Warning: Brain Unravelling. Need Tea. Lots Of.

Confession; we have zero energy to blog about anything. In proof that Christmas is systematically unspooling our brain, this morning we opened up the calendar to Joyeux Lutin and thought not, ‘That’s the French,’ but ‘What is a Lutin?’

A Lutin is an Elf. The tea is called Elf Help. Apparently we stopped reading the large print. That’s impressive since we’re best at reading large print.

But the day was off to a lovely start with a Kusmi tea we didn’t know called Tzarvena. We adore Kusmi. A friend brought a sample back from a summer trip to Paris back in high school and ever since we have been addicted to their Prince Vladmir. Later, we stumbled across Kusmi in Berlin, when we couldn’t seem to move for coffee. We were delighted and the woman at the till was convinced we were British. It was easier not to correct her.

Tzarvena tastes wonderfully citrusy. More orange than Prince Vladmir, but still with spices. It’s a bit sweet, wonderfully layered and it got better the longer it steeped. But don’t you dare put milk in it. You’d loose the equisit texture of it.

Elf Help (or should we say Joyeux Lutin?)also features orange peel. There’s some coconut mixed in for sweetness and tart cranberry to balance it out. After the day we’ve had it’s the perfect way to unwind.

Almost. Here’s some more light verse to make you laugh. Like Cope, this one’s a parody. But the poet being sent up is Phillip Larkin and the poem aped is This Be the Verse.

We love This Be the Verse. But the story goes that Adrian Mitchell learned someone had misheard the opening lines of Larkin’s poem as they tuck you up, your mum and dad, and was inspired to write a response.

This Be the Worst
Adrian Mitchell
They tuck you up, your mum and dad,
They read you Peter Rabbit, too.
They give you all the treats they had
And add some extra, just for you.

They were tucked up when they were small,
(Pink perfume, blue tobacco-smoke),
By those whose kiss healed any fall,
Whose laughter doubled any joke.

Man hands on happiness to man,
It shines out like a sweetshop shelf
So love your parents all you can
And have some cheerful kids yourself.

We first found Larkin’s poem reading Lemony Snicket, and we still have a soft spot for it. But its placement in the books is singularly bizarre – and that’s a different blog. We found Mitchell’s answer years later, at poetry and cake. We like them both, but we like them differently.

Christmas Ceilidh

We finished our paid work early today, so from noon onwards did nothing but quilt. Flying Goose after Flying Goose after Flying Goose. Tomorrow we’re dragooning a cousin and her machine into finishing them off so that we can finally start piecing.

From noon until six, that was all we did. We took a break, and we stopped for pots of Golden Nepal Typ Maloom (this is today’s German tea), but otherwise it was all quilting all day.

Having done that, we have no idea how the professionals survive. Our shoulders were not happy, and we had tried to be good about not hunching. Also, our right arm was underwhelmed by the experience and all it did was hold the fabric steady!

It was a relief to get to our evening dance class. It was the Christmas ceilidh, so we swapped out some of the more traditional music with appropriately Scottishized carols. You know, We Three Kings with Scotch snaps and Let It Snow in a strathspey setting. Honestly, you haven’t lived until you’ve danced the Scotch take on We Three Kings. It’s the jauntiest version of the song ever to go out into the world.

Now we’re sipping Organic Nine Berries from David’s Tea while trying to source suitable poems about ceilidhs. There’s not a lot out there. This seems like an omission. Apparently our society has one poet and we’ve given you quite a lot of her in bygone years.

(Actually, that’s not true. One of the social group members wrote a poem for the occasion but we don’t have it here.)

Anyway, about the tea. Golden Nepal was a lovely black tea. It’s another nice, uncomplicated one, and we quite like that because it makes a break from, say, residue-heavy Candy Cane Crush. Also, we love a good black tea. This was the perfect thing to get us through the quilting marathon.

Organic Nine Berry lives up to its name. The fruits don’t quite balance. It’s heavier on hibiscus and blueberry than strawberry, for instance. But part of that is the steeping time.

