A Close Encounter of the Tea Kind

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Image courtesy of gubgib / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

During a recent trip to Trader Joe’s, I found myself in the tea aisle, perusing the varieties of organic teas this particular chain carries. Mind you, I have over 75 different kinds of tea in a cabinet, with the overflow crowding my kitchen counter. I need another box of tea in the same way that Imelda Marcos needed another pair of shoes.


I stood next to a woman in her twenties who was studying one of the teas. When she saw me doing the same, she asked if I had ever tried the one she was considering. I hadn’t, but told her about others on the shelves I had tried, mentioning the kind of tea they were and how to brew them to get the best taste.


She asked me question after question. There are few things I enjoy more than introducing someone to the delights and benefits of tea. After settling on the one for this shopping trip, she thanked me and told me which tea she would be trying next.


Tea plays a major role in my life–and has since I was young. Because of my love of tea and all the studying of it I’ve done, I forget that not everyone who drinks tea knows as much about it as I do. This young lady reminded me that there are plenty of people out there who are just beginning their tea journey. They welcome a little help and guidance when faced with all the tea choices available today, both in stores and online.


In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be introducing you to tea and how it rocks my world. I find that even when talking with fellow tea fanatics, revisiting the basics is like sitting down with an old friend and remembering how we met. Feel free to leave a comment, letting me know what your favorite kind of tea is and what you would like to know about tea. So, put on the kettle and we’ll all have tea.


By the way, I left the store with two new kinds of tea–mango black and ginger pear white.

What About the Roman Soldiers? An Easter Musing

I’ve always wondered about the Roman soldiers mentioned in Matthew 27:62-66 and Matthew 28:11-15. What makes them intriguing to me is that they were the only people physically present at Jesus’ resurrection.

Imagine being an eyewitness to the greatest event in the history of the world. How many were there? Who were these men? What did they experience that night? What happened to them? How did it change their lives?

I thought there were two soldiers at the tomb. But Matthew refers to them as a “guard of soldiers”. In doing some research, I discovered that “two” guards is merely tradition and highly unlikely. A “guard” consisted of a minimum of four soldiers but could comprise as many as the situation warranted. One article I read suggested that the Romans would have wanted there to be at least one soldier for each of the 11 remaining disciples, who were the most likely to steal Jesus’s body.

So, here we have all these soldiers sent to guard a tomb. It’s almost like the old light bulb jokes–how many men does it takes to protect a dead man? I’m thinking these soldiers took their assignment in one of two ways. Either they felt they were at the bottom of the barrel, getting all the worst assignments, or they were thrilled with what appeared to be the easiest assignment ever. Guarding someone who’s already dead–how hard could it be?

And then I think about the reality of that night. I’ve done a lot of camping. There’s nothing better than sitting around a campfire on a chilly night, passing around hot chocolate, making s’mores, singing, and telling stories. I’m sure their night wasn’t much different–at least until what happened next. The noise must have been deafening. When God demonstrates his glory, it is never done quietly. And the light, bright and blinding. In the midst of this seeming chaos comes Jesus–alive. What crossed their minds? Maybe some of them thought, like the centurion by the cross, “surely this was the Son of God.” Probably, most ran away in abject terror.

In Matthew 28, the soldiers found their way back to the chief priests, not their Roman commanders, to give their report. If they’d been sleeping, as some say, they would have had nothing to report. Instead, their information alarmed the chief priests enough to offer them a substantial amount of money to keep quiet and lie about what they saw.

After this, we hear nothing more. That’s when I really start imagining. How did their lives change? I hope some of them became followers after reflecting on that experience. Imagine what they told their wives when asked, “How was your day?” How do you explain the strange event/miracle you’ve just seen? I would love to have been a fly on the wall during those conversations.

Jesus could have waited until the women arrived to roll the stone away, for them to witness the light of Jesus’ glory. While there did not seem to be any interaction between Jesus and the soldiers like there was with the women and the disciples, the soldiers were the ones physically present at the scene. As a twenty-first century Christian–and a Gentile–it occurred to me that maybe this was God’s way of including us in the resurrection. Perhaps this is our crumb from the master’s table, an indication that we, the Gentiles, are loved by God, also ordained to be his children. Whatever the case, nothing changes the bottom line:


 Easter blessings to all!



