22 December 2016

Recent Linkage

Some new stuff on the other blogs:

http://dadecdotes.blogspot.com/2016/12/taking-coffee-with-dad.html - In which my nose is nostalgic again...

http://cataria.blogspot.com/ - In which I'll use any excuse to share duck pictures!


20 December 2016

A Muse for My Middle Age, or Mile High Epiphanies

I've been meaning to get going on covering my most recent visit to Bon in Texas, but got sidetracked by Too Many Projects and other busy time-stealing life necessities.  Excuses out of the way, I will now address one thing that happened when I was away.

I turned 40.

No, not putting it in caps.  I tried not to make a big deal of it, as I don't actually celebrate birthdays, and people are fond of telling me I don't look 40 (keep that coming, I love you), but internally I was screaming in anticipation of what I've always viewed as Official Middle Age-dom.  

For a good portion of my life, I've juxtaposed between feeling old and young, and feeling frankly confused.  Many of my close friends have been younger than me, and though I never put myself in the position of being the Mother of any group, I find that I'm usually the one who feels achy first, who runs out of steam first, and that made me feel old, even in my mid-twenties.  The Tea Queen persona could have aged me, but tea culture has gained a younger following in recent decades, so I'm not bothered there.

Also, in my 30s I started to read up on Introversion vs. Extroversion, and realized that being worn out from hanging out in big groups had little to do with age, and I was not alone in needing to be alone more.  The physical aches, well, I don't know.  This year the back issues and problematic knee didn't help me feel like a spring chicken, but there's a part of me, mentally, that feels entirely youthful.  I still have the "when I grow up" thoughts, and I never grew out of wearing silly hair clips, and other items that I was supposed to move past long ago.  I want to be respected for how far I've come, but I don't want to be "past it", either.  These concerns asserted themselves into my waking and sleeping thoughts, and I was only too happy to be going out of town, away from reality, when I left my 30s behind.

On a full but comfortable Delta flight, I was pleased to find my route finally had in-flight entertainment.  Though I welcome any excuse to catch up on reading, I will always prefer passing the hours on a plane with a movie or two.  I found a documentary that proved to be perfect timing for my pre-mid-life crisis.

The image of Iris Apfel lingered in my sub-conscious, but I'd never paused to consider her, or who she was, until Albert Maysles brought her to life in such a vivid and loving way.  She's her own woman, without steeping on others' toes or being obnoxious about it.  Not that she won't express an opinion, but she won't jam it down your throat.  She has the most unique but enjoyable to see style I've ever seen, she's a refreshing kind of New Yorker, she's developed a massive adoration in recent years through museum exhibitions and media coverage, she's nonstop, and at the time of writing, is   95 years old.  

I'm not saying Iris will be running marathons or climbing Mount Everest any time soon, but she is living life, using whatever time is given to her, and she's a pleasure to watch.  Bonus:  she grew up in Astoria,  Queens.  For this alone I'd like to meet her,  to ask what it was like in the 30s?   

Does this mean I want to be exactly like Iris?  No, though I'd love to possess her haggling skills.  I simply like her approach - remembering where she came from, always moving forward, taking delight in childish things - basically spending her later years playing dress-up, and having worked hard her entire life, earning the right to play.

Though I'm still not looking forward to aging, and I don't know anyone who does, watching someone who hasn't given up makes it a little easier to cope with a new mature-sounding decade.  And I know some occasions cause for toning down in the realm of apparel, but I love the idea that one never has to truly grow out of who they are.  I'm not taking off my silly hair bow!

Also, I agree with Iris Apfel about being pretty.  While I appreciate someone telling me I'm pretty (yes, it happens on occasion), I too have understood that getting by looks alone is not wise. I like being reminded that a woman should also be intelligent and creative, and at the same time devoted to the ones they love.  Her relationship with her husband, Carl, was truly beautiful.  It is sad that he died around the time this documentary came out (so did Albert Maysles, actually.  I guess 2016 doesn't have the monopoly.)

So, though I still occasionally say to myself: "What?! Forty?!", my anticipatory gloom faded somewhat during that 4 hour flight, and I had a wonderful time.  More on that following.

Finally, I recognize that I hardly covered what was in the documentary, but that's because you should see it for yourself!  Only spoiler is that at the very end, there mention of making tea.  Full circle, my friends.

Pair with a colorful fruity blend.

06 December 2016

The 2016 Books/Pairings Post

Oh, I fully intended to make my book/tea pairing posts at least quarterly, but at least we'll squeeze one in for the year!

