NP Gazebo

Sixth tea ceremony of 2020. I see IG posts of tea prepared outside, not matcha, but other steeped teas. The photos make it look so inviting. I was curious about how that feels, making tea outside, in the cold. Could it even work with a Japanese tea ceremony? Would the water stay hot enough? Could it be comfortable for guests? Would it be as enjoyable as a bowl of matcha in a warm space? I decided to try it.

Ceremony notes:
10:30 am
25 degrees
Small gazebo at the Northport Marina
Obon sou, a simple tray ceremony
Tea: Matcha Delight
Sweets: candied quince made by Susan Odom of Hillside Homestead, from fruit trees of Rose H.
Enso art by Moira
Tulip from Doug, holly and false cedar from our yard

Moira agreed to be the guest. (and photographer!) She runs in this weather regularly and knows how to prepare for cold weather activities. She reminded me, “No such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate attire choices!” Of course she came properly dressed for 25 degrees. Right ceremony for right guest!

So much of Japanese tea ceremony is about preparation. Maybe not for others, but outdoor temae in below freezing weather seemed a bit extreme to me. What to wear that will keep me warm, but allow free movement, and be appropriate for ceremony? (Answer: layering, thick leggings, two turtlenecks, and a hat!) How to keep the water hot? (Answer: Stanley thermos.) How to set up materials? (Answer: like any other ceremony.) It surprised me how excited I was to try this for the first time!

The gazebo seats were covered in ice. The open center space, filled with frozen sand. The wind blew over the whisk more than once. My fingers were numb. I forgot to take off my hat. The marina generator rattled loudly. Every once in a while, we could hear the waves slapping against the rocks.

Power and beauty in the bay, quiet in the tea.

As we drank the last sip, the sun broke through and for a moment we were warmed and refreshed. Thank you, Moira, Susan, and Rose.

With gratitude,

Michelle

The Yellow House

Fifth tea ceremony of 2020: Today’s Japanese tea ceremony was held in the shrine room at the Yellow House, home of the Omena Karma Kagyu Buddhist Study Group. The shrine room is exactly what it sounds like, a room with an altar for many statues of Buddhas and deities and Tibetan holy things. My specific knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism is limited. I do know that practices include many meditations for the wellness of all sentient beings, which is nice. While preparing the space, I was informed that the first bowl of tea was to be offered to the Buddhas. This gave me a moment of pause… tea ceremony is not religious. How to do this, stay true to the ceremony, and respectful of my guests?

There were three guests this morning, all seated on chairs. To keep things simple, I planned to bring each bowl of matcha to each guest. In a way, I had to assist myself: whisk each bowl, deliver each bowl, get a new bowl, retrieve each empty bowl. It sounds more complicated that it actually ended up being. To solve the Buddhas’ bowl of tea dilemma, I simply made the first guest two bowls of tea, and she brought a tea sweet and the first bowl of tea to the shrine/altar. After that, everything flowed like a regular ceremony, except for my being both hostess and ohonto (assistant). Lots of up and down with this!

Todays’s temae was nishiki-datte, a four-panel chabako ceremony. The box ceremonies are so much fun…the attention to each of the implements as they are taken out of the box, out of their holders, and arranged for purification and use; the visual pleasure of everything in its place with comfortable spacing, all these make me smile, even now, as I am writing. In Tibetan and Chinese culture the symbol of the bat is used in both secular and religious art. I found a small watercolor print of two bats, which represents “extreme happiness,” and brought it for the makeshift tokonoma. The tea was Matcha Delight, the sweet, candied lotus seeds. I brought a small vase of dried grasses and seed pods from my yard. I needn’t have worried about the flowers, though, as there were orchids and amaryllis bulbs, and many other plants in the shrine room.

As always, after the ceremony we talked a bit about the significance of specific aspects of the tea ceremony. I think almost every time I use the chabako (box ceremony), the Q&A includes the question about the furadashi. The furadashi is the small container that looks like a jar with a cork top that contains extra sweets. It is the one implement that never actually gets used in the tea ceremony. We put it out at the beginning, and put it away at the end. Other than that, it just sits there. And, of all the things that happen in the tea ceremony, the fact that it never gets used seems to be of great concern to many guests! I am grateful for their rapt attention. Even more so, I am excited to listen to them put into words the experience that we shared, this thing of being together fully for a short time and bowl of tea.