We quite like it, because the hibiscus keeps it the right side of the sharp-sweet divide. And even now more strawberry is coming through, so we’re doubling down on the importance of steeping times. You have to mix it thoroughly, too. When we poured out the berry flavour wanted to sink to the bottom. So, keep a spoon handy.

And now, here’s that ceilidh poem for you. It’s talking about an oldy-worldy, properly traditional ceilidh. The kind where dances, stories and music jumble together. They still do them, and we have fond memories of one out on the Isle of Mull, but these days the word is more synonymous with dancin. Enjoy!

The Time Traviveller’s Convention
Sheena Blackhall

Bring a pairtner tae the Ceilidh
Dress informal
, the invite stated
At the time traivellers’ convention.

Mary Queen o Scots arrived hersel
Signed up fur speed-datin.
Said she wis a romantic,
Cud lose her heid ower the richt chiel.

The sheik in the tartan troosers
Turned oot tae be Rabbie Burns
Wi a bevy o beauties he’d gaithered
On his traivels.

John Knox tuik charge o the raffle
The kirk being eesed tae collectin
Naebody socht him fur a lady’s choice.

Lord Byron niver missed a single dance
In the Gay Gordons. He wis last tae leave.

The Loch Ness Monster, playin watter music
Last seen wis reelin roon bi Ailsa Crag
Wi thirteen kelpies and a Shetlan silkie.

Feedback suggests they’ll aa be back neist year.

Fun fact: when we started the search for ‘poems about ceilidhs,’ Google tried to complete the query with ‘poems about ceiling fans.’ We have several follow up questions. One, is there ceiling fan poetry out there? Two, would that have been the easier search? And finally, what convinced poets this was a gap in the universal body of poetry that needed filling?

We may have to look for you for tomorrow. But no promises.

Lots of Tea! (Some Poetry)

Lots of teas today. I had my first of the German teas over breakfast. That was a lovely spiced Chai called Karl-Heinz. We’re told this is an old German joke that harkens back to the many double-barrelled names that cropped up in certain generations. As a tea it was a beautiful example of flavoured black tea. No sweetners, a bit of vanilla, cloves, and several other spices. It was warm, creamy and the perfect breakfast tea.

Around noon we stopped work and swapped Advent calendar’s for David’s Tea. That was a black tea, too, and this is where I should segue into the Wendy Cope poem about bloody men and buses. But this year it’s not true since I’m not rationing black tea. Though I still remember the year I ran out and refused to restock until January. I got exceptionally creative about what constituted a breakfast tea.

Candy Cane Crush is one we sometimes keep in stock here at Dawlish Dachshund central. So, we knew it right away, right down to the sticky residue it leaves on everyting. It’s actually a lovely tea. The candy cane is a nice compliment to the black tea. But it also has a bizarre effect on the tea’s appearance. It pours out sort of murky or cloudy. The first time we saw it we assumed we poured to early, but it’s something to do with what happens when melting candy cane meets boiling water.

This also accounts for the residue. Anyone who’s ever held a candy cane past a certain point knows what we’re talking about. You need several gallons of soap and a good scourer to get this stuff off your teapot. It’s irritating, but not enough to put us off the tea. We love the peppermint flavour it has.

Finally, we made a pot of Low Rider Green tea before starting on more Flying Geese. They’re taking over our lives. We broke up our evening program to stock up on more fat quarters just in case. This thing will get done, by hook or by crook.

Anyway, the green tea was a beautiful, uncomplicated sort of tea. Our grandmother would have liked it. Nothing fancy, no flourishes. Interesting enough to make a change, not so interesting as to be overwhelming. The perfect tea to drink before pinning another half dozen Flying Geese.

And now, a poem. Yesterday we gave you a cat poem, so the edict of what you do to the right-hand cat you must do to the left-hand dachshunds says we owe you another poem about dogs tonight. This one is delightful, and we’ve been looking for an excuse to air it.

Billy Collins

The way the dog trots out the front door
every morning
without a hat or an umbrella,
without any money
or the keys to her doghouse
never fails to fill the saucer of my heart
with milky admiration.

Who provides a finer example
of a life without encumbrance-
Thoreau in his curtainless hut
with a single plate, a single spoon?
Gandhi with his staff and his holy diapers?

