Archive for December, 2007

 cha bako cha bako inside

Having posted my first Favorite Things blog about my Mashiko Mug it is only fitting that my follow up blog describes my cha bako and tea. My cha bako is basically a tea box or tea caddy (cha is Japanese for tea and bako is Japanese for box). The shape of the box reflects the much larger tea boxes in which tea from Japan is shipped or stored. These little boxes are also known as Washi boxes because of the Japanese washi paper used to decorate the outside.

I bought my cha bako from Jan McGregor Studios on Whidbey Island here in Washington. James and I met Jan on a plane from London. We were returning to Seattle from Ireland and she was returning from a buying trip in Japan. We chatted for ages about our common interest in Japan and discovered that Jan sometimes picks up antique GO boards to sell at her studio. We were very involved with the Seattle Go Center at the time and arranged to visit her studio. Unfortunately, we didn’t see a Go board for us but I did find this beautiful cha bako.

 Twinings Irish Breakfast Tea Twinings Earl Grey Decaf   Stash Earl Grey Decaf

I am a big tea drinker. I’m completely stereotypically Irish in this way. (I remember years ago, a friend of my Dad’s once commented that if you cut an Irish person we bleed tea, not blood.) I store my favorite tea, Earl Grey, in the cha bako, which I keep on my counter top so that I can see, touch and use it everyday. All my other tea (some are loose leaf, others tea bags) I store in drawers just under the counter by the cha bako. Tea that I currently have stocked in my house:

Green Tea Japan
Green Tea with Lemongrass
Ban-cha (toasted green tea) Japan
Mugi-cha (barley tea) Japan
Oolong China
Jasmine China
Lapsang Souchong China
Yunnan China
Nilgiri India

Lemon and Ginger
Licorice Spice
Wild Raspberry

Blended Teas:
Barry’s Tea Ireland
Irish Breakfast Ireland
English Breakfast England
Tetley’s British Blend England
Earl Grey (Twinings) England
Earl Grey (Stash)

The two Earl Grey teas I drink have different flavors that I enjoy depending on my mood. The Stash Earl Grey has a hint of lavender and has a stronger black tea taste. The Twinings Earl Grey is quite a weak black tea and therefore very mild. I add milk to both. 

Oregon Chai

Of course no mention of tea would be complete without adding one of my very favorite teas: chai. I first discovered chai at the Indian restaurants here in Seattle and then tried chai lattes in Seattle’s Best, Tully’s and Starbucks coffee shops. I fast discovered that the concentrate I prefer is Oregon chai concentrate, prepared in Tully’s. I also buy the cartons and prepare it myself at home. But, of all the chai I have tasted, none beats the homemade chai made by James’ friend Anand, who comes from Madras in India. He has prepared it for me a couple of times and even graciously shared the recipe. After several attempts I can finally prepare a decent tasting cup of homemade chai. It is sheer luxury to drink this chai from my mashiko mug as I snuggle up under my quilt, on the sofa, reading a good book.

By the way, both Ashley and Caitlin are showing the Irish gene for tea drinking. Ashley’s favorite teas are Earl Grey decaf and chai. Caitlin loves Irish Breakfast, Chamomile and chai. Oh, and one of Caitlin’s first spoken phrases, at the tender age of 1, was “Earl Grey”. It brought such a tear of pride when she said it.

Some favorite tea quotations:
There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.  ~Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea.  ~Bernard-Paul Heroux

There is a great deal of poetry and fine sentiment in a chest of tea.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, Letters and Social Aims

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.  ~C.S. Lewis

If you are cold, tea will warm you.  If you are too heated, it will cool you.  If you are depressed, it will cheer you.  If you are excited, it will calm you.  ~Gladstone, 1865

The perfect temperature for tea is two degrees hotter than just right.  ~The Quote Garden

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I read once that “appreciating what you have changes your perception of what you think you need.” I’m at a point in my life where my need for material things is very low. I’m always looking for things that we are no longer using and love the feeling of freeing these things from the confines of our house to share with the greater world.

