Connecting with Tea Lovers through History and in the Modern Day

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It is no secret that I love old things. I originally envisioned this blog as a vintage blog, before my love of beauty and later tea took center stage. And over the last year, my Historical Tea Sessions have been some of my favorite videos to research and create. And I think one of my favorite things about this project is connecting with historical figures who seem to have shared my own intrigue with new and different teas.

In my Baisao video, I mention how the old tea seller writes of his get-togethers with a friend who brings him a new tea and how intensely interested he is in that experience, while in my video on Abigail Adams, I talked about how her husband John wrote in his letters about sending her new teas to try that he encountered on his travels. This idea of sharing tea with loved ones and fellow tea-lovers transcending the boundaries of time and geography fills me with a unique warmth. Similarly, I’ve found my own little worldwide community of tea-lovers in the present day with whom to share new and interesting teas we’ve found.

And I think one of the most interesting new things I’ve learned through my tea community was that white teas outside of Fuding in China are definitely worth checking out. It started with Chado Tea House reaching out to me and offering me some teas for review. I chose one based on an upcoming literary tea session, but the other, I took their suggestion to try their Colombian white tea, simply because it just sounded so intriguing. I was unaware that tea was grown in Colombia, and to have it be a white tea, rather than a commodity black tea was curiouser and curiouser.

When it arrived, it was an extremely generous quarter pound of tea, in a massive bag to contain the large and fluffy leaves. It had the fluff level of a really nice Bai Mudan. I decided to pretend I was a professional tea taster and sit down to this in my cupping set, steeped with boiling water (as I do almost all of my white teas), for a few minutes at a time. Now, this isn’t a comprehensive tasting note post, as I want to try this gongfu style before sharing my official thoughts, but right away I was struck by how different this was from Chinese white tea. It almost reminded me of Taiwanese teas, with its smooth mouthfeel and subtle sweetness. Keep an eye out for full tasting notes in the future.

And then I saw a post from Jin and Tea about the Benifuki Japanese white tea from UNYtea that I’ve seen pop up throughout my social feeds and decided that it was finally time to give that a try. And, once again, I was met with a delightfully different white tea that expanded my concept of what a white tea is. As much as I bemoan the constant stream of new and interesting things that lead me to have such a bursting tea cabinet, social media is a wealth of inspiration to keep tea drinking interesting and new. And it reminds me of a modern-day equivalent to John Adams’ gifts to his wife or Baisao’s visiting friend. So let’s all keep in touch and keep our tea community alive for the next several hundred years!

NB: The Colombian white tea was sent to me free of charge in exchange for featuring. All thoughts are my own. If you’re interested in collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.

The Virus Diaries: Weeks One to Three

First of all, at the time I’m writing this, I am NOT sick that I know of; I just thought I would make a catchy title. I know I posted two weeks ago that I was going to revisit my beauty routines, but right now I just have more on my mind, plus the rather profound changes in my daily routines have meant that some of my beauty and self-care practices have fallen by the wayside and it would be dishonest to pretend like I still wake up every morning and put on sunscreen and then brush my hair fifty times before going to bed.

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This week, I thought I would start a weekly diary of my experiences isolating at home during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps in five years, when my blog doubles its age, I’ll look back and appreciate this look into my mindset at this time. I really hope so. This is going to get heavy at times. I’ve never been terribly private about my mental health, so know that I already grapple with anxiety and depression pretty much on a daily basis and this has added an exciting new layer to that.

My own awareness of this virus started in February, when we had to decide if we were going to go ahead with our planned trip to Japan. While we had ultimately decided not to go, the decision was also made for us when the events we were traveling to attend and even most of our flights were canceled. As reports of cases in the US started becoming more frequent, I found myself not only worried about travel, but about my near-daily travels on Washington, DC’s delightfully cozy public transportation (I say with no small touch of verbal irony). While I was heartened by the reports that the disease seems mild in young children, and therefore did not worry about Elliot, I realized that my own chronic asthma, which has sent me to urgent care with complications from the common cold before, meant that I suddenly had to face the very real-seeming fear that I would not only be very likely to be infected if it came to DC, but also that, if infected, I was more likely to face serious complications.

I will admit, I had a rough couple of weeks as I dealt with this. Lest you think I am now at peace with my own more-real mortality, I am not. I am merely more confident that, as I have been almost three weeks without leaving my house beyond a walk around the block, I am less likely to be exposed to a high risk of infection. But before I officially got the okay from my employer to switch to remote work for the foreseeable future, I actually recorded a video for Elliot in case I didn’t make it. I realized that not only would he not remember me if I died, but that most of the available video of me would be my YouTube videos, which are relatively representative, but still an idealized version of myself. Luckily, I now feel like I probably will never have to show it to him, although I might keep it if he ever asks us about our experiences during this time.

Alright, now on to the diary part. I first decided to start working from home on March 12th, after my home state reported its first confirmed cases. I went in the next day to gather what I might need to work from home long-term and chat with my boss. We had already discussed the possibility, in light of my delicate lungs, and he was more than gracious about it. I commuted early that morning so I could visit two of my favorite local places to get one last pastry and cup of tea before leaving indefinitely, and I left in the middle of the day to avoid evening rush hour. And then, I settled in. Shortly thereafter, we got word that our entire organization was switching to remote, as possible. That evening, I discussed things with my husband and he agreed to also work from home, which was good because halfway through our first week home, his workplace closed down, which included our daycare.

