On Instagram and my Blogging Evolution

When I was a teenager, I had a diary. I wrote in it erratically. When I was having boy troubles or drama, I would write in it more frequently. It wasn’t pink or have a lock; it was just a regular blank-book journal that I made entries in when I wanted to obsess about something normal teenaged girls obsess about or coo over how many dolphins I saw when we went to the beach. I remember some of the entries, although I don’t have the physical books anymore. My mother definitely used to read it, and even found out things she probably didn’t want to know about me from it.

Then the internet came along. I got an email account and a LiveJournal. I mostly wrote LiveJournal posts back and forth with my then-long-distance-boyfriend. When I was happy in my relationship, I wrote about inane things like taking long walks and having a lovely cup of tea (funny how things don’t change). I even got my first troll, who seemed personally offended by the light, happy, sweet tone of the journal. I eventually abandoned both the relationship and the LiveJournal.

Much later on, I started a Blogger blog about running and cooking. Mostly I’ve always been a fair cook and people always asked for my recipes. At the time, I was a relatively high-mileage runner, and I did long runs on Saturday, so I would blog each weekend about my post-run brunches. I also cooked dinner from scratch every night for my then-husband. It offered me an opportunity to make a record of my recipes and also an easy way to share the links with friends who asked. Along the way, I became interested in various alternative diets.

This morphed into a blog about herbalism, which later on morphed into a blog about Zen when I was going through the upheaval around my divorce. Eventually I realized that while Zen and minimalism appealed to me when I was essentially a nomad and feeling very cut loose in life, I am not by nature a minimalist, and my own personal lightness and fluff (long walks and tea time) started creeping back in.

Which brings us to Tea Leaves and Tweed. This is not an entirely fluffy blog. It’s not just a tea blog or a beauty blog or a style blog. It’s not really a lifestyle blog except inasmuch as it represents my lifestyle. But it’s a place to share my thoughts and hope that maybe someone else finds them interesting to read.

Sadly, I often become too lazy to do all the work that goes into a really good blog post. I don’t take the time to take photos, upload them, edit them, and craft them into a blog post with visual appeal. Sometimes it’s just me at the keys and my thoughts as text. But lately, I’ve started seeing Instagram as a sort of mini-blogging platform. Instead of just snapping a picture and sharing it with an “isn’t this neat?” caption, I’ll write a couple of sentences and share something from my life that goes along with the photo. So anyone who wonders where I’ve gone when I’m not posting here, I encourage you to check out my Instagram and see if that, more bite-sized format is proving less difficult for me at the time.

At the very least, you’ll get to see pictures from my long walks and tea times.


On Modesty and Personal Style

A blogger I occasionally read posted recently about how she dislikes having the “modest” label applied to her personal style. This comes pretty soon after I received a couple of comments from people in my life about the modesty of my own personal style. One came from Boyfriend, who joked that he never sees my knees when I wore a dress that bared them to work the other day, and the other came from my boss, who was commenting about how he didn’t worry about my adherence to a dress code because they generally just needed to find something to “cover up” some of the employees who showed too much skin at a meeting we host every year.

I’ve written before about how I like dresses that go below my knees and tend not to show much of my body. I joke that my personal style is somewhere akin to “severe English governess,” with my pulled-back hair, below-the-knee dresses, and relatively high necklines. But the reality is that I, too, don’t consider myself a “modest” dresser. I don’t dress this way out of some misplaced dislike for the display of the female body. In fact, I feel nothing but mild envy for those women I see in tiny, fluttery skirts, midriff-baring tops, and backless outfits on a regular basis. In Enchanted April, I’ve had to play a character who is considerably more comfortable baring her body than I am.

The reason I don’t like to wear clothing that shows my body is because I don’t like my body. I don’t consider that a positive thing about myself. I try to find flattering styles that make me feel pretty within the limitations of my own hang-ups, but the fact remains that I often feel frumpy in what I choose to wear, and yet I feel uncomfortable in anything more revealing.

