The Perfect Cup of Tea—A Lovely Irish Tradition

Growing up the granddaughter of an Irish immigrant, I will forever associate a hot cup of tea with feelings of security and comfort.  Tea at grandma’s house was a special ritual that accompanied every gathering of family and friends at her small but comfortable house. 

Her small kitchen table, tucked into a corner, covered with an bright patterned oil cloth tablecloth was the scene for many lively conversations.   Of course, always in the center was a small tray with a bowl of sugar, a jar of honey and a package of saltine crackers.  Once everyone was seated, the perfect pot of tea was added along with a small pitcher of fresh milk.  Everyone had a cup, adult and child alike and awaited the pouring of tea. 

No matter what the occasion, tea was present.  Somehow, I always knew that the pot of tea was important and my grandmother’s attention to the process emphasized how significant every step was.

I will share her “recipe” for a perfect pot of tea. 

The kettle is “put to boiling,” filled with cool tap water and left to whistle it’s lively tune.  Of course, the best way to boil water is in a kettle that sings.

Once the water is truly boiling, the lovely and special china pot is taken off the shelf and given a brief rinse with a bit of the boiling water.  Of course, the tea pot must be warmed before even beginning the process of brewing the tea.  (While the tea pot is being warmed and rinsed, the kettle is returned to the stove to keep the water boiling.)

After the pot has been warmed, several scoops of loose tea (NEVER tea bags), are placed in the tea pot and the boiling water is poured over the tea leaves.  The pot is covered with a “cozy.” (This was usually something crocheted and colorful that my grandma had made.) 

The tea is then allowed to steep.  Of course for those of us who prefer a weaker brew, tea is poured into our cups early on in the process.  The tea is filtered through a mesh strainer that fits over the mouth of the cup and catches most of the tea leaves.  Of course a few tea leaves always make their way into the cup but that is part of the magic. 

I always add a splash of milk–never cream–and two spoons of sugar.  I liked, and still like, my tea, “white” and sweet.

My grandmother, always drank her tea straight and, so it seemed to me, still boiling as she sipped it from the cup.  She liked it strong and very hot and never seemed to flinch no matter how hot it was.  I remember watching in awe as she took a sip from a cup that was steaming in the evening air and did not seem to notice. 

I always felt very grown up enjoying my tea and listening as the adults discussed things around the table.  Once the cups of tea were finished, it was time to read the leaves.  The cup was turned upside down on the saucer and turned three times.  After being righted, a message would in left in the leaves in the bottom of the cup. 

I remember listening in awe as my grandma told my fortune.  I was very lucky because it always seemed that I was going to have a wonderful life and enjoy many great adventures.

As a child, one of my favorite “pretend” activities was “tea party.”  I was lucky enough to have been given a beautiful treasure of a gift when I was a young child, a porcelain tea set with six perfectly sized cups.  I was in awe of the fragile tea pot decorated with delicate rose buds and only brought it out for the most special of tea parties. 

Usually, the tea party accompanied an afternoon of pretending and playing dress up in my mother’s old formal gowns where my friends and I enjoyed a game of “pretend” dancing at a ball, accompanied by our “babies” and finished off with formal tea served in my beautiful tea set.  I loved it and felt so special.  I still have my precious tea set today.Image

As a young adult, I was lucky enough to travel to Ireland with my grandmother the summer after she turned 83.  She was a very lively octogenarian and loved to travel and was a great sport.  The main purpose of our visit was to see relatives and friends in the “old country,”  so we spent many, many hours “visiting.”

I will never forget the hospitality of our Irish relatives and still treasure the wonderful memories of that special trip. 

One of the most significant memories I came away with was a new appreciation for the enjoyment of tea.

The British may claim that they originated the ritual of afternoon tea, but it is my opinion, that the Irish, or at least my relatives, have elevated it to a new level.

Their typical Irish day began with a hearty breakfast and a cup of tea. 

Midmorning tea was enjoyed while gathered around a table for a break from work, errands or chores, or even just to visit.

Naturally, lunch was accompanied by tea, if not during the meal, immediately after, to compliment the delicious pastries, cakes and pies that were always available in abundance for desert.

Mid-afternoon was broken by a break for tea….of course the pastries, cakes and pies were brought out again to make sure that no one would go away from the table hungry.

Depending upon how early we started the day, we might fit in a late afternoon tea as well.

Dinner was time for another delicious meal and tea was once again included.

After dinner tea might or might not have accompanied desert and sweets, but it could certainly last late into the evening.  Of course if we took a break after dinner, bedtime was the perfect time for a lovely cup of tea just before saying goodnight.