Now, this is not a place where I spend too much time discussing my parenting experience, but I do want to say that I am extraordinarily fortunate that my husband 1.) has a job that involves a lot of inactive “work,” and 2.) is willing to take on the bulk of the child care during my business hours, so that I can give most of my full attention to my work. The first week found me not only acclimating myself to our new normal, but also trying to finish a major yearly report that was due that week. My husband rallied and took on nearly all of the childcare and I could see the strain it left on him. That Friday, he took some time in the late morning to go grocery shopping, to avoid weekend crowds, and we stocked up so we wouldn’t have to go out again for another couple weeks. We even found a local brewery that was doing deliveries of their beer.

The second week, we started settling into something like a routine, while at the same time abandoning the pretense of a routine. I will say that I tend to break every rule in the teleworking book, frequently forgetting to shower, dress, or eat on a regular schedule. Oddly enough, having the toddler around has helped, as we need to keep him on some semblance of a schedule, if only to make sure he gets all his meals in, as he’s rather slim and tall, like his father. Having a child to feed has also forced us to prepare healthier meals, since we don’t want to feed him nothing but random odds and ends like we might eat ourselves, left to our own devices. I was able to plan a reasonable number of meals from things that were either hardy enough to last a week in the fridge, or else were made from frozen or shelf-stable staples, including the vegan chili that Elliot seems to love.

The second week also saw me emerge from my work cocoon more often to help with Elliot while keeping an eye on email, rather than devoting my fullest energy to work for eight hours straight and leaving Dan to it. I found a happy medium of getting a full day’s work done over the course of our waking hours without abandoning Dan to the toddler for eight hours straight. And I started using virtual meetings, both for family and friend connections, and for more official uses, including an all-staff meeting and a rehearsal via Zoom. Sadly, towards the end of last week, my most recent play was postponed for two years due to facilities closures.

This weekend, I continued connecting with virtual tea friends with a video meetup on Discord with a group of people I’ve met through a tea friend I met in person earlier this month. It was nice to chat tea and see people’s setups, and perhaps I have found a new tea community to engage with. The weekend also saw me succumb to a bit of boredom and start an Instagram account for Sophie, a k a TweedCat.

And now, my state is on an official stay-at-home order from the governor since Monday. It’s interesting because not much has changed about my life — I haven’t left the house except to check the mail box or for a couple walks around the neighborhood since the 13th, but it feels different. Also, I’m wondering how empty the grocery stores will be when we shop this weekend since everyone likely ran out to panic buy things again when the order was announced. I will admit to ordering some flour from a local farm, but that’s mostly because I, like most of the country, have rediscovered a love of bread making. So I guess I’ll just sit and bake and while away the hours until this is all over. Meet me back here to see how week two of official quarantine is going!

The Virus Diaries: Community in Isolation

NB: I am not sick at the time of writing this, but I’ve decided to make this post the first in my “Virus Diaries” series while I wait in self-isolation at home.

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If you’re in the same position as many of the people around the world, then you, like me, might be “social distancing” at home the last couple of weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Or perhaps you’re actively quarantined and on official government lockdown like some of my friends. Or maybe you’re just highly introverted or have a disability that prevents you from leaving the house, even when there isn’t a global pandemic going on. Whatever the case, I’ve obviously been thinking a lot lately about feeling connected while in isolation.

Now, this is not going to be a “how to maintain sanity while suddenly working from home” post. While I do already regularly telework once a week, I’m certainly no expert in it. And I tend to break every rule in the book. Plus, I think that a certain level of forgiveness for yourself is necessary in times like these where we might not be home entirely by choice. Plus, better bloggers than I have tackled the subject brilliantly.

Oddly enough, I’ve been less isolated the last two weeks because not only am I working from home, but my husband and toddler are also home. So I get comparatively little time alone. But the one thing that I have had to sacrifice are plans that involve going out with other people. No more tea dates or rehearsals or gym classes. And, surprisingly enough for my introverted self, that’s been tough. But the most poignant thing I’ve noticed since this isolation started is that people in my circles of friends are stepping up and engaging in so much more virtual communication. People are going live on Instagram. People are hosting Zoom play readings. I’ve been added to a Facebook group where we post phone videos of us singing Broadway songs according to the weekly theme. And I’ve found myself involved with some friends on Instagram who are keeping up their fitness routines using the Daily Yoga app.

I was originally enabled by Jude Chao at Fifty Shades of Snail to download and try the Daily Yoga app. While I’m a yogini of twenty years and used to have a very robust home practice, that has changed a lot since having a baby and moving to a smaller house and I’ve found myself lacking the motivation to get up and do yoga in the morning. Couple that with a sudden lack of walking now that I’m no longer walking over a mile each way to get to and from work and I found myself looking at a bout of inactivity-induced depression. So I started posting to their hashtag and tagging the others and linked up with a group of people who are also just trying to beat back inactivity and maybe get a little bit bendier.

Yesterday, I celebrated my fourteenth day of a yoga practice streak, which is the longest I’ve gone since starting on the app a month or so ago. And I seriously couldn’t have done it without the support and accountability of my virtual friends. To celebrate, I ordered some new silver needle white tea and a meditating woman statuette to use as a tea pet on my tray from my favorite local tea shop, Valley Brook Tea.

I think, in general, I’ve found that millennials might be dealing with distancing better because we’re used to “making friends” virtually. I already have a bunch of friends I’ve never met face to face, or have met maybe once in person, but with whom I feel pretty close. So it’s not that big of a stretch to transfer some of my in-person friendships to the virtual world for a while. At the same time, I’m noticing some of my older friends bemoaning the “isolation” because they don’t consider virtual community “real” community. But these are communities. I’ve even heard people insist on calling this “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing” because we can still connect socially, even if we’re not physically in each other’s company.

So I have so much gratitude for my community, virtual or otherwise. Happy distancing.

NB: Nothing to declare. For more information about collaborating with me, click here.