10 July 2016

Barge In

In which my soul wages war between being a Victorian invalid and Wanderlust

I do love books.  I do like to be beside the seaside - or any body of water, for that matter.  I can't think of a better day than one spent with a good book, spread out on the beach, or a duck pond, on a lovely warm day.  Add a cup of tea and we're golden!

I also like boats and seafaring.  There's a problem - just like I'm a Cat Lady who's allergic, I tend to get egregiously seasick.  What a cruel fate!  When I find a boat I can spend more than five minutes on, it's a delight!  In New York, I love the Staten Island Ferry for its excellent and totally free views of downtown Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Statue of Liberty (and, I guess, Staten Island).  Last year I finally visited Governors Island, and I can't wait to return.  I can take a ride down the Thames to Greenwich without consequences so far.  However, I'm wary of booking cruises because I've heard stories from people with better stomachs than mine.  It's a shame.  

We're getting to my point pretty soon.  

I've also had a fascination with houseboats for quite some time.  Not yachts - the word 'yacht' brings on the cringe, bringing me visions of Wall Street and the 80s, and the arms of sweaters tied around one's neck, and Kennedys bobbing about my head. I might need some Dramamine.  Houseboats are cozier, presumably less ostentatious, and give off the vibe of a simpler life.

Is it a simpler life?  Every choice has its complications.  There's always some fee to pay, neighbors to put up with, weather issues, and my favorite worry - plumbing.  If you've got it all figured out though, it could be a nice existence - and it's a portable home, if you're prepared to raise anchor and avast (I'm not the best person to consult for nautical terms).  I personally could not see myself living permanently on a houseboat, but I wouldn't talk someone else out of it.

If I were in the money, I might want to own a houseboat - you get the best of both worlds here!  I'd love to stay in one for a few nights, or even travel on one through canals, inner ear permitting. The most appealing adventure to me is the idea of running a bookshop on said vessel.  That's food for many daydreams right there.

These options aren't happening anytime soon, so I comfort myself by living vicariously through novels and memoirs having to do with floating bookshops - and finally visiting one myself.

A couple of years back, I'd read about Word on the Water, and fully intended to go there during my November 2014 visit.  Maybe it rained too much, or the directions were daunting, but I never made it. Well, everyone knows I love to leave London wanting more, so that's what I did.

Shortly after this, I heard from a friend in London about a The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George, and what do you know? It was about a man named Perdu who owned a floating bookshop, complete with cats (squeal!)  He operated as a literary apothecary, prescribing books for all sorts of ailments.  That's kind of my dream job, by the way.  Eventually, he and some stragglers take a journey around France with the bookshop, and, well, that's where it started to fall apart for me.  It was too fanciful, and that's saying a lot for me.  I retained my appetite for book barges, though.

Back to this year.  I follow Word on the Water on Facebook, and found out they were now in residence at the Regents Canal, near Kings Cross. The weather was glorious for the first leg of the trip, so I was not going to miss this opportunity.

Found you!

When we found it, I heaved a sigh of relief and joy.  How did I get through half of a lifetime without being on a book barge?  I mean, look at it!

Barely Containing Excitement

I spent some time browsing, bought one book (a Doctor Who book, which kind of worked because it felt bigger on the inside), and dreamed of staying on such a vessel for an extended period of time.  My only regret was not finding out if there was a bathroom on board.  That's usually the kind of thing I have an aptitude for, sadly.  I did find the cozy!

The greatest triumph laid in the fact that I didn't feel seasick at all.  In fact, I didn't even feel the gentle swaying on the water; I didn't even realize it was swaying a little until I was looking at it from the outside.

There were musicians on top of the boat between sets, and I had the predictably cheesy idea to do karaoke there.  Thankfully I didn't voice it at the time.  It's a good venue for a show, I think, because it attracts passerby who would have to be in a receptive mood, for the most part.  

I briefly talked to the proprietor there at the time, I think his name was John.   I liked him; he took his time, but in a good way.  He was so laid back.  I'd say you'd have to be, but stress could happen anywhere.

This brings me to a book I read upon my return to New York: The Bookshop that Floated Away, by Sarah Henshaw.  Although it was the last step in my floating bookshop adventures, it might be the first one - Ms. Henshaw submitted her business idea to the banks in the form of a book back in 2009.  Though I love the idea, it was not necessarily financially viable at the time.  The book covers her adventures taking the barge for spin through England, and I loved her prose.  She's a dreamer like me,  but also a doer - I doubt I'd take on this particular type of solitary voyage.  There's talk of tea and Victoria Sponge Cake.  Find this book and read it (or, if you know me, borrow it and then give it back!)

I'll leave you with a shot from Oxford: the houseboat cat that was not as excited as I was.

Happy sails to you!

17 June 2016

An Undying Love, Part Two

I came home from London with a suitcase full of books.

Well, not really. My carry-on backpack held my purchases; my suitcase was huge in the first place, and only held one new book.

Even so, although those who know me would not be surprised at either statement, the thought of buying books in plural on a trip AT ALL renders many perplexed.  Also, when I share this happy experience, many feel obliged to share their opinions - here are some I've heard:

"Why?"  Because I'm Batman.

"Don't you have enough books?" Yes, and no.

"Where do you find time to read?" Where do you find time to watch TV?

"Have you read all your books at home?" Have you?

"How do you fit all your books into your apartment?" It's bigger on the inside...

"Doesn't your back hurt?"  No, but my head is starting to!

"Additional questions that aren't really questions but criticisms and general judginess" Silent expletives and return judginess..

And I get it, sort of.   Besides the obvious question of time - I'm actually not the quickest reader I know, and sadly I can't spend most of my life reading - some are baffled as to why I am that into buying books in the first place, never mind in other countries.  I don't have an answer, because I believe you have to be A Book Person to understand.  I don't say this to sound lofty, or even to set myself apart from others.