On a good day, we might have “tea” as many as 8 times.  Of course the only danger is that every time the kettle was put on, the Irish brought out a feast to accompany it.  I became seriously concerned about my waistline. 

All in all, enjoying the ritual of daily tea was one of the things I enjoyed most about my visit.  Sadly, I wish I could incorporate it into my busy American lifestyle but that just does not seem to be possible.  I still enjoy a cup of tea during the afternoon on a regular basis but now It is a mug of tea made from a tea bag brewed with hot water from a hot water dispenser.  Quick and easy but not quite as special as a true cup of Irish tea.

Of course what is really the most special aspect of the “tea” ritual?  Time.  Time spent with family and friends just being together.  

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Spring Break–A Magic Week in March

Spring Break-A Magic Week in March

Once my children became old enough to travel, our family has enjoyed celebrating spring and our family during a variety of Spring Break vacations. Many families plan family vacations around summer travel schedules but ours quickly focused on the magic week in March when school is off for a whole week.

I know we are not alone. Families around the country, and in fact the world, plan special family time around the calendar in March. We have enjoyed a variety of Spring Break activities over the year, some more spectacular than others, but there is something about a mid-spring break that makes travel and time off at this time of year special.

I always valued the time and in fact, planned much of our spring activities around the schools’ schedules. Once my children were in school, I called the regional office of the school district starting in February to make sure I had the school schedule for the next year as soon as it was released. Once the date was certain, I began reviewing options. Some spring break travel required planning and booking reservations months in advance. Of course, the earlier the plans and commitment, the better the prices and higher the discounts. Sometimes our plans were simple, camping and simple boating adventures, sometimes they were elaborate, a scuba diving trip to the Caribbean, but they were always focused on getting away to spend time together as a family.

Some years we have been blessed by being able to share our travel with good friends and family. Spending time together on vacation is always special and creates a unique bond that is a gift. (Of course, travel with friends and family can be a challenge as well but this blog entry is focusing on the positive.) There is something about being with a small group for extended hours for several days that adds a new dimension to the relationship. Being together for, almost, 24-7, makes for a new type of bond. I am pleased to say that in all of our years, most of time, the time spent was a joy. Best of all, we have great memories and lots of stories.

As my children have grown into young adults, and entered college, we faced a new series of challenges. During a couple of years, the children had different weeks off. We managed to coordinate overlapping weekends and ended up with time together anyway. It was a priority for our family. I am happy to say it has continued even now that they are through with school.

The best gift of all is that as my children have grown into adulthood, they have shared their friends with us. We have enjoyed the gift of time from their friends and cherish every day that they have chosen to spend with us. We have formed bonds that we will enjoy for a lifetime.

One drawback to March travel is that the down time before the vacation and after is non-existent. March travel requires people who can hit the ground running, live full speed through a vacation adventure, and jump back into real world responsibilities with no time off. Frankly, it can be hard. Some people don’t want to or cannot do it. I respect that, but for the family who can muscle through, it is a great time to get away.

If you have not thought about it, Spring Break gives you a great time to make some magic memories. Embrace it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

9-11-2001 Where were you?

9-11-2001 Where were you?

Throughout history there have been significant events that are burned into the collective memory of the people who live through it. 9-11 is no different.

Where were you? I am certain you remember where you were when you first heard about the situation unfolding in New York. I was out of town at a conference, far from my family and away from home. My father called me to tell me that a plane had hit a tower at the World Trade Center. Like so many Americans, we had no idea that it was the first of a series of unimaginable horrors that we were going to witness that day. That news was terrible enough. I was riveted by the sight of the burning tower and horrified by the tragedy.

I turned on the news to watch while I dressed with no idea that the unthinkable had happened and more tragedy was to come.

As the news turned worse, and as we became aware of the nature of the attack, I, like so many, was shocked and stunned with disbelief. My mind could not comprehend and process what was happening before my eyes. Television made me feel the tragedy happening. It was, almost, as if I were there and present.

I was glad my family was safe but I felt a deep, unsettling fear. I was thousands of miles away from the center of the tragedy, yet I felt as if there was an immediate threat to me and my loved ones. It felt real, imminent and local.

I wanted to DO something. I was in the mountains of New Mexico and went to the local blood bank to donate. They did not need any blood, they were full. Still I felt the need to respond to the attack.

Many of you will recall the outpouring of patriotism that flowed from all Americans. American flags appeared over night, covering every surface. Cars, homes, businesses and schools flew flags. People wore flags and flag themed clothing. Sports teams, American workers, and public officials donned flags on their uniforms. Marching bands paid tribute to America. Flags appeared on paperwork and in advertising. Signs proclaimed our support and love for America. We were hurting as a country but we came together as one people.

