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As promised, the "tea stories" zine

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As promised, I’ve made a little zine, celebrating “tea stories” from all over the world. A heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who shared their stories on this blog post, as well as those of you who emailed me privately. And especially to Nanette via Instagram, who posted me a box of Dutch Tea and Lady Grey Tea all the way from The Netherlands, when I told her I didn’t know what Lady Grey Tea was.

I had seriously so much fun making this zine. I decided to embrace my inner-90s self, and made this thing completely old-school. I painted the pictures below then glued them in, drew others in by hand, cut old ads out of magazines, and hand-wrote most of the stories. So what you see here is something truly handmade, warts and spelling mistakes and stickytape-lines and all.

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What I learned as I hand-wrote all of your stories, was that our mutual love of tea, while it is undeniably delicious, isn’t really about the taste at all. Tea is about taking a moment: it’s about self-care, it’s about slowing down, it’s about comfort, it’s about mindfulness… and more than anything, tea is about the people we love. Whether shared with our loved-ones or sipped in their memories, tea connects us and comforts us.

(I suspect that if coffee is more your beverage of choice, or hot chocolate, the same could probably be said of these drinks, too. Maybe one day I’ll make a zine for you.)

So, here’s the zine I made you: simply click the arrows on the right to flip through the pages, and if you want to make it bigger, hover over the zine and you’ll see an option to view it in “fullscreen”. (If all the pages in the flip-book aren’t showing for you, you can download a readable PDF here). I really hope you enjoy reading Tea Stories as much as I loved making it.

Download and print this zine

If you want to download the PDF and print this zine for yourself or your friends, simply click the button below. The file has been laid out so that you can print it back-to-back. It will print this way onto 10 sheets of paper, which you can simply fold in half, together, to have the whole zine laid out in the correct order. (It’s designed to fit onto A4 paper so if you use US Letter or Foolscap, you may want to trim it slightly.)

Once you’ve made up the booklet, if you want to post it to friend (perhaps with some of your favourite teabags tucked inside), you can simply fold it in half again to fit a standard letter size (although it will be fat).

OK I’ve got to go, I think I hear the kettle singing.

Naomi xo


Trees and butterflies

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We are searching out forests wherever we go, following paths that lead to unknown places. On this side of the world they are green and gloaming, not dry and dust-filled like the bush of my childhood. I like to kick my shoes off whenever I can, feeling the hum of the earth beneath my toes.

“Humph. Mum’s grounding again,” Scout complains. It is strangely liberating to remember, as I stand, that there are no deadly snakes or spiders lurking in the fallen leaves or hiding under rock and bush. Instead, we find…

conkers

chestnuts

blackberries, small and sweet

butterflies

crumbling ruins

whispering winds

acorns

wild apples

red-berried holly

rose-hips

(and once, something unseen that growled from behind brambles)

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Inside these woods the fairytales I grew up reading seem much closer. It is easier to picture Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood growing lost in these dark corridors, than in the brighter trees of my own remembering.

Of course, there is a hot, clean beauty to the Australian bush, too. The crunch of leaves and march of busy ants beneath my feet. The expansive shade of eucalyptus trees, whose baby leaves can be stretched and made to whistle a tune; bright flashes of bottle-brush in bloom; prehistoric, towering cathedral-ferns; and the eerie, dead-bone rattle of black wattle in the breeze.

Trees are trees and they love best to be together: when you find them gathered, on any side of the world, there is life and beauty to be found. But I am ever-drawn to these northern forests. I long for darker, cooler, deeper woods, and I hope I never quite unravel all of their mysteries.

I have a little theory that I like to play around with in my head sometimes, in that half-awake time in bed before sleep. It is undeveloped and unsubstantiated, truly just a theory, but I find it oddly comforting.