Off she goes into the material world
with nothing but her brown coat
and her modest blue collar,
following only her wet nose,
the twin portals of her steady breathing,
followed only by the plume of her tail.

If only she did not shove the cat aside
every morning
and eat all his food
what a model of self-containment she
would be,
what a paragon of earthly detachment.
If only she were not so eager
for a rub behind the ears,
so acrobatic in her welcomes,
if only I were not her god.

Question: Just how excessively egregious is the bad form of posting poetry in honour of dachshunds while a cat sits entwined in your arms? She’s got her throat exposed and everything. Either she can’t read or can’t be bothered reading…

The cat’s song

Tonight’s tea is a seasonal Organic Super Ginger. By that we mean it’s suitable for the season, not that it’s Christmas specific. Besides the obvious, it features several kinds of pepper, peppercorn and rooibos tea.

It’s the perfect wintertime tisane. Caffeine free for late night tea drinkers, plenty of zip to keep out the cold, and a hefty dose of ginger to combat dread lurgies.

We love rooibos and this is the first we’ve had from the calendar, which is shocking considering how close we’re creeping to Christmas.

It odes make your tongue zing a bit after sipping, but we don’t mind. Nothing wrong with a good, long in the mouth tea.

We also have a sample from the German Advent Calendar. It arrived Sunday but what with manufacturing block after block of reluctantly Flying Geese, we didn’t realize it had arrived until late on Sunday evening.

We should by rights open today’s sample now, too, but we don’t want to rush it. Also, it’s a lovely black tea and we’re going to need something to wake us up tomorrow. So more on that then.

We will say that it’s a charming idea for a calender, coupling tea with puzzles. Apparently a director at the museum of history needs us to research something or fix a time machine – it’s a bit of a cross-Atlantic effort since the calendar is in German and our German connection has to play translator. (Shame the story they picked wasn’t about how all flesh is as grass and turns into the moon on wintery evenings, because then we’d be fine!)

Anyway, we chipped away at today’s German door while still quilting the Flying Geese. The cat decided to help, because she’s good that way. Read: The cat decided my spool of thread was staging an elaborate plot with the downstairs carpet and had to be stopped at all costs.

To honour her hard work, here’s a poem. We’ve given it to you before, but it turns out that while we cannot stand Marge Piercey in prose, we love her poetry. This might be the definitive poem about cats. T.S. Eliot, look out.

The cat’s song
Marge Piercey

Mine, says the cat, putting out his paw of darkness.
My lover, my friend, my slave, my toy, says
the cat making on your chest his gesture of drawing
milk from his mother’s forgotten breasts.

Let us walk in the woods, says the cat.
I’ll teach you to read the tabloid of scents,
to fade into shadow, wait like a trap, to hunt.
Now I lay this plump warm mouse on your mat.

You feed me, I try to feed you, we are friends,
says the cat, although I am more equal than you.
Can you leap twenty times the height of your body?
Can you run up and down trees? Jump between roofs?

Let us rub our bodies together and talk of touch.
My emotions are pure as salt crystals and as hard.
My lusts glow like my eyes. I sing to you in the mornings
walking round and round your bed and into your face.

Come I will teach you to dance as naturally
as falling asleep and waking and stretching long, long.
I speak greed with my paws and fear with my whiskers.
Envy lashes my tail. Love speaks me entire, a word

of fur. I will teach you to be still as an egg
and to slip like the ghost of wind through the grass.

Ingredients Contain…Something…

We spent all day quilting Flying Geese, so we’re only having our tea now. Well, we’re only having the Advent tea now. We had lots of orange pekoe to preserve our sanity while battling a right-handed rotary cutter.

Pausing to ask: Why do people solemnly believe the world is right-handed? Asking for a very aggrieved left-handed quilter and blogger. Anyway, we took the stuff home, where there was Advent tea but as it turns out, inferior scissors, and that was every bit as satisfactory as it sounds. Flying Geese x4 might go fast but it’s fiddly.