I will take a sidebar to mention how I interact with the men in my environment. When I was younger, I had a problem being harrassed by random men on the subway and on the street downtown. Misguided female relatives would tell me “One day, they’ll stop commenting and then you’ll miss it.” Well, in the six months since I’ve had a job downtown, I’ve gotten exactly one catcall (that may not have been directed towards me, honestly), and I would like to say it is amazing not to have to deal with that on a regular basis. Perhaps it’s because I’m over 30 and perhaps it’s because I dress like Frau Blucher. But I can honestly say that the only sadness I feel is that I don’t immediately assume it is because men in this city have become more respectful. I have gotten a few compliments from women on some of my cuter dresses, which was lovely.

Anyway. I suppose there’s no real conclusion to this other than this: I am not modest; I’m hung-up on my body. I don’t consider it freeing to work within the limitations of my own hang-ups. I don’t consider it freeing to think back to my body when I danced 5 hours a week or ran marathons or woke up at the crack of dawn every morning to do an hour of yoga whenever I try to wear something more revealing and see the softness that has set in (despite the fact that I am not actually fat). So I dress as best I can within my personal limitations. Vintage style has certainly gone a long way towards providing me with positive examples of styles that make me feel pretty and covered. But I imagine the real victory for me would be to go ahead and wear that crop top without wishing I looked like I did a bit more exercise and ate a bit less chocolate on a daily basis.

An Ode to the Simplicity of Grandpa-Style Tea

I had a British colleague at my old job who was known as “dirty mug guy” because he rarely washed his tea mug and the stains had built up to name-worthy proportions. I fear that I may be becoming “dirty mug gal” at my current job, though I doubt anyone else has noticed. It’s gotten to the point that I think I need to give my infuser a bit of a scrubdown with baking soda to remove the old stains. But being as lazy as I often am, and as forgetful, I keep forgetting to bring baking soda to work and get to that.

So I’ve been drinking my tea grandpa-style. Grandpa-style tea is a fairly traditional way of drinking tea in China, where the leaves are dumped into a mug, topped off with hot water, and sipped throughout the day, refilling with water as desired. You can filter the leaves through your teeth, or wait for them to settle out. I generally do some combination of the two.

This is not a method for strong black teas, at least for me, because the tea gets too strong. It is also not a method for very nuanced teas, as the delicacy can be lost in the rather open-ended steeping time. But I love it for a nice green or light oolong that is tasty without being fancy. It is also a rather frugal method, as the way to prevent your first tea from being undrinkably oversteeps is to use a smaller portion of tea leaves.

I generally toss a teaspoon or so of leaves into my mug, top with just enough water to cover the leaves and let the leaves sit in the water for a minute to soak up some water. Then, I fill the mug the rest of the way. This gives the leaves a bit of a head start at saturating and falling to the bottom of the mug. Then, I can sip for a bit, leaving maybe an inch in the bottom to act as a kind of concentrate to start the next cup.

It is a very relaxed and unfussy way of drinking tea, and one that appeals to me on a busy day when I can’t be bothered to deal with multiple pieces of an infuser mug. And perhaps one of these days, I’ll get around to scrubbing up.

Triumphant Return to Tango

Last night I decided to stop by a local tango practica/milonga (once a month, they treat the practica more like an alternative milonga). I was nervous, as I haven’t danced in years, and I didn’t even know what I would remember. It turns out that Argentine tango is much like riding a bicycle. I arrived obscenely early because I forgot just how late tangueros tend to run and sat at the bar with a glass (or two!) of wine for a bit. I texted with an old tango friend and it turned out he was around the corner so he stopped in. I only danced for maybe two tandas because we were having so much fun catching up.

