooking with some of the healthier food (I was going through a pseudo-vegan phase at that point), and at one point I had a rather large master list of the vegan muffin recipes I had developed.

In the spring of 2012, my father finished his treatment and was deemed cancer-free, but in fall of 2012, it returned, more aggressively, and it was likely not going to go as well this time. So even though I had since moved out of their house and into a shared house in the same neighborhood, I spent much of my time at my stepmother’s house. By December 2012, it was obvious that it was the end, possibly any day, so I spent my days sitting next to his bed while he slept whenever anyone else from his large family wasn’t there to be with him. I would occasionally sing to him, and occasionally read a book while he slept, but I always had my mug of tea.

As a raw newcomer to the world of matcha, my preferred cuppa was a large mug with a teaspoon of matcha in the bottom, filled with hot water from the insta-hot water tap and stirred with a spoon. No sifting, whisking, or controlled water temperature. No fancy teaware, or even particularly good matcha. Just a mug filled with a somewhat-sludgy, swamp-water concoction that tasted like green tea, kept me feeling alert but calm throughout trying days, and could be refilled occasionally as the powder settled out.

It’s not a sophisticated way to drink matcha, and that’s okay. I came to tea slowly, in increments, starting with a love of tea parties with bagged Twinings, and then on to loose leaf from Teavana, so beginning with matcha by unceremoniously dumping a spoonful of low-ish quality powder in a large mug seems almost fitting. And no matter how intricate my own personal tea rituals may become, sometimes I like to remember their humble beginnings.

So to commemorate this Father’s Day, I made myself a spoonful of matcha in a mug and sipped it slowly while I remember the lessons of tea my father probably never knew he’d taught me.

Adventures in Crafting

My longer-term followers might remember that I have been a crafter for a few years, and even crocheted my own wedding shawl, which I have saved for a future generation. But, as my life has become more hectic, I’m finding myself with less time for crochet and other crafts. So in recent weeks, I’ve been endeavoring to find more time to myself, and since we have not yet fully unpacked, our television is largely useless, and I’ve turned to crafts to fill some of the time with contemplative leisure.

Of course, I’ve come to realize in recent years that large crochet projects are not something that I enjoy. While I appreciate ultimately finishing a project, more often than not, I get bored and abandon the project before I can finish. So when we moved house, I decided to get rid of almost all of my yarn, save a few special pieces for smaller projects. I kept my wool from the Knockando wool mill in Scotland, for example. I also found a new craft kit that I’d bought a while ago, when I was trying to find ways to distract myself while we were trying to conceive: an embroidery kit.

Like many, perhaps, I watched my mother and other female relatives do cross-stitch when I was a girl. I even wanted to try my hand at it, but perhaps from my natural inclination for abandoning past-times, I never got very far. But when I saw these floral initial kits on the Instagram page for a local fabric and craft store, I was smitten. So I bought one. And then I put it in a box and forgot about it.

The first day we sent Elliot to daycare, I was lost. I had the entire day completely to myself for the first time in months. So I picked up this embroidery kit and started it. It’s relatively simple and has everything you might need, save perhaps a small pair of embroider scissors, which really do make a difference when snipping tiny threads. I enjoyed sitting on my sofa and making my tiny stitches like a genteel lady of the past. And it reminded me that I love stitchery. So not only am I eager to finish this project and start a new one, possibly of my own designing, but I’ve also started looking into trying my hand at sewing. And when I say “trying my hand,” I mean literally, as I have neither the equipment or expertise to operate a sewing machine. So after I finish my embroidery project, I’ll be starting on my first proper sewing project, with a pattern and everything.

I have of course, been warned about the tedium of hand-sewing, particularly on a garment with a rather large hemline, but I do find the simplicity almost meditative. I enjoy the moments I have to sit and stitch and focus my mind on that task, feeling how such crafts connect us not only with our own minds and hands, but also with the centuries of people who did the same for their own garments. And who knows? Perhaps I shall hone my sewing skills enough to be able to mend my own clothes more readily, which seems an admirable goal in this age of sustainability and an avoidance of waste.

And so I’ve found myself returning to the quiet, old-fashioned pastimes that I’ve done before. Of course, such hobbies go beautifully with a cup of tea to fortify oneself. What are your favorite crafts, readers?

On “Mom Hair”

A couple months ago, someone on Instagram suggested I post a tutorial for my standard daily bun, and when I was thinking about filming that, I realized that I haven’t done a hair update in a while. Not a whole lot has changed since my last update, in terms of technique, though the products have changed, but I’ve definitely spent a lot more time thinking about how hair care fits into my identity as a mother.

The “mom haircut” is almost a Western cultural archetype, a symbol of a woman’s changing identity upon becoming a mother. Kind of like mom jeans for your head. Apparently the modern idea of “mom hair” hearkens back to the mid-90s, when politicians were desperate to win the “soccer mom” vote, but the idea that a woman should change her appearance when she becomes a mother has deep roots, at least as far back as the “separate spheres” philosophy that situated women at the center of the moral compass for a family. Interestingly, the bob haircut has gone from a statement of protest against cultural norms of a woman’s place (see Joan of Arc or flappers in the 1920s) to a sign that a woman is fitting into her designated role as a mom.

There is also the undeniable convenience factor. Many women find short hair much easier to care for, and of course, the reality of postpartum shedding means that long hair is a lot more visible when it falls out in clumps on the bathroom (and bedroom, and living room, and kitchen…) floor. And I’ve definitely experienced that in the last few months.

But I have personally chosen not to get a “mom” haircut. While the hair loss is striking, my hair is still thick enough that it’s difficult to style into a contained style if it’s shorter than my mid-back. So as far as keeping my hair out of tiny hands, my best options are long enough to put in a bun, or a pixie. And since I can trim my super long hair myself, rather than visiting a salon every 6-8 weeks to maintain a pixie, long hair wins out for me. So I’ve decided to keep my long hair. It’s currently down nearly to my waist, and while I’ve noticed a decrease in thickness as it sheds, it’s still pretty thick.

Elliot loves to grab at my hair, so I generally keep it up and away from him. My go-to style is a bun called the Nautilus Bun, which I originally learned from The Long Hair Community. It’s a simple, well-balanced bun that sits close to my head and doesn’t get uncomfortable or heavy after a whole day. It’s a set-it-and-forget-it kind of bun. I can anchor it with a fork, stick, or a clip, and the construction makes it easier to fasten securely without being too tight. And it has a rather nice look to it. So that’s how I handle having very long hair around a baby. I do sometimes wear it in a braid during the day, and I always braid my hair at night, but I have to be careful to keep it away from curious hands. I posted a video of me putting my hair up in this bun on Instagram, but my favorite tutorial can be found here.

But how do I keep such long hair clean? Well, the most important thing to note is that most of my hair care takes place outside of the shower. I wash my hair 2-3 times a week, and I only condition in the shower once a week. This works for my hair, which is relatively sturdy, and that almost never experiences damage from dye or heat styling. I also condition my hair outside the shower, with leave-in conditioner and oil, so I can watch the baby and take care of my hair. Luckily, Elliot likes to watch me do my hair.

So that’s it. That’s how I care for my very long hair, even with a baby. I’ve kept up this routine throughout my maternity leave, including during my husband’s three out-of-town trips since Elliot was born. I really only need five minutes or less in the shower most of the time, unless I’m doing my once weekly deep conditioning, so it fits really well into my life. At this point, I think I might be seeing my hair loss start to taper off, too. I’m curious how others have handled the idea of “mom hair” in their lives.