Monday, May 30, 2011

A Drew Belmonde Moment

We enjoyed a lovely lunch with Gene's sister and neice today in San Juan Capistrano at the Sundried Tomato Cafe. They just introduced a new menu, while keeping many old favorites. A few words of advice: Sweet potato fries. Any half and half combo. Ahi anything. And their iced tea is brewed perfectly - not an easy thing to do, by the way. Many restaurants have iced tea available but it often tastes metallic or astringent. This was crisp, fresh and perfect. No flavors, no sweeteners, just tea. Thank you.

Spending time with friends and family, walking around different locations, all of it allows for the creativity to get flowing. The people-watching - a funny gesture or a full blown argument that a husband and wife are trying to disguise as just a regular ol' conversation. The smell of popcorn drifting from an old movie theatre, ice cream dribbling down a little kid's face, the delicious smell of garlic wafting from competing restaurants.

And so the little grey matter woke up and started throwing around ideas. What is Drew Belmonde all about? Where did she come from? What is her driving force? Which quirks will rear their strange but critical heads throughout her adventures? So far she has been laid back, cool-headed, but not necessarily interesting or memorable. What makes her interesting in my mind?

Think. Think. Think.

Because she has been percolating for so long in my mind, a lot of different traits have been applied to her over the years, but today, I think she came a little clearer into focus. She's got some glitches under her perfected veneer. She's got some "mentalities" (our pet name for personal issues) that come up more often than she would like. Here's how she is emerging:

From the time she was 14, Drew had worked in a tea shop in Boise with Leona, a new-Age-y woman who has devoted her life to tea and serving it to people.  Each year, Leona had taken her on an annual buying trip to tea plantations and auctions around the world.  Tea culture was literally steeped into her bones, as she was exposed to the greater world, though in modest modes – hostels, rented rooms and the like.
When she was 17, her parents suddenly decided to be missionaries in India, working with Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity.  She had one more semester before graduation, and begged to be allowed to stay and finish.  Having travelled to India on a couple of buying trips, she had a pretty good idea at what living conditions awaited her, considering her parents’ new vocation. This did not appeal to her in the least.  Because of their long history with Leona, they agreed to let their daughter live with her until college began. 
When she moved to California after finishing college, she was shocked to discover the ages of some of the gorgeous, youthful looking women she met. A 42-year old would have the smooth radiance of a 30- year old. Leona was 42, yet she looked at least 50, as did most of the women Drew had known during her youth. Determined not to let time decimate her looks, now that she knew the hands of time could be slowed, she had become obsessed with her skin. Each night before going to bed, she would take a photo of her face, note  any unusual foods or beverages she had consumed, and compare the photos to 12 days prior, 12 weeks prior and 12 months prior, thanks to the technological miracle of digital photography. She monitored the signs of any potential wrinkle, age spot, puffiness, fatigue or lack of elasticity and adjusted her bedtime skin ritual accordingly.
She can’t stand group situations where there is no defined leader, and typically steps forward to get things moving simply to avoid the group dithering. Some might describe her as a control freak, she simply wants to get the show, whatever show it is, on the road.
Having broken free from her roots and made a name for herself among the high society O.C. and Hollywood set, small name though it is, she is now Tea Docent to the Stars.  Charity teas, upper crust bridal and baby showers, ladies' luncheons - her name is at the top of every Who's Who party planner's list. And in her spare time, she leads exclusive, luxury world tea tours. Mystery and murder ensue.
Here's my question, though. Would she call herself "Tea Docent" or "Tea Sommelier?" She doesn't believe anyone can proclaim to be a Tea Master. What's your vote? Is there a better title she could conjure up?

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Key Introduction Moment

The weather is glorious today! Blue skies, sunny, beautiful! I'm back to the Anastasia blend from American Tea Room with a nod to its floral-infused scent. It's helping me feel a little better about the fact that I can't actually be outdoors enjoying my own roses in the garden.

I guess I just need to bring more inside. (Yes, there are little sprigs of lavendar there too).  Which brings me to mind of how to bring different characters together and be able to create a chemistry that will work. I'm no floral arranger, but sometimes there are flowers and greenery that are just so conflicting, they absolutely can not be contained in the same vase. I'm continuing to work through this process of what characters truly live harmoniously in this mystery "vase," so to speak.

