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Tea Drinker in a Coffee Shop

Yes, two days late. Or approximately seven (4 large) cups of tea…

Confession: I always feel guilty going into a coffee shop and asking them what they have to drink that’s not coffee. I mean, it’s a coffee shop. Their whole reason for existing is to sell coffee, presumably to people who…well, like coffee.

I am not even in the vicinity of their target audience, having disliked even the smell of coffee since the day my mom let me try it in high school. Needless to say, it’s pretty rare I actually go into a coffee shop (because hello – the whole shop smells like coffee and they never have what I’d consider “good” tea), but in our society, it’s nearly impossible to have a family or friends or other various groups who don’t want to occasionally meet for…coffee. In a coffee shop.

Writers like to meet in coffee shops too, but I don’t meet up with other writers often, so that’s not really much of a concern for me – at least not at this point in my life.

Alas, there are occasions when I find myself at the counter of a coffee shop, trying to find the tiny part of the menu with the non-coffee drinks and trying to decide whether it’s worth the calories to just go with the sugar-laden pre-mixed chai (or whatever the non-coffee latte flavor happens to be), or brave the extremely limited sure-to-be bitter/oversteeped tea selection, hoping whatever flavor they’ve mixed in will make it somewhat drinkable. The only other options are generally bottled water, juice, or energy drinks, none of which are any more appealing in that situation.

Sometimes, the sugar-laden drinks win out, and while I enjoy them immensely, I end up regretting the “fuzzy” feel in my mouth for hours afterward. They do remind me to brush my teeth though, so there’s that.

And if I’m going to subject my body to that kind of serious sugar-shock, I may as well go ahead and get one of those lovely scones for a small bit of balance. Blueberry is my favorite, or a plain scone, though that’s not normally an option. Cranberry is good, or something lemony. Heated, always, because cold scones are dry, and even the sweetest liquid confection can’t fix that kind of dry once it hits the back of your throat. Trust me on this one.

The last time I was in a coffee shop was a couple months ago, while I was out playing Pokemon Go and running errands one Saturday. There was a magikarp in a gym I wanted, and the only way to reach the gym was to go inside the coffee shop. I had a hot cup of mediocre yerba mate and a cold blueberry scone for the privilege of sitting by the window and raiding the gym to get the magikarp.

Next time I feel the need to capture a pocket monster from that particular gym, I’m definitely going for something sweeter and a warmed-up scone…


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On Personal Rituals

A week and a half ago, I broke my Matcha bowl. For those of you asking “your what-now?”, a Matcha bowl is a small bowl or cup used to make matcha, which is a powdered Japanese green tea. It’s got a gentle form of caffeine that makes you alert without giving you the jitters, and like most green teas, it’s got all sorts of good-for-you compounds in it.

Matcha is what I start my weekdays with, without fail. And while you can certainly make it in a regular mug, it’s never going to come out as well as preparing it more traditionally in a bowl with a bamboo whisk, IMO (and yes, I have tried).

So, when I dropped my first and only matcha bowl after my shower that Thursday morning, I was pretty horrified. Matcha bowls – good ones, aren’t sold just anywhere, and normally I’d have to order one online. Luckily, I’d seen several at the local bookstore just down the block from where I work the week before, and I had enough money to splurge on a locally made one instead of going with something cheap and mass-produced. Whew!

That afternoon, I walked to the bookstore on my break, got a cup of tea and spent a good 10 minutes choosing which matcha bowl I wanted, and headed back to the office with a sense of relief that my morning matcha ritual would still happen the next day.

I’ve run out of matcha before, and it’s not pretty. So it goes for a few other “rituals” in my life – not normal routines, though messing with one of those throws me off pretty heavily too, but there are certain things I do either daily or weekly or whatever, that when I don’t get to do them, my whole world feels so off-kilter that I have trouble functioning until I can “reset” and partake in whatever ritual it is again.

The difference between routines and rituals for me is…a routine is something I can do without much thought. It needs to be done, and I do it at a set time on a set schedule so I know that it gets done, and I don’t give it much thought aside from “it’s time to do [whatever]”. The only tools that really matter for a routine are whichever tools will allow me to complete the task as quickly and efficiently as possible so I can move on to the next thing.

A ritual is something I pay attention to. Something that gets my full attention and focus, even if just for a few moments. Something comforting and restful that centers my mind. And something where the tools are just as important as the motions.

