Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dimitri's Dream

“It seemed he was driving somewhere in the steppe, in a place where he had served once long ago; he is being driven through the slush by a peasant, in a cart with a pair of horses. And it seems to Mitya that he is cold, it is the beginning of November, and the snow is pouring down in big, wet flakes that melt as soon as they touch the ground. And the peasant is driving briskly, waving his wip nicely, he has a long, fair beard, and he is not and old man, maybe around fifty, dressed in a gray peasant coat. And there is a village nearby- black, black huts, and half of the huts are burnt, just charred beams sticking up. And at the edge of the village there are peasant women standing along the road, many women, a long line of them, all of them thin, wasted, their faces a sort of brown color. Especially that one at the end- such a bony one, tall, looking as if she were forty, but she may be only twenty, with a long, thin face, and in her arms a baby is crying, and her breasts must be all dried up, not a drop of milk in them. And the baby is crying, crying, reaching out its bare little arms, its little fists somehow all blue from the cold.
'Why are they crying? Why are they crying?' Mitya asks, flying past them at a great clip.
'The wee one,' the driver answers, 'it's the wee one crying.' And Mitya is struck that he has said it in his own peasant way: 'the wee one,' and not “the baby.” And he likes that the peasant has said 'wee one': there seems to be more pity in it.
'But why is it crying?' Mitya insists, as if he were foolish, 'why are its little arms bare, why don't they wrap it up?'
'The wee one's cold, its clothes are frozen, they don't keep it warm.'
'But why is it so? Why?' foolish Mitya will not leave off.
'They're poor, burnt out, they've got no bread, they're begging for their burnt-down place.'
'No, no,' Mitya still seems not to understand, 'tell me: why are these burnt-out mothers standing here, why are the people poor, why is the wee one poor, why is the steppe bare, why don't they embrace and kiss, why don't they sing joyful songs, why are they blackened with such misery, why don't they feed the wee one?'
And he feels within himself that, though his questions have no reason or sense, he still certainly wants to ask in just that way, and he should ask in just that way. And he also feels a tenderness, such as he has never known before, surging up in his heart, he wants to weep, he wants to do something for them all, so that the wee one will no longer cry, so that the blackened, dried-up mother of the wee one will not cry either, so that there will be no more tears in anyone from that moment on, and it must be done at once, at once, without delay, and despite everything, with all his Karamazov unrestraint.”1

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Organic Living

This morning and I looked through our stockpile of food for something to nourish me at breakfast, I was struck by how removed from its original source our food is. Like cereal. What is “cereal” exactly? Oatmeal I understand, grains I understand, oats, rice, barley, eggs, pancakes, I understand all these things, but what the heck is cereal? I looked at the ingredients list and you know the prominent ingredient? Sugar. Surprise surprise. In one sense I am really excited about heading off to college, because then I can choose exactly what I eat and where it comes from. Sure, I'll miss my family and all, but right now, my reaction to the state of inorganic living in my house is “Get me out of here!” And it's not like I don't have organic food. I have it. In the forms of Minnesota-grown wild rice, oats, pearl barley, home-grown herbs, and home-made yogurt and bread, but I have no chance to use these things. They are completely incompatible with family dinners because my brothers and picky sister take one look at anything not resembling hot-dogs or pizza or cheese tacos and cry “ewwwwwww!” and refuse to touch it. My brother actually made himself throw up the crusts on the sandwich he was eating. Bread making and yogurt making are generally discouraged because of “mess” it makes, and the space and time it consumes. I don't mean to say bad things about my family, but I have to disagree with my parents' policy on the food they put into their children's mouths. My dad would love it if I made bread more, but my mom finds it both inconvenient and unnecessary. But, tending to my herbs this morning I was filled with a longing to taste vegetables fresh from the plant and plant and tend the soil. I want to touch the dewy leaves in the morning and smell the sweet earth.
Oh well. It's not a huge deal in the end, but something that I do feel very strongly about.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Dimitri's Redemption


Every day of my life I've been beating my breast and promising to reform, and every day I've done the same vile things. I understand now that for men such as I a blow is needed, a blow of fate, to catch them as with a noose and bind them by an external force. Never, never would I have risen by myself! But th thunder has struck. I accept the torment of accusation and of my disgrace before all, I want to suffer and be purified by suffering!
1

All of us struggle to some extent with Dimitri's dilemma, that of promising reform as we go to sleep and swearing to change immediately, the very next morning. We spend half the night thinking of all our sins, recognizing them with revulsion and disgust and then declare in a fit of passion that we are cleansed of the evil, and that in the morning we shall make amends, and the go to sleep convinced of our own transformation. The next morning we arise, and we have forgotten all the beautiful visions of the night and begin again in in debauchery. Or maybe we last for a few days, maybe even weeks, but then we're back. Dimitri recognizes this and blessed is he for this clarity of vision. In the midst of his suffering he is able to witness the transcendental truth behind his suffering, and the meaning behind it all.
“If you come forward to serve the Lord,
prepare yourself for temptations...
For just as gold is tested in the fire,
so too are acceptable men in the furnace of humility.” 2