As they were ushered into a grand living room filled with several guests who had already arrived, Drew sucked in her breath at the sight of the Lumberjack from the hotel. Dr. Rico nearly bowled her over, as he hadn’t seen her stop in her tracks.
“So sorry Drew! I wasn’t looking where I was going.” He steadied her and Angela looked perturbed at her husband until she saw what the obstruction was.
“Oh, I’m so sorry! I …”  But Anatoli burst into the room with open arms before Drew could finish.
“Welcome to my home! Come, come.” He waved them in as a couple of young women brought around trays of champagne.
“I like these people,” Mimi laughed to Esther. “Always ready to drink!”
In all the serving and jostling as the room filled, Drew looked up and saw him standing next to her, an amused smile on his face. Was she seeing things, or were his eyes actually twinkling?
“Fancy meeting you here,” he said, warmly. “We weren’t introduced properly before.  I’m Dave Armstrong.” He held out his hand.
“Nice to meet you, Dave. I’m Drew Belmonde.” It was all she could do to maintain the cool, detached Orange County demeanor she had cultivated so carefully for so many years. She took his hand, delighted that despite her musings of his occupation, his hands were not calloused at all. But they were strong.
“What’s your connection to our host. He has been rather cryptic.”
Drew started to explain, when Anatoli again broke through the crowd’s dull roar.
“And, of course we are so honored to have in my home, one of world’s brightest stars. My friends, my guests, I present to you my dearest friend, Caitlin O’Neil.”
The group burst into applause, though Drew noticed her own guests seemed to barely pantomime the gesture.  Cailtin, took Anatoli’s extended hand and drew herself to him coquettishly, offering him a red lipsticked kiss on his cheek.  She turned to the group and nodded demurely at their attention, all the while modeling her bedazzled, form-fitting, nude-colored gown a la Marilyn Monroe’s famous “Some Like it Hot” number.  Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Vica stiffen and then abruptly leave the room. Cody melted into the background, looking as if he wished he could literally do just that.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Naming Moment

Today I took a big step in exploring Russian Caravan-type teas. It begins with Samovar from American Tea Room. (If for no other reason, I encourage you to click on that link and at least read the description, which is rather humorous and spot-on!) When I opened the package, I was hit with a wall of campfire smoke. Memories of snuggling down into my sleeping bag on a camping trip and smelling the lingering campfire smoke embedded in my sweatshirt came flying from the farthest corners of my mind. I was a bit nervous to take the next step of actually brewing it, but I reminded myself this was how it was with my green tea exploration. There were obstacles and prejudices to overcome, and I am up for the challenge.

The steeped tea didn't lose any of the camp fire-y-ness, so it took a bit of will to try that first sip...  Strong, woodsy, SMOKY. American Tea Room touts this tea as one of its boldest and even calls it "polarizing." Either you love it or hate it. I agree, there is not any room in between.

I took my cup into my office to begin my work day, and when Gene stopped in to say goodbye for the morning, he said my office smelled like camp fire smoke. Indeed.

While I initially struggled to finish my first cup, I found that part of me was actually ready for more. And so, round two. We spent the morning getting to know each other, not having really started off on the right foot. But by the end of the day, I felt I appreciated it. I also recognize that those who love smokiness of any kind will thoroughly enjoy this bold blend.

And it did spark some revelations in the development of characters. There are some here who may be polarizing as well. In fact, it is necessary they be so. And with those thoughts came some names. And some departures. So, here the characters seem to be -

The names have emerged. Interesting turn of events:
Caitlin  O’Neil - Oscar-winning actress, though most critics believe it to be a fluke. A one-hit wonder. Believes herself to be next in line to the Marilyn Monroe - Pamela Anderson sex kitten legacy. Her recent negotiations with PETA have helped stoke those fantasies.
Cody  O’Neil - Her brother. Also, her whipping boy. At her beck and call, and is consistently mortified by his sister's remarks.
Bob Jarrett - Old money Orange County. Helped develop the infrastructure of many of the newer cities in the county. Semi-retired and now indulging in pet interests.
Mary Ellen Jarrett - His devoted wife. Enthralled with tea. Enthralled with everything. Uber fan of the actress and can hardly believe her luck to be on the tea tour with her.