I will offer this imperfect comparison: I like wine.  I appreciate the fact that there's some amazing wine out there, but my palate isn't refined enough to spend a pretty penny of fine wine from vineyards blessed by angels and pressed by the feet of vegan virgins.  When I'm at a liquor store (where we New Yorkers buy wine for the most part), I head for the $10 bottles, read the label for indications of flavors and pairings, and frankly pick a bottle half the time because I like the picture on the label (trees and ducks tend to win out.)  Even so, I do not ask those who invest in the pricey, amazing stuff why they bother, because if you're a wine lover, you just get it: it's a pleasure.  Therefore, I hope that anyone curious as to my reading/book buying habits can offer me the same courtesy.  Sometimes we like/love something because we just do.  The heart wants what the heart wants.

Now that that's off my chest (and I'm craving an evening curled up with a good book and a glass of wine), let's talk about my bookshop adventures in London and Oxford!

Blackwell's, Oxford
There are branches of Blackwell's around the UK nowadays, but this is the original.  At a time when so many chains are threatened by online sales and rent hikes (yes New York, you have a lot to answer for), it's a pleasure to see some mainstays.  Also, although I'd return to Oxford in a heartbeat, my feet were wrecked by day-trip's end, and a leisurely saunter around floors of gorgeous books (and an abundance of Inspector Morse paperbacks) was just what I needed.

Weary but Happy!

Word on the Water, Regent's Canal
The one that got away in 2014.  There's a part of me that rejoices in my never finishing my to-do list in London, but I certainly regretted not going here in the first place.  Still, it may have been a good thing, because I got to see a book barge in all its glory during a warm, carefree day.  That has to be preferable.

That's all I'll say for now, as I plan to write more about this entire concept in a future post.  Stay tuned...

Foyle's, Charing Cross Road
I am still in mourning for 84 Charing Cross Road, and it closed years before I was even born.  I am relieved that other bookshops have survived and thrived here.  Somehow, to my knowledge I'd never been to the flagship Foyle's, though in 2014 I was able to visit the Southwark branch.

It's still on Charing Cross Road, but not in its original spot.  It would've been nice to see it as it was,  but no complaints on the current setup, which is perfection.  My only issue, and this is a Catherine thing, not anyone else's problem, is that it was crowded - and why wouldn't it be?  And it should be!  I'm a professional grumpypants.

Otherwise, it was everything a massive bookshop should be, and more.  I stumbled upon event space and imagined getting married there.  There was an entire display of Lamy fountain pens near the ground floor cash register.  I found graphic novels I hadn't seen elsewhere. Bought four books with no shame - especially the one about London. When in London, right?

Highest marks go to the cafe.  Now, normally the thought of sharing a table with a stranger brings on paroxysms of social anxiety. Yet, nothing seemed out of order to me when I found myself sitting with an elderly woman and her newspaper, and a student (probably) with her laptop.  Perhaps it was because I was grateful for WiFi access. Maybe it was the wondrous orange and lavender cake, paired well with a lemony ginger tea. Or it could've been all this, with proximity to All The Books, in my favorite city, just a short walk from my hotel that did me in. No matter; it was bliss.

This should be hanging in my apartment...

An entire cookery display worthy of Taking Tea With Catherine

Tea and Cakes! Tea and Cakes!

A view that made my heart soar...but then, I'm a Britophile.

On the way back to the hotel- which by the way was One Aldwych - still pinching myself about that -  I walked down Cecil Court. It is another beyond charming Antiquarian bookshop block right out of a hundred years ago , with the exception of a Chipotle on the corner.

Alice in Burritoland!

Well, there's the bookshop highlights. Because of my madly blistered feet, I was unable to get to the British Library once again. Trip the Eleventh will have to rectify this! 

Finally, here's the book I brought with me to London. I think it was a masterful pairing, don't you?

16 May 2016

An Undying Love - Part One

Geeking Out, As You Do, At Book Culture

This is my take on the "physical book vs. e-book' debate that has been quietly raging for as long as Kindles ignited the conversation.  Let it be said, first of all, that I'm not trying to talk anyone out of using e-readers if it's their thing - this is my opinion only.

Let's narrow it down while we're at it.    I could go on about handwriting vs tablets for taking notes, etc., but that's another post for another time.  This covers my preference for leisure reading alone, and since I do a massive amount of leisure reading (sorry, dishes in the sink, I'll get to you later!), it holds a great deal of importance to me.

Once upon a time - actually February of 2012 - I bought a Nook Tablet from Barnes and Noble.  I chose it over Amazon, because I still wanted to support my brick and mortar bookshops in any way that I could.  At the time, I wasn't sold on using an e-reader, but I figured if it didn't take, at least I had my very first tablet, which was super handy for browsing the interwebs prior to purchasing a smartphone.  Also, it had a Netflix app.  I bought a pretty blue cover with a quote from George Eliot to seal the deal.

Honestly, at first I loved the thing.  Sure, it was pretty rubbish for reading the magazines I'd subscribed to - Victoria Magazine does not feel good on a screen - but I had access to comic books, and Free Fridays, which occasionally struck gold.  Reading wasn't terrible on the Nook. It was pretty cool when, on a dark bus ride from Philly, I was one of the few people able to continue reading.  It came with me to London that year, along with a physical book I'd borrowed from the library.