With our recent big effort to get our house in order we’ve cleared out a lot of items, from the smallest toy or salt shaker to a queen size mattress and other large pieces. As the organizing and the clearing continue I’ve been thinking about how easy it is to let things go. There aren’t too many things that I’m attached to. With Christmas approaching and gift giving a focus right now, I am more aware than ever that my needs are few. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my favorite things and how those few things that I do cherish really bring a great deal of joy to my Life in their own unique little ways.

Today I share with you my most treasured possession: My Mashiko Mug

Mashiko Mug

Mashiko is a world famous pottery town, located in the Tochigi prefecture in Japan. Ten years ago, I lived in Utsunomiya, which is the prefectural capital of Tochigi. During my time there I took part in a brief homestay arrangement, where I spent the weekend with a Japanese family who lived in a beautiful small town just outside Oyama, a short distance from both Utsonomiya and Mashiko. The family were wonderful hosts and brought me to Mashiko for a little outing. After showing me around this lovely town they then presented me with the gift of my Mashiko mug.

To say I love this mug is an understatement. It looks beautiful and feels wonderful in my hands. It is the ultimate comfort experience to sit with this mug, filled with hot, milk tea (or chai), preferably wearing woolen socks on a cold winter’s night, sitting beside a fire.

When I realized, shortly after receiving this gift, that I was becoming very attached to it I thought about how I would feel if it broke. (Now that I have two children that “if” is now really a “when”.) From that moment I first thought about the mug breaking I made a decision to use it like it’s already broken. By that I mean, each time I touch or use the mug (or someone else does) I mentally tell myself it is already broken. It’s a very soft thought, merely recognizing that the mug is an impermanent object. When the day comes that the mug is no more I may be sad, but I won’t be devastated, and I will remember all the joy that this simple object has given me. (That’s the hope!)

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Now that we’re at the start of December I’ve been looking over my Reading List for the past year. As I peruse the list of those I’ve read I feel a warm glow that I enjoyed each one. I’ve certainly read fewer books this year than in years past but I spent a lot of my oh-so-precious spare moments on scrapbooking this year. Taking up this new method of preserving our family memories has been a very satisfying, enjoyable and valuable use of those precious few hours of personal time.

With the demands of family life growing in tandem with the growth of the girls, this year I decided that my focus would be on a little reading list of just 6 books. These books have either been on my ‘to read’ list for a long time or were recent recommendations at the start of the year that just jumped up and grabbed my attention. Obviously I didn’t just limit myself to 6 books; my brain cells, and my book-loving soul, would shrivel from the lack of stimulation. The 6 books I chose for this year were:

Queen Noor:   Leap of Faith
Elie Wiesel:   Night
Buckingham:  First, Break All the Rules
Barrack Obama:   The Audacity of Hope
Robert Twigger:  Angry White Pajamas
Howard Zinn:   A People’s History of the United States 1492-Present

I made a decision not to get caught up in trying to read them first before anything else this year. I just chose from this list as the mood struck. Now that I’m in the final month of the year’s reading I only have two to go. While I think Zinn’s book will demand a lot of focus and attention, I’m now keen to dive in to it.  I’m so pleased with how this little list idea turned out I’ve already started putting a new little list together for the New Year (but that will have to be a post for 2008).

