Truth

Quarantea 3

As I set up for tea this morning, near but not in the snug, this piece of original art on our wall, a watercolor of river irises by Doug Racich, proudly bears the quality of a scroll in a tokonoma. Tea flowers are getting easier! On a trip to Seattle for a tea festival several years ago, one of our wholesalers hosted a Japanese tea ceremony demo. Afterward, in chatting with the teaist, I asked why there were no flowers for the ceremony. She gently explained to me that if I looked closely, the fan she had hung in the tea space had beautiful flowers painted on it. Why would we want to insult the artist by placing another floral arrangement in the same space? So, in looking around my tea space today, I realized there was no need to stress over flowers for tea. I would never want to insult the artist!

  • Tea – Matcha Harmony
  • Sweet – round ohigashi
  • Chawan – Korean-style grey bowl
  • Natsume – plain crimson laquerware from Japan
  • Obon – Swedish tray
  • Tetsubin – heavy hive pot
  • Kensui – locally made by Northport Pottery

I am working my way through all the ceremonies I have learned over the years. On this third day of April, my third quarantea, the ceremony was the third one I learned, obon shin. According to Roo sensei, it means truth. Every time I practice this ceremony, I think about that word, truth. Sometimes I try out synonyms: correct, right, real, honest, what is… I do not know why this temae is called truth. It seems that every tea ceremony is about truth.

Reflecting on tea today, this morning’s ceremony truly felt like all those words, correct, right, real, honest, what is, truth. Shifting work/life schedules has allowed me to take a closer look, again at what is my truth.

With gratitude,

Michelle

Practice Does Not Make Perfect

Quarantea 2

Tea in the snug, again. Today I used the old wooden tool box (my granfather’s) as a tokonoma of sorts; convenient for placing five smooth basalt stones from the UP near the magnolia cuttings which are budding out quickly, and room for incense, too.

  • Tea – Matcha Harmony
  • Sweet – toasted rice(?) tea sweets from Japan (thanks, Roo!)
  • Chawan – heavy and solid, from Japan
  • Natsume – plain crimson laquerware from Japan
  • Obon – Swedish tray
  • Tetsubin – heavy hive pot
  • Kensui – locally made by Northport Pottery

Today’s ceremony, obon gyou, was a challenging one for me to learn. It was the second temae Roo taught me, and for some reason, the jump from sou to gyou felt daunting. It took a long time to move from my head into my body with this one. At times now, I still second guess the slightly, but not extremely, more complex steps. Maybe when I began tea study/practice, I wanted it SO badly that I worked really HARD at it. You know, thinking and thinking as I was doing. Tea ceremony is not about working hard, it is about the discipline of practicing well. Many years ago, a teacher told me, “practice does not make perfect, practice makes permanent.”

Trust me, gyuo was not the most difficult challenge tea practice has offered me. It was just the first.

While doing tea today, I noticed how easy it is to get stuck in my head. There are two places in every ceremony where we do chasen tosh, wetting the tines of the whisk, and later rinsing the tines of the whisk. Each time I let the chasen drop against the chawan lip with a soft “clink,” I feel myself soften, dropping my attention to my hara, letting go of self and ego, getting out of my head. This is my practice. This is what I want to make permanent.

With special gratitude for my tea teacher, Roo sensei,

Michelle

Tea in the Snug

Quarantea 1: Tea in the snug. (aka 9 of 52)

Ok, I have done tea ceremony in this space before. So, not new.

I have been thinking about how to continue with my new year resolution of a tea ceremony a week in a new place, with new people. Integrity is important to me. Even if the promise is to myself, I feel compelled to keep my word. I have struggled with this pivot. Letting go of the original parameters I had set for myself, and accepting that tea where I am counts, was made possible by my tea teacher. Roo sensei shared a recent quarantea video of the very first tea ceremony we learn…obon sou. The grace and beauty of the execution and the sincerity of the ceremony pierced my ego bubble. Just do tea. Count it or don’t, it is all the same.

Today:

  • Tea – Matcha Harmony
  • Sweet – not-so-fresh-anymore candied ume
  • Chawan – one of my favorite grey Hagi ware bowls
  • Natsume – plain crimson laquerware from Japan
  • Obon – Swedish tray
  • Tetsubin – tiny dragonfly tetsubin, a gift from Moira
  • Kensui – locally made by Northport Pottery
  • Tea flowers – Staying at home means more yard work completed. Flowers today are forced buds from the Magnolia we trimmed this weekend, in a brass vase. 2020 year of the metal rat; April, month of the rat.