Back at the beginning of the book, Zosimov bowed down to the future great suffering Dimitri would have to bear, and in recognition of the pain he would have to endure. Throughout the book the phrase, “purification through suffering” has been tossed around and invoked by multiple characters, all in reference to so torment they bear. This is a great truth of life, that suffering is the road through which paradise comes into the world. Suffering and God are far from being incompatible. In fact, they are so intertwined as to make redemption impossible without suffering. Christ had to suffer for the sins of mankind, he had to die. It all comes back to the continual process of redemption; that salvation is not an event, but a process that is taking place here and now, in the hearts of all men.
The gospel yesterday was on God as the gardener, cutting off the branches that bear no fruit, and pruning the healthy branches, so that they produce more. I think that as modern American Christians we most often forget the part about “pruning” and its implications. God puts us through suffering and trials in order that we might grow. Temptations are chances for us to grow in virtue, not pitfalls in which there can only be failure. The devil certainly hates us getting close to the Lord, so he throws every distraction our way, especially if we pose a threat to his evil plans. (My mom used to flatter me by saying that all my near-death experiences were because the devil saw me as a potential threat and tried to eliminate me as quickly as possible. It's very flattering indeed to think that way. But protect me form pride, Lord.) This is true, and so many ask “Well, why does God allow bad things to happen?” Percicely because it is through this suffering and trial that we grow and produce more fruit for the kingdom. We need these times to become spiritually mature, just as we need times of fasting and exercise to purify our bodies of unnecessary junk or inhibiting excess. Suffering is the pruning shears, and we are the vine. If we bear good fruit then we should expect hardships to come our way, and accept them joyfully, for they are what bring us closer to Jesus.

1.Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990), 509.
2. Sirach 2:1,5

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Procrastinating

Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today

Procrastinating is never a good idea. NEVER
So here it is, the Sunday night before the week of the play, and I haven't gotten the vests for three actors sewn! ARG! this is why discipline is a good thing. DENY myself time watching Hindi movies. DENY myself lazy time reading Lloyd Alexander. DO what needs to be done, and be thankful. So now here is the question, do I stay up to all hours finishing them, or do I put it off till tomorrow?
I know what I am going to do, but this adventure will cost me a pretty penny of sleep and of irritation from my dad.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Answer to Ivan's question...