Dr. Ricardo Valenzuela - Hollywood plastic surgeon whose obsession with youth and fitness is near mania. Researching teas for his practice. Believes in Lake Baikal's youth restoring properties.
Angela Valenzuela - His high-strung wife. Desperately loves her high profile lifestyle, and fights to mask the fact she is thoroughly irritated by her husband. Uber fan of Caitlin

A Matryoshka Moment

I can't believe I've lived in this house for exactly 4 months and have not yet thought to unpack my Russian tchotchkes. Among these is my Matryoshka doll. I got it from a local artisan in Chita, and I chose this one specifically for the way it embodies my Russian experience: the colors, red and gold, and the musical instruments that I had seen and heard during the folk dance group performance.
Welcome home my little babushkas.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Romanoff Moment

The Romanov family has a turbulent history at best.  And Nicholas Romanov, known alternately as Nicholas II, Saint Nicholas the Passion-Bearer, and Bloody Nicholas, has an entire life of opposition, blood and war.  His life ended badly, having to abdicate the throne during the Russian February Revolution, and ultimately being executed alongside his wife, 5 children and household staff after a lengthy house arrest. Nicholas himself was directly related to most of the Crowned Heads of Europe (Queen Victoria, et al), and the one empire he was not related to (France) his parents tried to marry him into (they failed). His reign brought about the bloody loss of almost his entire navy to Japan, he helped ignite World War I, and his own country turned on him in the end. No one ever said it was easy at the top.

As I immerse myself more and more into Russian history and tradition, I keep seeing such a theme of gusto. Nothing, not war, not performance, not art, or confrontation is done halfway. It is all the way. It is turned up to 11.

And so it is with my tea companion today, another Russian influenced black tea blend from American Tea Room, Romanoff.  As I'm easing toward the smoky reputation of Russian caravans, this one provides an attractive first step in the journey. The chinese black tea has just a hint of smoke, very subtle and light. You almost have to look for it, but it's there. Then there is a regal element to the blend, just a touch of orange. And not just any orange. Blood orange, of course. The citrus fragrance balances the light smoke, and the resulting brew is strong, robust, and could stand up to any army, armada, revolutionary or historian. 

Its boldness influenced the introduction of one of my favorite characters into the mix. I had intended that she arrive earlier, but she made it clear this is where she makes her first appearance. But like Nicholas II, I have a feeling her story will not end well.

“Dobro pozalovat! Welcome!” Anatoli grinned broadly at them, two gold eye teeth flashing as he surveyed the group.
At that moment, the side door burst open and a small, Chinese woman with elaborate bouffant and large glasses swept in. Anatoli’s face became momentarily stormy and Natasha looked nervous.
“Please forgive me for my late arrival. Anatoli, Natalia, good morning.” She smiled at them expectantly. With some effort, the Minister of the Interior smiled and addressed the group.
“My friends, may I present our mayor of this great city, Rimma Chen.”
The group murmured a greeting, and Rimma Chen smiled broadly at them all, the errant smudge of red lipstick on her front tooth contrasting sharply with her St. John’s Knits wardrobe. “Welcome, welcome American friends. I understand we have great actress among us. Caitlin O’Neil, I give you special welcome from city of Irkutsk! We are honored that you visit our city.” As she paused to inhale before launching into more, Anatoli stepped forward and began speaking again, obviously annoying the mayor who quickly tapped her foot in irritation.
With sheets secured all around, the women stepped into a large sauna.  Immediately, nerves melted into sighs of relief as each one claimed a bench to stretch out on.  Big Valya watched each woman closely, and then instructed the group, through Natasha’s translation, to inhale deeply as she poured eucalyptus water on the dry stones and heater in the corner.  She then left the sauna, closing the door firmly behind her.
“Natalia, your father seemed surprised to see me this morning. He knew I would not allow our fine American guests to not be welcomed properly.” She spoke in English and with a smile and lilting voice to the young woman, but the ice behind the statement was tangible.
Natasha smiled back politely and with deference as she responded carefully, “Please excuse my father and me, Rimma Chen. In our haste to ensure all was in order for today, we must have misunderstood your availability. Prostite menya.”
Rimma Chen nodded in satisfaction and began describing the beauty of her city to Caitlin, while Angela tried to include herself in the attention.
Much to Drew’s relief, and before she to jump in on her guests’ behalf, Big Valya returned  with a new bucket of scented water, and an armful of leafy birch branches.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Zakuska Moment