The organizer was very sweet and chatted with me for a bit and even tried to make a dance-setup between myself and one of the good leaders. I think he was trying to stall because he also chatted for a fair bit before any mention of dancing came up and my friend showed up before we actually danced. So I feel a little bad that I abandoned my setup, but at the same time, he danced plenty and I danced plenty. And it was lovely to dance with a friend for my first time back in years. At least I didn’t have to worry about being too embarrassed if I’d messed up, and he’s such a lovely leader that I did not mess up too much.

It made me realize just how much I missed the experience of tango. I love dancing. I love the free feeling of ballet or aerials or modern, but there is a level of release in dancing Argentine tango as a follower that I don’t feel in other forms of dance. Even swing involves a fair bit more thinking than tango. In fact, I find thinking too much, as a follower, can trip me up more. Following in tango requires a certain surrender to the leader and to the music, while still maintaining your own axis and balance, which is an interplay that doesn’t happen often in my daily life. I find that because of the sense of surrender, choosing a leader with whom to partner is essential and I was very happy to have a friend to help me re-enter the dance.

I certainly think this is something I will be making time to enjoy as regularly as I can and I can’t imagine why I took so long to return.

A New Kind of Herbalism

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve long had an interest in traditional, herbal-based remedies. While I certainly go to the doctor when I’m very sick, for more minor complaints, I often try an herbal remedy before anything else. For example, when my recent terrible sore throat came back negative for strep, I turned to herbal remedies to soothe and heal it in the absence of any allopathic intervention. I also love to use herbal and DIY remedies for skin care, though I’ve moved a bit away from that since discovering that many homemade skin care products are not exactly what my skin needs. But since discovering Asian beauty and skin care products, I’ve gotten more into the traditional healing side of Asian skin care and health.

Specifically, I’ve discovered the joy of Hanbang products. Hanbang is Korean traditional medicine. It is very similar to Chinese traditional medicine, although it does have a distinct lineage. One of the most common practices is the use of teas, particularly those based around ginseng and other prized roots. Ginseng, ginger, licorice, Korean angelica, and Solomon’s seal are some of the favored roots in Hanbang teas, as well as remedies such as jujube, persimmon, Schizandra, and citron teas. I actually had a coworker offer me a spoonful of Korean citron marmalade to make a cup of citron honey tea when I was feeling unwell. The bitterness of the citron peel mixes well with the tart citrus taste and sweet honey. I find it far superior to regular lemon-and-honey tea, honestly.

Additionally, I like to use herbal infusions and teas as a way to support healthy body function. I was drinking at least two cups a day of spearmint infusion for the last month, as it is supposed to help balance hormones and improve both hormonal mood swings and hormonal skin issues. As hormonal acne on my chin is the one condition that resists my routine’s improving influence, I thought it was worth a try. Now, armed with some research about traditional Asian medicines, I’ve added to my morning brew. I add ginger to help with circulation, as the temperature in my office hovers somewhere between bone-chilling and simply fingertip-numbing. Goji berries add an interesting flavor, as well as a host of nutrients. I cannot bring myself to eat goji berries, but adding them to tea seems a reasonable way to reap their benefits. Finally, dong quai, which is known as “female ginseng” or “the Empress of herbs” in traditional Chinese medicine, helps support the hormone-balancing action of the spearmint. Unfortunately, it also has a strong flavor reminiscent of celery and may be better suited to an herbal broth than a tea. I do find that this upgraded blend is more invigorating in the morning than spearmint alone, though I have not used it long enough to determine any other benefits.

I’m excited to have found new remedies to bring into my herbal cabinet and look forward to more experimentation. Please share any favorite herbal remedies you might have!

Rainy Days and Earthy Tea

It’s raining today. Right now, it’s really coming down. I can hear the rain pelting my office window, coming down constantly, with little bursts of potency occasionally. The whole landscape is grey and chilly and dreary. It’s a wonderful day to be inside. If I were at home, I would be curled up with a blanket or shawl, probably one of my cashmere shawls, on my favorite chair, with a cup of tea, maybe a book or television show, and a lovely snack that I made because it’s a dreary day and dreary days require snacks.

