Books and Tea

Books. Tea. Cats. Scribbling.

The Day After Pi Day

Yesterday was Pi Day. In the Before Times, I celebrated it by bringing pies to the office for my coworkers to share. I’d send out emails to entire departments telling them that pies — pecan, apple, strawberry rhubarb, whatever I managed to find at the grocery store that morning or the night before — were free for the taking in the kitchen.

This is the first time since the pandemic started where Pi Day wasn’t on a weekend, so the absence of that office ritual was particularly noticeable. Before, Pi Day was one of my weird, lovable quirks. Former coworkers used to message me on Facebook and say how much they thought of me on Pi Day. Hell, my own mother called me yesterday morning to wish me a good one! I may not miss commuting, but I do miss seeing people and doing something nice and community-building and unexpected for them.

Yesterday, I sublimated all of this energy into baking the best damn pie possible for Mr. BooksandTea and myself to share. And my god, did I put a lot of effort into it. The recipe required roasted butternut squash and caramelized onions, so I started the prep on Saturday. Saturday! Caramelizing half a dozen onions to get a bare cup-and-a-half of savoury-sweet onion goodness! And then I made the pie crust on Sunday night and let it rest until Monday afternoon.

I don’t regret it because the results were truly, scandalously delicious — I made things even more decadent by replacing the feta cheese in the recipe with goat’s cheese, and also added in some crumbled bacon. But god, was it a lot of work.

A slice of savoury butternut squash pie on a white plate.
Look at this beautiful thing. Look at it!

Still, I miss sharing it with more people. I miss sending my coworkers silly pie jokes and having people come to my desk with little plates and utensils smeared with bright fruit filling. It’s not quite the same sitting at home and trying to celebrate things over Slack.

A long, thin community garden plot with plenty of freshly-planted seedlings.

2021 Gardening

One of the things that gave me a tremendous amount of joy last year was taking part in my local community garden. The whole thing was quite happenstance — I joined the waiting list in early 2020, but I didn’t hear anything about it until I received a phone call out of the blue at the end of May last year. There was a garden plot available, they said, and did I want it? Oh, and I had only 2 hours to make a decision, after which they would call the next person on the list.

The next 2 hours, as my former coworkers can attest, were frantic. I knew nothing about gardening. I had no idea how big the garden plot was. I had barely any tools. Was it a good idea for me to juggle this among all my other responsibilities? Could I share the plot with someone else? My mother said no. My aunt, who lives a short drive away, also declined. Maybe I could rope in the wife of my high school friend who lives only a 5-minute walk away? (Reader, I actually did! She’s super awesome. We worked on it the whole summer together and soon we’re going to look at seed catalogues for the upcoming season.)

Despite the logistical hurdles, I said yes! And so, a few days later, with all the paperwork signed and a partner in gardening crime, I set to work!

First, I persuaded my mother and aunt to help me clean up the plot. There was a large patch of lettuce amid all the weeds, plus some dill and onions sprinkled throughout.

Then, for the next few weeks, it was a steady routine of watering everything by hand every other day. My garden partner went to a nursery and bought scads of seedlings to plant. I don’t think I can remember them all, but there were strawberries, green onions, carrots, kale, marigolds, cucumbers, sunflowers, basil, lemon balm, and sage, among other things.

In the first weeks after taking over the plot, the lettuce grew so profusely that we couldn’t eat it all before it bolted.

Taking the produce home and cooking with it was intensely satisfying. It felt like I was the Barefoot Contessa — though, as Mr. BooksandTea likes to note, I was actually wearing socks most of the time.

More than that, though, it was the sense that I was actually contributing to something. I met my fellow gardeners and learned their names. We traded produce from our different with each other. People gave me free zucchinis out of the goodness of their hearts. I harvested extra produce and set it aside for delivery to the local food bank.

This was a pleasant but stark contrast from 2020. Months after the pandemic set in, novelty of working from home wore off. It was easy to sit inside 24/7 and spend hours playing Animal Crossing and Hades or catching up on DS9.

But last year, because of the garden, I had a reason to go out. In the mornings, I’d put on some janky shorts or yoga pants, walk to the garden plot with tools in hand, do some watering and weeding, then walk back home, shower, and start work. It felt nice carrying home bags of cucumbers, dill, tomatoes, and dirty spades.

A photo of my white tea cabinet, with shelves full of different teas in smaller containers

State of the Tea Cabinet (and Other Stuff) 2022

Oh hey. It’s been over a year since I wrote anything here. I’m not going to make any excuses or apologies for being away. 2021 was a tough year, even though some good things happened to me, professionally.

I would like to write in here more often. But I’ve realized that making promises about any sort of metric (reading X books per year or writing Y posts per month, or writing Z words of fun writing per day) is just. Not going to work.

So. I’ll read shit and write shit and share cat pictures and gardening photos when I feel like it. No promises other than that.

My tea collection

However, since I’ve made a habit of writing about the state of my tea collection every other year at New Year’s (2016, 2018, 2020), I feel a need to keep up with precedent. So here’s what things are looking like, as of yesterday evening:

I reorganized everything from top to bottom, and moved most of the stuff I’m no longer using (gaiwans, teapots, etc) to the bottom shelf. Then, I moved my daily drinkers to the top, plus a few accessories. I might as well face up to the fact that I’ve gone back to my Basic Bitch, fruity green tea roots.