Weaving and Writing

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I’m in the process of learning how to weave. As I’ve worked my way through the learning curve, the phrase “weaving a story” has taken on a whole new meaning. If you’ve never tried weaving, here are some of the highlights.

• The longest and most intense part of the process is in the preparation.
• No matter how careful you are, threads will get tangled, sometimes hopelessly, forcing you to cut them out.
• Threads will twist when you least expect it.
• If you don’t press hard enough on the beater to keep the rows close together, you’ll end up with holes in your work.
• It’s easy to get confused as to which way you’re working, especially when you have to stop and pick up your work later.
• When using a variegated thread (as I am), you don’t know what the finished product will look like until you’re finished.

Starting a new project fills me with excitement and anticipation. Sometimes I get to a point where I’m tired of the pre-process and just want to get to the writing. If I skimp on my research, character development, or plot line, it’s not long before I get stuck. Having to stop and do more research, brainstorm new ideas, or sit down and have a heart-to-heart with my main character ultimately takes longer than if I’d taken the time I needed in the preparation stage.

I love my words and stories. I can go off on tangents or fill my manuscripts with words and scenes I think are beautiful and marvelous. But when I objectively look back, I discover a tangled mess. The only solution, painful as it is, is to cut out the sections that do not contribute to the story.

Even with all the planning in the world, my story occasionally takes an unexpected twist. At times, this can add dimension and design. Or, I may find myself trapped in a dead end. Then I must retrace my steps to where the twist happened and fix it.

I need to work consistently on a project. When I continuously pick it up and put it down, I lose that momentum that causes a story to flow. That leads to holes in the plot, disappearing characters, and forgetting where I was headed in the first place.

At times, like during NaNoWriMo, it can be fun, invigorating, and refreshing to just write, not knowing how it will turn out until the end. While this approach does contain some risk, the story may end up being worthwhile, or a piece whose value is contained in the practice and the process. Either way, the joy is in the journey.

I’m convinced that whoever coined the phrase, “weaving a story” must have been both a weaver and a writer. The parallels are inspiring. So, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my weaving . . .

(Pictured above: My loom is warped (threaded) to weave bookmarks, four at a time, as favors for an upcoming convention luncheon. Ultimately, I’ll need to make 100.)

Characters Are Our Friends

Last November I finally took the advice of a friend and began reading the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. While mystery is not my favorite genre, I do choose mystery series that align with my interests such as tea, writing, and knitting. Detective agencies? Not usually in my sphere of interest.

Much to my surprise and delight, I have since sailed through the entire series, thirteen books in all. What enchants me is not so much the mystery, but the main character, Mma Precious Ramotswe. She is strong, loving, intelligent, down-to-earth, and greatly concerned about the importance of maintaining traditional values and morality.

Everything she does, all the cases she solves flow out of who she is. Because of this I feel as though I know Mma Ramotswe personally. I want her opinion on my problems. I want to join her in a cup of tea on her veranda or at the President’s Hotel. I want to sit in on a case discussion between her and her assistant, Mma Makutsi. I want to climb into her tiny white van and traverse roads of Botswana, drinking in the sights of the Kalahari Desert, observing the wildlife that roams freely, and go along when she visits her home village of Mochudi.

I have always believed that the best fiction is character driven rather than plot driven. If I don’t care about the character, then I don’t really care about what is happening. Alexander McCall Smith is a master at this. To be able to create living, breathing characters with whom readers identify, who feel “real” in the truest sense of the word is a rare gift. Now that I’ve finished the series as a reader, I want to go back and study these books as a writer.

I cannot imagine anything better than aspiring to the same kind of character excellence demonstrated by Smith—unless it is moving to Botswana to become Mma Ramotswe’s neighbor.

I’ll send you a postcard when I arrive.

Silver and Gold

As writers we are encouraged to come into the 21st century, making sure our presence is well-represented on all forms of social media, maintain our own websites and blogs, and arrange for an e-book version of our books. Many of us “traditionalists” struggle with this focus on electronic media and are reluctant to let go of our beloved hard copies. Few things thrill us more than the feel of a book in our hands and the scent of paper and ink. But if we are to survive as authors in this “brave new world” we must make some adjustments in our attitudes and activities.

At a recent workshop on building our platform, one writer asked the leader how we accomplish this without sacrificing too much of our writing time. The instructor, Stephanie Keyes, author of a popular young adult trilogy, outlined a sensible, doable strategy that works for her. She stressed that this type of activity helps us to connect with our readers in ways previously not possible. It makes us real and provides opportunities for personal connections with them.