So, now we’re having Let It Snow, which is apparently green tea and apparently contains chocolate and caramel. We say apparently because this is not how we remember the ingredients list for this tea. The smell is all wrong, too.

Funny fact about Let It Snow; Last year we also misremembered it, and misremembered it again the year before that. For a tea that’s been part of this calendar since jump we never remember what it tastes like.

In our defence, we’re starting to think they’re reinventing the wheel every year with this one. Last year we said it tasted of apple and cinnamon. This year there’s definitely caramel in there, and it smells like spiced eggnog, which is how last year’s calendar (not us!) describes yet another tea. Are you keeping up? We’re not!

There’s definitely no apple, though. A The ingredients were nice and bitty, so we saw them going in. Raisins, caramel pieces, some green tea…One of our ongoing irritations is that whenever David’s Tea flavours its tea this much, all the pieces of flavour push out the tea leaves, especially in sample boxes. So, in spite of using the entire sample on this cup, we can’t taste any green tea.

We stand by the cinnamon, though. That stuck from 2019.

Now we’re hopelessly intrigued. If you drink this tea more regularly than we do, what does it taste like to you? And is David mucking about with the formula between calendars or have we finally gone certifiably bonkers?

Actually, don’t answer that. The Flying Geese block make a strong argument for madness…

We should now give you a nice poem about geese to be thematic. But we can’t face more geese. Instead, have this lovely Thomas Hardy, to remind us all there are still shreds of optimism and loveliness and things that are not the Flying Geese Block x4 in the world.

The Darkling Thrush
Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate
      When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
      The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
      Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
      Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
      The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
      The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
      Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
      Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
      The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
      Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
      In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
      Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
      Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
      Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
      His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
      And I was unaware.

You never thought we’d let you get all the way through Advent without this gem, did you? Now we’re off to install the shepherds at the crib.

The Dog

We decorated the tree today. A bit late, seeing as we’re into double figures on the calendar, but December is one of those months that goes at full cant.

So, we were late getting to our tea today. Midway through the TV cuddle with Dachshuds it dawned on us we hadn’t poured out, so we stopped and put the kettle on.

Today’s tea is Peppermint Amour. Taste-wise there’s not a lot to say about this one. It’s mint all the way through, which won’t work for everyone but works for us. It’s a bit like drinking an After Eight. It tastes of summer evenings when we drank Mint tea at the lake, less because we liked it and more because a friend had brought it back from Egypt.

Of course, mint tea is at its best cold, because its more refreshing that way. We could even have made it that way today – it was unseasonably warm. Bizarre, but the Dachshunds were delighted. We all forewent coats and had a distinctly unseasonable ravine ramble. Augie Doggie barked at a few squirrels, Miss Buffy was all dainty about the mud and her feet and did her best three-legged run. (Yes, we know she does it. It’s luxating patella, there’s no point operating and if one more well-intentioned stranger asks…)

They were so delighted we thought we’d better finally deliver on that poem they promised them. We’re almost halfway through December and the cat is well ahead of them in the poem dedication stakes. These things matter when you are a Dachshund of atypically delicate feelings.

There’s a lot of good dog poetry out there, but this one is top of our list of favourites. It’s short, sweet and definitely counts as more light verse.

The Dog
Ogden Nash

The truth I do not stretch or shove
When I state that the dog is full of love.
I’ve also found, by actual test,
A wet dog is the lovingest.

But of course cuddles are best when they’re wet! That way, you too can be nice and soggy, they dry off, and the charming long-nosed ones get a cuddle for their trouble.

Coffee? Tea? Oh, We Give Up!

Tonight we’ve established we don’t take coffee with sugar.

Those of you thinking you wandered into the wrong Advent blog, this is your reassurance you landed on Chorister at Home, thoughts on tea, good books and music. It happens, however, that the Advent Tea for December 10 is Fireside Mocha.

Fireside Mocha contains, these in no particular order, coffee, chocolate, apple (artificial? Real? Who knows!), and – no word of a lie – green tea sprinkles.

Not to sing an old tune here, but if we liked coffee, we’d drink coffee.

We hate coffee. Vehemently.