Even so, of the 60 books I read in 2012, only four of them were e-books.  Why?  Well, first of all, I work two blocks from a public library, so it's not like I lack access to books.  I own hundreds of books, and the TBR (to-be-read) pile never ends.   Nearly all of the e-books I read following the Nook purchase were free or under $5, because I couldn't see spending serious money on a digital entity.  It's not that I didn't respect the writers, but the item of purchase didn't seem tangible to me.  A couple of times I requested Early Reviewers books from Library Thing in the digital format, and though it seemed like a good idea at first, when one book disappeared not long after I read it, I was up in arms.  When I "won" ER books in paper format, the book was mine to keep, with the understanding that I'd review it.  Fine, I wasn't out any money, but I didn't like this arbitrary removal.

Some have argued that digital publishing gives many an opportunity to publish work that they couldn't distribute to the general reading public otherwise.  I understand that.  Anyone who has kept a blog for over a decade would have to understand that.  I considered doing the same for a novel I'd written, whenever I got around to seriously editing it (nope, still not done).  In the long run, though, I honestly wanted my potential readers to have the option of holding a physical book in their hand, to enjoy reading the way I enjoy reading. Again, just my opinion.

I bought my second tablet last June, and it's all a tablet should be (well, I have certain specifications that aren't realistic, so I can't complain). It has a Kindle app and a Nook app, and I've used them...once?  if at all.  I only download stuff from jw.org, for the most part.  I like the easy access to documents, but certainly not for casual book reading.  Anyway, my tablet has far too much heft, so I don't really carry it everywhere.

No, I love paper books, with hardbacks or paperbacks, Everybody says this, but I love the smell of books, old and new.  I'm allergic to dust mites, so at times certain bookstores bring out the Zyrtec, but like my cat love, it's generally worth the risk.  There's a kind of magic (yes, Queen reference!) in entering a bookshop and encountering hundreds of titles vying for my attention.  My apartment is overflowing with volumes read and unread, which is just the way I like it.  The ambiance is simply gorgeous, and frankly a nice tome at home makes a lovely dance partner with a pretty teacup.  I'm still a pairing aficionado.  I daydream about owning a tea/bookshop, though I'm terrified of owning a business.

To sum up, I love books wrapped in paper (and leather, if I'm honest), and I'm not alone in this.  I like turning pages and hearing it crinkle.  I love finding receipts and photographs and leaves in used or library books.  I rejoice in small poetry collections.  I don't tell people with e-readers that they're doing anything wrong, because they are not, and I believe there is room for audiobooks, especially for people who spend a lot of time in cars, or who have vision problems.  If I did have worse eyesight than I already have, I'd probably be grateful for being able to enlarge a font with my fingers, as large-print physical books are usually cumbersome.   I do take umbrage with people who derisively refer to my preferred medium as "dead tree books", like my reading habits are what's killing the planet.  In response, I brandish my signed copies of Jasper Fforde novels, and know that Thursday Next would likely prefer jumping into physical books rater than e-readers.

Nevertheless, I have no problem sharing, in digital form, more evidence that suggests the print book love is not dying off:

Happy reading, folks!
Coming Soon: My Love Manifests Itself in London...

03 May 2016

Why I Love London

I'm not sure if I've mentioned this on my blog before (and I'm not about to sift through 11 years of posts to find out ), but I majored in Travel and Tourism in college.  Soon afterward I accepted my first full-time job, which was as a travel agent at Liberty Travel.  I was not a very good travel agent.  I mean, I tried, but the main problem lay in the fact that a career in sales is not suited to my personality.  So why would I have attempted this industry?  I wanted the perks, of course!  And there were some, but not enough to make it worthwhile for me. 

Why am I bringing this up now?  Well, I believe that some may have the misconception that I'm not altogether interested in travelling.  Am I fearful of flying?  Not really - I have issues with motion sickness, which is easily rectified on a flight, and crowded, cramped spaces are not my favorite, but otherwise I'm okay with flying.  The smell of an airplane actually excites me when I sense it elsewhere, as it holds so much promise.  However, I am known for usually singling out one particular location, to what some may deem ad nauseum.  You don't have to search 11 years of posts to figure this one out.

I love London.  Absolutely love it; and any year that consists of a visit to London automatically becomes one of my favorite years, despite other difficulties/heartbreaks/depressive periods/passing out in the office bathroom incidents.  Does this mean I disdain travel elsewhere?  Nope - I have a decent bucket list that tops off with Italy, Iceland, Japan and the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. and keeps on going.  So why don't I go anywhere else?  Well, I do, sometimes, and would do so even more given the time, money and willing travel companions. At times, all it takes is for a BFF or sibling to relocate, and I'm off to the websites checking fares (Texas, anyone? Florida?)

Anyway, I'm going back to London - yep!

Again?  You may ask.  Why?  I mean, I shouldn't have to explain myself.  The Doctor, one of my favorite fictional characters, has the ability to go anywhere and still finds himself more often than not in London.  Still, let's look at why I love this particular location, and why I am returning there once more, in no significant order.

I did not excel in history as a subject during my school years.  I'd like to blame the teachers, but they may have been working with a limited curriculum.  When I was in my twenties, I began reading historical novels and non-fiction histories with quite the passion.  With the exception of a few biographies, I didn't get in American history until my thirties.  Perhaps I'll turn to African history in my forties - anything's possible!

Of course, British history remains my favorite, and London is bursting with it.  The streets just sing their stories, and the plaques on what feels like every block, telling you which of your favorite writers once lived there keep one well informed.  All you have to do is walk...
St. Paul's acting all coy...
Something New Yorkers and Londoners have in common: most of us enjoy a good stroll, at a nice, quick pace. I clocked 30,000+ steps one day on my Fitbit on Trip 9, and I took in so much.  There are guided walking tours, or you can just make it up as you go along.

This is the one that gets the most confusion from people..."but British food is the worst!".  Well, personally I disagree, I think Britain took a while to emerge gastronomically from all that rationing over half a century ago.  I consider British food (most of it, anyway), to be comfort food, and on top of that, London is one of the foodie capitals of the world.  So there.
Cozy fry-ups for the win!