Making the tea that my husband and I each take to work every morning and afternoon is a routine. I use travel bottles with tea strainer inserts and a loud timer because I’m always multi-tasking while it’s steeping. I fill the baskets with our favorite daily black teas, do other things while waiting for the water to get hot, fill his first because he likes more bitter brews than I do, do one more thing, go back and fill mine, and when the timer goes off, take the baskets out and let them sit to cool for just a minute while I do one more thing and then come back screw the bottle bottoms back on and put them in my work bag to keep warm while we’re getting ready for work. Pure routine, I could do it in my sleep.

With my matcha though, I put the water on to heat, get my bowl and set it on the counter. I notice the texture on the outside, the smooth glaze on the interior. I get the matcha power from the fridge and sift through it with my little bamboo scoop, noting the texture of that and breaking up any lumps in the tea powder before putting two small scoops of tea in the bowl and tapping the scoop on the side. I put the powder back in the fridge and get my bamboo whisk, feeling how light and small it is in my hand, and then I pour a little warm water in to make a smooth paste with the powder before pouring enough water to make the brew (maybe 1/4 of the bowl full…depends on the bowl and how thick/thin I want it).

I whisk it briskly, watching the water take on that beautiful emerald green hue and those creamy bubbles form on the top, feeling the texture and how much resisting energy there is. I tap my whisk on the bowl a couple times, rinse it under water and put it back on its ceramic stand to dry.

Then I hold the bowl up to my nose and breathe in deep, letting the fresh, grassy scent start to wake me up. I take a small sip to test, close my eyes and enjoy the flavor and the texture on my tongue, and set the bowl on the counter to wait, carrying it with me to sip on as I go through the rest of my morning routine.

The ritual part of that routine takes an incredibly small amount of time – only a couple of minutes before I’m forced to refocus on the routines that get me out the door (mostly) on time. But that few minutes makes all the difference in the world as to how my day starts and continues. It’s a quick but satisfying reset in the middle of my normal morning bustle. I perform this particular ritual every single weekday without fail – even Tuesdays when I’m in a bigger hurry than normal.

And that’s why breaking my one matcha bowl was such a huge deal to me – the incredibly rare times when I’ve run out of matcha powder have consisted of poor substitutes and serious angst on my part simply because I can’t recreate the actual “ritual” with anything else. Can I survive without it? Sure – absolutely. In time, I’d learn to live without it if I had to. Do I want to? Not if there’s any way on earth I can hang onto it.

As I mentioned earlier, I have lots of routines (I am 100 percent routine-driven), but very few actual rituals, and that’s because it’s very difficult for me to make time for such things. I have that little bit of time in the morning, and a tiny slice of time late at night…and sometimes, I don’t even get that depending on what the other “lifeforms” in my house are doing/needing/whatever. If I can’t keep a very rigid schedule, then I generally give up on elevating something from routine to ritual, because it’s frustrating and generally futile. In order to “care” and focus, I need the time and mental space to do so. Mental space and quiet are often harder to come by than time, just due to interruptions, unfortunately.

I think we as constantly busy people don’t make enough time for personal rituals. We’re forced by tradition or family or social mores to make time for social ritual, but taking/making time for personal ritual is too often seen as “selfish” or “introverted” (like that’s a bad thing…which it’s not), or a snub to others around us. Or it’s just not taken seriously, and we’re interrupted constantly, which keeps us from that deep focus and tactile/sensual attention (“mindfulness”, if you want to use a buzzword) that a ritual really requires.

Do you practice a particular ritual regularly? Something where the tools and environment matter, and it’s not just a rote routine? Do you find it difficult to maintain, or are you better at protecting yours than I am at protecting mine?


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This & That

I’m running late again (imagine that, right?), so just bullet-points for now. I’ll pick one of these for a deeper discussion/exploration next week. Or later this week, maybe. I do have Wednesday off work…

– Took my Note tablet apart last week, pulled the battery, and it’s running fine now (check last week’s blog for that saga).
– My new tea kettle works great (whew!)
– Went for two bike rides this weekend, a short one around the (very hilly) neighborhood Saturday, and then 6.7 miles (round trip) on Sunday to visit my parents. Good exercise, that, and pretty darn fun, too.
– Posted what I think is a pretty interesting discussion topic and writing prompts on the BSB blog today.
– Scheduled excerpts to post on my alter-ego sites this week, and I’ve discovered a couple of stories that need minimal editing/work to be ready for publishing from those two. Stay tuned…
– Next tattoo appointment is this Wednesday at 1pm. I’ll be getting poison bottles put on my inner arm, which is probably going to hurt a lot but it’s gonna look really cool. Pictures soon! I took Weds morning off work too…because I can.
– Graduation party Saturday for a friend’s kid who’s graduating Sunday. And of course, next Monday is a holiday. Yay!