In his masterpiece of literary fiction, the Brother's Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky sets forth the compelling riveting dilemma of God and the reality of human suffering. Ivan, the intellectual brother in the Karamazov trio, has encountered in the notion of God a conflict which he himself can not seem to resolve. He is a “collector” of little stories of human suffering, all which contribute to his unreconciled desire for the actualization of justice. Ivan's dilemma consists mainly of his desire to see the wrongs suffered by the innocent avenged. As he puts it to to Alyosha, “It's not God that I don't accept, you understand, it's this world of God's created by God that I do not accept and cannot agree to accept”.1 Ivan has a “childlike conviction” that the sufferings of all mankind will be smoothed over one day, and that all the irreconcilable things of this world will be reconciled, but he refuses to accept it. He doesn't care what may happen, he even wishes to see this take place, but he will not accept it when it does. Ivan even acknowledges his incompetence in understanding God's will, and isn't put off by that. “Who wants to know this damned good and evil at such a price? The whole world of human knowledge is not worth the tears of that little child to 'dear God.'”2 Ivan refuses to accept a world where the mother of a suffering child forgives her child's tormentor. To him, such “smoothing over” of crimes is unacceptable, and even unjust. This is his suffering, and one can almost hear him dare anyone to answer his question, if they can. Answer why a loving God would build the salvation of mankind on the suffering on the innocents. But perhaps there is an answer. As the elder, Zosimov, lies dying in his cell, he proceeds to give a deathbed sermon on the world and life, which seems to answer, at least in part, the great dilemma of Ivan. Zosimov calls for all to embrace suffering, and claims that only through suffering will man be happy. The elders' words; “verily, each of us is guilty before everyone, for everyone and everything”3 he would have us believe, are the key to unlock Ivan's great struggle with suffering. The three components of this accountability include the intertwining of suffering and salvation, Isolationism, and the burden of freedom.
The source of Ivan's dilemma lies in his perspective of human suffering. He sees human suffering as being the foundation upon which salvation is accomplished, and if so, then God is a cruel and inhumane god. How could a God who is good and merciful and kind base his system of human redemption on the tears of a child? Ivan can not accept this. He refuses to accept this notion that God would allow for the unavenged degradation of innocents, and thus he respectfully “turns in his ticket”.
Using the claim of the innocent children is all well and good, because it illustrated perfectly the falleness of the entire world, and not just of mature adults. The whole earth fell when man fell, and thus all men must bear the burden of Adam's sin. All, from the old man who will die tonight to the child just conceived. All are accountable for everything before everyone, and thus all suffer the communal death chosen by Adam. Even the earth itself fell, and was corrupted by sin, not of its own volition of course, but nevertheless corrupted. Thus it is that we have earthquakes and natural disasters. Thus it is that nature, a force so creative and beautiful, is also a source of destruction. Mirrored in the corruption of sin that we brought to a sinless world is the corruption of pollution. The rottenness within can not help but find physical signs of expressing it's torment. But even now, the resurrection is taking place, even now as we speak. In the little corners of mens' hearts the battle is won and lost. Ivan claims that our salvation, that the resurrection, takes place on the backs of the children's suffering. And it is true, that suffering is indeed the root of our salvation, for “by his stripes we were healed”. It is the one true innocent one who was sacrificed, the unblemished lamb who took all our sufferings to the cross and died there, so that death may no longer reign over us. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat shall fall upon the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”4 Suffering is redemptive, because through this continual death to the corrupted life and to sin, Paradise is brought forth upon the earth. In this sense, Paradise and suffering can coexist together, just as righteousness and sin coexist in the human soul. The resurrection is an ongoing process, and men are called to die to this world in order that the fullness of joy and glory can transcend the physical and touch their world. Suffering does not separate man from happiness, but rather unifies him with it. This life is Paradise, and it is through the knowledge of accountability that man accepts brotherly love that Paradise really happens.
But now for the climax of the issue. Ivan wishes to see retribution, here, before his eyes. He wants justice to be wrought upon the earth, and in the measure that he himself declares. As Ivan says in regards to a child murderer; “Well, what to do with him? Shoot him? Shoot him for our moral satisfaction”5 However, as Zosimov says, “everyone is accountable to everyone for everything” and once this is realized on the earth, man will realize how long he has sat in darkness. Mankind needs only to want this and paradise is here. In a sense, Ivan is hopeless to reconcile his dilemma. Ivan will never have what he wants, because he is unwilling to take the necessary step to achieve it, which is accepting accountability for everything before everyone. “Until one has indeed become the brother of all, there will be no brotherhood.”6 In fact, this rebellion of Ivan, who “respectfully returns the ticket”, is a propagator of the great and vicious cycle of human suffering. Ivan's rebellion is a form of the isolation Zosimov speaks of with great vehemence, and most potent a reflection of the great rebellion against God that suicide actually is. Ivan is one of those men who is swallowed up in his isolation. “He loves no one” is exactly the key to his separation from paradise. Ivan is striving to separate himself from everyone, including Katerina, which is why he is departing and breaking off all ties. He is wishing to experience a fullness of life within himself, but out of his efforts comes “not fullness of life, but full suicide, for instead of the fullness of self-determination, he falls into complete isolation.”7 Ivan must learn that he is accountable to humanity and bow an kiss the earth, and realize that his security lies not in his own solitary effort, but in the general wholeness of humanity.
Ivan claims that he seeks the physical manifestation of justice on the earth, and the equality of man upheld. He wishes his own justice to be made the code of human interaction, and such is also the thinking of many scientific and intellectual minds in the world. In this sense he makes the same mistake as many men, including Dostoevsky's literary protagonist, Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, he upholds his own sensibilities of justice over divine justice. Zosimov acutely describes the enacting of man's sensibilities of justice as rotten and dangerous, accomplishing the opposite of it's seemed goal. The world is proclaimed free but what lies in their freedom is merely slavery and suicide. Increasing their needs is their freedom, and this leads to isolation for the rich and envy and murder for the poor. Such freedoms and unity are false, do not believe them. Rather, again the necessity of acknowledging accountability for everyone for everything, is the root of true equality and freedom in the broken world. “Equality is only in man's spiritual dignity, and only among us will that be understood.”8 Zosima claims, and declares that through the great human communion of brotherly love the “dream” of unity will be achieved. Ivan desires that forgiveness be withheld from those who do not “deserve” it, but who is he to cast judgment upon his fellow man. Even that madman who tore apart the little boy, even for the sake of that little child who beats her chest with her tiny fist, justice is not his to execute. In fact, Ivan's own logic is what propagates the cycle of hatred and isolation which tears apart the human race, and does not unite it at all. Ivan in the Grand Inquisitor, sets forth that Christ made a mistake in giving man this ultimate freedom. “Did you forget that peace and even death are dearer to man than free choice in the knowledge of good and evil?”9 This Grand Inquisitor accuses God, dares to claim he understands more than God himself, his own system over God's. In holding freedom over all, Ivan claims that Jesus has given man a task to great for him. Not only does this completely contradict scripture, but what is the worm that he should say to his creator, “I know my needs better than you”. Ludicrous! Does the Grand Inquisitor not know that freedom is exactly what it is, freedom? That no matter how man may thrash, he is exceedingly free to choose how he will live his life? This choice is before all men, and is indeed a burden, for man must now realize that he is accountable to all humanity and to God for his decision, and no one else can make his decision for him. The grand Inquisitor claims that man needs a universal ruler, but denies man of the singular unifying factor of brotherly love, whose source is the knowledge of accountability. This freedom, God's freedom, is the source of the knowledge of accountability, and it is through this knowledge that the dream of peace which all men long for will be accomplished.
Ivan's struggle is a real and compelling dilemma that most face at some time in their lives. But under the understanding that all are guilty before all, for everyone and everything, all things work together for the glory of God. The causes and roots of the evil which Ivan sees in the world will be shaken out at last, if mankind but embrace this crucial perspective. Isolation, the coexistence of suffering and paradise, and the seemed burden of freedom are all venues which prove this maxim to be the foundation on which all future happiness for man shall be accomplished

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

On Discipline

Discipline is that exercise of the will, by which we attain mastery over the appetites and the selfishness of soul. Unfortunately, discipline is not a virtue I possess. I desire it, only God knows how much I desire it, but merely wanting is not enough. Discipline, as it is an exercise of the will, is not attained by desiring, but by being actively willed. I have heard it said that to love is to will the good of another. This at first seemed a very wishy-washy way of describing love, one which had no real force or implications behind it. But after thinking it over, I realized that willing the good of another has HUGE implications! Once again, I say that to will something is far more than just desiring. Will is a faculty of the soul which is greatly ignored these days, and in many cases it is passed off as "stubbornness". But it is in us, as sure as the intellect and as sure as emotions. Perhaps this is why discipline is so lacking in our culture, because we hardly even acknowledge the existence of this thing called "the will", let alone focus on strengthening it. I think, for myself anyway, the road to attaining discipline consists mostly in an active awareness of situations in which I could strengthen it. Like getting up early, just for the heck of it. Or denying myself desert. Sacrifice again, wow. Just can't get away from it, the road to paradise really is through sacrifice.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Formal Dress

