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2013 March

My Tea

My TeaI am so in love with my favorite tea. It’s sort of a British/Russian type, which is to say it’s made in England and is popular in Russia. Well, sort of popular. Anytime I got to drink anything besides Lipton Yellow Label there, I got really excited (Lipton is the Mercedes of tea in Russia and also the Lada: the hallmark of class and yet also inescapably ubiquitous). I didn’t fall in love with this Earl Grey, though, until I was back from Russia and traipsing through the snow every week to Russian tea with my professors and fellow students at Oberlin. We’d chat, we’d share cookies and chocolates, we’d sip endless cups of tea. I always took mine with milk and sugar, but one night, for some reason, there wasn’t any sugar, and I was amazed to find that I liked this tea just as well without it, and even without milk. And thus the romance began. I’d drive to the Russian store in Cleveland to acquire it, and then I’d deal with all the vagaries of the dorm kitchen to make it for myself, picking loose leaves out of my all-purpose pot, since a kettle was an unattainable luxury at that time.

Exam DayThis tin, the one in the picture above, is special. I bought it for myself as a prize the day I passed my PhD oral exams at Berkeley. After three hours of conversation/grilling and one very nauseous moment in the middle, it was over. I passed! And I even did well. My friend gave me a ride home, and on the way we stopped at the Russian store in Oakland to pick up supplies for a Gogol party we were attending that night. Yes! A Gogol party! I remember so many pickles in so many plastic bags. I remember wandering through the aisles in my heels and shiny silver suit with white top-stitching, feeling like I was in some kind of alternate universe. I picked out this tea and clutched the tin awkwardly all the way home, just needing to hold onto something concrete. I took that elegant picture above the morning of the exams, with my two towers of books behind me.

My TeaThat Gogol party was so much fun. And it wouldn’t have been a party without tea, of course. We were on, I think, the ninth course of the meal by then. I have cropped this picture to protect the innocent be-costumed ones who may like this evening to live in memory instead of on the internet. Oh, how I miss those Russian-infused evenings.

Exams!As I started putting my life back together after my exams, picking up and sorting the perilously tall stacks of papers, notebooks, and thick tomes from the library, there was tea. I drank it for the sheer pleasure of it, and not to stay awake, as I had for months on end. I remembered those nights in Oberlin–in a brick house built at the beginning of the Civil War, surrounded by warmth and laughter and people and a language I loved with my whole heart. I remembered our Gogol party in Berkeley, and all our undying inside jokes about symbolist poetry. I remember them now, hundreds of miles away, from a distance in years that cannot be traversed. And I drink tea.

My TeaHere in Pasadena, in my new life as a writer, I crave my tea every afternoon like clockwork. I put the kettle on, measure out the leaves into the strainer, give my cup a splash of milk, and wait for the pleasure to begin. This week, I reached the bottom of that tin I bought after my exams, almost five years ago. I went to an international market the next town over, where I’d seen my tea on the shelves before, not in bags, but loose, the way I like it. When I got there, I discovered that they no longer carry it. And I was filled with sadness. But happily, we live in the digital age, so I’ve got three tins arriving tomorrow, probably just as I scrape the last few leaves out of my box. I love the symmetry of it, and I am so happy that I won’t have to forgo my happy ritual even for a day. This tea is my road map, its routes twisting from the snowy gem of St. Petersburg to the cloudy corn fields of Ohio, over to the sweet ocean air of Northern California and down to  the pretty little desert we now call home. Wherever we may land in the future, this tea will land there with us, trailing a new turn in its itinerary behind us.

Work in Progress: Anthropologie-Inspired Necklace

Anthropologie Knock-Off NecklaceI almost always pop into Anthropologie when I’m out and about in the neighborhood. I have never bought anything there, but I do always get a healthy dose of inspiration. A few weeks ago I saw these lovely and delicate beaded necklaces. I really like the way the beads are lined up, giving it a nice substantial feel. Since I am super into all kinds of embroidery and beadwork these days, I wondered if I could make something similar (and avoid that $58 price tag!)

Anthropologie Knock-Off NecklaceI came up with this idea of sewing beads onto shoelaces, and, lo and behold, I found some that are one inch wide. And so, naturally, I bought ALL THE COLORS!

Anthropologie Knock-Off NecklaceAren’t they pretty?

Anthropologie Knock-Off NecklaceWhen I finally decided on a color combination, I got to work beading. I am using a wider base and longer beads, but I can easily fit four across. I am beading both sides, so when the needle comes out on the “wrong” side, I add another bead, stitch it down, and then I’m right back on the “right” side, ready to add another bead. Simple!

Anthropologie Knock-Off NecklaceAs you can see, I haven’t gotten very far. Beading both sides makes it a little bit slower, but it just isn’t quick work to start with. Suddenly I have immense respect for all beaders! And that $58 price tag doesn’t sound so unreasonable after all…BUT, the good news is that I am totally having fun making this necklace, and it doesn’t feel at all like drudgery to me.