(I wonder if I subconsciously came up with this theory as a way of excusing or apologising to myself and my parents for not feeling more in love with the landscape and climate of my homeland, Australia. I have never felt properly at home in it. This seems unfair to a land that has given me so much, and that is so intrinsically beautiful, and I can’t explain it in any logical sense, which might explain the theory.)

It goes a little something like this…

Every year in autumn, millions of monarch butterflies fly thousands of kilometres south from the US-Canadian border to Mexico, only to head north again come spring-time. The fascinating thing is that given the life-span of a butterfly, five generations live and die in the interim. When it’s time to embark on their journey home, not a single butterfly alive has done it before. There is no-one to lead the way, not even anyone left to tell them about it. And yet their sense of direction is so accurate that every year they return no only to the same area, but often even to the very same tree that once was home to their great-great-great-grandparents.

The butterflies navigate by using a sophisticated combination of the sun’s position in the sky, and their own biological clocks. This is the idea of cellular memory, something deeper and more physical than our neurological memories: memories or associations that are imprinted, instead, into our very DNA.

If you speak to many Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Australians, you will hear something along similar lines, although often using different language. The land belongs to them and they belong to the land, and no amount of dispossession and destruction at the hands of us immigrants can change that deep reality.

But I am not Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, and I fear this hot and harsh and beautiful land does not belong to me, nor I to it. I am like a monarch butterfly, turning my antennae toward the homeland of my grandparents. Surely, in all the hundreds and thousands of years that my ancestors lived and loved on the other side of the world, right up until two generations ago… surely there is something of that in my DNA that could explain why I feel such a powerful and incessant longing to go north?

Or at least, that’s my theory.

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Early morning with a teapot clock

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There is a ticking clock. I followed the sound of it this morning as I tip-toed barefoot into the kitchen in a dark that was almost complete, aside from the soft, orange glow of one streetlight in the leafy square down below, filtering through the window. Tick tock. I tilted my head to listen more closely, and groped about in the dark for the object that was ticking. Held up to the faint light of the window, it revealed itself to be small, ceramic clock shaped like a teapot, and it said 5:40am. Good enough for me. I put the ticking teapot down, flipped the real kettle on, and opened the window to let the cooler air in.

With my tea made, I sat down by that window and looked out over the square: there is an old church from which last night a choir of angels filled the air with song; a half-timbered medieval house across the way; and cobblestones around the silent square which, during the daylight hours, is bustling with people drinking and dining and laughing and smoking and talking: talk, talk, talking in snatches of French that I pick up here and there as they waft up to me in my third-floor eyrie, and it feels impossible that I am actually here. 

I think about this as I sip my tea. I want to take this opportunity, before the rest of the house is awake, to let the reality of this new life sink in.  

We have moved to France. Not forever, but for a fair bit longer than your average holiday. It is August right now, and we won't be home until New Year. We have an apartment in a village, and our goal while we are here is to simply and whole-heartedly immerse ourselves in life. We want to explore every inch of this village, on foot. We want to practise the language. We want to make friends. We want to eat the food and we want to learn to cook the food. 

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Our village is pretty. Almost impossibly pretty, like a storybook. I didn't know this when I chose it: I simply googled towns of a certain size in the area we wanted to visit, and shortlisted them according to amenities like nearby hospitals and train stations (the reality of travel with kids). I can't even begin to share the knots of anxiety I had been experiencing in the lead-up to this trip (and oh! the late nights finishing my deadlines!), and the journey here took two days and was genuinely gruelling. Nobody wants to see a four-year-old with bloodshot eyes from exhaustion, and still have to tell them "Sorry, Mummy can't carry you because of the suitcases."

But yesterday as Paris gave way to fields and forests as our train sped on and on through deepening wilderness, my heart began to lift. Our stop: the end of the line. We clambered off and dragged those heavy suitcases and heavy-lidded children over the rough cobblestones, up and down laneways and in and out of crooked little streets, until suddenly we rounded a corner and an antique carousel was just beginning to turn. A hill beneath it swept down over ancient rooftops peppered with terra cotta chimneys, behind a riot of summer blooms. Pedestrians had taken over the road, the one brave car that appeared every five minutes or so being forced to inch its way tentatively through swathes of people eating ice cream. 