I will not hit the 75 mark this year - I'll be happy to hit 50 and probably won't.  This is still not terrible, and I've put at least some of my non-reading time to good use:  I wrote more, and am still learning Arabic, which is time-consuming, but I'm seeing some  progress, so it's worth it!  My health was questionable at times, especially in the spring.  You'd think I'd get more reading time done when I'm home in convalescent mode, but sleeping seemed to be the thing instead.  But no more whining; here's just a few of my reads this year:

St. Marks is Dead: The Many Lives of America's Hippest Street, by Ada Calhoun
The title drew me in, because how many native New Yorkers must have said the same thing?  I know I have - and I happened to visit that street in the course of my reading this book, because I wanted to say goodbye to The Sock Man before it shut down.  Plus, death was very much on my mind in January - well, all year, but David Bowie...still not over it.  Stupid 2016.

Anyway, the street has been through many changes over the centuries, and I'm always eager for New York history.  If you are too, and if you're frustrated by your neighborhood's changes, this could be a book for you.  Pair a nice Moroccan Mint Tea from Porto Rico Importing Co., or any tea from their St. Marks location - I picked the Moroccan Mint because it's the first thing I bought there in the 90s, before I thought the street was 'dead'.

The Fifth Heart - by Dan Simmons
This was also a tough year for my British fandoms: we were allotted maybe one episode of Doctor Who and Sherlock, and Downton Abbey came to an end.  Bonnie is trying to get me into Poldark, and she will probably succeed.  The Crown was pretty good, but it took til the autumn to get that, and man did I breeze through it!  Thankfully I'm never done with books.  

I already like Dan Simmons as a writer, and I get a kick out of writers I follow penning their own Sherlock Holmes stories.  I'm not as big on Jane Austen pastiches, which I suppose is because Austen, I feel, is a tidy writer.  The story ends when the protagonists marry.  Rarely do you need to go further than that - though Death Comes to Pemberley was okay.  The Fifth Heart wasn't a perfect story, but it's set during Holmes' 'dead' period, so it's workable.  He teams up with the hapless Henry James to investigate a suicide that might not have been a suicide, and we journey with them to America in the 1890s, where we meet other notables (not spoiling this)! and deal with an almost existential Sherlock Holmes.  Yes, he believes he might be fictional.  

It's not my favorite Sherlock Holmes story ever, but I certainly appreciated it.  I'm going to be predictable and pair this with Baker Street Afternoon Blend by Upton Tea Imports.  It's perfect for any Sherlock Holmes story, even if it's thousands of miles from Baker Street.

Close Encounters of the Furred Kind by Tom Cox
I can't get enough of Tom Cox's cat memoirs.  When my family first adopted Cinnamon, and I was developing into a fully fledged Cat Person, I did what I do whenever I get into something - I read everything I can about it!  My late teens are full of Beatles biographies, tea histories, and Cat Books.  So many cat mysteries, and travels-with-my-cat stories.  Most of these I remember fondly, but some were overly saccharine or corny, and I tend to approach cat books with caution now as a result.  Thankfully Close Encounters is neither.  The star of the show is The Bear, who I hear is semi-retired at 21, but whose sad, soul-piercing eyes draw you in from the cover onward.  Mainly, though, I love a good laugh, and Cox manages to inject humour into every facet of his multiple cats' personalities.  I'm going to recommend any herbal, woodsy blend, because read it and you'll understand.

...and I'm still reading Chernow's Hamilton.

20 October 2016

Tea Gallery: Anne Redpath, 1895–1965

I came across this picture on Tumblr, and had to include this in my Tea Gallery.  The chair reminds me of the one I had in my library, which was so perfectly comfy for a reading tea break, but was also ripped to shreds by Zenobia.  Now I have a chaise lounge that gives a different feeling to the room.  I like it, but at times I miss the cozy chair.  At least Zenobia hasn't destroyed it.  Yet.

22 September 2016

Communitea: The Long-Awaited Sequel

Autumn is here!

It doesn't quite feel like it yet, but we are promised a dip in temperatures this weekend.  I look forward to many strolls, and maybe finding a new tea/book destination or two?  It's fun to discover, but it's also good to revisit, especially when it's been a long time.  And it's been too long for Communitea.  With good reason: it was closed for a while.

I heard it had reopened in another spot.  It's still in LIC, but now it is on a side street, and you can almost miss it.  On a crazy long walk weeks ago I spotted it, and it was like seeing an old friend who's changed a bit in a decade but is essentially the same.  So I knew I'd have to go back, and when Pam suggested going there on a beautiful (though not autumnal) day, I was game.

There was a slight Catherine-esque reservations about going back.  Reading my previous blog entry, I felt weird. It had the attitudes of a decade-younger me, who didn't have many cares and didn't know she was about to.  But I can't fault a tea business for giving me melancholy.  