That’s what’s goin’ on! Mostly.

High-Low Tech

So…busy weekends lately, which is why posting is kind of hit and miss at the moment. The nicer weather has our schedules all wonky, and I’m also trying to find a good routine for my business hours late Friday night, which means the BSB blog post sometimes isn’t getting done until Sunday night, which leaves me no time to get a post done for this site. All of which to say…posts may be spotty until I can get my summer routine a little more stable. It’s not you, it’s me (but that seems rather obvious…).

It’s not like you’re waiting anxiously on my every post, right? 😉

In any case, I’m in kind of a weird spot right now where I want to use the latest and greatest in tech, but am also really seeing the value in slowing down and maybe using lower-tech options for certain things, or mixing the two for the “highest low-tech” option available. Reading that back, I realize it sounds convoluted, and it is, but such is life in my brain. Or part of it. I mean, I keep a lot of stuff to myself. Because if you think I’m weird now…well. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet, as the saying goes.

Ahem. Back on topic, my first high-low tech conundrum this spring came when I started using my 3-year old Samsung Galaxy Note 8 tablet to write poetry last month. One of the best things about the Galaxy Note line is, obviously, Samsung Notes, wherein you can write on the screen with a stylus (high tech!), and use a device just like a notebook. I have been enamored with this feature ever since it came out, and I absolutely love the fact that I can erase my digital handwriting, which means my “pages” are less messy/more legible (I have horrible handwriting).

This is kind of a “best of both worlds” thing for me, because handwriting (low-tech) forces me to slow down and pay more attention to what I’m writing, so I think I do better work that way. Computers haven’t quite figured out how to *read* my handwriting yet (not holding out much hope for that one), which means I have to type everything I write on the screen by hand back into my writing program (currently Shaxpir). And that forces me to do an editing/revision pass, as I’m always finding ways to improve whatever I’ve hand-written as I type it back in.

So, I’m kind of loving this new-to-me writing “process”, and my tablet decides it needs to update to the Kit-Kat version of Android (it came with Jelly Bean). What harm can an update do, right? As it turns out, updating to Kit-Kat on these tablets makes them think they’re overheating even when they aren’t, and the only solution (from internet-land) seems to be to pull the battery and reset the bios.

Fun times.

I am a software girl, not a hardware girl. I don’t like messing with hardware one little bit – I just want it to work. But at some point in time this week, I’m going to have to get all my notes off of that tablet, pry the back off, take the battery out, and hope it resets like it’s supposed to. *sigh* Was going to do that this past weekend, but just didn’t get time.

Until then, I’ll use the notes function on my Galaxy Note 5 (cell) for my high-low tech solution, since the only other real options are to use paper/pen, or type directly into the laptop – neither of which seem to work as well for me.

I know. Special snowflake, and all that. Writers do tend to be a bit neurotic about…all sorts of stuff.

Another, slightly more fun example of high-low tech is the new bicycles my husband and I bought this past weekend. One of the simplest low-tech methods of transportation ever invented, but these new bikes have some pretty amazing technology now in braking and gear-switching. I find it somewhat ironic that so much technological invention has been put into these things, and yet somehow, they decided bikes don’t need kickstands anymore. What the heck is *that* all about? Does no one want to just park their bike in the driveway for a few minutes anymore? Weird.

I should probably mention that it’s been nearly 30 years since I’ve been on a bicycle…or it had been until last Saturday when I test-rode the one I bought (thank goodness you never forget!). That’s probably long enough to give up the grudge I developed when I fell off my 10 speed and shattered my right hand/wrist when I was 15, right? In any case, riding a bike is fun, it’s good exercise, and it’s something my husband and I can do together. I have friends who like to bike (okay, one, but still), and my mom would be happy to have company on her occasional excursions as well. I might even be able to sneak off on my own here and there. I used to love using a good long bike ride to clear my head.

So, investment in both my health and social life. Not a bad use for my annual longevity check, eh?

And finally – a high-tech solution for a low-tech problem failed me this week, and I had to remedy that ASAP, which is the other reason this blog post is a day late. If you know me at all, you know I’m a heavy tea-drinker. And to make tea, you need warm to hot water, depending on what you’re brewing. And if you want hot water fast, you don’t make it over a fire or on the stove, you plug in a handy dandy electric kettle.

Last week, my electric kettle started sounding more like R2D2 than a kettle, and while I gave it a good scrubbing this weekend to get all the hard mineral deposits out, it’s still not acting right. I haven’t used a thermometer yet, but I suspect it’s not heating up to temp anymore, judging by the taste of my tea.