Scout turned to me with eyes like dinner plates and said, "Our town is amazing!" and I let out a deep breath I hadn't even realised I was holding. 

Our caretaker met us at the door with smiles and keys and a cornucopia of French bread, eggs, milk and fruit that I had asked her to buy for us. (Ralph bit into an apple and then it was his turn for those bloodshot eyes to turn into dinner plates: "It's a PEACH!" he announced, with the joy that can only be had by a fruit-loving boy who only two days ago was in winter, and proceeded to eat two at the same time, one in each hand). 

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It will take some adjusting. At the moment, we still feel like tourists. The children, with Euros from friends burning holes in their pockets, bought woven bracelets and rings and money boxes and keyrings from market vendors in the streets, and there was no way I was getting them to bed without ice cream first, and a wander through the old streets and through the castle walls.

In two weeks, though, most of the tourists will go home, and we will start to learn what life in the village is like when it is just a village. 

The dawn is starting to lift now, and the first of the birds are singing. A friendly cat just launched itself onto the windowsill and frightened the living daylights out of me. When my heart palpitations subsided I said "Bonjour," and it purred a greeting, before slinking off on whatever mission it had originally had in mind. 

The clock tower bell is tolling (very considerate: it didn't toll throughout the night, or maybe the bell-ringer just needed a sleep-in today). A few introductory higher notes and then a heavier, centuries old message: dong, dong, dong... seven times. And now I hear seagulls, drowning out the sound of the ticking teapot. Seven o'clock. Time to get the kids up. 

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Winter's coming

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I have trimmed all the wild and rampant late-summer flowers of my garden back into neat, stumpy little mounds. Bending close, I can just see the buds of spring's growth waiting there, sleeping now until the southern hemisphere circles back closer to the sun. The pomegranate, crepe myrtle and Japanese maple trees are all putting on colour, and dropping leaves like golden confetti at our feet.

Twice a week when I go out early to exercise in the still-dark, the cold air hits like a slap when I open the front door, and my fingers and toes are numb from wind and wet grass* before we even get started. But when we all lie down on our yoga mats to prepare for crunches, I look up, up, beyond the black outlines of the trees, to a sky that is so full of stars they look like rain-drops, frozen in time, and it is perfect. And is that Venus I can see, glowing so big and bright? Why is the sky so much cleaner and more... precise... when it's cold? Dawn breaks somewhere in between plank-holds and left-hook punches, and mist makes clouds of our puffing breaths, before real mist rolls up and over the park, and swirls like a familiar cat around our ankles. 

We have pulled our winter hats and scarves and coats out of storage, and I have turned my thoughts once again to soups and casseroles and mulled wine and home-baked bread. I am even ready to befriend the slow-cooker

Knitted gloves and wooly socks, wading and dancing through rivers of fallen leaves, watching the Christmas pine-cones pop and crackle in the open fire, toasting marshmallows, baking good things with apples, and lighting candles at meal-times. Winter's coming, my friends! 

 

*Wet shoes and socks are the WORST

Help! I need your slow-cooker recipes!

sylwia-bartyzel-87907 Every year, as the days grow shorter and the temperatures drop, I promise myself that this is the year I will learn how to properly use my slow-cooker. I'll prepare everything after breakfast, I tell myself, and the house will smell good all day. By dinner-time, delicious food will be waiting for us all with NO EXTRA EFFORT from me. It's like the promise of paradise! 

But instead, on the days that I do pull out the trusty old crock pot, all that waiting and sniffing and anticipation ends in really tasteless, insipid mush. All the good flavours seem to stay in the juice, and none of them seep into the vegetables or meat. What am I doing wrong?