Doing these traveling or pop-up tea ceremonies, I bring everything necessary with me. I am able to set up a simple space that as best as possible establishes the boundaries of both the physical and metaphorical tea space. Today, the sparse Japanese zen-like tea space in the colorful, abundantly decorated Tibetan shrine room created a beautiful juxtaposition. Thank you to my friends at the Yellow House.

With gratitude,
Michelle

Sunrise Landing Motel

Sunrise Tea
Fourth tea ceremony of 2020: Today’s temae, chabako kasumi datte, tea box “mist” presentation was at Sunrise Landing Motel, owned and operated by a fabulous couple I have know since they were children. They are the kindest, most thoughtful and gentle people, who now have a home and young family of their own filled with love and warmth and ease.

Some endearing aspects of today’s ceremony: the interactions between parents and children, the meandering pets, the playdough.

I had chosen the chabako for this morning’s ceremony because I thought it would hold the children’s attention as they watched while each piece of teaware is removed from the box and placed in knolling fashion on the single board and lid. The tea sweets were ohigashi. The tea, Nara matcha. The Japanese print, a crane family and tortoise family, perfect for today. The flowers, my winter fall back, white pine, alstromeria, and a wild berry that had accidentally been forced into budding white flowers, surprise!

As it turned out, this temae was a good choice. The baby joined us for ceremony. She watched with intense curiousity and anticipation. The rhythm of the ceremony was comfortably paced by the flow of her excitement, especially over the tea sweets.

After the ceremony, we talked about the role of tea in zen practice and as support for daily awareness of being present. It was a joy to be chatting about this topic while we staged some photos, cleaned up from tea ceremony and brought out the playdough. It all felt so natural and easy. Clearly this attitude of ease is their way of life.

Rarely do I take photos while doing tea. I have to depend on someone else to do that. Or what more often happens, we are totally present for tea; I clean up; then think, “Ooo, should have taken photos. Oh, well.” If you saw my IG post, you might have noticed how good the photos for ceremony #4 look. Well, that is because I did not take most of them. So much big thanks to the Messy Minimalist, who took photos and even some video.

I was gifted in so many ways through this time spent together for tea – I just love this family!

With gratitude,
Michelle

Sauna Tea

Sauna Tea
Third tea ceremony of 2020: The answer is 42.

I had planned to do this week’s tea ceremony at an event hosted by a local resort. The event was cancelled, leaving me without a weekly tea ceremony location. I was a little panicked, since this is only the third week and already I could potentially fail at my self-imposed once a week schedule for bringing tea ceremony to different places. My brilliant husband suggested I do this week’s ceremony in our sauna – while it warms up, before full-on sauna temperature!

Nestled in a stand of trees, a simple structure with a wood-burning stove, the sauna is a place of peace and calm and contemplation for us. I dreamed up the sauna, and Doug built it. I had never thought to do tea in the sauna. But bringing tea ceremony into the space we use and share for “hot zen” (less effort than hot yoga!) made me smile.

Since the sauna is a curious place to do a tea ceremony, and since it was just me and Doug for tea, I decided to wear something a little unorthodox for ceremony. The silk fabrics and patterns of traditional Japanese garments are art in themselves, so instead of wearing my tea practice jacket, I wore a beautiful haori. Haori are men’s wear, considered neither appropriate for women nor tea ceremony. Breaking these social mores today also made me smile.

Snowfall yesterday was about eight inches, so while Doug shoveled the path to the sauna and started a fire, I prepped tea materials. Today’s temae, obon gyou, a tray ceremony meaning iku, to go. The tokanoma scroll was an image of a single pheasant and white camellia. The number of birds on the prints I have been using for ceremony has by chance matched the number of guests…and today, no exception. One guest (Doug), one golden pheasant. A small hand-made vase purchased at a shop in Evanston held a few ends of white pine. (The flower struggle is real.) The tea sweet, a molases yokan from Japan. The tea, beautiful, delicious Nara matcha.

The pleasure of doing tea for one person, especially when that person is my best friend, is so rich. The whole time I am filled with awe, happiness, and of course gratitude. Today, tea was a celebration of all that Doug makes possible for me. Next week will be 42 years since our first date.