We have been spending many evenings in our snug. A term we learned from watching too many British home renovation shows! A snug is a sitting room, generally smaller than what might be referred to as a living room or family room. Usually the snug is for reading or watching TV. The word snug makes me feel warm and secure, like, “snug as a bug in a rug.” With french doors to the west and double windows to the south, our tiny snug welcomes warmth and light, even when the skies are slightly overcast. This morning, blue skies brightened the snug-hosted tea ceremony. I love to practice tea in this space.

With gratitude,

Michelle

Poolside

Eighth tea ceremony of 2020.

Before heading to Florida for vacation, I anticipated a week of daily tea on the beach, all sunshine and zen, an occasional seagull sound and gentle waves. There was plenty of sun and zen, but also powerful wind, blowing sand, huge waves, and hunting seabirds. We did find an Asian grocer not too far away, who sold daifuku for tea sweets. Most everything seemed to fall nicely into my leisurely schedule, except for tea ceremony.

Once again, I thought doing ceremony outside would be so lovely. Each day, as I sucked up sun on the windy beach I mentally practiced tea. And every time, in my mind, I saw matcha on the chashaku blowing away in a mixture of sand and sea mist. I saw the chasen rolling down the beach like a tumbleweed on the plains. I pictured sand grit on the tray, in the bowl, in my hair…. I just couldn’t summon the energy to tackle all these obstacles in my mind or in reality. Renewed respect for those who do tea in nature.

Then, after we spent a day next to the pool, because the wind and sand were painful sea-side, I needed (as in I missed it, I craved it, I couldn’t go another day without it) to do tea. I pulled together the pieces of obon presentation that the condo supplied and the few I brought – and assembled a makeshift arrangement that would work poolside:

  • Tea – Matcha Serenity
  • Sweet – daifuku from local Asian grocer
  • Obon – dinner plate
  • Tetsubin – aluminum kettle
  • Coaster – cloth hot pad
  • Kensui – mixing bowl
  • Chawan – tea mug
  • Chashaku – metal measuring spoon
  • Mat – beach towel

The entire condo building was being prepped for a new coat of paint. The painters were on the other side for the morning. The pool was empty except for us. No flowers, no scroll – sparkling water and sunshine would have to do! I had thought I might put more effort into these details, but when the opportunity to do tea arose, the window was small and the urgency felt almost overwhelming.

Once again, Doug supported the process. He cleared space in the narrow area around the pool. He received tea and took photos. And while I always want to make my guest the best bowl of tea possible, I could also feel myself dropping into that deep calm and zen presence that makes tea practice so addictive. So, in doing tea for him, I was clearly doing tea for me. So much love for my enabler.

With gratitude,

Michelle

Hillside Homestead

Seventh tea ceremony of 2020.

While setting up for tea ceremony today, Susan shared with me her early education in manners. “Knowing good manners, such as choosing the correct spoon at a formal place setting, is not to show off, but rather to make those around you feel at ease.” Good manners are about appropriate behaviors. Susan is a master of good manners and hospitality, concepts important in tea. While everything in the tea ceremony is choreographed and purposeful, the timing is paced specifically for the guests’ ease. Every movement embodies the attitude of “How can I make the best tea experience for my guest?”

So, with that in mind, I was off to a poor start. I was running more than 20 minutes late, something that really eats at me, tardiness. Arriving at Hillside Homestead in the afternoon, with the remains of the recent snow revealing a hint of spring mud, the beautiful landscape of hope, I totally let go of my agitation with myself. Susan cheerfully greeted me, un-phased by the shift in schedule. She is a woman full of tea.

We set up the tea space in Susan’s current favorite room, bathed in sunshine, between the back entrance and the huge vintage kitchen. Perfect. I brought forsythia from our yard that I had forced earlier in the week. It reminded Susan of a special friend of hers who passed away, Cynthia. As a child, Susan always thought forsythia were named for her friend, “For Cynthia.” Made me smile. Tea flowers for Cynthia! None of the art I brought really seemed to fit the space or mood, so instead we used a piece of wall art from her home. We chose a print of light Brahma chickens. Turns out they are a breed very dear to Susan. So, aside from being late, everything seemed to be coming together nicely.

Susan had invited a guest, who, earlier in the day had to cancel. She mentioned again that it was too bad Emily couldn’t make it. She sent her a quick text letting Emily know we were starting later than originally planned. Would she be able to join us now? Yes! My lateness made it possible for Emily to share tea ceremony with us today.

Monday afternoon Japanese tea ceremony at Hillside Homestead with Susan & Emily. The temae: chabako kasumi datte, single panel. The tea: Matcha Delight. The sweet: Japanese white aduki bean yokan. Light Brahma chicken art, and for Cynthia flowers!

As I packed up my tea things and set them on the porch, the sheep were bleating, the hissing of the tea water had died down, and kitty settled into the tea supply bag…

With gratitude,

Michelle

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. How long have we known each other? Next week will be 42 years since our first date.

With love and gratitude,
Michelle