It's Finished!
Well, as finished as it's going to get. I began by Formal dress yesterday, worked on it all night, brought the skirt to school and worked on it during my breaks and spare time, and then finished it up at home. I must say, I am very proud of myself this year. My efforts are so much better than they were last year. I like the dress best without straps, but for modesty's sake, they were a must. I am not about to get thrown off a riverboat for my own aesthetic preferences. I intend to get some pictures of it up on the blog one of these days, but my camera is lousy. I'll need to borrow someone's. But anyway, Mrs. Conway asked me if I could bring the dress in tomorrow and put it in the Ancient Technologies table during the fine Arts Festival. I'm not so sure I want everyone to see my rather messy seamstress-ship, but hey, anything to please a teacher, right? I'm just a little worried that a few people who actually know about sewing won't refrain from bashing my efforts. I am officially excited for Spring Formal this year! I even have really cute shoes that Mrs. Singleton lent me just for the occasion, and I can relax before the event. Not like last year. *shudder* That was awful. I will never set finishing a dress off until the last hour again! Which reminds me, I need to grab some flowers for a corsage, roses would be best!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Wonders of Tea

Polly put the kettle on,
We’ll all have tea.
-Charles Dickens



The tea trade is booming. Both the variety and number of quality teas in North America are expanding — even remote convenience stores usually have a modest selection of bottled teas on offer. According to the Tea Association of the USA, tea sales of all kinds have nearly quadrupled since 1990.
Tea is the most popular beverage in the world and has always been a favorite in Asia, where it originated some 5000 years ago. Its popularity in Europe dates to the early 17th century. Britain in particular has long had a love affair with tea. In the U.S., tea is now encroaching upon territory once dominated by coffee and soft drinks.

Tea and Health
This burgeoning interest in tea is due to a new realization of its health benefits. Recent studies have confirmed what tea drinkers in Asia have known for centuries: that tea is good for you. Many consider true tea to be the ultimate health beverage. Now that medical science is validating tea's health claims, Americans are embracing it wholeheartedly.
More than just a beverage, true tea of all kinds — from white to black — is an elixir brim full of antioxidants that are beneficial to the body. Antioxidants reduce oxidation reactions in the body that are associated with aging and other disease processes. Specifically, tea has been shown to help promote healthy cholesterol levels, increase metabolism and improve mental performance. Green tea may also inhibit plaque buildup on teeth and may help the body deal with stress.
Benefits can be realized by consuming three cups a day, which is the historical average for most Asian tea drinkers and the base line for many recent studies. Because the antioxidants in tea are water-soluble and therefore short-lived, tea should be drunk at intervals throughout the day. The best time to drink tea is on an empty stomach between meals. Antioxidants are best absorbed in the absence of food and tea can interfere with the absorption of some nutrients, particularly iron.
If you enjoy milk with your tea, you may want to consider recent research published in the European Heart Journal reporting that adding milk to tea negates its health benefits. Caseins, a group of proteins found in milk, react with the flavonoids in tea to cancel out their beneficial effects.

Types of Tea
All true teas come from the leaves of the tea bush or tea tree (Camellia sinensis), which is native to Asia. Just as there are many varietals of wine from grapes, so too are there many varietals of tea from this remarkable plant. Most quality teas produced today come from five countries in that part of the world: India, China, Japan, Sri Lanka and Taiwan. Each country has its own unique growing conditions (terroir) and culturally influenced production methods that combine to give you the distinctive taste of the tea in your cup. Though deeply integrated, one with the other, each contributes special characteristics to every style of tea.

Tea Terroir
Terroir is a term usually associated with wine but is also appropriate for tea. It is the sum of sun, soil, precipitation, temperature and elevation in a specific area that conspires to produce particular qualities in tea leaves (or grapes) peculiar to that area or region. Here are the categories of tea from the five major tea-producing nations:
India — known for its black teas, especially Darjeeling and Assam, India is the largest producer with close to two billion pounds of annual production, much of which is consumed domestically. Most of India's tea is produced on several thousand large estates in the south and northeast part of the country.
China — home of all tea types, China is the 2nd largest producer. It produces the largest variety of leaf styles and more specialty types than any other country. China sets the standard for pan-fired green teas with varietals like Dragon Well and also exports exceptional white teas, black teas such as Keemun, and pu'erh teas. Most of China's tea is produced on small family lots in south and east China.
Sri Lanka — the classic black teas of this island nation are well-known as Ceylon teas.
Taiwan — produces the world's finest oolong teas such as Tung Ting and Ali Shan.
Japan — exports fine green teas such as Matcha and Sencha.