On the other hand, I recently became acquainted with a young man in his early thirties. Steve is well-educated and a voracious reader but unlike many of his generation, does not own an e-reader. Why? Because he loves and collects books, just like us. Steve rarely visits a library. Instead, he feels compelled to own and keep nearly every book he reads. They are his friends, companions, and company. Finding another kindred spirit who shares my passion for books always thrills and delights me. It also proves to me that the demand for physical books will continue well into the future.

Many of us struggle with this great paradigm shift. Many of us are bibliophiles like Steve, yet if we as authors are to survive in this changing industry we need to learn how to reach out to our technologically savvy readers. Too often when such dramatic changes occur, we tend to react with an either/or mentality, forgetting that with work and understanding, we can, and must, strike a balance between the old and the new. Ultimately, it can end up being the best of both worlds. Or, as I like to think of it, the old adage rings true: “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.”

May we all acquire much of this silver and gold.

It’s November–and NaNoWriMo Is In Bloom

For the next month, my house will be crowded with strangers who will quickly become more real to me than my family. Don’t call the men in the white coats to come and take me away unless you are going to call them on the thousands of people all over the world who will find their homes invaded in the same way. We are all willing, and even eager participants in NaNoWriMo (not to be confused with alien Mork’s “Nano nano” greeting made popular in the 80s sitcom Mork and Mindy that catapulted Robin Williams to stardom.)

No, NaNo, as it is known to those who love it, is, according to the official website, “30 days and nights of literary abandon.” It is indeed. I abandon cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, sleeping, friends, family, and any other normal activity. All that matters for the month is the literary high road. Fortunately, my family humors and loves me enough to put up with me during this lofty endeavor. Although I will admit to have found them quaking in their boots at the realization that November and the “winter of their abandonment” is once again upon them.

The pursuit of this activity in a variety of coffee shops, book stores, and libraries usually raises several questions from the non-writers I encounter. One I always get is, “So when is your book going to be published?” Writing and publishing a book are two very different and distinct processes. No matter what anyone may tell you, a novel written in 30 days is not a novel as such but merely a first draft. This act of creation whether done in 30 days, 30 months, or 30 years is just the beginning.

A second question is “Can something written in 30 days be any good?” Probably not. That’s why one of my first writing workshop instructors told us, “We really shouldn’t call ourselves writers. We should call ourselves ‘re-writers.'” The first draft is only the start. Eventually, if the writer is diligent and hard-working, there may come a time when the novel is indeed ready to meet the general public. The Night Circus and Water for Elephants are just two of many whose incarnation started as a humble Nano novel. I can guarantee that they were not anywhere near publishable as a first draft. That is simply the nature of the writing beast. After November is when the “real” writing begins.

And the third most often-asked question I get is, “Where do you get your ideas and how can you possibly write that much?” As a creative writer type, the issue is deciding which of the thousands of ideas that cross my brain and characters who try to convince me to let them out of my head do I give the “Get Out of Jail Free” card this year? Where do they all come from? None of us really knows or understands. It’s something we live with and sometimes take for granted. But one thing is certain: life in our heads is never dull.

And so, along with thousands of my closest soul mates, I embark on this most noble mission: to fill the world with yet another silly novel (with apologies to Paul McCartney). Best wishes and happy writing to all of my fellow Nanowrimos. I’ll keep you posted.


Embarking on a new endeavor brings both excitement and trepidation. Having to deal with a learning curve usually produces some anxiety. Excitement spurs us on to new experiences. Each day is filled with beginnings, whether we realize it or not. Sometimes it will be a big event like a wedding, birthday party, or get-together with friends and family. Most days our beginnings consist of the simple things in life, things that have never happened before in this particular time and space. It may be fixing the next meal, taking a walk, or diving into that new book you’ve been dying to read.

All beginnings have one thing in common–they give us HOPE! Beginnings by nature imply forward movement. No matter what our endeavor, hope prompts us to look ahead, to anticipate the process and the end result.

My life has been full of twists and turns, something with which I’m sure you can identify. As I begin this blog, I hope you’ll join me for the ride as I mull over the past and look toward the future, and that my musings will strike a chord in you. Find a comfy spot, wrap your hands around a hot mug of tea or coffee, relax, and let’s begin!

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