Anthropologie Knock-Off NecklaceWhen I’m done, I’ll just tie the two ends of the shoelace to make the clasp. It may be a while before I finish this one, but I’ll definitely wear it proudly when I do. And then I’ll move on to neon orange!

Making Macarons

Making Macarons

One of my March goals was to finally make macarons. Totally intimidating? Why, yes!

Making MacaronsBut my sweet brother and his wife gave us a little mix for Christmas, so that made it much more approachable. They went to a macaron making class in New York for her birthday, so they must be old pros by now. Me, I was grateful for the mix and directions. Still, I was saving it for a day when I had lots of focus. And that day was Saturday!

Making MacaronsThe mix has everything separated for you, so all you have to do is whip the egg whites and then gradually add these things in. I consider it a colossal success that I managed not to destroy the meringue, as I think that is my natural proclivity.

Making MacaronsSince I’m a rebel, and I only have so many Silpats (one) and had only one tiny piece of parchment paper left (ack!), I totally did not leave two inches between each cookie. But I still call this a piping success.

Making MacaronsThe cookies bake up very quickly, and I was about to high five myself when I remembered this: egg whites are the holy grail of stickiness. And so a bunch of them got cracked as I was trying to get them off the Silpat. But you can’t tell that from their pretty undersides!

Making MacaronsHere are the bottom sides, all prettily covered with ganache, which I piped on with, I’m not joking, a turkey baster. It worked perfectly! I am just waiting for my Iron Chef trophy to come in the mail.

Making MacaronsEven though I had a good long laugh about how a bunch of these turned out (…unique-looking!), they were just insanely delicious. I wish I’d taken a picture of Eric’s face when he bit into his first one. It was awesome. I wasn’t planning to share them here on the blog, but Eric kept saving the beauty queens among them in case they warranted a post, and I’m glad he did. This triumph must go down in my baking history! Since I used this lovely mix, I don’t have a recipe for you, but here is Martha Stewart’s, because she’d never let us down. Happy baking!

Project Life: Nashville Edition!

Project LifeI am so excited to finally be getting these pages up on the blog! I usually do one page per week, but trips and special events get as many pages as they need. We had so much fun in Nashville that I knew I was going to need two pages to fit in all the awesome.

Project LifeSince we were visiting my family for Christmas in Memphis, it was only a short drive over to Nashville, where Eric’s brother lives. His parents drove down to meet us and rented a cozy house for all of us to have a second Christmas and celebrate New Years. Honestly, when I look back on our Christmas break, all I feel is transcendent joy. I can’t believe I have so many wonderful people in my life! We definitely had a ton of fun exploring Nashville together.

Project LifeWe also took a little side trip to Franklin, and Eric’s brother expertly narrated the civil war battle that took place there!

Project LifeAs you can see, my sequin obsession continues!

Project LifeI collected a hefty stack of stuff for my scrapbook, and I’m so glad I have all those little things, reminding me of the places we went and the meals we shared.

Project LifeLook at this gorgeous spread! Eric’s mom is a genius in the kitchen!

Project LifeEven though it was snowy and freezing, we couldn’t pass up Jeni’s ice cream!

Project LifeI loved these sculptures on Vanderbilt’s campus: giant peppermints!

Project LifeAnd, of course, we couldn’t pass up the Opryland Hotel at Christmas! I remember going there as a child and being mesmerized by all the lights and the huge Christmas trees. It was so special to revisit it. Merry Christmas in March!

Bike Ride!

Bike Ride!In addition to his many other talents, Eric is a biker–he has a classy road bike, and every few weeks or so he jets off into the hills on his clip-pedal shoes. He bought his road bike right after we started dating, close to five years ago. But before that he was a bike commuter. He rode in to campus every day for his six years of grad school, and he still has his trusty commuter bike, even though it’s not getting much exercise these days (the only downside to living a five minute walk from work!). Every now and again we take a bike ride together. He takes the heavy wire baskets off the commuter for me and lowers the seat, and off we go! We haven’t been out riding in ages, but this weekend was so lovely–75 degrees. I asked him this afternoon if he wanted to go for a walk, and he suggested a bike ride instead. And it was awesome.

Bike Ride!Seeing Eric in his bike helmet and glasses reminds me so much of our dating years. He would ride over to my place for dinner after work, and he’d carry his bike up three flights of stairs. When he’d take his helmet off, he’d have these adorable waves in his hair. He used to bring over groceries to make dinner in his baskets, and sometimes big bouquets of flowers. I was always impatient for him to get his bike stuff settled so I could give him a giant hug, and those of you who know me well will be not at all surprised to hear that.

