Saturday Morning Tea

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This has been a truly amazing week.

Last Tuesday, history was made with the election of Barack Obama as the first African American man to be president. And, on a more personal note, I became a grandmother for the first time on Thursday night with the birth of my granddaughter, Gabriella, to my son, Brendan, and his wife, Brianna. All is well with Mom and baby and I’ll be happy to share pictures very soon.

I feel hope and new beginnings.

Even the temperature outside is gentle and hopeful, hovering around 60 degrees last night when we left the hospital.

This morning I’ve brewed up a steaming cup of a Golden Tip Yunnan black tea, recently arrived. It was a real challenge finding high quality Yunnan black teas back in 2007 but that seems to have resolved in 2008, and there are some wonderful teas coming in.

goldentipyunnanwet110808The long dry leaves are soft golden leaf tips with fine white hairs. Many leaves come in leaf sets like the one in my photo. Even though the dry leaf can resemble white tea because of the fine downy hair, this tea is fully processed as a black tea. The sage-y white look of a white tea leaf becomes a brownish golden color in a black tea due to the oxidation of the leaf.

goldentipyunnansteeping1108I steeped the leaves in my little glass teapot for 5 minutes in boiling water. The liquor is a deep rust brown color with a sweet fragrance of fall leaf and earth. Each sip of tea fills my mouth with its full body and notes of peppery spice. It’s very smooth and can be enjoyed with a small amount of milk or cream added. With its natural molasses sweetness, there’s no need to add any sugar.

goldentipyunnanteabowl11080Today will be a full day in my studio with my teacup by my side as I prepare for an arts and crafts show scheduled for November 22nd at Middlesex Community College in Bedford, MA. Of course, there will have to be breaks in my work so I can go over to the hospital and hold a sweet little angel named Ella.

Studio Wednesday

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Last weekend I made some sterling silver eyepins and epoxied them into my faux jade polymer clay word charms. In my studio today, I finished each charm with a dangle and placed each one onto a stainless steel cable choker. These chokers are great. Finished with a magnet clasp, I am amazed at how easy they are to put on and take off. I tested the strength of the magnet by giving the choker a tug and it stayed in place.

From left to right above, the dangles are fancy jasper, turquoise, red tiger’s eye, pearl and a glass leaf.

I made the dangles with headpins I created myself with 20 gauge sterling silver wire and my micro torch. I have a confession to make. I’ve had this torch for years and today was the first time I ever used it. I’ve always had a fear of flames and torches. That’s probably why I don’t do more metalwork. When I took a metalsmithing class several summers ago, my heart would practically thump out of my chest every time it was my turn to solder. I always made sure my teacher was close by but I was still very nervous.

studiotorchsetup

I’m happy to share that today I pushed past my torch fear and put my micro torch to work. After going over the directions quite a number of times (ok, probably 10 times), I went out on the back deck and filled the torch with butane. I was so elated when I turned it on and it worked. I kept telling myself that it was a big lighter and that helped ease my anxiety a bit. I rested the torch on the firebrick and turned it on. Then, with my other hand, I grasped a 2 1/2 inch length of silver wire with a pair of old pliers and lowered the end of the wire into the flame just beyond the blue cone. The best way to do this is to hold the wire vertically, not tilting it to either side but straight up and down. A ball formed on the end of the wire very nicely and I removed the wire from the flame. After resting the wire on the brick, I made the next headpin and so on until all pieces of wire had a ball on the end.

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The balls were all black from the fire but they cleaned up rather nicely with some steel wool and a polishing cloth.

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While I worked, Jack kept a close watch for bunnies and squirrels…

Climbing a Hill

I’ve been thinking lately about how this time of year is aptly named. The Fall. Leaves fall, seeds fall, light levels fall and now the clock has fallen back, too. A fall brings up images of a descent. I am reminded of the story of Persephone and her descent into the underworld when she hears a voice calling from a cleft in a rock. What she is hearing is her own inner voice calling to her and thus the story is about her own descent into her inner world. The descent inward is presented in the story as a descent down.

This is a classic story of the cycle of the seasons. When Persephone descends, her mother, Demeter, is bereft without her. Since Demeter is the Goddess of the harvest and growth and abundance, her grief at her daughter’s disappearance plunges the world into a dormant time, autumn and winter. Persephone’s return from her inner journey causes spring to arrive and there is much celebrating as the world bursts and blooms with new growth.

So, this falltime is the time of gathering up everything from outside and bringing it inside. It is a time to sit by the fire and dream and go on our inward journey like Persephone.

Yesterday I went for a walk in the woods and at the place in the path where I would normally turn one way, I turned the other way and climbed Peppercorn Hill. The ascent was rocky and steep in some places but I found that if I just thought of placing one foot in front of the other, one small step at a time, I eventually reached my goal. The top of the hill. I breathed in the fresh, crisp air and looked out over the trees, many of which now poked bare branches up towards the wide blue sky. Some trees still held onto their leaves, golds now turning buttery brown, oranges and reds now turning deep russet.

After drinking in this magnificent view, I turned and started my descent, slowly and surely, one step at a time. The descent is rocky and full of twists and turns and hiding places. Taking it one step at a time, I am able to look at these obstacles and negotiate my way around them.

During my descent, another group of hikers came up on the path behind me. As they got closer to me, I felt an urgent need to descend faster, almost like their presence was pushing me to complete my journey quicker than I wanted to. I took another deep breath and stayed on my path, one step at a time. I allowed myself to let their journey not intrude upon my own, a challenging task at times. The funny thing is that they never caught up to me.

I finally reached the bottom of the hill and felt lighter and renewed from my journey on the hill. After all of that traveling and thinking, it was time to go home and brew up a nice steaming cup of tea.

Saturday Morning Tea

“So I must rise at early dawn, as busy as can be, to get my daily labor done, and pluck the leafy tea.”

Le Yih, Ballad of the Tea Pickers, Early Ch’ing Dynasty, 1644

This morning I am welcoming the month of November with a cup of Ruan Zhi Thai Oolong. Tea cultivation and production in the high mountains of Thailand was started and established in the 1980s by Chinese immigrants. What began as small economic activity has grown to a strong community of independent tea gardens.You can read more about the story of the arrival of tea in Thailand in this article.

The tea is plucked from Taiwanese bushes that were brought over for Oolong tea production and the whole leaves are carefully rolled in the tradition of Taiwan tea crafting. Steeping for 3 minutes in 190 degree water, the leaf gently unfurls to reveal itself beautifully intact. As I lifted the lid of my teapot, I inhaled the delicate scent of lilacs and orchids. The tea liquor is golden yellow with exotic flavor notes of spicy flowers. It reminds me of a Formosa Jade Oolong. You can read my review of that tea here.

I was poking around in my cupboard this morning and found this simply designed teabowl that I completely forgot I had. I purchased it last year at the Kaji Aso studio in Boston when I attended the Japanese Tea ceremony. The clay is dark brown with white speckles and the glaze looks like it has been applied with a sponge in washes of white, yellow and brown. At the bottom of my bowl lies a shape that one moment looks like a fish and the next moment a leaf. I find myself drawn more and more to bowls and pots of simple Asian design with Wabi Sabi elements of perfection in imperfection.

For the first time in weeks, I have a weekend that is stretched before me with no plans at all. Possibilities…

Have you still got your space?

your soul, your own and necessary place

where your own voices may speak to you,

you alone, where you may dream.

Oh, hold onto it, don’t let it go.

-Doris Lessing