The feeling of pride and love lasted for months. Flags were everywhere. I remember looking over the parking lot at work and seeing hundreds of cars decorated with flags. I personally wore a flag pin on my cloths for several years. I felt it was important to remember and to honor those who had died, those who might die, and those who serve. I am not sure when, but gradually I stopped wearing the pin. The magnetic flag that I had placed on my car feel off one day and I did not replace it.

Isn’t it strange how the human spirit reacts and heals and moves on? I know I am not alone. Though we feel the spirit when something significant happens, we eventually return to “normal.” Normal is different for everyone.

For me, I will promise to never forget. My flag pins are safely tucked away in my drawer but my pride in America is engraved on my heart.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Shocking….truly shocking!!!!!

Last Thursday morning, fairly early, my phone buzzed telling me I had received a text message. I checked it and was surprised to see a short message from my daughter telling me she was on her way home from college. I was surprised because she was coming home a day early—she had planned to be home on Friday so I was a little concerned over the change of plans.

“Great, but why?” I texted back with some trepidation.

Her answer——

That’s right. My kind hearted daughter had rescued a teeny, tiny puppy from a TRASH CAN. That’s right, a TRASH CAN.

She had been returning from the gym, in a rainstorm and heard the whining and whimpering of an animal in distress. She could not ignore it and spent several minutes searching through the bushes and under all the shrubs around the entrance to her apartment. After a short while, she realized that the sound was coming from the large communal trash cans located near the parking lot area.

The closer she got, the louder the sound. After several minutes, and way down in the middle of the second trash can, she found a tiny little female puppy who was scared to death and shaking with the cold.

She immediately scooped her up. The poor thing was filthy with garbage and cold so my daughter took her in and gave her a bath and some water. The poor puppy was very thirsty and obviously hungry so my daughter fixed her some chicken.

Now she headed home to our family with her new addition because her apartment complex has rules regulating pets and she did not want any problems there.

Fortunately, the vet pronounced her healthy and old enough to get her first round of shots. Little Sofi is a 2 pound Chihuahua that is about 10 weeks old. She is going to be loved and cared for the rest of her life.

Now, what I cannot truly get my mind around, is the fact that someone THREW AWAY this precious little puppy. She was in the trash can.

I cannot fathom the thought process of the person or persons who would do such a thing. I have often read about situations of animal cruelty and our other 7 pets (4 dogs and 3 cats) are all “give aways” or “dumpies,” animals people did not want for some reason, but I cannot even imagine the act of just throwing a puppy away in the trash.

I suppose she is lucky her previous owner did not do worse—still it is very disturbing. It gives me concern because if a person would do that to a tiny little helpless puppy, he or she has absolutely no moral compass.

I am trying not to focus on the depravity of one person but rather be grateful about the fact that my daughter now has a precious little companion to love and who will love her. Still, I will tell you that I have lost sleep and found myself obsessing about the person who did this.

What could possible justify this? Would they not feel any remorse or guilt over the cruelty of throwing a living thing into the trash?

As someone mentioned, people throw away children, so I should not be so very shocked over this. Still, I am very proud that my daughter would go to all the trouble of looking for and rescuing this helpless little puppy. I am still going to be shocked and am going to focus on the fact that this terrible act must be a rare, and uncommon occurrence. It is not the norm so it is still something that shocks the conscience.

I know that my daughter is going to make a big difference in the life of little Sofi. I know that she will get the tremendous gift of unconditional love in return.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Take More Photos

Take More Pictures…..

I was saddened to hear of the loss of a friend’s house during the recent Colorado wildfires. They were out of town when the fire started and, as a result, lost everything that was in their home. As you can imagine, one of the most significant loses is of their family photos.

Family photos tell the history of our lives. Many people do not have the discipline or the skills to keep written journals. I am guilty of having started a dozen different diaries over the years with the best of intentions. I have usually managed to write in the books for several days or even weeks before losing the momentum to keep the story going.

Photographs have filled the gap. After hearing of my friend’s loss, I have reevaluated my photo collection and begun the time consuming, but surprisingly enjoyable, process of scanning my film photos into my computer. Memories flood back as I see the early story of our family come to life.

My one regret? I wish I had taken more photos. Of course when my children were young, the only photo option was film. I was diligent and, I thought, fairly thorough. I even had a separate line item in my budget for film, processing and photo albums. Photography was an expensive hobby. I was very diligent about developing each roll, purchasing three sets, and filing them into albums. I shared duplicates with my mother, mother-in-law and friends. Not only did they enjoy the photos but I knew I had a back up set in case of a fire or disaster at my home.