Saving Those Pence
Just bear with me.  London is a pricey town, just like New York.  Real Estate is obscene, and the exchange rate has me reaching for the smelling salts.  Even so, if you look, if you just make a tiny bit of effort, I promise you, there's bargains to be had in dining and shopping.  And if the weather's good, you can have a reasonably priced picnic in one of their epic...

Central Park is my homeboy, but I have to say, London outclasses everywhere I've even been with the sheer magnitude of park space. You never have to wander far to escape the hectic city pace.  Some parks are more about trees and general greenery, some have sweeping views of the city, some are floral delights, and most have a variety of duckery and geese (and some crazy swans) that one never find in CP.  I mean, I love me some mallards, but come on!  So at nearly every point of one's wanders in London, you can take in some fresh air, or just relax on a nice bench (yes, some royal parks have fees for this, but whatever), and chill with a good book.  Speaking of which...
All the Bookish Things
Many of my favorite books take place in London, at least at some point - it corresponds with my loving history and the English classics.  British literature is food for my soul, and I am satiated in London.  One can visit the homes of favourite writers (follow the plaques!) Also, there are more bookshops to explore than I can even list here.  In my last few visits, I still encounter book ("real" books - more on that in another post) readers all over the Tube, and elsewhere.  They're here in New York, too, but it just seems more visible - perhaps it's the rose-coloured lenses I see through in the UK.  Oh, and there's a book barge - which I can't wait to report on!!!

Derping with Sherlock, as you do...
This corresponds with food, because most of the things I like to eat in London pair well with tea.  The tea itself, even the grocery store bagged ones, seem to taste better in London and the rest of the UK that I've been to.  Perhaps it's the water - it does make a difference, after all.  A decent cuppa is more available everywhere, too.  Not every Londoner is a tea drinker; in fact, there's a mass of coffee chains we don't see in the U.S., but it's still everywhere.  This pleases me.

This also goes for all of the U.K.
I like pub culture, and I'm not even a big drinker.  There's something cozy about it over there - I mean, sure, there's places where people get drunk and act out, but there's plenty of spots to just relax with some friends or a book.  Some pubs have bookshelves to choose reading material, and not as ironically as you might find here.  I don't count Shoreditch in all this, for all my love for their cat cafes.

Art Stuff
Museums everywhere, and most of them free admission.  Some decent gift shops, too.  I always return inspired.

And let's not forget the Day Trips: Greenwich is counted in this, though it's a bit close for that reckoning.  One can take a train to Cardiff, Oxford, Bath, Hampton Court, and countless other places that are pretty cool, and be back before dark (at least in the spring and summer months.)

Finally, they film a lot of my favorite British telly in London (and Cardiff, did I mention Day Trips?)...I could run into a Sherlock filming, or at least visit places they previously filmed at.

I think you know what to expect in upcoming posts!

19 March 2016

More Tea Spots in San Antonio

Two months later...

Bonnie has a knack for putting together an itinerary.  She considers what is enjoyable for each individual visitor, and factors in limitations.  That's why my last visit was a pleasure, besides the obvious happiness of seeing my sister, my brother-in-law, and my fur nephew.

Though we never limit the itinerary to strictly tea-related places (because one must do more than drink tea and eat cake, apparently), Bonnie makes sure to find a few new places every time I visit.  You might call that a challenge - finding tea spots in San Antonio?  More than one or two? but I think it's a labor of love for Bon.  The secret is not just looking for "tea".  Business-wise, in nearly every destination in the United States, and probably elsewhere, coffee is the moneymaker. Find the coffee, and you'll probably find the tea.  And that's just what we did.

Bird Bakery:

Comfortable, populated but not overwhelming, and did I mention Banoffee???  This is an uber-sweet combination of banana and toffee; hence the portmanteau.  I've not seen much of banoffee outside of the UK - not that I've travelled widely enough to assume it's impossible to find in the US, but I'm all too eager to find it here anyway.  I paired it with Austin Breakfast Tea, which definitely does not need to be sweetened.

Bonnie had one of their many cupcakes on offer. There's cakes and sandwiches, all in a soothing mint-green and white decor, and I'd love to go back when we haven't lunched already.

This place makes it into lists of best bakeries in the U.S., so I probably don't have to write about it, but I cannot help it.  Going on their macarons alone they are top of the line.  I also had a Banana Maple Curry Cake, which sounds gross, but they pull it off!  (Apparently I went for banana on this trip.)  Topped off with Mighty Leaf Green Tropical Tea, and it's a Texas-sized French bakery experience.  If you go to San Antonio, definitely have barbecue, don't forget the tacos (oh, the breakfast tacos!), and certainly hit the Pearl District for some Bakery Lorraine (yes, they have quiche).


Excited about the S'mores!

Another spot close to The Riverwalk, and in a spot that outside and inside makes you think you should be annoyed at the hipsterness of it all, but you manage to have a good time anyway,  Feels like home, except I haven't been to a place at home that has indoor s'mores!  I paired mine with Jasmine Green Tea.  Very odd.  I have a special dislike for Hershey's because of their Cadbury trouncing, but I had so much fun making s'mores with BonBon, I had no cause to complain.  By the way, they're family friendly, at least during the day, and seat plentiful, which is so important.  They share their bathrooms with the adjoining restaurant, in case you're interested.

If you thought you were gonna get a coffee review here, then look no further - you won't.

26 January 2016

Catching Up

I spent 2015 mostly on learning Arabic and reading a record total of 75 books! So, not completely unaccomplished.  My writing, however, was not quite on the wayside, but trickly at best.  I have no more excuses for this - I possess every writing medium known to man, short of a typewriter (the one I own is in need of repair).