As they got dressed for afternoon tea, or zakuska, the women were in high spirits, and ravenous. The immersion in hot and cold  seemed to have kick-started everyone’s adrenalin.  And who knows, perhaps there really was something to the oxygen cocktail. They entered the dining room giggling and chattering like school girls.
The men were already there, sipping champagne and snacking on strawberries The dining table was so full, it looked like it would collapse if one more thing was placed on it.  In the center of the table sat a large silver samovar with rich enamel and lapis lazuli inlay of intricate floral and leaf patterns.  On top, sat a small matching tea pot.  Surrounding the base were the delicate matching tea cups, which looked as though each were crafted to fit comfortably into the curve of your palm.
 Two bowls of bananas, apples and oranges, sat at each end. In between there were smaller bowls of strawberries, cucumber and tomato slices, pickles, cheese cubes, sausage, hard boiled eggs, red-skinned potatoes, red cabbage coleslaw, a plate of thickly sliced roast beef, a tureen of pelmeni, and a plate of baked fish, with the heads still in tact.  Anatoli set his glass down, clapped his hands together and bellowed, “Ladies! Welcome! How deed you enjoy your banya?” He opened a bottle of vodka, poured shot glasses and, as he spoke, Big Valya passed the glasses around.
“A toast!” he said, before anyone could answer his question.  “To our American friends, and fellow tea lovers. Chut chut!”
“Chut chut!” Natasha and the Valyas echoed with glasses raised.
“Chut chut!” The Americans responded, and they all swallowed their vodka in one gulp.
As they sat around the table, Vica came to Anatoli’s side to demonstrate how to prepare one’s tea as he explained.
“The leetle tea pot on top of samovar holds zavarka, ah…”
“Tea concentrate.” Vika supplies for him.
“Yes. Tea concentrate. Very strong. Very strong. Pour just small amount into tea cup. Like so.”
Vika poured just enough zavarka to thoroughly cover the bottom of the cup. She then filled the rest of the cup with boiling water from the samovar, creating a diluted, though perfectly blended tea.
As each tea guest created their own preferred ratio of zavarka to water, Vika and the Valyas began serving them, starting with the cold dishes.

I'm researching more about zakuska, which has been compared to a Scandanavian smorgasbord. When I was served this type of meal on a couple of different occasions, I didn't realize this was what is was, so I didn't notice the details such as what dishes were served first (apparently there is an order) and the dish sizes and accoutrements that went along with it all. What can I say? I was starving. Has anyone enjoyed a Russian Tea or Zakuska? What foods or accompanying things am I missing? Who served the food and drinks?  Was it  more of an appetizer layout or was it intended to be a full meal. I've had it both ways but would like to hear your thoughts.  Was your experience in someone's home or at restaurant or an event?  All this writing about food has made me hungry...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Junie None Moment

Business travel is part of what I do, and although I have cut back, I'm still on a plane about once a month. For this month's trip, I had the rare but lovely treat of being able to schedule in tea with my cousin Heather, the author and craftswoman of "The Adventures of Junie None."

In my family, the siblings of both my parents only have one daughter each. This causes we girl cousins to have a bit of a closer bond, I think, because we are the closest thing we have to sisters.

Heather and I met at Lisa's Tea Treasures at the Pruneyard (I'd love to know the history on this shopping center known as "The Pruneyard.") Such a respite is rare for either of us, so we lost no time in catching up from the second we laid eyes on each other.

Her mom was the one who introduced me to my first tea house experience. Another location of Lisa's Tea Treasures, by the way. And we talked, as I had with her mom so many years ago, about life, family, and the latest happenings "on the farm." I could listen to my cousin tell "farm" stories for days on end. Whether the topic is The Crazy Red Hen or Goat Birthday Parties or The Art of Taking Family Portraits, I am always in for a rollicking laughter. The phrase, "the truth is stranger than fiction," should be emblazoned on their family crest. That, and chickens.

While our time together was short (three hours), we managed to catch up on life in general until the next happy chance to share another tea moment together.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Russian Banya Moment

Here I am, continuing my obsession with the Anastasia black tea blend from American Tea Room, and remembering my experience of the Russian banya. The two are not connected for any reason except for the fact that one is keeping me company while I think about the other. 