Those photos tell the story of the days, weeks and months of our lives and document all the milestones and special events. Still, I wish I had taken more–shall I say it again? I wish I had taken more.

Once digital cameras became economical and easily available, I made the leap to digital with gusto. I started snapping photos regularly and voraciously and generally could be found with my camera around my neck.

My regret? I wish I had taken more photos. I admit that sometimes I was hesitant to intrude and did not want to be seen as a nuisance. Sometimes I even felt silly or awkward. Still, the more I look back, the more I am motivated to take even more photos. I now it consider it my goal to photo-journal our life.

It is funny, people often shy away from being photographed. They may protest being photographed. Interestingly, now that several beloved family member have passed away, those photos have become more treasured. Suddenly, everyone is more cooperative when I set up my camera.

When I am now engaged in documenting an event, I ask my subjects, “May I take your picture?” As I raise the camera to my eye this focuses their attention on me and allows the truly resistant to object. Most of the time it allows for the subject to be captured in a more attractive pose. I don’t delay and snap several photos quickly.

I was recently talking with a friend who has been blessed by the birth of her first child. I have shared my advice with her and emphasized how important I feel it is to document every day of her baby’s life. I took thousands of photos when my children were babies but looking back I have still found large gaps.

She listened intently and it occurred to me that perhaps it would be helpful to actually share my experiences my advice and suggestions. She asked me to send her an email with some of my ideas. I decided to do more than that. I decided to share with my other friends as well.

That said, I am sharing my advice about photo-journalling.

Every moment, every event, every day, presents an opportunity to tell the story of your life. You will be amazed at how the most mundane event, will inspire a flood of memories. My children frequently mention the simplest memories with pleasure, inspired by looking over old photos.

“Remember when we saw that movie at the mall?”

“Remember the old tree house in the back yard?”

The simple moments make the magic.

Practical Advice….

Now here is the practical advice….take these suggestions as the opinion of an amateur photo fanatic.

Have two cameras–a really nice digital camera and a small, compact point and shoot. Read the instructions and learn to use them.
Always, always carry your camera with you. Put it in your purse or car. Never go anywhere without it. No matter how simple the activity, photograph it.
Use your photos to tell the story. Tell the story of where you have gone, what you did, who you were with, what you ate, what you experienced. Even a visit to the car dealership can be a memory trigger—everything is a photo event.

Take group shots thinking about what you will want to remember in the future. Who did you go to the park with? Who were your children’s friends? Take close ups as well as distant shots. Take one shot per person in the group. Ask your subjects to look at you then count to ” three” before snapping. You will significantly increase your chances of getting a good group shot with everyone smiling and with their eyes open.

Use your photos to tell the story of the event. Think of your photos as the journal of the activity. Break it down to steps. We loaded the car with all our picnic supplies (photo of car with stuff packed), everyone was buckled in and happy (photo of kids in back seat with friends who were included in the adventure), drove to the neighborhood park and found a great spot under a big shade tree (photo of of the tree, the picnic set up, the area) ate a great lunch (photo of the food, the kids eating and smiling, lying around enjoying the day), kids flew kits and played soccer (photos of kite flying, soccer game) Johnny fell down and cut his knee (photo of injury and bandage) Mary’s kite ended up in a tree (photo of kite in tree, photos of trying to get it out of tree), packed up and went home late afternoon (photos of dirty, happy children heading home). When you look back at the pictures, you will be flooded with memories of the whole fun day.

One important caveat….have someone take your picture too. I am surprised at how few pictures of me, the photographer, are included in our collection.

Organize your photos. Organize them the very day (or the next day) as you take the photos. If you organize them as you go, you will be able to enjoy them and use them and share them. Be diligent.

Best way to organize your photos?

I have used three different options for organizing my photos. All of them are good in different ways for different reasons.

The most basic and simple method uses Microsoft Windows Photo folders.

I organize my photos as follows:

I purchased and attached three stand alone external hard drives to my computer. Each hard drive is a duplicate of the other. I STRONGLY recommend the three drive back-up. system.

My photos are stored in folders labeled “My Pictures.”

Within that folder I open folders labeled by each year. Within the year, I label each month, within each month, I label folders for special events by dates.

The best format is Year, space, two digit month, space, two digit day

2012

2012 01
2012 01 01 New Years Day
2012 01 20 Grandma’s birthday

2012 02
2012 02 14 Valentine’s Day

Within the master “My Pictures” folder, I create “subject” related folders.