I'm glad we went.  I find it similar in setup to its first incarnation, down to the chalkboard walls, but improved as well.  Loved the blue walls further in.  It's bright, but not overpowering.  It was still the comfortable but not plush, bring your laptop, kind of place, and that's exactly what they do right.  

Pam and I both had curry chicken sandwiches - my sisters and I have a special love for this - sometimes called Coronation Chicken - it's a tasty combination of flavors, and Communitea didn't disappoint here.  Also, we split a gluten free pumpkin cookie (autumnautumnautumn), and an almond croissant.  Since it was a warm day after all, I had an iced green tea.  All was good.  I mean, I didn't fall out of my seat with culinary delight, but that's hardly the point to this kind of tea shop.

There are many varieties of tea to buy retail, but I didn't look into it that deeply because I have enough at home (and at work, let's face it.)  However, I doubt I'd feel as strongly about the high prices, as I've grown used to it by now.  

Afterwards we further relaxed by the skyline - it was a good day for it, and even though I lament the incredibly jacked up rents thanks to LIC's gentrification, I have to say the waterfront park space is attractive and welcoming.  What can I say?

Am I going to take forever to return, once again?  That I cannot know.  Last time I was grumbly about the lack of tea spots in Astoria.  This is beginning to change, which I mean to report on soon. Either way, if you're in the area, give it a shot!  I hear rumors of good coffee too.

24 August 2016

It's That Time Again...Any Day Now

It has been a while, years actually, since I've done a "LOVE AUTUMN!" post.  Has my love cooled off? (I see what I did there...)  No, in fact it's only grown stronger.

The thing is, and this is not a complaint, but the past couple of summers have not been crazy hot or humid.  There have been bad days, but for the most part, I've been able to settle comfortably into July and August, and did not feel a need to bring on September.  I finally began to rethink my summer hate.  Maybe it was all in my head, wrapped up with my history of loss in the season.  Perhaps I could welcome summer from now on, with open (sometimes bared) arms.

Then this summer happened, and is still happening.  I've been reset to my factory setting, and I am thoroughly finished, and long for autumn.  How do I know the longing is real? Well, you'd think I would want to put off the season which brings my fortieth birthday, but I'm starting to shrug that off.  I'll take anything to be away from being held prisoner to air conditioning, and the severe curtailment of my walks.  I've hardly been to feed the ducks this summer, it's just too unpleasant out.  How many 90+ degree days have we had?  I've lost count!

Yes, we have had a break this week (couldn't have happened on the weekend?), but I hear the humidity is going to hit again real soon.  This only reinforces my craving for the more reasonable autumn temps (assuming we get a decent autumn this year.)

Whether you love or hate autumn, it will be arriving shortly, and I for one look forward to it.  It's a hard thing to admit to, though, because in recent years I've noticed a sort of disdain for Autumn Folk.  Those labeled the now-tired term 'basic' are mocked for their fall Tumblrs and Pinterest pages, and the mockery is especially leveled at white girls, which, okay, I am.  But basic?  This denotes some Borg-like knee-jerk reaction; millions of pasty ladies crunching leaves underfoot in one line, droning 'Pumpkin Spice Lattes...Pumpkin Spice Lattes..'  This grates at my sensibilities.  I've come a long way from tossing a favorite skirt because I saw someone else wearing it - it helped when I worked in the Garment District and realized just how many thousands would be made of an item.  I used to be freaked that I could be lumped into a grouping or...shudder...labeled.  But I'm older now, and can shrug off more than I used to.  Even so, it's a bit sad to feel apologetic just because I'm enthusiastic.  That being said, here's what I love and am looking forward to about Season Next.

Goodbye Salvation
I need that a/c during the summer if I want to sleep more than an hour each night.  This means my electric bill is atrocious.  Like the song You Really Got a Hold On Me says: "I don't want you, but I need you." We have a terrible love/hate relationship that almost borders on co-dependancy.  It's a relief to be able to crack a window for some air.

Subway, Slightly Fresh
Have you ever been punched by hot air?  You have if you ride the subway during the summer.  If you have to wait any more than a minute, the sweating begins, and by the time you get on a usually freezing train, your body doesn't know what's up or down.  Perfect recipe for a nasty summer cold, or in my case, a panic attack.  Gorgeous.

A Happy Medium
A good autumn, and a good spring for that matter, is a joy because it is refreshing to be outdoors.  One shouldn't have to brace oneself to step out. And though I'm not known to be outdoorsy, I do love my Crazy Long Walks.  In mild temps, I can go far without wearing myself out, and I don't have to see the inside of a gym for that (though I still have a gym membership.  I try.)