Bike Ride!Today he took these pictures of me riding, and I didn’t even know it. He is the sweetest. He rode behind me so he could warn me of cars approaching. I am pretty much blown away every day by how kind and gentle and thoughtful he is, but today really took the cake. He went ahead of me to spec out hills and see if they’d be too steep for me. He reminded me to lower my gear when going uphill and bring it back down when going on flat land. He had water ready for me whenever I wanted it. He had all kinds of suggestions for making my ride more comfortable and more fun. And it’s at moments like these that I just tear up and think about what an incredible dad he is going to be. Whenever they come along, our kids are going to be the luckiest. The luckiest.

Bike Ride!And that makes me smile so much my face hurts.

Snapshots from Ventura and Oxnard

VenturaThank you all so much for your kind words on yesterday’s post. They worked miracles, since I woke up today feeling pretty great! Now I have the energy to show you the highlight reel from our trip last weekend.

check out the dogWe really loved Ventura and Oxnard. They are about an hour west of us, on the Pacific coast and an hour south of Santa Barbara. The area reminded us a bit of its larger neighbor, but we honestly liked Ventura and Oxnard a lot better. They were more walkable, less touristy, and had far more local shops and businesses (always a plus!). We checked the weather forecast before we left on Friday: highs in the 70s, lows in the 50s. Haunted by our memories of being too hot in Newport Beach last year, we brought short sleeves and bathing suits. We kind of selectively ignored that 50s part. As we were almost in to Ventura, a huge wall of fog rolled in, Bay area style. It was exhilaratingly comfortable and familiar for me, but as we considered the contents of our suitcases, we looked at each other and said, just as GOB Bluth did, “I’ve made a huge mistake.” It was not as cold as we feared, but we did definitely get a lot of wear out of our sweaters! There was a St. Patrick’s Day parade on Main Street, right outside our B&B, and I was struck by how much the landscape looked like Oakland and Berkeley: rolling hills, stately homes, fog, fog, fog. And a bonus dog with a red beard.

waiting to watch the St. Patrick's Day paradeSuper glad I threw this sweater in the car!

VenturaAfter we were paraded out, we set out exploring. A bookstore! Naturally, I had to pose by their sign.

VenturaThere was an angel shop in town where people left their prayers on post-it notes. An Impressive array.

VenturaWe also hit up a local refill shop, where you can bring in empty bottles and stock up on shampoo, bath soap, laundry detergent, lotion, and a ton of other household things. The best part is that you can choose your own fragrance, and they have so many to choose from. I got some pomegranate bamboo bubble bath, and it smelled like heaven. Speaking of reusing and recycling things, I must also note that Ventura is *chock full* of thrift stores with amazing selection and even better prices. I could not believe my eyes! Thrifty ladies, this town is for you!

VenturaOne thing that’s always really special to us is getting the chance to attend mass at the beautiful old missions of California. This one is from 1782, and it was jam packed.

VenturaThe gardens outside were so serene and welcoming.

VenturaAnd this charming sign greeted us across the street.

OxnardWe went down to Oxnard to catch the Sunday farmer’s market, and oh. my. goodness. I have never seen such gigantic stalks of chard, such clean and crisp lettuce, so many mountains of strawberries! I was in heaven. I’d gladly fly there by helicopter every weekend to stock up.

OxnardAfter we loaded up the car, we headed across the street to the beach. Out of all the beaches I’ve ever been to, I think this is my favorite. It was so quiet and peaceful there, not a person in sight, and the sand was so soft and warm. I think that we’ll come back here next time we want to have  a beach day. So much nicer than Venice Beach! Also, I totally bought that shirt at a secondhand store to supplement my wardrobe!

VenturaOn our way out of town, we stopped by the Channel Islands National Park to visit the starfish and sea anemones.

Ventura…And we left our mark in the sand. Such a beautiful weekend!

A Day for Lemons

A Day for LemonsDo you ever have one of those days when you’re going along just fine, and then it suddenly feels like you’ve been hit by a truck? Whoa, that happened to me today. I’ve been running around doing lots of cool stuff these last few days, with the slow creep of a sore throat upon me. This afternoon I was so tired that I worked from bed, which was, actually, surprisingly efficient! But I didn’t know I was sick until a little bit later. Like clockwork, every day at 4:30pm, this thought dances through my mind: “My kingdom for a cup of tea!” So today I made my tea and took a break as usual. And…it had no effect on me whatsoever. By the time Eric got home from work, I was ready to crawl into my pjs and call it a night.

As much fun as I’ve been having this week, I think my body is trying to tell me to slow my roll. And I’m going to listen to it. Tomorrow is going to be a day for sleeping in. A day for tea with so much lemon. A day for staying in bed as long it seems like the right thing to do. There’s a bunch of stuff I was going to do tomorrow, but, thankfully, none of it is so urgent that it can’t wait another day. I’m really happy (and grateful!) to be in this position, but I’m even happier for another reason.