So I thought I'd do a little catch-up, and just share a few highlights from the past few months.

November 2015

I had a special day of Tea Loving on Black Friday.  None of this lining up for sales business - though admittedly I hit a Goodwill near Union Square and made out like a bandit.

Why was it specialtea day?  Well, any day I hit two of my favorite tea places is a good day.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous for the end of November - warm but not hot, so I could drink hot tea and take crazy long walks.  Basically, any weather I can't complain about is good weather.  I started out by taking the subway to the West Village, and having a Full English Breakfast (dubbed 'The Full Monty') at Tea and Sympathy.  It was just over a year since my last trip to the UK, and a mini-trip was nearly necessary.  The breakfast, and the Typhoo tea, was fully satisfying and completely reminiscent of my London mornings.  The restaurant was not packed - an occasional few persons trickled in and out, and I had a window two-seater to myself and my book (which was Crichton's 'The Great Train Robbery' - a perfect pairing).  There was an eccentric man who kept coming in and out, and decided to change his footwear, scarves, and belt on the bench outside, in full view of us breakfasters.  I just thought as long as he didn't do it inside of T&S, it was fine.  I topped off the breakfast with scones, because scones.

Then it was time to walk it all off! The Highline wasn't so crowded, and I made it nearly to the end, with a few breaks in between - there were plenty of places to rest, and a view of an Arabic billboard that myself and an NYU student were trying to read.  Eventually it'll be second nature.  I hope.

Walked back down Ninth Avenue, reminiscing about other walks.  Missed Stefanie.

Getting close to Chelsea Market, which I like but also which makes me kind of dizzy, I saw Mr. Footwear again, this time talking to some hapless twenty somethings.  I kept going.

After a bit of shopping (see above), I met up with Bathy, and we took the subway to the Upper West Side for move Adventures in Tea.  I'd say it's one of my favorite neighborhoods to stroll around, especially with Bathy (Madison Avenue, Central Park and the Village close behind.)  Somehow we ended up at Alice's Tea Cup, and there were more scones involved.  It's a really good thing I'd walked so much.

I'm not going to admit to the bakery we visited next.

Missing that perfect autumn weather!
The whole shebang
Shadowy Shoeless Man

Catching up: San Antonio, coming soon!

06 November 2015

The winner is...

I like tea.

Nope -


I don't like playing favorites, as was recently covered, if not ad nauseum, ad feeling slightly off-eum.  Even so, sometimes one has to make a choice.  

Much as I would love to keep a wealth of tea varieties in my office at work, I'm already inundated with stuff - particularly file folders, which I cannot seem to conquer.  Also, though I have tea strainers/filters at work, it's not always time-effective to go through the preferred process, so I save it for special occasions (like a particularly quiet day, which is rare.)  In the long run, I decided to settle on picking a good, sturdy, easy-to-prepare, yet tasty teabag.

This tea would have to be a breakfast tea, as it needs to have that workaday quality to combat my stupid craving for coffee that creeps up on me - especially when I smell it brewing (even from a k cup).  A hearty black tea that could handle a bit of milk is just the thing, though I should be able to leave the milk out without hating it.

I've tried PG Tips, Typhoo, Twinings, Yorkshire Gold, and let's not get into the brief flirtation with Lipton.  Besides the latter mistake, all of these teas were good .  Obviously I prefer British brands.  (By the way, Yorkshire Gold is the runner up.  I have not problem with it; it's just mildly pricier over here.) Then on my last trip to London - the place I start to crave as the warm weather wanes - I noticed which tea gave me the most pleasure in the mornings.  Even more than Afternoon Teas and Cream Teas, on this visit I had a bunch of Full English Breakfasts, or Nearly Full, because no 'puddings' or tomatoes for me.  Anyway, whether I was having buttered toast or a fryup, it was Tetley that made me feel both cozy and ready to go on with my day the most.  Rainy days were made better by that mugful of love.

Normally I pick up tea from Whittard or somewhere similarly fun, and I'll probably do that next time.  In London 2014, however, I went to the local Sainsbury's and bought a delightfully inexpensive package of Tetley, containing 80 bags - and a decaf one for those days when I shouldn't be further pepped up.  These teas gave me comfort through the winter, and I managed to have a few left by the end of summer.  Suddenly I was out of them altogether, and there was no time to get back to the UK to restock, so I did the next best thing: I bought a package of 240 bags on Amazon.  It came much quicker than its expected delivery date, and just in time for the chilly autumn days.

Now, about that autumn: where did it go?  Not that I'm complaining, but I just swapped out my closet with sweaters and now I'm frantically searching for lighter layers.  Either way, I have my daily cuppa, and Tetley is it.

What's your daily tea?

08 September 2015

Liebster Awards

I'd like to thank My Thoughts Are Like Butterflies for nominating me for a Liebster Award.  Pretty much everyone who's been nominated has never heard of this award before, but I'll bite because it never hurts to recognize my fellow bloggers!  Also, because it's like a chain letter but without the "someone will die" threat that's all too common.

Here's the rules, as copied and pasted from other Liebster-nominated sites:
  1. Link back to the person who nominated you.
  2. Answer the questions given to you by the nominator.
  3. Nominate up to 11 other bloggers with less than 200 followers.
  4. Create 11 questions for the nominees.
  5. Notify all nominees via social media/blogs.
My answers:

1. What flavor note in tea just drives you happy crazy, you know is so good you kinda fall over in happiness?
If it's 'chocolatey', it's probably gonna make me happy.

2. Most wonderful tea themed memory?
Hard to choose one, but : having cream tea at Tea and Sympathy for the first time.  Eye-opening.