Fall Fashion
Miles past trying to be a fashionista, but in my younger days, when I cared about trendiness somewhat, one of the happiest moments of the year was around this time in August, when the big issues of the fashion magazines would come out.  Massive door-stoppers.  I usually bought one or two of them, usually InStyle or Vogue or Harper's Bazaar.  I knew I could never afford the couture featured in there, but the styles themselves were inspiring enough to work on.  To this day, I love dressing for autumn more than any other season.  The colors are kind to me, and so are the layers.  The light layers - none of these bulky winter numbers, but none of the arm-baring nonsense that I drape myself in in July.  Speaking of draping myself, I spent many happy autumns in velvet.  I don't like turtlenecks, but have many light scarves, and enough cardigans to make Mr. Rogers jealous.  Let's not forget boots.  I hate having to put on snow boots, but a comfortable lace-up, with the weather still allowing for the option of sneakers or lighter shoes, now that I love.  Also, if I haven't pedicured in a while, it's okay.  We won't get into shaving.

It Tastes Good
I can't drink Pumpkin Spice Lattes - woe is me! - but I can drink all the teas, and yes, the pumpkin spice features here.  Suddenly cinnamon, nutmeg, apples...the air smells wonderful when these are around.  I know they drink chai in the hottest times in India, but I associate it more readily with autumn.
In the summer, I just don't want to cook for a long time, and that goes double for baking.  It doesn't help that the a/c in my kitchen blows directly onto the stove, so it's awkward going.  When that mess is over, I can finally put some love into baking scones and cakes, and I will be making Sunday Roast this year, come what may.  Parsnips!  I'm looking forward to making stews, but not so much soup, because that sounds like pathetic snow weather fare.  


I need no excuse to read any time of year.  However, I do love a good pairing, and I love anticipating which of my not-in-this-lifetime collection of TBRs I will read in each season.  For example, with the exception of the summer I read Bleak House, I find Charles Dickens should be a winter read.  We all know about beach reading, though personally I like to bring obnoxiously ponderous tomes to the beach, because everything around me is light and I get bored.  Here's some books I'd like to dive into, as some would a pile of leaves:

Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow - I've been reading this little by little for months, but I'd like to finish it well before the year ends. He was kind of an Anglophile, so I could pair a nice English Breakfast.  I'd say Earl Grey, but I think he died shortly before its invention.  Shame.

British Mystery Novels - because I equate autumn weather with London (another reason right there), and most of my favorite mysteries take place there. I could even re-read Sherlock Holmes, in anticipation of a certain show returning in the winter.  I have a Baker Street blend with just enough Lapsang Souchong.

A Tea Book - I have a clump of tea books in my library that I still haven't read through, and some of them have recipes, so kill two birds there (sorry birds.)  Pair with tea.  Duh.

So, not incredibly specific, but I find the books have a mind of their own and will only be available to me when they want to be.  I know that makes no sense, and that's the point.

Now I would love to hear your suggestions for reading, pairing, or what you look forward to come autumn.

11 August 2016

There's just no pleasing me...

I can read on the subway, on the bus, on the plane, in some cars, at lunch, at tea, at home...almost everywhere.  I avoid walking and reading, usually: a couple of times I've gotten off my train in the middle of a crucial point in my book, and I can't wait to see what happens next.  Even then, I'll try the quieter streets.  Just like I don't like people texting on their phones bumping into me, I prefer not to be a nuisance.

One reading spot, which is beloved by many, I just can't get into, and that's in the bath. It is an awkward experience. I've tried to make it work - you know those bathtub caddies?  It holds everything you need to have a soak with the most. I've had them before, but here's the thing: the book stays dry, but what about when you need to turn the page?  What about an e-reader?  Well, all I need is for a knee to go rogue and knock the whole thing into the drink. Too risky.  

A magazine is an occasional exception.  For instance, on my last visit to London, my friend and I stayed three nights in a hotel that was kind of posh for someone like me.  The bathtub was massive, especially compared to the one at home, and had a window overlooking the West End (well, mostly the theater housing The Lion King, but still pretty amazing.)  At this point, I thought I'd be cheating myself if I didn't at least try a luxurious soak, and so I grabbed a complimentary decorating mag and indulged.  Even then, it wasn't the delight I'd hoped it would be.  Why?  Well, maybe it's the bath taking itself.  I like it for a short time, and then I'm done.  I stopped buying Lush bath bombs because it didn't make sense to waste five bucks on something that I'd be bored of within minutes.  I've tried bringing a glass of wine, and that's almost worth it, and then I'm bored again.  Tea doesn't work, either, unless it's iced, and then I want a porch, not a tub.

Is this a failing of mine?  I suppose I can watch Netflix on my tablet, or listen to audio books to pass the time.  Or maybe I should stick to singing in the shower (sorry neighbors)...

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, whose name escapes me because I was distracted by books.   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!