*big sigh*

So, instead of getting this post done late Sunday night, I was reading the reviews for a ton of different electric kettles as potential replacements. I mean, I could just get another Cuisinart – this one’s done well for quite a few years, but there are so many fun options (even though I will never be able to quite justify the $250 Breville automatic tea kettle, dammit)…

In any case, I decided on a KitchenAid kettle with 6 temp settings and a very cool-looking steeper basket around 1am, and that was largely because I really, really had to sleep so I could work Monday (today).

And now it’s nearly midnight *again* (how did that happen so quickly?!), and I need sleep *again*. Seriously. Needing sleep is so inconvenient…

Tuesday Musings: On Chaos, Project Distraction & Tea Pictures….

The Sweater Project - half done.

The Sweater Project – half done.

Yes, I know it’s Tuesday. Monday was…well, chaos, from the time I got up (20 minutes late), to the time I remembered that I’d forgotten to fill the supplement boxes for hubby, Lucy-dog and I, moving forward to when I realized that writing a post, but not getting it scheduled the night before was a serious tactical error on my part due to extenuating circumstances, and on into a work project that suddenly had to be done *right that morning*, and then on to working on something ongoing that is…well, we’ll just call it challenging on a good day. And yesterday was not.

Here’s the thing about my whole stress-ridden Monday: sure, there were a few annoyances out of my control, but most of it could have been avoided had I just stayed organized *before* Monday hit. I could have scheduled my post the night before, like normal. I could have filled the supplement boxes Sunday night. I could have gotten to bed on time, so I didn’t sleep through that extra 20 minutes, and the work project that was all of a sudden due yesterday morning? I knew about it/had the information I needed and could have gotten it done a couple weeks ago so it was ready and waiting (which was the initial plan). I just let it get pushed aside for other things one too many times.

All too often, personal chaos is avoidable with a little forward thinking and discipline. And when I learn how to be consistent with that, I’ll write a book about it and make a million bucks. Until then, well, I’ll occasionally have majorly chaotic days. Though I did modify my schedule somewhat to account for a few of the things I missed last weekend, and this post will be neatly scheduled before I go to bed Monday night.

Part of the reason I was distracted this weekend was that last week, I broke down and splurged on some hand-dyed/handspun wool yarn from a friend in Wyoming. It came in the mail last Friday, and as soon as I saw/felt it, I knew I wanted to work with it right away – no stash time for this yarn. Long story short, I decided to make a sweater (my first – progress pictured above), and spent most of my weekend modifying a pattern to work with the amount of yarn I bought and then crocheting one entire side and part of the other (chunky yarn + a big hook = quick project). Sunday night, I was faced with a dilemma. I could finish the sweater and push back all the prep work for Monday, or set the sweater aside and get my less interesting household & book/blog tasks done.

I begrudgingly put the sweater aside, and decided to get to work. But I didn’t actually get anything done. I tried to start my blog post several times, but had no idea what to write. Tried to find a book sample to send to a narrator, couldn’t, gave up. Thought about starting some promo art or a cover for the draft I just finished, and just…didn’t.

I should have just finished the dang sweater. My mind is like that. When I know I’m close to finishing a project, I just want to focus on that and get it done, to the exclusion of all else. It’s like that with drafts, work projects, crochet projects, household projects…you name it, if I’m near the end, I want it done and over with, yesterday. And I can’t really focus on anything else until I get that particular project done. I know this…and yet, I still persist in working against my natural inclinations…and it never ends well.

Can I say definitively that if I’d finished the sweater, I might have been more focused in doing the other tasks afterward, for less chaos on Monday? No, I can’t…but I suspect that would have been the outcome. Someday maybe I’ll remember I wanted to test that theory and actually find out…

Now for something completely unrelated, but interesting nonetheless, in my opinion.

I’ve finally jumped into the Instagram web space (just JamieDeBree if you want to look me up there – because I’m original like that), now that I have a cell, and that makes taking/uploading photos incredibly easy. As a text-loving geek, I’m doing my level best to find my way in an increasingly image-ridden world, and as a tea-snob/lover, I’m also trying to work my way through a bunch of monthly subscription teas that have been piling up on my counter. So I started posting a tea break photo in the evenings when I make tea before I come back to my office to work.

Odd though it may be, the tea photos actually seem to be the most popular pictures I post. Isn’t that crazy, especially given the number of people who seem to truly hate food photos of any kind? Apparently, a lot of people like the looks of a good cuppa, and I can’t say I blame ’em. Still, kinda weird. But cool.

2014-09-08 22.49.58-1

And on that note, here’s to a far less chaotic Tuesday all around, eh?


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