Friday, December 25, 2009


I hope that everyone had a safe holiday today.  I slept in this morning and Grace's mother dropped her off a little after 1:00 PM.  We spent a majority of the day at my parent's place, and came back this evening so Grace could open her presents.  After getting her put down, I decided to reorganize my tea.  Kind of my treat to myself for Christmas.  Now that I am officially drunk off Lao Mansa, it's time for bed.  Some of have to work on Saturday.  :-\

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Best of '09 Part 2/4 (#15 - #11)

Every year, I like to put together a list of my favourite albums from the year. So often, music literally carries me through my day and there's seldom a tea session without it. So, here's part two of my 'Best Albums of 09.' Enjoy!

#15 - I Heart Hiroshima - The Rip

Agitated vocals with twinging guitars, the familiar call and response between male and female vocals, witty lyrics, and very on point drumming. Perhaps this is a guilty pleasure album for me, but that familiar UK post punk grunge sound comes through here. This album has a higher level of production than I would usually expect from this kind of music, but it's driving and catchy, so it works.

#14 Spider + Octopus - La Arana Esta Susurrando

Another throwback album, Spider + Octopus is a folk act from Pensacola. They sound like a pretty small act and I wasn't really able to find out much else about them, other than the fact that their album is available online for $5 USD. Very subtle use of electronics fill out the sound a bit, but this is a very refined, acoustic album. Uneven production makes me think this wasn't all recorded or mastered at the same location. Soulful lyrics, almost raspy at times. The harmonies are well-executed, and there isn't anything that feels rushed about this album. I wasn't expecting it at all when it landed in my hands. Very good storytelling makes this a collection of lovely porch songs.

#13 - Fun. - Aim and Ignite

This album captivated me in a most unusual way. It's very produced, and extremely commercially accessible, yet somehow, it drew me in. I think it has a lot to do with Nate Ruess' vocals. So many of the songs were littered with awkward pauses, cadence changes, time signature changes, and tempo changes, but all done in a fashion to follow the vocals, giving much of this album a sense of diction, similar to the way a musical would jump in and out of song. The theatrical aspect of so much of the music reminds me of a variation of some of what Silverchair was going for with their two most recent albums, but in a more lighthearted fashion.

#12 Cowboy Indian Bear - Cowboy Indian Bear EP

Again, another EP that found it's way into regular rotation this past year. An intriguing group, consisting of drums that feel somewhat off when they're right where they ought to be, harmonies that remind me of chant, and an electric orgran that makes the hair on my neck stand on end, this is a band that I see having some absolute promise. The first track, Saline, opens slow and mellow, with the drums beating in the background like a pulsing heart, until about halfway through the song when everything comes together, distortion pedals click into the on postition, drums pick up and suddenly the band says "just kidding, here's what we're really all about." Very intricate drumming at points, but never to the point where it takes away from the music, but instead directs it in and out of the beat as tempo and back-beat bop back and forth flawlessly. Can't wait until they finish their album, but until then, this has to suffice.

#11 Owen - New Leaves

This is a band that continues to deliver fantastic music at every turn. Mike Kinsella got married, had a kid, and somehow put together arguably one of, if not, the best albums of his career. From a technical stance, this is more put together than prior albums and the production is top notch. Lyrically, you might think becoming a family man would help him sort things out, but that's not always the case. It's full of confusion and questions. It's intelligently dark, and somehow reminds us that nobody has it all. Thanks Mike, now go spend some time with your kid.

Best of '09 Part 1/4 (#20 - #16)

So, as promised, the first installment of my favourite albums for 2009. A few of these at the bottom of the pile were so close to one another it made choosing a mite difficult. Anyhow, without further a due, here's my Best of 2009 list. I welcome your thoughts and definitely want to hear what you've been listening to these past twelve months.