Sadly, I am at work. While I still have a shawl and a chair, neither are as cozy as being in your own spot at home. And there is no lovely complicated snack. But I do have a cup of tea.

This week is also tech week, which means late nights after long work days, and little sleep in between falling into bed and rising the next morning as the alarm blares so much earlier than one expects it. Little sleep and long days ahead call for fortification and the light oolongs and green teas that enticed me when the weather was warm just are not satisfying me now. So I was pleased to see a sample of Pu-erh black in my Simple Loose Leaf box this month. Today simply called for it.

Pu-erh is certainly an acquired taste, and it has been a while since I enjoyed it, but I love the earthy richness. This Pu-erh has a subtle dirt smell to the dry leaves, but blooms into a complex medly of scents and flavors in the brewed cup. The aroma has a note of fish almost, like really good gardening soil, and opens into a soft, round richness on the tongue, with absolutely no tannin, but a nice mineral quality that makes it feel comforting and uplifting. While Pu-erh is supposed to be high in caffeine, I get no immediate jittery buzz like I do from coffee or some strong black teas. Instead, I get a rising warmth and energy as it works its way into my system.

All in all, a lovely way to greet what promises to be a long day.

Weekend Excursions and Excitement

I had a lovely weekend. Boyfriend was gone for the evening on Friday visiting his parents to pick up some things they had for him, so I went to my mother’s for the evening. We decided to start watching Orphan Black and I introduced her to the wonders of sheet masks. We took a scary selfie and sent it to Boyfriend. My mother was doing the Psycho stabbing motion. Because we are silly. It was nice to just hang out and be low-key with her without either of needing a medical procedure. The next morning she had an early appointment, so we just had a bit of tea and toast before heading out.

It was nice to get home at a decent hour, as I had a baby shower to attend later that afternoon and felt like getting ready at a leisurely pace. I got a manicure last Monday that lasted all of two seconds without chipping, so I finally got around to removing my polish and decided to use my extra time to give myself a little manicure. I was feeling fancy, so I put on some dubbed anime (so I wouldn’t have to look at the screen) and did my first attempt at a “blush” or “cheek” nail, which is a rather lovely soft pink central gradient nail. I used my standard translucent pink, Ballet Bare from Sally Hansen, with a lovely coral color (Tiddly by Butter) as the gradient. It took about an hour of leisurely effort because I made very sure that the various coats were dry in between steps. And I became rather absorbed in Fullmetal Alchemist in the process. I emerged with lovely, spring-y nails that have so far lasted me three days, despite the fact that I did them by my very non-professional self, and used the nail products that have languished in my bathroom cabinet ignored for the last year.

The baby shower was lovely and I got to see a lot of friends whom I see not nearly often enough. And when I got home, Boyfriend had returned from his trip with exciting new things. The main thing he went up to get was an antique vanity that his father decided I should have because I would put it to good use. Unfortunately, one of the mirror supports is slightly cracked, so we had to stop in the middle of putting it together to see if it needs to be repaired, but it really is a lovely piece. I was hoping to share photos of my new vanity setup, but I suppose it will have to wait. Boyfriend also brought back some lovely floral china plates that he saw and immediately knew I would love. It’s nice to be with someone who understands you.

The rest of Saturday was quiet, and our Sunday morning was rather boring as well, save for the wild winds that were going on outside. Boyfriend took a trip out to the store so I could cook for the week ahead. Tech week for my play started yesterday afternoon, so I spent the morning cooking breakfasts and lunches for the week so I can be healthy and still very, very busy. I now have a freezer full of healthy breakfast burritos, brown rice, and a fridge full of poached salmon and cucumber salad. And I got home from rehearsal last night with just enough time to do a bit of a clay mask and a sheet mask before falling into bed.

Today I’m back at work, but I have a few errands to run before rehearsal tonight. The errands mostly involve restocking my stage makeup kit, though, so it should be lots of fun!