Books Read 2007

1. Sue Monk Kidd:  The Mermaids Chair
2. Jennifer Chiaverini:  The Sugar Camp Quilt
3. Jennifer Chiaverini:  Circle of Quilters

4. Cecilia Ahern:   A Place Called Here

5. Niall Williams:  Four Letters of Love
6. Queen Noor:   Leap of Faith

7. Jane Nelson:   Positive Discipline
8. Kazuo Ishiguro:  Never Let Me Go
9. Elie Wiesel:   Night

10. Markus Buckingham:  First, Break All the Rules

11. Jane Austen:   Emma
12. Lawrence Wright:  The Looming Tower
13. Gabriel Garcia Marquez:  Love in the Time of Cholera

14. Barrack Obama:  The Audacity of Hope
15. Ruth Reichl:   Tender at the Bone
16. J.K. Rowling:  Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
17. J.K. Rowling:  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

18. Valerie Gwinner:  Paris with Kids 2nd Edition
19. Helen Truszkowski:  Take the Kids Paris & Disneyland Resort, 4th Ed
20. Ruth Reichl:   Tender at the Bone
21. Sarah Turnbull:  Almost French

22. Karen Jay Fowler: The Jane Austen Fan Club
23. Joseph Campbell:  The Power of Myth

24. P.L. Travers:   Mary Poppins
25. Sherman Alexie:  Ten Little Indians
26. Marianne Fredriksson: Hannah’s Daughters
27. Laura Ingells Wilder:  Little House in the Big Woods
28. Laura Ingells Wilder:  Little House on the Prairie
29. Madeline Albright:  Madam Secretary

30. Edith Wharton: The Age of Innocence
31. Kathryn Black: Mothering without a Map
32. J.K. Rowling:  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Books for December
Wallace Stegner:  Crossing to Safety
Robert Twigger:  Angry White Pajamas
Howard Zinn:   A People’s History of the United States 1492-Present

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Ten days ago, on a Sunday, we took a deep breath and as a family hit the following list of things to do and as you can see, we’re getting there. About two thirds of the items on the list were accomplished in a matter of days. Keep in mind some of this stuff we’ve been putting off for months, so doing so much in such a short time feels very satisfying.  Our biggest stumbling block was that all the bookcases in the upstairs hallway meant that there was no room to replace the broken dishwasher or move the sofa bed upstairs to the study. Moving them was (almost) the first item checked off the list and, when the dishwasher finally gets delivered on the 12th of this month we’ll have the grand job of moving them all back. Then we’ll be pretty much done with the big items.

Tidy up ALL the children’s toys (it just isn’t possible to do any rearranging when there are toys underfoot)

Move all the book cases and books out of the upstairs hallway (currently all stored in the corner of the living room)

Move the sofa bed from the girls’ room to the study

Move the old sofa from the study to our room (until we can get rid of it)

Identify all the items in the house to donate to Caitlin’s school (and donate!)

Identify all the items in the house and garage for the thrift store (and donate!)

Identify all of the books Susan will bring to the book exchange (and bring them!)

Track down number for furnace repair and get the furnace fixed

Buy bunk beds for the girls

Buy mattresses for bunk beds (and have them delivered)

Buy much needed and longed for king size mattress for our bed (and have it delivered)

Buy bed linen for new bunk beds

Buy new dishwasher (and have it delivered and installed)

Make a list of items to give away (place out on sidewalk or post on Craig’s list?, e.g. purple sofa, TV, printer, car seats, computer desk, toddler bed frame)

Give away our surplus items

As you can imagine it’s all very exciting to be coming to the end of this list. The unease I feel at living in a house that’s quite disrupted at the moment is balanced by the sheer exhilaration of coming to the end of this to-do list. We feel like we’re spring cleaning. It’s fitting that we should be “winter cleaning”. My favorite season, when I’m most energized. Maybe this will be another tradition.
The big rearrangement 1

The hallway between the living room and study cleared of bookcases (the kitchen is to the right, where you see the light from the kitchen windows fall on the carpet).

The big rearrangement 2

Bookcases stored in the corner of the living room (note: toys don’t stay tidied long!)

The big rearrangement 3

Caitlin dusting

Ashley and Caitlin loved helping where they could. Here is Caitlin dusting the bookcases. She adores this little duster. When there was nothing they could help with they played games together. At one point we discovered them in the middle of the living room floor playing Uno together and eating a little snack they had rustled up by themselves (and they need us why???)

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