The Colors of Tea
In each of these countries, various production methods have evolved over time, giving us four basic categories of tea that, when combined with terroir, give us a tremendously rich selection of quality tea:
White_Enjoyed for nearly two centuries by the Chinese, white tea has just recently come to the attention of Westerners. Its delicate, translucent color — from pale straw to light amber hues — comes from a high percentage of immature leaves or buds. Its flavor is subtle and smooth, a delicate infusion of citrus and floral notes that is never astringent.
Actually a minimally processed form of green tea, white tea is the least processed of all teas. The leaves and buds are merely dried (withered), sorted and packaged. Though researchers are still not certain, this minimal handling may be the reason for the relatively high antioxidant and low caffeine content of white tea. Harvested only in the spring, white tea is generally more expensive than other types.
Green_Green tea is leading the tea revolution in North America, sparked by reports of its health benefits. It's available in a bewildering array of infusions and styles that can be traced to two general regions: China and Japan. Chinese-style green tea is described as light, with a soft natural sweetness and hint of smokiness, whereas tea produced in Japan is fresh, with grassy notes and a hint of the ocean. These subtle differences are due to the variant production methods used in each country.
Green tea undergoes only slightly more processing than white tea and has a little more caffeine. Its high antioxidant levels are the basis for the health claims that have made it so popular.
Oolong_Oolong tea occupies that middle territory between green tea and black tea. Its unique flavor is due to a modest level of oxidation — a process that exposes the bruised leaf to oxygen in the air — that, like green tea, varies by region of origin. The two main regions in this case are China and Taiwan. Taiwan's oolong tea, regarded by many as the best, is characterized by light, floral and fragrant liquors, and highly complex fruit, spice and floral aromas. Its color often has a green cast. In contrast, Chinese oolong is darker, due to longer oxidation, and exhibits roasted "toasty" flavors.
Oolong tea (known as red tea in Asia) is valued in China for its purported digestive properties. Its antioxidant levels are high and the caffeine content is somewhat higher than green tea.
Black_The most widely consumed tea in the world, black tea is so called because the relatively lengthy oxidation period (several hours) darkens the leaves. This color is transferred to the cup in pale sienna and red-orange tones. Black tea flavors can be differentiated by region more so than other teas:
India
Darjeeling — The Champagne of teas with light, complex muscatel flavors and flowery aromas Assam — Strong and malty, the ultimate breakfast tea with or without milk and sugar.
Sri Lanka (Ceylon)_Straightforward flavor, good straight — up or with additions.
China_Wine-like, with a sweet finish and subtle smokiness, the Burgundy of teas.
Black tea also has the high antioxidant levels desired by so many health conscious tea drinkers as well as higher levels of caffeine, but still only about half as much as a similar serving of coffee.
Other Teas
Tea terminology beyond the main categories discussed above can be confusing, with many overlapping definitions. Here are some additional terms to assist you in deciphering tea classifications.

Specialty Teas — narrowly defined, a term used to describe unadulterated teas of exceptional quality and flavor, including such attributes as hand harvesting. Now used more broadly in the public domain to include virtually any tea that exhibits attributes above the ordinary.
Estate Teas — named after specific tea gardens in India, Sri Lanka and other prime producing regions, thereby representing and branding the best these gardens have to offer.
Blended Teas — describes various combinations of tea leaves from more than one region or crop to obtain a desired flavor, aroma or character. This term is sometimes abused — used in reference to flavored or scented teas from a single region or crop.
Flavored Teas And Scented Teas — true teas to which flavors — from almond to wild cherry — and/or aromatic oils have been added for flavor and aroma. Examples include Lemon-flavored green tea; Earl Grey, a blended black tea with oil of bergamot; and Jasmine tea (scented with the fragrance of jasmine flowers). The best teas of this sort use natural flavors or essential oils derived from natural or organic sources. Avoid teas with artificial flavors or those that do not declare whether or not their flavorings are natural or artificial.
Chai Tea — a derivative of cha, the Chinese word for tea, chai means "tea with spices;" usually of the more assertive sort, such as ginger or cinnamon.
Russian Tea — can refer to tea produced in Russia or drunk in the Russian style — in a glass with lemon.
Souchong and Lapsang Souchong — a Chinese-style black tea made from the third, fourth and fifth leaves from the tip of the branch. These leaves are older and larger than the young leaves at the tip and have less flavor. Leaves used for lapsang souchong are dried over a fire, giving it a distinctive smoky taste and aroma.
Pu'erh — a black tea made in the Chinese-style that is then moistened and selectively aged (fermented), sometimes for decades, giving it a rich, complex character with earthy, clove-like flavors. A good tea for coffee drinkers.
Gyokura and Kabesucha — Japanese green tea for which the leaves have been shaded from the sun in bamboo boxes prior to harvest, raising their carotenoid content and giving the finished tea a unique flavor with subtly sweet, vegetal notes.
Hoji-cha — standard Japanese green tea that is roasted at high temperatures (360°F), elevating the volatile oil content and intensifying the flavor.

Iced Tea and Sweet Tea
Initially, iced tea was simply tea that was chilled after brewing and served over ice, usually in a glass with a slice of lemon. The term "iced tea" now includes bottled tea that is drunk chilled without ice. Sweet tea is merely iced tea sweetened with sugar. More than sixty percent of the tea consumed in the United States is in the form of iced tea, a significant portion of which is sold in restaurants or bottled. Most iced teas are brewed from black tea though any type of tea may be used.
Iced tea is traditionally brewed with about 50% more dried tea per cup to compensate for flavor loss due to melting ice. Adding ice to hot-brewed tea can make it cloudy. One way to prevent this from happening is to brew the tea at room temperature for several hours instead of the normal hot water method. This reduces the amount of caffeine compounds responsible for clouding on contact with ice.

Tea Substitutes
Herbal teas, called Tisanes in Europe, are not true teas and therefore do not supply the same health benefits as real tea. They do provide an abundance of flavor alternatives and other healthy attributes depending on the herb used. Chamomile tea, for example, is used as a relaxant, while peppermint is considered a digestive aid. Many herbal teas are blends of various botanicals and spices. Except for Yerba Mate, they are caffeine free and usually need to be infused longer than regular tea to release their full flavor. It's always a good idea to ask a qualified medical professional before taking any unfamiliar herbs.
Other tea substitutes include Red tea, sometimes called Red Bush, a mild, nutty-flavored infusion from a South African flowering shrub called rooibos, and Yerba Mate, a South American botanical that contains traces of caffeine and has a full-bodied, woody flavor. Often other ingredients, such as cinnamon or vanilla, are added to these non-tea brews for aroma and flavor.