The Russian banya is such a unique experience. You are asked to undress completely, wrap yourself in a white sheet, go into a sauna where eucalyptas water is poured over hot stones. Then a sturdy Russian woman forces you to lie face down on a wooden bench, yanks your sheet off, and proceeds to beat you soundly with wet birch branches. It is both terrifying and invigorating at the same time. In my case, this occurred in the company of my boss (who fortunately now is my sister-in-law), a co-worker and my co-worker's best friend. I was 19. The experience is burned on my brain, as you can imagine. Such a tale surely must fit into the mystery.

At 9:30 a.m. Natasha and the drivers appeared in the hotel and ushered them to the waiting cars.  The spa, or banya,  was a short 15 minute drive and from the outside looked like a small orthodox church with Siberian traditional white plaster.
“I thought Russians were atheists, Belmond,” Bob looked over his glasses at Drew.
“Never judge a book by its cover, Mr. Jarrett. Especially a Russian one.”
 Inside, they silently took in the grave splendor of a vaulted ceiling covered in gold leaf soaring above their heads, and a smooth marble floors worn to a matte finish marking years of its devotees below their feet. What had once been a place of worship for the Creator was now a place of worship for the body. Natasha broke the introspective silence by introducing the banya “nurses,” Valya, and big Valya.  Big Valya was over 6 feet tall, blonde, and the spitting image of a young, though giant, Zsa Zsa Gabor.
“And this,” Natasha said with pride, as she took her place beside a distinguished looking man in a shiny navy suit, “is my father, Anatoli Ivanov .  He is what you refer to as Minister of Interior. Keeper and protector of natural resources for region. He is also historian and local expert on Tea Trail.”
“Dobro pozalovat! Welcome!” Anatoli grinned broadly at them, two gold eye teeth flashing as he surveyed the group. “Irkutsk and Baikal play great role in history of tea, and therefore in world.”  He paused and indicated a dark-haired, mouse-faced young woman, her features very indicative of the local people.  “This is Vica, my assistant and also interpreter.” 
She smiled shyly. Anatoli nodded to her and she slipped quietly through a side door to another room. Following her with his eyes, he announced grandly, “We have prepared for you, our guests, traditional Russian feast and tea. But first, to prepare your bodies and appetites, we have for you traditional Russian banya. Ladies, please,” he indicated the women to follow Big Valya, then motioned the men to come with him. 
Michael had made some inquiries regarding Anatoli when Drew had learned he would be one of the group’s primary guides.
“The typical apparatchik, my dear,” she recalled him saying. “He received his title not long before communism fell, and no one thought or dared, rather, to take it away from him. That’s not what bothers me, though. It’s the Russian mob ties that do. But then, I’d bet there aren’t many apparatchik without mob interests these days.”  
The teak and marble dressing room was cool yet humid.  The women were shown shelves to keep their things.  The Valyas handed each of them a white sheet and one said unceremoniously, “Okeh. Now you strip!”

Sunday, May 15, 2011

An Anastasia Moment

It's inevitable. One can not possibly go through an obsessive Russian streak without colliding with the romance, nostalgia, mystery and tragedy of Anastasia. She was delivered to me via American Tea Room in response to my inquiries of a Russian Caravan. As usual, David had not one but three blends to immerse me irrevocably into a Russian Tea State of Mind.

As the 4th daughter of Nicholas II, her life was one of contradictions. She and her siblings had the Russian titles of "Imperial Highness," and yet were made to live simple lives, sleeping on camp cots, forced to take cold baths each morning, and fulfilling chores of cleaning and needlepoint, which was sold for charity. Anastasia was said to be impish, charming, and charismatic with dazzling blue eyes and strawberry blond hair. But she suffered from bunions that caused a deformity on her left foot.

Her family's fate would be tragic, despite rumors that the 16-year old Grand Duchess survived. After being forced to abdicate the throne, Tsar Nicholas and his family were held in house arrest, and finally executed by firing squad by the Bolshevik secret police.

A strong willed daughter of a Tsar. A wicked sense of humor with scathing wit. A girl who loved to laugh, tease, and put on a good show (she was known to be quite the actress). Despite having 3 sisters and a brother, it is Anastasia, the second youngest, who captured hearts and imaginations around the world.

And so it is with my own mind, fascinated with this Russian tsarina, that I indulge in the first sip of this dark black tea bearing her name. A robust flavor with dark heavy tones, lifted up by a lovely floral scent, and a subtle undertone of spice. Clove, perhaps?  Enchanting and addictive. Quite like its namesake, I think.