3. What is your favorite game (it can be board, video, RPG, any game at all) and why?
I'm not much for games, though a trivia-based game, whether board or video usually works for me!

4. What is the strangest dream you ever had?
The one where I had to look for Mary I of England in the Lower East Side is up there.

5. What inspires you the most?
Coming across a well-written poem or novel, or a particularly moving painting at a museum moves me to do better.

6. Favorite place you have ever visited?
London.  No surprise there.

7. Favorite snack and why?
Cereal - because it's fun!

8. Most disgusting thing you ever ate (on purpose)?
Grasshopper from a taco.  I can still feel that leg stuck in my throat.

9. Favorite post-apocalyptic setting? Why?
Not big on post-apocalyptic settings, but I like Doctor Who, so any episode that falls in that category would be it, I suppose.

10. What is your favorite classic monster? Why?
On the same theme, the Daleks.  They're evil, but they are also pretty snarky - watch them face off with the Cybermen.

11. Favorite One Hit Wonder?
Come on Eileen by Dexy's Midnight Runners makes me happy for no particular reason.

So I'm nominating the following bloggers - some of whom I know in person, and some I may never meet (sad).  What they have in common is that I've read their blogs at some point in the past few months:

Tea For Me Please
The Kettle Meddler
Stop Me If You've Heard This One
Roses and Vellum
Cynthia Holt Events

Here's my questions - have fun!:  

  1. What's a project you're currently working on?
  2. Name a book you're really into right now.
  3. You can automatically speak and read another language besides your mother tongue fluently - which language would you choose?
  4. What grammatical or spelling error really grinds your gears? (I apologize if I've used any in this post.)
  5. You're planning a family/friend/fellow blogger/League of Evil gathering, and money is no object.  In what location would this gathering take place, and why?
  6. Has your writing been published elsewhere?
  7. What's your shower song?
  8. What is something that you view as a waste of time (not counting these questions)?
  9. Which sense leads you the most?
  10. First concert?
  11. Who sees you without makeup?

07 September 2015

What's up?

I thought I'd use my Labor Day off to catch up on a number of my indoor projects - spent enough of the weekend outdoors.  Sadly, I woke up with a tragically common sore throat, and I woke up really late at that.  I did take a tremendous amount of tea, anyway, and I published a bit on my other blogs.

Here's a rare update on my NY photo blog:


20 August 2015

Random Tea Memories by Catherine,,with ellipses...

I remember when Barnes and Noble had Republic of Tea at their cafes.  It was a highlight of working across the street from a B&N that one winter...

Now I think there's Tazo teas.  It's been awhile since I've been to a B&N cafe - it's not as fun without Bonnie, and there are fewer bookshops around to begin with...
...Guess I can always have whatever tea I want in my home library!

19 August 2015


Two of the colors I most enjoy, but it doesn't end there!

I'm not an intensely private person - there's a few things I keep to myself, and I love my alone time, but generally I'm not even close to an enigma.  I wouldn't have a blog if I minded sharing details about what I'm interested in, and preferences.  Though I rarely post my quiz results here anymore (leave that for Facebook), online quizzes are a delightful time waster.

There's one problem with quizzes - and interviews, or conversations in general.  The dreaded question...

"What is your favorite ______________"?

This could be anything from color, to book, to scent, TV episode, even animal.  When I see this question, I blink first and then say, "Oh come on...."

Do people like to narrow down their lives this way?  Why must there always be a Number One?

It's particularly frustrating when it comes to the things I'm passionate about.  For instance, if I'm introduced to someone as a Book Person, I'm often asked either "What is your favorite book of all time?" or "Who is your favorite author?" How do I answer this?  This love can't be expressed in one or two sentences.  By pigeonholing this pursuit into such a narrow response, one is likely to receive a bumbling answer from me, or something some rambling they will want to move away, quickly...

I believe, and don't stone me for saying this, that someone with an easy answer to such questions is not really a Book Person.  Now, if I'm asked about a favorite genre, I'd likely say History, or Historical Fiction, though I'm not limited to these in my reading life.

Color is another problematic one.  Questions arise: favorite color to wear, to paint my walls in...what?  I have said before that my favorite color flower is yellow, and this continues to be true, but yellow is not my favorite color.  That would be green. Or purple.  Or sky blue.  See what I mean?  

Food?  Okay, I'm a lover of dairy products (not always a healthy thing).  But how do I pick between pizza and ice cream?  And chicken, the reason I've failed at being a vegetarian?

Scent?  I could go on and on.  Fresh cut grass, citrus fruits, lavender, fresh baked bread - and cats that smell like fresh baked bread...

Of course, tea.  A staple in my tea diet is English Breakfast, but I'd be bereft without Jasmine Green and Earl Grey.  Darjeeling, Rooibos Chai, I'm mean, it's all about mood baby!

This is also why I don't like the term 'best friend'.  I have friends that I absolutely love, and the ones that move far away break my heart.  How can I call any of them 'best'?  Doesn't that pull up a wall to anyone else?  

I'm rambling again, but my solution is to dispense with Favorite.  If I volunteer that something is my favorite - for instance, ducks are my favorite birds, then okay, but don't make me choose the top when there's so much room for variety up there.  How about "What are some of your favorite teas?  Which writer are you most in the mood for reading?  What kind of food are you craving at the moment?"

In then end, there can only be (more than) one.

13 August 2015

Haven't Been There, Haven't Done That

There used to be only a handful of tea-related places to visit in New York, and a to-do list could possibly be fulfilled within a short amount of time.  Over the years I have missed a few spots, some of which I really missed as they are gone now.  Here are some places I intend to take tea at, though whether I will or not is left to Future Catherine:

Cha'an - I don't get down to the East Village as often as I'd like, and when I do it tends not to be when I'm in a tea mood.  I know that sounds odd coming from me, but it does happen.