Admittedly, my crock pot recipes were probably written in the 1970s (brown! so much brown!), but I've not had much better luck with random Internet searches either. There's just so much out there that promises plenty and delivers so, so little. 

So, can you help me? What are your best slow-cooker recipes? Hit me with them my friends! 

Photograph is by Sylvia Bartyzel, licensed for unlimited use via Unsplash. I really want that mug!

 

ps. Just a quick reminder that the next issue of my print-and-paint snail-mail newsletter goes out TOMORROW. Subscribe here if you want to get your mitts on some free mail-art templates

A touch of green. Some inspiration for you

flower “A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in - what more could he ask? A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.” Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

* I'm not ordinarily a fan of embroidery as art on the walls, but I'd make an exception for these little vegetable bouquets

* What a lovely alternative to flowers in vases

* This spring salad looks beautiful and sounds delicious

* I've never seen an office organiser like this. So pretty!

* Such a pretty expanding origami pot for plants

* Always walk on the grass

* I would like to live here, please

* Really love these lazy season pots

* Sweet little mini vertical garden made from vintage jars and bottles

* Where to find free botanical artwork

* Potted plants in Taipei

* Wouldn't these edible terrariums be wonderful for a garden party!

So much inspiration for your indoor plants

Nature bingo looks like fun!

* Gorgeous waterfall of leaves

* Perfect for summer nights: caramelised pear salad with goats cheese toast

* The Forest Feast for Kids: Colorful Vegetarian Recipes That Are Simple to Make

* How to make natural dyes from plants and flowers in your garden

 

Image credit: photo by Jaime Spaniol, licensed for unlimited use under Creative Commons

 

 

 

Capturing the castle

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Carbisdale Castle north of Inverness in the Scottish Highlands is for sale for offers over 1.5 million (Australian) dollars. Three-bedroom houses sell for more than that where I live!

Shall we all pool our resources and buy it together? There will be plenty of room for all of us: the castle sits on 16 acres and has a ballroom, grand hall, minstrel's gallery, billiard room, dining room, drawing room, library, and 40 bedrooms.

It was used as a youth hostel for many decades and had some water damage during a particularly severe winter a couple of years back so it needs a bit of TLC, but we are not afraid of a little bit of hard work, are we?

Yarn blooms

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Fleur Lyon of The Folk Maker creates lasting posies out of yarn and found twigs, often with tiny gum-nuts still attached, and they are absolutely beautiful.

I discovered her Instagram feed only yesterday, and now I can't look away. Definitely wish-listing a posy of yarn blooms in neutral tones to sit above my hearth this winter!

All images from Fleur Lyon's Instagram feed, @thefolkmaker

 

Anticipation

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When you are nearly four, anticipation is palpable. Tangible.

It dominates your mealtimes. What will my cake look like? Will all my friends sing Happy Birthday? Can we have hot chocolate?

And your friendships. I am nearly four. Am I older than my other friends? Will my hair be longer than all my friends' hair now? Will my feet be bigger than all my friends'?

Cleaning the house before your party, you don't even mind hiding your toys to make room for the party games. You can put them away now, Mummy, I don't mind. You help your mother decorate the house with the posters and banners and streamers and balloons you chose from Big W; mix up polymer snow-powder; smooth out tiny, handmade, paper snowflakes in your little almost-four hands.

Anticipation permeates your dreams. Quick! I have to get ready for my party! you yell, still fathoms-deep in sleep. (I will come to your party, your brother drowsily replies, before sinking back into his own dreams.)

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I didn't want to host yet another party in my house, but Scout begged me to do it. She didn't want to celebrate her birthday anywhere else. It was a lot of work, as parties always are. But in the weeks and days beforehand, as the day grew near and nearer still, I came to understand the joy of anticipation through her eyes. Even the most mundane of tasks: tidying, vacuuming, grocery shopping; became acts of thrilling expectation, and gave her joy before the real joy of the party.

I guess we never stop learning from our children.