What is it about Russia? So severe, so hard, and yet whimsical and dramatically beautiful. It's an entire country and culture of contradictions. Maybe that's why I'm so intrigued.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Diving In Moment

I guess I just need to dive in. Research as I go. I'm wondering if readers really care how the subjects get from point A to point B. It seems easier for the group to just magically arrive at the destination. I have a habit of getting lost in the unnecessary details.
Day 1 – Travel
Travel days were always the worst, in Drew’s experience. While the idea of the destination was romantic and exciting, the reality of getting to the destination was less than glamorous.  She counted on a guarantee of no sleep until the first night in the destination hotel while she waited hand and foot on her tour guests.  The flight attendants had given her sympathetic and knowing looks. Once at the hotel in Irkutsk, Drew gratefully handed over hostess duties to Natasha, her contact. And Natasha had not failed to impress. With her blonde curls, dazzling smile of tiny, perfectly straight teeth, and charming Russian accent, the men in the group practically fell over themselves to help her help them.  (X1) immediately had a complaint, but Natasha was on it.  All eight guests were now comfortably installed in their rooms.
As she completed her final personal walk through of the hotel, amenities and grounds, she let out a sigh of relief as she headed to the elevator and the promise of at least a few hours of rest.
“Oh! Excuse me, um, eesveeneetyeh,” she said as she collided with a bear of a man.
He grabbed her shoulders to steady her as they both regained their balance. “No, excuse me. I wasn’t paying attention. You alright?” He smiled and shook his head at the situation and then held the elevator door open to allow her to step in first.
“Business or pleasure?” she inquired as they selected their floors.
“Business. Always business these days, it seems. You?”
“Same. Well, I hope you find time to at least lay eyes on the Lake,” Drew said as they stopped at his floor.
“The lake is actually a main component of my business, so that’s a plus. Good night.”
As she settled in her room, and poured the already steeping Russian Caravan blend into a waiting cup, she mused on what type of business he did. He was decidedly not corporate material.  Fisherman? Lumberjack?   
Drew sipped the tea through a coarse, brown sugar cube held between her front teeth. When in Rome…
She decided he would probably do an excellent job of chopping wood, and she wouldn’t mind watching.  Before collapsing into bed, she sent off a quick text to her assistant using her Blackberry and one to Michael on the “burner” to let them know of her safe and fairly uneventful arrival.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Cast of Characters Moment

A serious endeavor calls for a serious tea. In this case, Preferred Puerh from Imperial Tea. My cast of characters has remained the same for the most part. There were some who just couldn't make it in the pursuit of southern California perfection. But others fared better than I expected. The interesting thing is that the names are vague. I see their personalities, I "get" them, but the names...

The puerh has finished steeping now. Mmm. That's it. The gravitas of this beverage matches my mood. Earthy, raw, and (to tell the truth) a little dusty.

Camel caravan from Mongolia at Great Wall of China
 The cast of characters, as they stand in my mind today:

Anatoli - Minister of the Interior or some such title. Guardian of Lake Baikal and its environs -Apparatchik and Russian mafia.
Natasha - Anatoli's daughter. Studied abroad in the U.S. Unswervingly devoted to her father, but harboring desires to follow her own dreams.
Rimma Chen - Mayor of Irkutsk. She and Anatoli play the game of "keep your friends close and enemies closer," in particular regarding each other.
Vica - Anatoli's girl Friday. Has near-stalker adoration for Anatoli. Acts as interpreter for tea tour group.

Mimi - Ex-wife of studio executive. Large, gregarious, and enjoying the spoils of her late marriage.
Esther Mango - Widow of famous motion picture score composer and Mimi's BFF. The emotional opposite of her friend. Timid, mournful and fearing the worst at all times.

And then the nameless ones:
X1 - Oscar-winning actress, though most critics believe it to be a fluke. A one-hit wonder. Believes herself to be next in line to the Marilyn Monroe - Pamela Anderson sex kitten legacy. Her recent negotiations with PETA have helped stoke those fantasies.
X2 - Her brother. Also, her whipping boy. At her beck and call, and is consistently mortified by his sister's remarks.
C1 - Old money Orange County. Helped develop the infrastructure of many of the newer cities in the county. Semi-retired and now indulging in pet interests.
C2 - His devoted wife. Enthralled with tea. Enthralled with everything. Uber fan of the actress and can hardly believe her luck to be on the tea tour with her.
D1 - Hollywood plastic surgeon whose obsession with youth and fitness is near mania. Researching teas for his practice. Believes in Lake Baikal's youth restoring properties.
D2 - His high-strung wife. Desperately loves her high profile lifestyle, and fights to mask the fact she is thoroughly irritated by her husband.