#20 - And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead - Century of Self

An almost epic feeling album. This was one I picked up early on in the year, and right from the opening track, it builds with what a dear friend of mine used to call the "Big Burst of Sound Theory," in which a track will slowly and gradually build steam and layering until it drops you clean off the edge of the cliff. Giants Causeway ends with a subtle piano and immediately you're smacked in the face with feedback, driving guitars, and vocals that fit right in with Sparta and Cursive. Spread that out with beautiful intermissions of harmonized chorus and space-rock synth and beautiful things happen. There's a couple of interesting lull tracks towards the end of the album, and Insatiable One & Two are masterpieces for sure.

#19 Bobb Bruno - Dreamt On EP

In previous years, I've never included EPs in my 'Best of' lists, but this year, there were so many EPs that stood up just as well as full-fledged albums that I decided to include a few of them. This one was a gem I happened upon and fell in love with on one of my runs through Hines Park (which is a several mile trail that spans a few cities, chocked with several scenic spots and parks). Entirely instrumental, it's got a very spacey vibe to it, and is driven by everything from an electric piano to steel guitar. I've really come to appreciate instrumental music, especially as a complimentary piece to reading, writing, and jogging. I find this album does the same thing to me as The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place by Explosions in the Sky; it allows me to clear my head and focus on everything that sits before me, just with a bit more lo-fi. With grainy pop-drumming, bells, and synths that sound like they were stolen from a 70's porno, this is definitely not an album for everyone, but it won me over after a single listen.

#18 Dinosaur Jr - Farm

What can I say about Dinosaur Jr that hasn't already been said? They're fantastic. I was a bit skeptical about this album because my initial thought was "They haven't released anything new in years...they've GOT to be hard up for cash." As I so often am, I was terribly wrong here. It's a very solid album that shows us very clearly these guys still have it. The only reason it didn't get ranked higher is because I was so hesitant to really digest it and it hasn't spent a lot of time in rotation on my player. Much like Frightened Rabbit's last LP, I'm sure I'll have a greater appreciation for it once 09 is over and I've got more time to let it consume me.

#17 The Seal Cub Clubbing Cub - Super Science Fiction

I have a confession to make when it comes to this band. Over the years of my life, I have had a weakness for jumping at artists creative enough to come up with the most ridiculous name. The Seal Cub Clubbing Club does just that. Much to my surprise, I was presented with a catchy indie pop album layered with slow strings, funky guitars, and some catchy lyrics. The thing I find most remarkable about this band is the fact that they deviate a bit from the traditional expectations of pop and venture into some progressive elements. A few points in the album drop some odd-meter on us, and before you know it, you're right back into the beat before you ever knew you were off the rails. For a band still finding their way, I was most impressed. Hoping to see more goodness from them in the future.

#16 Andrew Bird - Noble Beast

Andrew Bird, world class whistler and master of anything stringed. His hauntingly beautiful voice and prowess with such a diverse array of instruments paired with a collection of songs that induces comas (I mean that in the best way possible). This is a perfect chill-out album. Musically laid back, draped with beautiful harmonies and Mr. Bird's ingenious lyrics. I still don't think it stacks up to Armchair Apocrypha, but it's a wonderfully put together and enjoyable album.

Winter is Here, Take Your Time Coming Home

Well, Winter is officially here. Michigan made history December 1st by having the first November in recorded history without snowfall. Now, almost twenty days into December, we get our first snowfall of the year. Albeit not much snow, it's plenty enough for Gracie to have a good time.

Last year, I lived in an old house that was built in the 1890's with wooden floors that were cracked from humidity, and windows that were poorly sealed. The furnace was always running and because it was constantly running, it sucked all the moisture out of the air. It constantly felt as though I needed to turn the heat up. I did some reading and discovered that with low humidity, it will always feel cold, no matter what you turn the heat upto. My solution was to put humidity beads into my tea cabinet, and to buy a humidifier for the house. Both solutions worked to a degree, but not nearly as well as I would have liked.