Fireside Mocha has the bizarre distinction of featuring coffee but being billed as a herbal tea. Question to the discerning masses; is it tea? Do green tea sprinkles justify it’s inclusion in this calendar?

Further question; What the – forgive the language – bloody hell are green tea sprinkles when they’re at home?

Anyway, the maybe-tea-possibly-coffee that is Fireside Mocha combines all our least favourite things in a Davids Tea selection. There’s the coffee, which we’ve discussed. Over the course of several years, no less. Then there’s a ridiculous amount of sweetener. The apple (artificial? Real? Jury’s out) exacerbates this.

So, what you get is a cup of overly sweet herbal tea with undertones of bitter coffee. Somewhere in this thing, supposedly, is chocolate and we can’t taste that, but frankly, at this juncture, we can’t decide if that helps or hinders it.

As for the green tea sprinkles, we’re pretty sure they’re decoration only. There isn’t even a hint of green tea in this cup. Ration-era teabags on their third steeping come closer to tea, and we’d like it on record that we don’t say that lightly. We had a grandmother whose family sent tea to a British family back when tea was rationed, and we heard all about the steeping and re-steeping process.

Sounding the funeral knell of this sample is Miss Marscahllin. She came, she sniffed, she walked indignantly away to wash her paws. We’re going to do the same.

But first, have a poem. Not about tea, or coffee or how you’re supposed to make it because we’ve given up on David ever having the epiphany we want him to have about how coffee has no business in tea.

No, this is nice, and inoffensive. Enjoy.

Two Sewing
Hazel Hall
The Wind is sewing with needles of rain.
With shining needles of rain
It stitches into the thin
Cloth of earth. In,
In, in, in.
Oh, the wind has often sewed with me.
One, two, three.

Spring must have fine things
To wear like other springs.
Of silken green the grass must be
Embroidered. One and two and three.
Then every crocus must be made
So subtly as to seem afraid
Of lifting colour from the ground;
And after crocuses the round
Heads of tulips, and all the fair
Intricate garb that Spring will wear.
The wind must sew with needles of rain,
With shining needles of rain,
Stitching into the thin
Cloth of earth, in,
In, in, in,
For all the springs of futurity.
One, two, three.

You’d better like this one better than we liked the tea. Because it didn’t half fight us over the formatting.

White and Green Sort of Tea

Another Advent Calendar staple today. Buddha’s Blend is a floral white and green tea blend. Every year we smell it, remember it, and misremember how sweet it is. It’s seasoned with peach, which is one of our favourite fruits to add to tea. It’s sweet, so the flavour comes through beautifully. But when you set it against a white or a green tea it stops it cloying.

Our favourite tea for one summer was Whittard’s Jubilee blend and that was the same idea, a black tea with peach and mango. Sweet, but balanced so that you didn’t get toothache after the first mouthful.

White tea is lighter, so the peach is a bit stronger, but that’s where the green tea comes in. It gives it enough bitterness that the result is a floral, fruity, well-blended tea and this is a textbook lesson in how we think David should make all teas.

That said, there’s a trick to steeping it. Most fruit teas sweeten as they steep, and the temptation is to let them steep indefinitely. You can get away with that with a white tea, but not so green tea. Leave Budha’s Blend sitting too long and it quickly goes bitter. It might be perfectly balanced, but only for the first tow to three minutes of steeping, and that’s a generous estimate.

We’ve learned to rescue the tea infuser after pouring the first cup. Anything longer and you get a tart cup where the green overpowers everything else. It’s still nice, but you’ll feel your teeth zing.

So, yes, turns out making tea is a bit like rocket science. Here’s a poem that’s equally delicate and finely balanced.

Mary Oliver, 1994

The female, and two chicks,
each no bigger than my thumb,

in their pale-green dresses;
then they rose, tiny fireworks,
into the leaves
and hovered;

then they sat down,
each one with dainty, charcoal feet –
each one on a slender branch –
and looked at me.