Names, names. What are they? I guess I'll need to get to know them a little better.

My other dilemma - still looking for Russian Caravan tea samples. Would love suggestions.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Moment of Siberian Folk Dance

With my mystery taking place a great deal in Siberia - in particular around Lake Baikal - I have to go back and jog my memory of the sights, the sounds, the people I encountered at age 20 when I got to tag along on a Conference on Children's Health held in Boise's sister city of Chita - in the heart of Siberia.

We had the good fortune of having a private concert by a local traditional dance troupe. Unfortunately, my video cassette of the entire trip was eaten by a tempermental VCR many years ago and I have not been able to track down a copy. But I remember the energy and the pride of those dancers.

I was struck by their costumes - some looking like my expectation of the village peasant, Russian Cossack, but more showcasing heavy influence of nearby China and Mongolia, and still more influenced by what I would label as Native Alaskan.  It truly is a small world after all. This particular YouTube clip captures what I remember of the spirit and energy, as well as the shrill yelps I remember from the private performance.  I haven't concretely defined the role the Siberian Dance troupe will play in the story, but they are there.

I've been re-acquainting myself with my story's heroine, and she has changed rather dramatically over the past few years that I've been thinking of her. Not the small town dingbat that I first envisioned. She has broken free from her roots and has made a name for herself among the high society O.C. and Hollywood set - though a small name. Her tea expertise hasn't changed, but she has backed away from her own tea shop in favor of being the Tea Docent to the Stars.  Charity teas, upper crust bridal and baby showers, ladies' luncheons - her name is at the top of every Who's Who party planner's list. And in her spare time, she leads exclusive, luxury world tea tours. Mystery and murder ensue.

The item of greatest interest in research right now: The Siberian tea trade route - known as Tea Road. As luck would have it, the route split at Lake Baikal. A perfect destination to discover tea, among other things, in Siberia. I've got lots of lovely photos of my brief time in Irkutsk.
Despite the questionable hair and sunglasses, this was an amazing moment. A fisherman had agreed to take our group out to a little island in Lake Baikal. The clarity of the world's largest freshwater lake was amazing. You could see forever down into its depths, seeing rock formations, fish and plant life along the shallower parts. I'm looking forward to walking further down this memory laneand learning more about this incredible, protected region.

Friday, May 6, 2011

An All's Well That's Dragon Well Moment

The universe is telling me 2 things right now. "Drink more Dragon Well" (Long Jing), and "Write."  Don't you ever have those times when a theme keeps repeating and repeating until you just have to stop and pay attention? It started with a note from dear Abadia with the attached photo of her own "Long Jing Moment."

She writes, "I'm sending you a picture of a "Long Jing" Tea Moment (in Germany known as Lung Chin or Drachenbrunnentee = Dragonwell) on my balcony in your honour.... The weather gets better here!" (They have had a long and cold winter).

Doesn't that look lovely? So, immediately after I received her note, Gene returned from his trip to Hong Kong with not just one package of Dragon Well, but two! Who am I to ignore God's invitation to tea?

At the same time, I've suddenly been receiving all of these blank notebooks from various, unexpected events and places. There are few things I love more than new notebooks. So here are these notebooks, and all of these ideas have been flooding my head, and I have come across notes from stories I had outlined in the past. Once again, Abadia's words struck me with its serendipity, "As a mother of three very lively, vivacious young ladies, I need some oases. I read a lot, one can say, I devour books, and I drink lots of tea, and the best of all is both together! One of these oases are tea and, since I "discovered" you, your blog."

Those words sparked a fireworks display of ideas in my mind. I enjoy that same oasis of tea and books whenever I possibly can. But her encouragement has compelled me to take a step toward something I've been thinking about for a long time. A book. A mystery. One about tea. And I invite you to share in my journey.

It could be a few months, it could be a few decades, so buckle your seatbelts. In any event, I will begin documenting my progress in writing a book that has been incubating in my brain for many years: An International Tea Moment Mystery: Siberia.

With that, I pour myself a cup of Dragon Well and hope that this experiment does, indeed, end well. Wish me luck!