Harney & Sons (upstate) - I've been to their shop in Soho once, and even that was about four years ago.  It's not open late into the evening last I checked, and I have little cause to be in Soho during midday hours.  There's a Harney Fest in their Millerton, NY location, but I can't make it this time around.  Such is life.

Palm Court Plaza Hotel - I have had tea in the Plaza Hotel, but only a quick chamomile in the Food Hall.  I recommend it, but someday I need to take it upstairs.

Lady Mendl's - For years, and years, and years I've failed to make it here.  Sadly, recent reviews have hinted at a downturn in service quality, and I hope I can pay a visit before it goes concave.

The Russian Tea Room - Honestly, I'm not dying to go here.  But it's there.  So maybe.  

Rose House (Flushing) - It would've been better to try when Bonnie still lived in Flushing.  Also, this has mixed reviews online.  The thing about Queens, though, is that we don't get too many full-on tea rooms that aren't bubble tea.  I love bubble tea, and FYI visit Tea and Milk on 34th Avenue if you get a chance, but until something more formal opens in Astoria, this is what we have.

The Lowell/Pembroke Room - I prefer dedicated tea shops to hotel tea rooms, mainly because it's easier on the wallet most of the time, but more than one person has recommended this place to me.  It's also not too far from where I work, and super close to an Alice's Tea Cup and a David's Tea.  I need to complete the Tea Strip!

11 June 2015


Just over a year ago I was able to visit Beacon, New York for presumably the first time.  It's one of those smallish towns along the Hudson that I absolutely adore, and might choose to live in if I had to leave the City.  The mountain views alone are nearly enough for me!  

Anyway, we were really hungry after a day of walking around the Hyde Park area (not the one in London, but pretty) and we ended up eating at a wonderful Soul Food restaurant on Main Street.  We did pass a Cup and Saucer Tea Room, which I had to pass wistfully.  

A few months later, I received word that the tea room was now a Doctor Who-themed restaurant called Pandorica.  Fantastic, 
right?  Well, yes and no...

Newly opened restaurants always have stuff to work out, and Pandorica was no different.  I'd read mixed reviews, and decided to wait until kinks were sorted.  Additionally, Pandorica's Facebook page urged locals to hold off visiting in its early stages.  I'm not sure if I'm really a local, as it's still and hour and a half drive away from Astoria (and longer on the Metro North I'm sure), but I didn't mind - I had a whole new series (season) of Doctor Who to enjoy, as well as the visit to the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff.

After the long winter, and while it was still the lovely moderate weather of May, my friend Sarah and I were talking, and we decided we needed to stop talking and just go.  A day later, with her son and another younger friend, we were in Beacon!

It was a little warmer out than I'd have liked, but that wouldn't stop me from trying the Afternoon Tea.  Just off the bat, it was a Catherine-approved Afternoon Tea - tasty sandwiches, a variety of sweets, and scones with excellent clotted cream.  Pandorica definitely has that down.  

The menu has Whovian-inspired items like Madame Vastra Po boys, K-9's (corn dogs, fitting), and a faux Fish Fingers and Custard. The tea was enough, so I couldn't try any of these, but I'm sure they were fine.  The menu wasn't necessarily inexpensive, but it's wasn't maddeningly pricey either.  The service could use some sprucing up - the staff wasn't nasty or anything, but they were kind of slow.

Here are some highlights of the restaurant's decor:

The crack in time!

Fun, isn't it?  Plus, they have episodes of Doctor Who constantly streaming.  It was in early Amy Pond times when we were there.

I did think it was a well-done combination of tea and one of my favorite subjects, so a pairing.  My thoughts to improvement:  staff should dress in cosplay, or at the very least have TARDIS aprons.  I want to be transported.  Also, there was precious little Classic Who involved.  I know Pandorica springs from NuWho, and that's okay, but what of those of us who'd like to see art and knick knacks from the 70s, for instance?  The show has so much history, it's a shame to leave that out.  

Know that Pandorica has events such as Trivia Wednesdays, and I'm sure it's great for locals, but I doubt I'd trudge up there myself for that reason.  Still, I'm glad I made it at last.  If I need to get my kicks in my area, I'll probably stick to the Way Station.

22 April 2015

Tea Gallery: Alice Reading Beside a Cup of Tea by Roger de la Fresnaye

Tea and Books, Books and Tea!  Always an ideal pairing.  Also, Alice's Tea Cup.  I'm done here.

Still Here!

I began my first blog entry on the 19th of April, 2005 with a simple "Here I Am"!  

At the time, posting anything on the Internet was an unusual thrill for me.  It was my first attempt at social networking online, and I would write about anything and everything.  Now, though I don't post nearly as frequently, it's centered along the subject of tea and its periphery.  

I was limited in some ways.  My first laptop was a year away, and my home computer was ancient.  Most of my writing was done on breaks at work.  I didn't even know how to post pictures at first, and needed my friend Marie, who had also just started blogging, to help me put up a profile pic.  Eventually I figured things out - just in time for the arrival of Zenobia.  I also retroactively shared pics from my trip to London/France, which I'd embarked on right after my first post.  It was my pretend version of being a travel writer, and it was enough.

Then it became a community thing.  A bunch of my friends started keeping blogs, and we'd all comment on each others' posts, and I got to see people I was close to personally in a different light.  Some of these people ended up leaving New York, and now it was like a newsletter from (slightly) far away.  Yes, we could've just emailed each other, but this had a shinier format.

When everyone started to join Facebook in earnest, and later Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr (which is a form of blogging but feels different), Pinterest, etc. - and I joined many of these as well - things changed once again.  I posted less frequently on my blog, because I had other outlets.  I received fewer comments on the blogs - and now I'd extended to other blogs, in an attempt to be organized - and my friends were accessible in other ways.  