I had meant no harm,
I had simply climbed
the tree for something to do

on a summer day,
not knowing they were there,
ready to burst the ledges
of their mossy nest

and to fly, for the first time,
in their sea-green helmets,
with brisk, metallic tails –
each tulled wing,

with every dollop of flight,
drawing a perfect wheel
across the air.
Then, with a series of jerks,

they paused in front of me
and, dark-eyed, stared –
as though I were a flower –
and then,

like three tosses of silvery water,
they were gone.
in the crown of the tree,

I went to China,
I went to Prague;
I died, and was born in the spring;
I found you, and loved you, again.

Later the darkness fell
and the solid moon
like a white pond rose.
But I wasn’t in any hurry.

Likely I visited
all the shimmering, heart-stabbing
questions without answers
before I climbed down.

Gorgeous stuff. We don’t give you Oliver often enough. That said, you wouldn’t believe the technological wrangle we went through to put that together. So, do us a favour and enjoy it, will you? Over tea, naturally. A delicate, fiddly, white and green sort of tea.

Though good luck on the hummingbirds. Completely the wrong time of year for them.

A Little Bit of Light Verse

Another lovely tea today. This one is called Roasted Chestnut and it made us laugh because the first thing it cautions you about is that it may contain hazelnuts. David…we think you may have buried the lead, there.

It’s a black tea, and the blend of sweet and nutty was the perfect start to a freezing morning. We drank it intermittently throughout the day, which was a rare treat but regrettably also means that our supply has run out. Not to worry; This is a new flavour and it’s very definitely going top of our list of Teas to Stock Up On.

It doesn’t seem to be a universal favourite. It’s not as long in the mouth as other teas. But we like it. The smell is divine, and the nuts keep it from getting sweeter than we’d like. Yes, there could probably be more nuttiness too it, but like a lot of our favourite David’s Tea flavoured black tea, this one is light rather than bold. That’s okay. Sometimes lightness works.

Not convinced? Here’s a bit of light verse to prove it to you. We adore Wendy Cope, and when we lived in Britain lots of people seemed to know her, but she never gets a mention this side of the pond. A shame, because high school students across Canada are missing out. No one sends up the great, ponderous poets of age like Cope. We’ll prove it to you.

We’ve given you The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock before, yeah? Well, here’s what she has to say about that.

Poem composed in Santa Barbara
Wendy Cope
The poets talk. They talk a lot.
They talk of T. S. Eliot.
One is anti. One is pro.
How hard they think! How much they know!
They’re happy. A cicada sings.
We women talk of other things.

So much for Michelangelo.

Sencha and Semicolons

Today’s tea was Japanese Sencha. It’s an elegant green tea that we associate with our Gran because her default teabag green was a sencha. Aromatic and crisp, it’s a tea-like tea. Brew it hot and it tastes lovely. Let it steep too long and it goes bitter. We always pour sencha a bit early to dodge that particular problem.

Otherwise it was a slow day, and in the course of skiving off work we stumbled onto an article about the dying art of the semicolon; Apparently no one uses them any more. It felt a tad overegged; As per the article Virginia Wolfe was the last person of note to use a semicolon. We grant that no one else wants to wrap sentences around whole classrooms these days, but we can think of writers that still have a use for them.

They’re definitely few and far between, though. We happen to quite like them as a piece of punctuation because you can add a lot of what our dance teacher calls light and shade to a sentence. Not so anyone else. Ah well, we always were old fashioned. Of course, this article goes on to say that we’re all using Em-dashes right and left and we’re not sure we agree with that, either. Or maybe we read the wrong books. But the last time we saw anyone commit to the Em-Dash with zest it was L. M. Montgomery and she was being accused of purple prose.

We love her, too, we hasten to add.

Green tea and musings on punctuation. You can see the kind of exciting life we lead. Here’s a poem to go with all this nonsense by a Poetry and Cake favourite, no less.

Twould Be Nice To Be An Apostrophe
Roger McGough

twould be nice to be
an apostrophe
floating above an s
hovering like a paper kite
in between the its
eavesdropping, tiptoeing
high above the thats
an inky comet
the highest tossed
of hats

We first discovered this gem listening to a podcast on grammar, and thereafter supposed we’d misremembered it because Googling the first line availed us nothing. We got a bit of a shock when we saw the author, we can tell you! For someone that well-known the internet played properly coy with the composition.