Which tea is right for me?
Selecting tea is a highly subjective exercise, much like deciding which wine to drink, and vulnerable to such ephemeral things like mood and time of day.
However, some general guidelines can be attempted. If you want to gain maximum health benefits (i.e., antioxidants) from drinking tea, try white or green tea. If you want maximum caffeine content along with antioxidants, go for black. Beyond that it boils down to personal taste.
For example, if you like milk in your tea, choose a robust black tea from Sri Lanka or Assam, India, or perhaps a good English blend like English Breakfast. All of them tolerate milk and sweeteners very well.
If you want to curl up with a cup in a window seat on a rainy day and ponder life's big questions, then a delicately fragrant white or green tea is a good choice; but if you're bolstering your nerve for that showdown with the boss after lunch, then a more intrepid tea like Earl Grey or perhaps a seductive oolong is just the ticket.
So you see, tea is what you want it to be. At its best, tea encourages reflection and personal serenity but it can also be energizing and uplifting. The novelist Alice Walker wrote: "Tea to the English is really a picnic indoors." But to a Zen Buddhist priest in Japan, tea exists on a whole other plane.


A Brief History of Tea
For more than 3000 years, the people who live in what is now modern China were the sole beneficiaries of the pleasures of tea. It wasn't until the 8th century CE that this beverage was introduced to Japan, where it eventually rose to iconic status in the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
In the 17th century, Chinese tea crossed into the larger world by two routes: Ships of the Dutch East India Company transported it to Holland and beyond, and Russia began importing it via camel caravan. One hundred years later, the British afternoon tea was commonplace and their empire served to establish tea around the globe, including China's near neighbor India, a country whose people had never experienced tea's epicurean delights but — as was discovered in the early 19th century — had its own indigenous tea plants in the northeastern province of Assam.
Tea has since become the most widely consumed beverage on earth next to water. It has achieved a secure place in the history of its homeland, China, and in the cultures of at least two other countries: Japan and Great Britain. Its popularity has grown exponentially in recent years, evidently fending off spirited onslaughts from its sister beverage coffee, and ensuring its dominance in the world of refreshment.

Cooking with Tea
A great, even legendary beverage, tea is also a remarkably versatile asset for cooks. Infusions of this mildly bitter leaf add a subtle herbaceous depth and richness to all kinds of dishes — from soups to sweets.
Different teas will provide different flavors; lapsang souchong, for example, will lend a mild smoky flavor to stocks or stews. Some very dark black teas have a chocolate finish that complements sweet sauces for pork or poultry. Expand your culinary horizon by experimenting with a variety of teas, both in the teapot and cooking pot. Already have a favorite? Try adding either the leaves or an infusion to one of your favorite recipes and see what a difference it makes. Here are a few suggestions for enhancing meals with the unique flavor of tea:
v Add a sprinkle of green tea leaves to chicken-based stir fry.
v Substitute brewed tea for water when cooking rice.
v Add broken tea leaves to flour when dredging fish or poultry for extra crunch and flavor.
v To add interest to cakes or pastries, infuse the butter by adding tea leaves when melting it, let stand for a few minutes, then remove the leaves and rechill the butter.
v A few tablespoons of brewed green tea can perk up homemade salad dressing.
v Steep white tea bags in simmering chicken stock for up to 10 minutes to add a new spectrum of flavor.
v Substitute tea leaves for wood chips when using a smoker.

Brewing Tips for Cooking with Tea
Brewing tea for cooking requires a slightly different approach than brewing tea for drinking. See recipes for specific instructions. If you like to improvise, follow these brewing guidelines.
v If you want to minimize potential astringency or bitterness, brew the tea at room temperature for a half hour or more; if you need to brew it faster, use cooler water (185°F) and brew slightly longer than normal (3 to 5 minutes).
v Use the tea immediately-allowing it to stand will increase its bitterness. Do not use leftover tea.
v Start small. Tea leaves scorch easily and some teas are quite strong. Use small amounts so you don't overwhelm other flavors. Don't use strong teas in delicate dishes and vice versa.

Other Uses
After the tea has been drunk and the recipe made, don't throw away those tea leaves. They can be used in compost or for mulch around both indoor and outdoor plants. Leftover brewed tea? Use it to water indoor plants — they'll love it.