I feel like the most important thing I learned last year (and it was a big year indeed) was to listen to my body and take care of myself. It’s way too easy to overcommit ourselves, way too easy to guilt ourselves into doing things that can wait. Some things, of course, are necessary, but I’m also learning to ask for help with those things. Truthfully, Eric makes that so easy for me. When he saw how bad I was feeling tonight, he bent over backwards to take care of me, and I gladly let him take care of all the dishes and the errands. (And I have to note tangentially that even all the butterflies and excitement of early dating don’t hold a candle to this kind of love–the love that runs to Walgreens for you and comes to check on you every twenty minutes or so and holds you while listening to all your fear and disappointment about slipping into a week-long flu extravaganza. Oh, that love, that rubber-meets-the-road love–it’s real love.)

Anyway, all I really wanted to say was, hey, three cheers for taking care of yourself! I hope you’re taking good care of yourself too. My lemons and I, we raise our glass of tea to you.


The Most Glittery of ShoesThis is a very short and silly post to inform you that I almost bought these shoes in Ventura. They were shiny! And on super sale! But I thought more than ten steps in them might break my ankles. I stand by my decision, but…they’re so glittery! Would you have bought them?

Quilting for the Extreme Beginner

QuiltingI have been really taken with the idea of quilting for the last few months, and I’m finally getting started. I have acquired my fancy cutting mat, my fancy rotary cutter, and my big fancy ruler. Last week I bought a lot of fabric (which I already feel like is not enough!), and today I really got going.

QuiltingI started with some of the basic piecing techniques, and my first batch went pretty well!

QuiltingMy first project was to put a few blocks together and sew them onto my One Little Word page for March. Some of them, as you can see, went better than others!

QuiltingI loved playing with colors and with the almost endless array of stitches my machine will produce.

QuiltingI liked playing with these strips on the bottom too.

QuiltingThis one was a little bit harder, as you can tell by the bunched fabric. It’s harder to sew in the middle of the page, as it doesn’t feed into the machine very easily. Also, other things I have not mastered: Cutting in a straight line! Sewing in a straight line! But, as my all-knowing mother would say: Who cares? I am having tons of fun.

QuiltingAnd don’t you agree, by the way, that this is nowhere near enough fabric?! There are so many more colors and patterns I want to work with. Back to the fabric store I go!

The Victorian Rose

The Victorian RoseWhen Eric and I decided to take a weekend trip over to Ventura, I quickly discovered that there was a magical place to stay there. It’s a bed and breakfast. In a church. That’s right, a nineteenth-century church and wedding chapel, lovingly transformed into a B&B, with all the stained glass windows intact. It is such a beautiful and special place, and the rates are astounding for what you’re getting. Really and truly very affordable. (I should probably go ahead and say that no paid me to say any of this–it’s just an amazing hotel!) Should you ever find yourself in the area, I ever so highly recommend it.

The Victorian RoseWe were lucky enough to get the choicest room, which was originally the choir loft. That spiral staircase leads the way up to our door. Majestic.

The Victorian RoseAnd this is the view from our balcony. The breakfast table is on what was once the altar.

The Victorian RoseThe stained glass is just gorgeous.

The Victorian RoseCan’t get enough!

The Victorian RoseOur room had an imperial China theme, and I just could not get over all the thoughtful details.

The Victorian RoseThis chaise lounge sits in front of another magnificent stained glass window. It was so lovely to watch the light slowly filter through the colors. The red door leads into the jade-themed bathroom, which I regretfully did not take any pictures of. But believe me, it was charming!

The Victorian RoseI miss this fireplace already. I spent a lot of time reading and nibbling on chocolate, cakes, and pies. Every afternoon our hostess, Nona, would set out a table full of deliciousness for us. It was seriously the height of luxury! At least for those who like to eat chocolate and read books.

The Victorian RoseBreakfasts were equally spectacular. On Saturday morning we had these Swedish pancakes with strawberry preserves. I took one bite and said, “This tastes like heaven.” They had a subtly malted flavor. Oh, they were divine.

The Victorian RoseOn Sunday we had corned beef hash for St. Patrick’s Day. It was wonderfully decadent.

The Victorian RoseOf course, one of the best parts of staying at a B&B is getting to know your hosts, and Richard and Nona were just about the kindest people you’ll ever meet. It’s clear that they do everything with a lot of love, and we just felt so wonderfully welcome. I noticed that Nona made special mini cakes for anyone celebrating birthdays or anniversaries. So very sweet. We also had the chance to meet a handful of other guests and had fun comparing notes about how we spent our days. B&Bs always provide such unique experiences and, I think, really help you to get acquainted with the place you’re visiting. But this one, it pretty much takes the cake. We can’t wait to go back!

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