Tea TypeNo. of VarietiesWeight in Grams
Herbal13619.8 (plus 14 bags)
White3116.4
Green — Unflavoured5214.5
Green — Flavoured12575
Black — Unflavoured113.6
Black — Flavoured7157.5 (plus 8 bags)
Pu’erh9309.7
Rooibos5168.4 (plus 16 bags)
Other137

Looking back over past tea cabinet posts, it’s clear that I’ve managed to scale waaaay back from when I was heavily reviewing teas in 2016. Back then, I had 166 teas, weighing over 11 pounds total. Now, it’s 57 varieties, weighing just under 4.5 pounds.

This is good! One of the things I’ve learned about myself since the pandemic started is that I’ve got ADHD, and the fact that I went so hard into tea in 2014–2016 — and even started up a goddamned blog about it — is a classic example of hyperfocus.

The other thing is that, frankly, no one needs this much tea. And I’m really going to try and make a concerted effort to finish up the pu’erh I’ve got, because most of it has been sitting in my cupboard since I first bought it in 2016 (way back when I was in that hyperfocus phase).

I don’t really drink whole pots of tea the way I used to, either. Just a mug or two in the morning, and some herbal tea at night or if my stomach is upset. And then there are whole days where I don’t brew any tea at all.

It’s funny, because I’ve centred so much of my personality for a while around Being Really Into Tea. It’s hard to give something like that up. But that’s the way things are right now.

The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg

The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg

Title: The Four Profound Weaves
Author: R.B. Lemberg
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Format: eBook
Rating: 4 out of 5
How I got it: I pre-ordered it from Kobo before its launch on Sept 1, 2020

I was first introduced to R.B. Lemberg’s Birdverse stories when their novelette “Geometries of Belonging” was published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. The prose is striking: delicate and measured, yet somehow pulsing with pain underneath, as we learn more about the main character’s past and how they try to heal both themselves and others from trauma.

Next, I read “The Desert Glassmaker and the Jeweler of Berevyar“, a story with a much more hopeful outlook. However, it deals with similar themes of loneliness and people aching desperately for connection. It ends with the two title characters finding each other and travelling together.

Lemberg’s Birdverse stories have always been imbued with a strong sense of compassion: they deal with questions of how to heal from war, how societies that accept trans-ness do so in different ways, and how to build connections between people. Birdverse is constantly interrogating issues surrounding bodily agency and consent, and how abilities that aren’t traditionally considered “strong” are still vitally important to the shape of the world.

The Four Profound Weaves, Lemberg’s debut novella set in the same world, continues that tradition. However, The Four Profound Weaves also foregrounds two other emotions: sorrow, and righteous anger.

Sorrow: the two main characters, Uiziya and nen-sasair, journey through the desert to find Benesret, the master weaver who can weave from death. Uiziya looks for her because Benesret is her aunt, and was promised forty years ago that she would learn her aunt’s secrets; she’s waited for Benesret’s return to no avail, and is tired of feeling incomplete without this knowledge.

Nen-sasair’s sorrow springs from having to hide his trans nature for a similar length of time. Forty years ago, Benesret helped him by spinning a weave of fabric that would allow him to change his body (female-presenting) to match his self-identity (male). But his lover, Bashri, refused to let him transform as he wished. Now that she’s dead, and he’s used the cloth that was denied to him since his youth, he hopes that Benesret can do him one last benediction and also bestow him with a new name.

Benesret’s sorrow is that she can’t do either of the things that Uiziya and nen-sasair wish: she can’t teach the art of death-weaving, and she can’t bestow a new name. And that’s because her greatest weave was not one made of death, but made of hope.

Righteous anger: Benesret made the hope-cloth at nen-sasair’s request so that he could take it the King of Iyar. The King, a famed collector of art, insisted that this was the only payment he would accept in exchange for releasing nen-sasair and Bashri’s other lover. But he killed her before they could return with the weave, and took it from them anyway.

That hope-weave has been sitting in the king’s vault to this day, its glories hidden from the world. And now nen-sasair and Uiziya have been tasked with retrieving it so that Benesret can regain the hope she lost, pass on the art of death-weaving, and help nen-sasair find a fitting name.

When they return to Iyar, they discover that treasure is not the only thing hidden in the king’s vaults. And when they both realize the true horrors that the king is responsible for, they seek to undo his horrible acts.

Ultimately, despite the sadness, despite the anger, this is a story of hope. Some wrongs can’t be undone. Sometimes, you just need to wait for the person holding you back to die before you can become who you were always meant to be. But change can’t be denied, no matter how long and how hard people fight to restrain it. And I think that core of hope is something central to Lemberg’s work. I look forward to reading more Birdverse stories as they are published.

Still Here. Somewhat Scatterbrained.

Oh hey, four months. Huh.

Lockdown has really fucked up our collective sense of time, hasn’t it? The summer is almost over but I never really got a chance to enjoy it, to luxuriate in it.

I’m still here, still reading, still gardening, and — luckily — still employed. Other than that, things have been kind of a blur. We’ve settled into a comfortable, if somewhat humdrum, routine. Ontario may be in “Stage 3”, but Mr. BooksandTea and I still spend at least 90% of our time at home.

Honestly, I really don’t have much interesting to stay right now. R.B. Lemberg’s debut novella, The Four Profound Weaves, is coming out in a few days and I’ll be reviewing it later on in September. That’s pretty much it.

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