The Japanese Tea Ceremony
Tea is a central icon in Japanese culture and society, arriving at this lofty station after a centuries-long evolution from a common beverage to an enlightening one through association with the meditative tradition of Zen Buddhism. It first arrived in Japan in the 8th century CE to mixed reviews and it wasn't until the 12th century that tea — as an aid to meditation — began its slow ascendancy to a place of reverence.
The Japanese Tea Ceremony began as one of several Zen "ways" or rituals for which enlightenment is the ultimate goal. Still an important tradition in Zen temples, the tea ceremony is also a well-established social phenomenon that does not require the ministration of priests, merely a host with the requisite sincerity and intent.
The ceremony itself, called chanoyu, uses a powdered form of green tea called matcha. Its high caffeine content necessitates it being preceded by a three course meal (cha kaiseki) that is highly attuned to the seasons and has become influential in Western nouvelle cuisine. Every activity associated with the tea ceremony — from preparation to consumption of tea to the departure of guests — is highly ritualized with an eye to the aesthetic, intellectual, physical and psychological pleasure of the guests and planned down to the smallest detail.
Storing, Brewing and Serving Tea
Air, light, moisture and heat are all detrimental to tea. Good quality loose-leaf tea will keep for several months — or longer — if kept in an airtight container in a place that is cool, dry and dark. Avoid glass or plastic containers if possible and do not refrigerate or freeze tea. Tea that is too old will have lost its briskness and aroma and the color will be dulled.
Loose or Bagged?_If you are using teas of high quality, there should be no discernable difference in flavor between loose and bagged tea. Bagged tea is more convenient for individual servings while loose tea is generally cheaper and more efficient for serving tea to a group of people. Loose tea is preferred by some simply because of the ritual involved.
How to Brew Tea_In the U.S., brewing tea is a relatively straightforward process involving a single infusion of tea leaves in hot water. Tea brewing in Asia can be much more complex, with several infusions, each lasting a prescribed amount of time from 15 seconds to 5 minutes with variations depending on leaf size and water temperature.
Since tea is more than 95% water, the quality of the brewing water is critical. Use fresh spring water or light mineral water if available. Water with high iron content or chlorinated tap water should be avoided.
Rinse out the tea pot with boiling water just before adding the tea. Use one teaspoon of tea per serving plus one more for the pot. Pour the water over the tea and steep according to these guidelines by type:
White and Green Tea Use water that has cooled for a couple of minutes — to about 185°F — and steep for 2 to 4 minutes.
Oolong Tea Use water that has cooled for about a minute to 195°F and steep 3 to 5 minutes for greener, Taiwan-style tea and 3 to 4 minutes for darker, Chinese-style tea.
Black Tea Use water just off the boil (208°F) and steep 3 to 5 minutes or to taste.
Herbal Tea Use water on the full boil and steep 3 to 5 minutes or to taste.
In a typical infusion, caffeine is extracted from the leaves first, usually within the first 30 seconds, while the more complex polyphenols (antioxidants) take a bit longer. Tea bags infuse more quickly than loose-leaf teas due to greater surface area.

How to Serve Tea
Once brewed, remove the leaves from the water immediately — continued steeping results in harsh flavor — and drink as soon as cooling allows. Fresh tea tastes much better than tea that's stood for even a short time.
If using milk, add the tea to the milk instead of the milk to the tea. This heats the milk more gradually and helps prevent curdling. Though many tea lovers avoid it, lemon juice can be added to black tea to lighten the color. Honey is the preferred sweetener for many tea drinkers, though there are probably others who would still agree with Henry Fielding, the famed 18th century English novelist, that "Love and scandal are considered the best sweeteners of tea."

And a random picture of me with a Rose. Did I ever mention that I LOOOOOOVE roses?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

New Goals

Well, today was not my happy day.
I participated in the Minnesota Sate High-School League Music Competition today, like I have done the past three years. Every year prior I have gotten 38/40, a Superior Rating. This year, for some unknown reason, the judge gave me a 34/40. Only an excellent. I was, and still am, crushed. It's not like I didn't sing well. I sang probably the best I've ever sang before, and got shot down. I was pretty devastated. So this means I won't get a chance to perform my solo at the Honor's concert this year. I'll still get to sing my duet with Sam, and I'm glad of that, because we are going to scandalize all of Trinity with "La Ci Darem la Mano". But it's not the same. Anne was so wonderful to me. She gave me a hug while I cried on the way back on the bus, and she shared my fate; getting only a 34/40, when she deserved soooooo much more. (she had the same judge) I can only admire her fortitude and giving spirit.
Another disappointment was on the way, however. I got a chance to look at the artwork for the Spring Art Show, and my art didn't even come close to deserving a blue ribbon. I am doubly crushed now. My hopes for this year as a senior were to attain a best-of-site at State and a Best-of-show for art. I mean, is that so outlandish, when three years running I get the second highest possible awards? I don't think so. But now all hope for those accomplishments is gone. I haven't cried that much in a LONG time.
But...
I was crying in the car on the way home, and my dad pulled the car over. He told me, in his firmest voice to pull myself together. God has a plan for me, and he is probably trying to say something to me. I know what it is. These goals I have set for myself are all well and good, but they are truly meaningless. In the grand scheme of things, my awards don't define who I am, they don't serve anything but to fluff my pride and encourage an image of myself which is totally based on the flattery of others. I need to learn to let go of this. I think God is trying to say to tell me that I need to do my best without the hope of recognition. Coming in fourth or fifth is no reason to do less than my best. I was watching The Guardian tonight, and in it there is a young man completely obsessed with being the best. He wants to break every record in the book, until a woman tells him of a man who sacrifices incredible suffering to save someone, and he isn't given any trophy for that. Real life isn't about recognition. That is what destroys marriages so often, people needing to be the center of attention. I need to be like Morcleb, who does all the hard and dirty work, does all the work, and his existence is acknowledged by maybe twelve people at the most at any given time. My goals are misplaced. Instead of recognition, I should be seeking to give my all to God. To achieve things like self-discipline or kindness. These should be my goals. Let this be my new goal; to sacrifice a little of myself every day, in any way I can, until my life be only the pipe through which God's graces flow.

Friday, May 1, 2009

May Day

Small, kind words, from pure, innocent souls are never lost. They are the seeds of rare flowers, whose blossom we shall know beyond the grave.

Percy Wynn
I was biking along the river road the other day when something suddenly caught my eye. It was a small bush on whose branches were arrayed the most delicate five petaled blossoms, all in clusters of pale pink and white. I stopped in my stride, even though the rain was coming down heavily, and examined the shrub, witnessing to its beauty. I was reminded of a passage in Hind's feet on High Places, where Much-Afraid sees a small beautiful flower in the crevices of a rocky cliff. All alone, this blossom exists where no people tread, and has no one to exude beauty towards. So Much-Afraid bends down and asks; "Little red flower, why do you extend your petals and send forth fragrance on the little trodden path, where none will behold it?" I don't remember the flower's answer, but I have one of my own. That nothing done out of Beauty, or Truth, or in Goodness, will ever be forgotten, or lost, or passed over. It's the same concept with redemptive suffering. Our actions and words have meaning beyond the passing earthly image, because humans are transcendental beings. We have both the spiritual and the physical intertwined within us, and constituting our nature.