So, after ten years, why do I still have this blog?  Why bother?

Why not?

Some things never change

23 March 2015

A Tale of Two Cat Cafes

I've had the inestimable opportunity to visit two cat cafes in the space of three months.  Imagine being able to combine a love of cats and tea, and even books - and not even paying that much for the privilege!  I mean, unless you count the airfare to London.  

London and New York have a great deal in common, not least of all the problem of living space.  Unless you're loaded, being able to have even a decent sized apartment is a challenge, never mind a house with a garden.  Many people sacrifice a fairly proportioned kitchen, in-house laundry facilities, and other things most non-urban folk take for granted because location, location, location!  One of the greatest sacrifices, in my opinion, is being able to keep pets.  I'm a cat person, yes, but I'd love to have dogs (not to mention ducks), and the only reason I don't, besides the veterinary bills, is because I'd have to walk them in soggy weather.  I'd have more cats, but I stay balanced with one or two, because of cleanliness - and allergies. 

Many have had to forgo even one cat because it's not allowed in their building - which is ridiculous because it's not like the cat is going to scratch the walls off - or because they split rent with someone who's allergic.  These cat cafes are perfect, then, because it possibly fills a gap in their life for a space of time.  Or like me, you just like to go and see more kitties because there's not enough of them on the Internet...

Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium

As you know by now, I had and always do have a good time in London.  The past two trips I was a solitary traveler, which isn't too bad, though this time I was happy to reconnect with a friend from visits past, and meet some new friends. At my Sunday meeting I found a lovely family who asked me to their home for a tea break.  Besides their hospitality, and the excellent cuppa you only find in a British home (can nearly replicate it in my apartment), I met the family's Jack Russell terrier and two hilariously adorable Singapura cats.  It was my second day, and already I missed Zenobia, so this was a welcome encounter!  Instead of being satiated, though, it made me look forward to Monday's reservation even more.

On Monday, I did something I rarely do:  I gave myself plenty of time.  One thing I know about London is that I still get lost far too easily, and hitting an area like Shoreditch was bound to be a challenge.  And it was.  I took a wrong turn, ended up on the opposite side of Brick Lane, and took an unnecessary train or two, but at least it was a nice day for it.  

Got to Lady Dinah's a few minutes early, and those of us who had the 1 PM (aka 13:00) reservations were led into an anteroom where we washed our hands and were given brief instructions as to behavioral policies. Then we were in a cat Wonderland!

Normally, when I venture into a cafe alone, I want to be left alone, with my food, my drink, and my book(s).  Like a cat.  A cat who reads.  But this is a place where even cats aren't left alone (though you mustn't pick them up or wake them if they'll sleeping, them's the rules), so I attempted to tap into my social side for a few moments here and there.  

This is Donnie, the one that reminded me of Cinnamon, so probably my favourite.  The lady on the left worked at the cafe, and she was good at keeping the playful cats interactive, and answering our questions (mainly, 'What's his name?')

I was seated at a cozy couch, facing two sisters on a couch, and we shared the coffee table between us.  We shared photos of our own fur babies, as you do.  I'd already had a Full English Breakfast, so I couldn't go to town, but I think I got the gist of the place's menu.  Anyway, I was more of a Cream Tea girl on this trip than Afternoon Tea - the reservation is listed as Afternoon Tea, but ordering is a la carte.  So I had a cup of  perfect Darjeeling, excellent scone with clotted cream and jam, and a slice of cake - the Chocolate Mandarin Loaf, which is listed as Gluten and Dairy Free, and so tasty.  The cake would also pair nicely with an Earl Grey.

I was able to wander around the rooms too.  In most restaurants, even tearooms, that seems a bit forward, to say the least, but when there's kitties in every nook and cranny - well, you have to go exploring!  Plus, there's a fair amount of bookshelves, which is always fun for browsers.  

An altogether fine experience, with my fill of felines for the week, until I got home and received a full dressing down by the lonely Zenobia.

Fast forward two months, and we're in the dead of winter in New York.  The snow is no longer fun, and the cold is biting worse than a mean kitty.  It wasn't the kind of day I prefer to venture into the Lower East Side - a place I get nearly as lost in as I do Shoreditch, but I had a reservation and was meeting a friend.  I'm glad I didn't flake out.

Meow Parlour is a different kind of cat cafe.  There are rules to observe, and of course cats everywhere, but after that the similarities end.  

You need to take your shoes off straightaway.  I'm not a fan of this, especially in snow boot weather, but I knew I needed to do this in advance, so I wore decent socks.  The Macaron Parlour around the corner provides the food, and though you can (I think) order from the cat cafe, we personally went to select our macarons.  How cute are these?

The tea was Harney and Sons, and I picked an herbal, which was good. I was recovering from an incident where I'd smacked my face into a wall in the middle of the night, and it took a bandaid and much more makeup than usual to look presentable, so I didn't need much in the way of caffeination.   There weren't as many food items to choose from, but then again, the reservation is for half hour increments, so you don't really need much.

Copy Cat...get it?

  This was a one-room deal, but it was airy and the tables were more of a communal setting.  I mean, I shared a couch at Lady Dinah's, but that felt more plushy I think.

The other main difference I could see was that all the cats in Meow Parlour are up for adoption.  There's a process to it; you don't just point and say "I want this one", but either way, you know that though these cats are wonderful, and sweet and well-behaved, you might not want to get too attached, 'cause they may not be here next time!

Talk to the toe beans!

Both cat cafes fill a void, and I'm glad for their existence.  They seemed to fit their respective cities, and the cat/tea/book trifecta is fulfilled in each.