This year, I am living in a new home. One that doesn't have a typical furnace, but instead has radiated heat and ceiling fans in all of the rooms. I've already noticed my allergies have been better, the air feels warmer and I haven't even had to really use my heat yet, and my tea cupboard still carries a lovely smell (which I was expecting to disappear just as it did last year).

Late night tea sessions are finally giving me a chance to catch up on some of the albums I've been meaning to get around to all year long. With that comes my annual "Best of" album list. Last year, I believe I only picked ten albums, and the year prior was fifteen. This year, I decided to go with twenty albums released after January 1st of 2009 and will be posting those albums in four separate posts. I'd also be curious to hear what some of you have been listening to. Generally, my tastes shift towards indie rock/pop, but that will never sway me from listening to or checking out anything that is recommended to me. Having played in bands with genres ranging in everything from jazz, progressive rock, fusion, funk, hard rock, folk, and and even dabbling with electronic music, one would be hard pressed to find something I can't appreciate.

It's 2:10AM already. I love these nights. I'm finally back to a point in my life where I don't worry. Last night, someone got a hold of my debit card number and charged almost $400 to an Egyptian airline service, and instead of freaking out, I called the bank, got everything straight, and went to the bakery and ended up getting a free gingerbread cookie for Grace and bought a giant dinosaur cookie for me. The girl there was absolutely adorable and had the prettiest smile. It's rare to find someone who smiles with their eyes as well as their mouth. Sometimes, it's the smallest of pleasures that remind us that whatever happens, it will pass. Even with all of the headache, how can your day not get better with this staring you in the face?

Dinosaur cookie FTW!
(sorry, Grace mowed her gingerbread man before I could snap a picture of it.)

This is the time of year when I constantly remind myself to talk, walk, think, and act a little slower. Everything with a little more care. Everything with a little more deliberation. Take time with everything, even coming home. It's been a tough run getting back to this mindset.

Irony = all of the colour coming back to my world as the colour is literally leaving the world and being replaced with skeletons of trees and white blankets of snow.

I think I'm ready to start sharing my tasting notes again.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


I don't have the energy to write tonight; just the energy to sleep. So I leave you with this.

The first bowl sleekly moistened throat and lips,
The second banished all my loneliness
The third expelled the dullness from my mind,
Sharpening inspiration gained
from all the books I've read.
The fourth brought forth light perspiration,
Dispersing a lifetime's troubles through my pores.
The fifth bowl cleansed every atom of my being.
The sixth has made me kin to the Immortals.
This seventh...
I can take no more.

- Lu Tung, Chinese Poet

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Healthier Living

Homemade Spinach Salad

In an earnest effort to live a simpler life, I've been making conscious strides to be aware of what I'm putting into my body. To take the time to listen to one's own body reveals a wealth of knowledge on just what is needed to get through the day. Obviously, there's no big secret that we drink tea for it's numerous benefits, whether they be chemical, social, or spiritual. There is a certain level of interconnectedness when it comes to tea. One of my favourite quotes comes from the jacket of Three Cups of Tea, which reads:

"Here, we drink three cups of tea to do business; the first you are a stranger, the second you become a friend, and the third you join our family, and for our family we are prepared to do anything-even die."

In the culture of kinship, I must say I've not met and gotten to know as many amazing people as I have through this journey to find the perfect cup of tea. The insightful conversations, the sharing between the community, and the realisation that what I'm drinking was carefully cut from a bing by someone I have an immeasurable amount of respect for thousands of miles away from me. It's these repeat conversations that really make a great many of you feel like family. In this sense, it's just like sampling teas. You normally brew something a few times before you really start to have a meaningful conversation with it. That's been the flow of my life since day one: Attempt, fail, attempt, fail, and so on until one day you meet success.

One of the biggest struggles I've had over the course of my life has been with the foods I put into my body. As a child, I was a very picky eater. I would often pass on entire meals simply because they weren't chicken, beef, macaroni, or something pre-packaged and processed. When I was maybe ten years of age, my father actually put an entire meal into the blender and made me drink it because I wouldn't eat. I wasn't allowed to leave the table, or do anything else for that matter, until it was gone. Talk about tough love. Partially hydrogenated soybean oil, mono-disodium whatsiewhosit, polysorbate 60, and soylent green (which turns out, IS people). There's so much in our commercialised solution to the "lack of time" cuisine failures that I don't even know where to begin.

I came home from work today and changed out of my work clothes, and made it a point to head to the grocery store and fill an entire bag with raw foods and get out for less than $15 USD. In the past, grocery trips have cost me well over $130 USD for garbage. I made a point to make a sandwich before I left and tried as best as I could to listen to my body. Apples, oranges, baby leaf spinach, apricots, bananas, bell peppers. All of these things suddenly jumped out at me as vital. Food for the body and the soul.

The awareness of a mental shift in priority is astounding sometimes. One day you crave good food, but settle for garbage. The next day you crave good food, and make sure to give your body what it is asking for. The meal I had tonight was a fairly small portion, and yet, my hunger is absolutely satisfied.

I'm not sure if anyone else has this habit, but I will often start out doing a search for something I'm interested in learning more about, and then I'll just jump from link to link to link until I'm so far removed from my original search, I'm learning about something I had no way of anticipating. Anyhow, the other day I happened upon a book by a fellow named Jon Gabriel. I'm not really for or against diet routines, but the synopsis of his story was so ridiculous I couldn't help but scrutinise this guy's story. He was 410lbs, and now weighs less than I do (which is 195lbs, if you must ask), not by dieting, but simply by incorporating better food. He has a theory that the body tends to do what is safe for it. If you eat garbage, your metabolism slows down and the fat stays with you because your body is starving for nutrition. If you eat REAL food, your body desires to be lean as a means to survive against a potential predator.

I didn't need to get much further than that in the 200-some page book before I closed the PDF (digital books are amazing) and realised that it was time I started questioning my own eating habits. It's all about learning through conversations, with others, as well as with my own body and the things I am consuming.

As the kettle is brimming with boiling water, I can't help but to think of it as a sort of combustion engine. Fuel. The steam fuels the tea.

If tea fuels the soul, then healthy food fuels the body.

That's the thought I reflect on as I pour this next cup.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tea Wave

So the more and more I talk to people about it, the more people I come across people who have had a chance to mess around with Google Wave. It's an amazing vehicle for communication and information sharing. The problem however, is that nobody really knows exactly what to do with it yet. It's got features that allow users to embed pictures, maps, links, and even pull people into waves in real-time. This got me thinking about using it as a resource to help spread knowledge about various teas, vendors, the regions they come from, tips for brewing, and whatever else people might be interested in learning. I know I've already got a few of you listed as contacts, but I still have 12 invites if anyone is interested in using something we all know and love to find out what exactly can be done with Google Wave. Any takers?

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Tonight I broke out the 2005 Dehong Golden Melon. It was one of the first tuochas I ever purchased, and when I first bought it, it was brutal. It had amazing presence and the chaqi was strong but it turned a few of my friends off (likely because they were babies). Two years later, it's still got some bite, but has definitely mellowed a little bit. I rather enjoyed drinking it tonight. If you look at the picture above, you'll notice dust in the cup. I've found this tends to happen more with choppier pu-erh, but is an attribute I've grown quite fond of. It creates a texture that you don't get all the time. An ever-so-slight grittiness and from what I can tell, the source of this tea's strong ku.

Then again, perhaps it's just my beard talking...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gravity, you there? + (Mini Review 901 Menghai Ba Da Gao Shan)

So yeah, it's been a while. It's been a rather interesting few months too. I've found myself easily at my lowest of lows and have only recently begun to start putting it all back together. I wasn't sure if I'd ever write here again, and my research into language and the difficulties of literal/figurative translation is taking far longer than I ever could have ever imagined it would. This could be a project that follows me around for several years before I'll have anything to show for it.

The fact is, I can't write when I can't enjoy the time I get to spend in my own head, and those wonderful nights staying up late, absorbing all of the new albums I still make a point to gather up haven't been a regular part of my world since I moved to this new place. Part of it is the holidays for sure, but a big part of it is the fact that I've been so far removed from finding joy in small moments that the hours go slipping past and it's morning all over again, rushing to be out the door to do a job that feels much less than satisfying. The only thing that hasn't slipped is my time spent with Grace.

To slow down and take it all in, a lot has happened over the course of the past couple years and I'm still scratching my head at how I walked away from this with only a bruised ego and mild reversible brain damage. The mountain of failed relationships have shown me just how a deft blow to the heart can send a man clean out of orbit.

Recently, I was having a beer with a dear friend and we were discussing the flow of things and we summed it up to being in a car with an opaque front windshield. You see the world go whizzing past you, everyone else outside can see where you're going, and they'll even warn you when things get in your way. You can even see where they're going, and what stands in their way. Yet most of the time, we're too busy tinkering with the radio to give any real credence to their warnings. So a seemingly unstoppable force collides with an immovable object and thus begins the story.

I've had the luck of acquiring friends who, for lack of a better phrase, had no difficulty seeing through the bullshit, picking me up, dusting me off, and sending me off into the world time and again the past few months. I can only assume most of them could easily write a song to the beat of my trips and stumbles, but they stood by. That said, I'm quite sure I'm past my reckless point, but some days are still more difficult than others. Grace's mother still tends to spin me about without even trying, and each day I have to remind myself to breathe past the difficult points, sewing my mouth shut, but often missing one or two stitches. Given time, it gets easier, but it requires effort every single day.

Now, onto other matters. ^__^

Winter snuck up on us this year. It went from 50F days down to 10-12F almost overnight, and most of us weren't ready for it. What this means is that humidity is down in the house, so the sweet aromas that normally fill my nose every time I walk past my tea stash taper off a bit. It's also the time of the year when I make a point to get really heavy back into drinking tea. I dig out old teas and see what they've been up to all spring, summer, and fall while I've been away.

Dragon of Bulang, you still disappoint me.

Hai Lang Hao, you always come through for me.

All of my shu is just as deliciously musty as I remember it, and on numerous occasions, I've gone all day with a few of the old tea nuggets.

Some of my TGY needs a refresh in the roaster, but otherwise deliciously thick and buttery.

Tonight, I'm drinking something new though. Something I don't have prior experience with. It was a gift from Bryan at Teajournaling. Every year, we buy a bing and a tuocha for birthdays. It's easy and never disappoints. This year, he got me something new from Menghai; the 901 Ba Da Gao Shan Organic Sheng pu.

Big fuzzy leaves, very clean aroma, bright clear soup. According to Scott's description on Yunan Sourcing, this is entirely composed of higher quality leaves and is entirely Certified Organic 2009 spring flush, as opposed to the usual blend of younger and older mao cha. I'm fairly confident this will age decently well, but at the rate I've been drinking this, I'll have to buy another cake soon if I want to find out.

The closest I'll be getting to a tea-mountain anytime soon...

This tea has a very good lift as well. I'm feeling a mild tea buzz from it, and the same kind of warmth and happiness that I generally feel after I've enjoyed a big bowl of Panang Curry at Lai Thai (which is a small Thai restaurant run and owned by a lovely woman who has been an unwavering source of optimism and my benchmark for genuine human compassion). A warm, full belly and a happy heart. That's what this leaves me with. Lasting impressions and a moment to reflect.

Today on the way home from picking Grace up, she said to me "Daddy, do you remember my mommy?" It floored me, if only for a few moments. I just said "Yeah Grace, I remember your mommy very well." She's got such a simple presence, even taking her inquisitive nature and ridiculous vocabulary into consideration. Over time, I'm sure the questions are only going to become more elaborate. What will my words and actions add when she finally understands the story that led up to her birth and life?

When it boils down to it, the importance in anything is the impression it leaves us with. I've been thinking about that a lot lately.