Reflections before the day

It is now 1:29 in the morning, and I have stayed up very late to finish some reflections on the Brother's K. I usually use this time to pray and think about how my day went and how I can make the next day better. Well, first I must praise the Lord for an absolutely amazing day yesterday (1 hour ago).
I wish I could have biked to school yesterday morning, but I thought that the weather would be detrimental to my voice, and State is *gasp* TOMORROW! So I opted to take the carpool. The morning opened with one of my classmates inviting me to a class Tea Party at the end of the year. That set off my day pretty well! I proceeded to have a pleasant day, during which I read probably the most amazing chapter of Brother's K, and I had to just soak it all in. What beauty! My Humane class discussed it together, and though we didn't see quite eye to eye on many a things (I see suffering as good thing depending on circumstances) our discussion was lively and well thought. Calculus was intriguing, as usual, and then we had the etiquette lunch, during which we learned a whole lot of fancy and useless rules. I agree that chivalry and manners need a revival, but quite sincerely, I could care less about tasting my food before I salt it. Well, then we had Physics, in which we watched a hilarious video on the Space-time diagrams (which are AWSOME), and did problems relating to Initial Reference Frames. Then Drama, which was DEAD-PAN boring. Stinklangweilig! But there was light, because I was offered an additional role on my off-night as a back round mime! this may not sound like much, but it can be really fun if energy is put into it. Well, after that, there was a Mass and Volunteer dinner at St. Marks for all us volunteers. During Mass, I don't know, but I must have been particularly acute today, because everything was tying in and I was hearing what God was speaking through the scriptures. And then, right as Communion was ending, the last ray of the setting sun pierced the Western Stained glass window of the Resurrection. The ray of light fell directly on the alter, and in that moment the passing earthly image and eternal truth here touched each other. Beauty incarnate. Well then, at the Volunteer dinner, the entertainer (who coincidentally knows many families from my school) played while I sang "the Piano Man" and he was so impressed he offered to help me get a singing career going! Praise the Lord! God, you are just too much! What is a girl to do with all this Love?

My perspective on Ivan's Dilemma

For those who know Dostoevsky, Ivan Karamazov confronts his little brother, Alyosha, on a dilemma he is facing concerning life.
Ivan begins his conversation with Alyosha with an acknowledgement of his own “greenness”, his own youthfulness which is his thirst for life. Ivan is convinced that even if he were to loose everything, and be confronted by the bestiality of man's worst crimes, even then he would not loose faith in life. In his own words, he has bent to the cup and will not stop until he has drained the cup. (It is interesting to note the imagery of the cup as reminiscent of the torment of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. ) Such passionate attachment is quite common in youthfulness, yet Ivan also calls this thirst for life a feature of the Karamazovs, and this is painfully true, both in it's sensualist deprivation so apparent in Fyodor, and less in Dimitry, and also in the extreme love and acceptance dwelling inside Alyosha, the “lover of mankind”. However, even as Ivan proclaims his love for life, he concludes that he will most likely toss the cup away from him around his thirtieth year. This thirst for life, he claims may become old to him, and he may drain any form of nobility from the thirst for life, leaving behind only sensuality and licentiousness. Perhaps this resignation to some sort of predestined fate to wallow in the same pit as his father now finds himself is built out of fear of this very possibility. If so, Ivan is setting himself up for failure. And yet, even still, he claims the “sickly green leaves” and blue sky are dear to him, and he loves them, not with his mind, but with his “gut”.

After a little sidetracking, Ivan returns to the thread of his dilemma, with the observation that Russian boys sit together and talk about the “big questions” of life and death, and God, and other such things. Ivan puts himself in with them and claims that he accepts God, pure and simple, (slightly shocking, considering his prior declarations of atheism) but he can not accept his world. Ivan has a “childlike conviction” that the sufferings of all mankind will be smoothed over one day, and that all the irreconcilable things of this world will be reconciled, but he refuses to accept it. He doesn't care what may happen, he even wishes to see this take place, but he will not accept what lies before him. Ivan even acknowledges his incompetence in understanding God's will, and isn't put off by that. He understands, through analogy, that to his Euclidian mind, two parallel lines never meet, and yet in Eliptical Geometry, they do. Ivan challenges the two parallel lines to meet, even before his eyes, yet still he will not believe it. This ties back to the beginning of the book, where Dostoevsky inserts a passage on the realist. “A true realist, if he is not a believer, will always find in himself the strength and ability not to believe in miracles as well, and if a miracle stands before him as an irrefutable fact, he will sooner doubt his own senses than admit the fact.”

Ivan believes, in his heart of hearts he does. He believes in the sickly green leaves and the thirst for life. He believes in the resurrection and the smoothing over of human sufferings and loss. He believes in all these things, and yet he will still throw down the cup. Ivan believes, and has a conviction about these issues which are entirely compelling and attractive, but he throws these notions back in God's face, crying “I accept you, but not your world.” Ivan is caught is a web of a rebellion deep and blasphemous, but why is he caught? We must wait for him to tell us.

Fyodor Dostoevsky. “The Brothers Karamazov” Trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, p 25

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