With love and gratitude,
Michelle

An Auspicious Day

Anniversary Tea
Second tea ceremony of 2020: This afternoon I had the pleasure of hosting a Japanese Tea Ceremony at the home of a lovely couple celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary. We shared a simple obon temae (tray service) called shin, which means truth.

The chawan (bowls) were two from my personal collection. They are vintage bowls. I know little of their history other than that they were purchased at a Japanese flea market. I do know that they make beautiful tea. The matcha today, Nara Matcha. With tea, Japanese yokan. After tea, dried persimmon slices.

The simple, unadorned, brightly laquered natsume (tea caddy), also from my personal collection, is one my tea teacher purchased new for me in Japan. I rarely use it, because it feels so special. Bringing it out for this ten-year anniversary tea felt appropriate.

This time of year I struggle to find flowers from the property for tea arrangements. Lucky me, Forget-Me-Not Flowers is next door to the teashop. I purchased alstromeria, which symbolizes devotion. For the ceremony, they accompanied a print of two cranes beside a body of water. This seemed especially touching since the anniversary couple’s home overlooks a big lake.

After tea, we shared conversation about tea ceremony and practice. I was reminded of a conversation with a friend on New Year’s eve, the short of which was, “discipline or regret.” Tea, for me, is a way to practice discipline.

Happy anniversary! Thank you for bringing me and tea into your home on such an auspicious day!

First Tea Ceremony of 2020

Tea Ceremony
First tea ceremony of 2020: New year’s day, Shorewood, IL, near the place of my birth, at the home of my love’s family.

This morning’s tea began just after 10a central time. We didn’t party too hard last night, so early rise to prepare was easy for me. We set up in the living room. With three guests, Doug helped as ohonto (assistant). We opened a new matcha, from Nara, Japan. So vibrant, so delicious! This first ceremony of the year was kakoi datte, “barrier presentation.” Not what I had originally planned, but turned out to be a lovely ceremony, which everyone enjoyed.

This past week, I had been gathering all the materials necessary for travelling tea, trying to put together a set of basic tools that can be left in a kit. Like being pregnant and having the hospital overnight bag packed and ready, I thought this would make the ambitious goal of weekly pop-up tea ceremony slightly easier to manage. I have a check list! I have a couple handy totes! I thought I had everything. I had planned to do Nishiki datte, a four-panel presentation. While preparing all the dogu for ceremony this morning, I discovered I had forgotten to pack the box with the chabako boards. Eesh. Good lesson….tea is about being prepared and present. Hmmmm. Some work to do here in 2020.

Tea flowers are an important part of ceremony. Selecting and arranging them is an art in itself. Simplicity, proportion, significance, so much attention for a part of the ceremony that can easily be overlooked. For today, I kept a blossom off a live pointsetta that was headed for disposal at the end of this holiday season, and placed it with a cutting from the white pine in the back yard where we are staying. I feel like a beginner with tea flowers. I was very happy the pine cutting had such beautiful presence. I just let it do its pine thing without fussing with it too much.

Two of the three guests this morning had attended ceremony before, one had never seen it. While tea ceremony takes about 30 minutes for a group this size, we always allow time after for contemplation or conversation. Today was no exception. We sat for almost an hour after, sharing connections and history and the pleasure being still, together. Doing the first tea of 2020 with Doug’s family, near our birth town felt right. Ah, the gift of tea.

With gratitude,
Michelle

Tea Is For Everyone!

Tea Ceremony
My name is Michelle. I own a teashop. I love Japanese tea ceremony.

After a 20 year search for a tea teacher, I began my training with Roo Sensei. That was nine years ago. During that time, I have trained almost weekly, on my own and with Roo Sensei’s oversight. I am a slow student. Fortunately, our tea lineage’s motto is, “tea is for everyone.” Even for slow Americans, like me.

In 2020, I want to do more tea. This might prove to be a bit more ambitious than I first thought. Pop-up tea ceremonies once a week AND regular tea practice/private ceremony at the teashop will likely double the number days I do tea. Yeah!

I want to bring tea to people who might not have ever thought about tea as ceremony, or who might not have a chance to get to a place that does tea ceremony. I want to put it into public and private places. I want to dispel thoughts that the use of the word ceremony implies a religious affiliation. Japanese tea ceremony is secular.

The underlying philosophy of the Japanese tea ceremony includes harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility. Who doesn’t want to experience these in their life? Practicing these ideals in tea ceremony is my gift to me, and I want to share that gift with others.