Very important, all photos that I take go into their appropriate master DATE folder. That is the home for each photo. I always place every photo that I take into the master DATE photo file that corresponds to the date the photo was taken. That is the first place the photo is “filed.” After I have “filed” it there, I then make a copy and “file” it in a subject matter file.

Some of the topics are things like, Flowers, Sunsets, Vacation Photos, even special friends.

This system works great for creating a master, intuitive and easily used filing system.

NOW THE VERY MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO IS BACKUP YOUR PHOTOS EVERY SINGLE TIME YOU UPLOAD THEM TO YOUR COMPUTER.

I mean this….don’t ever not back up the photos as you simultaneously upload them.

Create three duplicates of the folder system, one on each hard drive.

Now the next most important thing you can do:

TAKE ONE OF THE HARD DRIVES WITH YOU EVERY TIME YOU LEAVE YOUR HOUSE. EVERY TIME!!!

I mean this…every time you leave take one of the hard drives with you. Leave it in your car or in your purse but update it and take it with you every time. The new external hard drives are very small and have large capacities. You want to make sure that you have one drive with the most current collection away from your home if the unthinkable happens.

If you want to get more detailed, I have used Adobe Photoshop Elements which allows you to create detailed folders and tag the photos by person and topic and location. It is great software that will allow you to edit your photos as well as organize them. Photoshop is not inexpensive and must be purchased.

Another good alternative is Picasa which is a free software. It is more limited for purposes of editing and organization but it does allow you to tag the people who are in the photograph which is a very useful feature. It also has excellent face recognition which is very useful for tracking people.

Finally…..

TAKE MORE PICTURES…..

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Thank you American Express!!!

Thank you American Express!!!

It seems like every other day the news media report about some sort of breach of security that has resulted in millions of pieces of information being accessed by criminals.

I personally have had my identity stolen twice and had my credit card information captured several times.

Each time it has happened, I was fortunate that I was notified almost immediately by some sort of security safety net that noticed that my charging pattern had changed.

The amazing thing is that I charge everything….everything that I can. I use the points for all sorts of things. Also, I can keep track of all my expenses, down to the penny.

The bad thing is that Mr. Security knows everything about me. On Thursday morning, I received a phone call at 7:00 AM asking me if I had tried to charge an airline ticket on some strange airline—$900 worth. Mr. Security already knew that it was an odd charge but he was just asking.

Thank goodness because even though my card was safely in my wallet, someone, somehow got ahold of the number and tried to charge a vacation on me.

Fortunately for me and American Express, they declined the charge and so Mr. Criminal did not get a plane ticket on AMEX.

I am very grateful and salute the AMEX security system. I am a little worried however–the daily purchases I make map our lives. AMEX knows everything about us.

Will they be calling me to tell me that they noticed I forgot to pick up milk when I went to the store?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Quiet Time—HOME ALONE

Quiet Time—

Wow. For the first time in longer than I can remember—at least a couple of years—I was sitting at home facing a weekend with nothing that I had to do. My daughter is away at college and my son and husband were away for the weekend and I was home ALONE.

Of course I had home chores—bills to pay, papers to sort, tidying to do—but no events or activities planned. No scheduled projects to complete. No tasks that required attention. I was free to be a complete hermit and stay home and do absolutely whatever I chose for the weekend. I could be in my house and not even talk with anyone.

I was a little overwhelmed by the whole idea. After they had left and I got home from work to an empty house, it hit me. I did not have to cook for anyone, I did not have to take anyone any where or run errands for anyone. In truth, it was a weird feeling when I started to actually think about the whole reality.

In fact, I did not even have to get out of my pajamas or get dressed all day. I could stay up as late as I wanted reading and watching movies, take a nap when I wanted and fix a dinner that I wanted, when I wanted. I could even eat popcorn for dinner.

I got to pick the TV show that I wanted to watch, took a bubble bath and read a book lying in the tub for as long as I wanted and could lounge on the couch with the dogs when I was through.

I guess that, for good or bad, being alone highlights the reality of family life. I am sure that I am not unique, but I have gotten into the habit of compromising my wishes and serving others in ways that I am not even aware of it. I am not complaining. I am not criticizing. I am not being a martyr. I am actually amazed at the obvious.

Many of us go through our daily lives so connected with other people that we do not ever really focus on ourselves. Most of the time we do these things—live these connections—with no real thought about how it impacts us. I would not suggest that it is bad to be connected or involved or helpful to those we love. My observation is that it is easy to forget to take a minute to recharge and be a little self-focused every once in a while.

Actually, my weekend break was really rejuvenating. I felt a little guilty that I did not leave the house for three days except to go to church on Sunday. Still, I very much relished the me time.

The take away—we all need “me” time. It is ok to plan it and enjoy it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment