Tea, the universal drink

After water, do you know what the world’s most widely consumed beverage is? Would you say coffee? Beer? Wine? Coke? Wrong every time! It’s actually tea!

There was always tea available in our house when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, but only plain black tea. We drank green tea on the rare occasions when we went to a Chinese restaurant. Now I drink two mugs of green tea every morning and the basket of other teas in my kitchen cabinet is overflowing.

In Canada, our increasingly multicultural society plays a large part in the growing popularity and availability of so many different teas. Over the years, the world has come to us and it has brought its teas with it.

Screen Shot 2019-02-25 at 9.03.21 PMDrinking tea is a tradition that is said to date back to 2737 BCE. According to legend, Chinese emperor Shen Nung was sitting under a tree while his servant boiled drinking water. When some dried leaves from the tree blew into the water, Shen Nung decided to try the infusion that was created and found it to his liking. Since then, tea drinking has spread around the world.

While black tea is more popular in Western countries, green tea is preferred in China and Japan where it is a common part of daily life. Green tea is unoxidized, giving it a lighter taste and aroma than black tea. The tea that is used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony is matcha which is powdered and not infused. This means that the leaves themselves are consumed resulting in a much higher concentration of the antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins that make green tea healthy. For this reason, matcha has become quite trendy.

Taiwanese bubble tea is a modern innovation. This high calorie tea has as its base an iced tea (typically black, green, jasmine or oolong) with milk and a sugary syrup. The “bubbles” are actually tapioca pearls. As much as I like tea, this one has never appealed to me!

From Thailand comes the very popular Thai tea. Made from strong black tea, often spiced with ingredients such as star anise, crushed tamarind, and cardamom, it’s usually sweetened with sugar and condensed milk and served over ice.

India produces and consumes more tea that any other country in the world. It is best known for it’s chai blends that mix black tea leaves with spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, and black pepper. Assam is another popular variety of black tea which is grown in the Assam region of India. It is used in many breakfast blends including English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast, but is also consumed on its own. It has a strong, malty flavour, a reddish colour, and is high in caffeine. Darjeeling is yet another tea that is grown in India, specifically the mountainous Darjeeling region in the northern part of the country.

In Morocco, drinking tea is more than simply a social custom, it’s also part of doing business. If you find yourself in a Moroccan market, you’ll likely be sat down and offered a glass of mint tea by a vendor wanting to sell you a beautiful carpet. This is touareg tea, a green tea prepared with spearmint leaves and sugar.

It was Portuguese and Dutch traders who first brought tea to Europe in the early 1600s. By the mid 18th century it had become Britain’s most popular beverage with the East India Company using fast ships called tea clippers to bring the leaves from India and China.

Then there are the herbal teas which aren’t considered “real” tea at all because, unlike black, white, and green teas, they aren’t made from the leaves of the tea bush (Camellia sinensis). Popular among the herbal teas is rooibos or bush tea from South Africa which is made from the leaves of the red bush, a broom-like member of the Fabaceae family.

One of my favourite teas is Earl Grey, a black tea flavoured with oil from the rind of the bergamot orange, a fruit grown mostly in Italy. It is thought to have been named for Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, who was British Prime Minister from November 1830 to July 1834. In addition to regular Earl Grey, I have Vanilla Earl Grey, Lavender Earl Grey, and even Double Bergamot Earl Grey in my collection!

There are apparently all kinds of health benefits to drinking tea, especially green tea. The comparative lack of processing means that it has a higher level of antioxidants and polyphenols. Studies have shown that it may:

  1. lower cholesterol
  2. lower blood pressure
  3. reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke
  4. reduce the risk of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases
  5. lower blood sugar
  6. encourage weight loss
  7. aid digestion
  8. inhibit intestinal inflammation
  9. strengthen the immune system
  10. help fight infection
  11. help fight various cancers
  12. prevent bone loss
  13. reduce plaque buildup and tooth decay
  14. help cells regenerate and repair
  15. help slow down aging
  16. increase mental alertness
  17. lower stress hormone levels
  18. prevent arthritis

If nothing else, it’s a flavourful way to stay hydrated, it contains no calories, and it has less caffeine than coffee.

Tea, the healing beverage that knows no borders! 

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That’s 3 of my grandchildren on the cup!

Payless ShoeSource to close!

LogoI was on the way to Camrose for an eye appointment on Tuesday morning when I heard the news on the radio. Payless, my favourite source of inexpensive shoes, is going out of business!

We first encountered Payless ShoeSource while travelling in the United States more than 25 years ago. From then on, whenever one of our long summer treks took us across the border into the US, we were sure to stop at a Payless store somewhere along the way to buy the children new shoes for the upcoming school year. Needless to say, I was delighted when the first Canadian store opened its doors in 1997.

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If I’ve counted correctly, I currently own 10 pairs of shoes, 2 pairs of sandals, and a pair of tall black boots that I’ve worn almost constantly every winter since 2011, all purchased at Payless! Some of the shoes have only been worn a few times, but others I’ve had for years and walked countless miles in.

As soon as Tuesday’s eye appointment was done, I headed across town to the Payless store where the clerk confirmed that the chain had declared bankruptcy and was indeed closing all 2 500 locations across North America, including 248 in Canada. As a long-term employee, she’d had an inkling that this was coming, but she’d only officially received the news herself that morning.

The Kansas-based company, which was founded in 1956, previously filed for bankruptcy in 2017. At that time, the retailer closed about 900 US stores and by restructuring some of its debt was able to hang on for awhile longer. Unfortunately, however, according to its chief restructuring officer, Stephen Marotta, “Payless emerged from its prior reorganization ill-equipped to survive in today’s retail environment.” Liquidation sales are expected to start almost immediately and the company will begin closing stores at the end of March. Some are expected to remain open until the end of May.

If you’re a faithful Payless shopper like I am, you’ll definitely want to watch for those liquidation sales! That is, unless, you’re willing to go much further afield. Payless also has 420 stores in Latin America, the Virgin Islands, Guam and Saipan, and 370 international franchisee stores across the Middle East, India, Indonesia, Indochina, Philippines and Africa. Those stores will remain open.

RIP Payless. I’m going to miss you!

Parents, please vaccinate your children!

When I learned that only slightly more than 80% of the children who attend the same school as two of my grandsons have been vaccinated, I was more than a little concerned! They live in Vancouver where there has been an outbreak of measles this month. Nine cases have been confirmed. The number grew from four to nine in less than 24 hours! At the centre of the outbreak is a family whose three children were not vaccinated due to concerns that the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine might cause autism, a belief that has been scientifically debunked.

It may not be a popular opinion, but I don’t think that children should be allowed to attend public schools or any other kids’ programming if they haven’t been vaccinated (unless there’s a valid documented health reason why they shouldn’t be). Vaccines don’t just protect the people getting vaccinated; they protect everyone around them. The more people in a community who are vaccinated, the harder it is for a disease to spread. Having grown up with a dearly loved brother who was severely brain damaged by measles related encephalitis as an infant, I feel very strongly about this!

Some years ago, popular children’s author, Roald Dahl, who lost a daughter to measles encephalitis at the age of seven, had this to say:

Olivia, my eldest daughter, caught measles when she was seven years old. As the illness took its usual course I can remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling particularly alarmed about it. Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything. 

“Are you feeling all right?” I asked her.

I feel all sleepy,” she said. 

In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.

The measles had turned into a terrible thing called measles encephalitis and there was nothing the doctors could do to save her. That was in 1962, but even now, if a child with measles happens to develop the same deadly reaction from measles as Olivia did, there would still be nothing the doctors could do to help her. 

On the other hand, there is today something that parents can do to make sure that this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs. They can insist that their child is immunized against measles. I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered. Today a good and safe vaccine is available to every family and all you have to do is ask your doctor to administer it. 

I couldn’t agree more! In my opinion, people who refuse to have their children vaccinated are putting their lives at risk. Roald Dahl went on to say:

So what about the risks that your children will run from being immunized? They are almost non-existent. In a district of around 300 000 people, there will be only one child every 250 years who will develop serious side effects from measles immunization! That is about a million to one chance. I would think there would be more chance of your child choking to death on a chocolate bar than of becoming seriously ill from a measles immunization. 

I can only assume that parents who have been blessed with perfectly healthy children and refuse to safeguard their health by immunizing them are completely oblivious to the risk they are running. As a parent who has lost a child and a grandparent who has watched a beloved grandchild fight for life; as a sister whose brother never had the opportunity to realize his potential and a daughter who saw her parents’ grief over that, that makes me livid!

Vaccines save lives! It’s as simple as that. There are no treatments or cures for diseases like measles, mumps and polio. The only proven way to protect your child is with vaccines. Parents, please just vaccinate your children!

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Jeggings and pearls

LogoJeans + Leggings = Jeggings

Early on one of our recent walks around the central core of Coatepec, Mexico a pair of jeggings on a mannequin standing outside one of the many tiny clothing shops caught my eye. These were jeggings with a twist. Not only were they leggings designed to look like tight jeans, but they were studded with imitation pearls. I looked but kept on walking. Later, as we circled around and headed back toward our friends’ house where we were staying, we passed the shop again and this time I couldn’t resist taking a closer look.

Entering the store, I looked around but didn’t see more of the jeggings anywhere. Approaching the clerk, I asked “Hablas Ingles?” (Do you speak English?) and as usual, the response was “No”. Beckoning for her to follow me out front, I pointed to the jeggings. “Grande o pequeño?” I asked. (Large or small?) Though I tend to wear a size medium in most things, that word wasn’t part of my extremely limited Spanish vocabulary yet! “Uno talla,” was the response. (One size) I recognized the word “uno” and that was enough to tell me that this was a one size fits all garment. The clerk took them off the mannequin and I held them up to myself to ensure that they were long enough. They were and my mind was made up. They were coming home with me! It didn’t hurt that the price was only 100 pesos; less than $7 CAD!

With their cozy fleece lining, these jeggings are surprisingly warm. In fact, since returning to Canada, I wore them outside at -27ºC (-17ºF) and didn’t freeze! Granted, I only walked half a block from the grocery store to the post office and back again, but they were plenty adequate for that. It may seem surprising that I was able to buy something this warm in Mexico, but Coatepec is in the highlands where it can get a bit chilly at this time of year. Since their homes aren’t insulated and don’t have central heating the people tend to dress quite warmly.

I strongly believe that leggings are not pants and that they should be worn with tops that are long enough to cover the buttocks and crotch. I’m undecided where these new jeggings are concerned though. Clearly, the pearl studded imitation pockets on the front and the details on the back are meant to be seen.

 

Screen Shot 2019-02-11 at 6.02.45 PMPearl embellished clothing has been very much on trend for the past year or so. I’ve seen sweaters, dresses, jeans, and even shoes adorned with imitation pearls. One of my favourite fashion bloggers, Josephine of Chic At Any Age, wore this cute pearl studded beret in one of her recent posts.

Adding faux pearls to a garment that you already own would also be a simple DIY project. I’d thought of doing that to a pair of jeans, but now that I have my pearl studded jeggings, I won’t need to!

Historic Mexico City

On Wednesday morning we took a taxi into Xalapa and then a bus back to Mexico City. Arriving at our hotel in the historic centre of the city a few minutes after 3 o’clock, we checked in, dropped our baggage in our room, and headed out to explore our surroundings. We had about four hours before dark to see as much as we possibly could!

About six blocks north of our hotel, we came across the expansive Plaza de la Constitución. There was a protest of some sort happening just off the south side of the square, but it was the amazing Metropolitan Cathedral (or to give its full name, the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven) on the north side of the plaza that completely captured our attention.

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Latin America’s largest and oldest cathedral, the imposing structure is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico and one of the country’s most treasured architectural masterpieces. Built on the site of Templo Mayor, an ancient temple in what was the centre of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, it includes much of the stone from that original structure. Construction of the cathedral, which incorporates several different architectural styles, spanned three centuries from 1573 to 1813! The bell towers house a total of 25 bells, the largest one weighing 13 000 kilograms!

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After a quick peek inside the Cathedral, we moved on. The Palacio Nacional, home to the offices of the president of Mexico as well as the federal treasury, is located on the east side of the Plaza de la Constitución. The palace’s main courtyard is surrounded by a three level arcade and has at its centre an enormous fountain topped by an elegant bronze statue of Pegasus, the winged stallion of Greek mythology.

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It was the Diego Rivera murals, painted between 1929 and 1951 and depicting the history of Mexico from the Aztec era to the early 20th century that drew us to the Palacio Nacional. The enormous staircase murals, located between the first and second floors, are sometimes compared to an epic poem including the legendary pre-Hispanic past, the Spanish conquest, and the more recent past. Tucked into the mural over the left staircase is an portrait of Rivera’s wife and fellow artist, Frida Kahlo (wearing a green dress and a star necklace).

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Nine more murals chronicling indigenous life before the Spanish conquest of Mexico cover the north and east walls of the second level. This series of panels was intended to go all the way around the second storey, but the project was incomplete when Rivera died in 1957.

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After leaving the Palacio Nacional, we wandered the nearby streets enjoying the sights and sounds of this small part of one of the world’s largest cities.

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To the north and east of the central plaza, we discovered the remains of a portion of the Templo Mayor that was excavated between 1978 and 1982.

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Continuing our walk, we eventually came across a long pedestrian street lined with shops and restaurants that included a number of American chains such as Old Navy, Starbucks, H&M, and Forever 21. Though it was a midweek day at suppertime, the street was full of people. Photos hardly do it justice as without sound they fail to fully capture the festive atmosphere. On one block a young boy played an accordion, on another a trio of men in traditional costume played lively music on stringed instruments, on yet another a boy played guitar and sang. In each case, of course, they had a hat or container out to catch the coins of passersby.

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We stopped for a quick bite to eat in a tiny Mexican restaurant and dessert from Santa Clara, a Mexican ice cream shop chain. Then as the sun slipped below the tall buildings surrounding us, we headed back toward our hotel. We had to be up very early the following morning to catch our flight home.

And that’s a wrap folks! After a fantastic visit with our friends in Mexico, we’re back home on the frozen Canadian prairie revelling in the memories of another wonderful trip completed.

Colour trends for Spring 2019

LogoRegardless of whether or not the groundhog sees his shadow on February 2nd, when the calendar turns to February, I begin to think about spring. There’s probably plenty of winter left where I live, but as I revelled in the vibrant colours of Coatepec, Mexico over the past couple of weeks, my mind went to the colours that are going to be popular in spring and summer fashions this year.

If you bought into the yellow trend in 2018, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s still very much on the fashion agenda for this year. It showed up on the runways in many shades from the palest pastel to bright lemony and deep yellows.

Pastels in other hues including soft pinks, lilac, light green, and pale blue were also seen.

Intense, saturated colours including bright orange, coral, magenta, bright reds, mango,  neon green, and royal blue dominated the runways though. If yellow isn’t your colour, you may want to add some of these to your spring and summer wardrobe.

While one of my fashion goals for 2019 is to steer away from the greys that have dominated my wardrobe in recent times and bring in some more colour, I’m in love with this season’s neutrals. Amongst them are buttery off-whites, creamy tans, and beiges.

Brown continues to make a comeback in beautiful toffee hues as well as darker shades.

Two of my favourites neutrals of the season are moss green and a very dark navy that’s being called Eclipse.

As always, before you go out and buy a new wardrobe filled with this season’s colours, shop your own closet. What do you already have that will carry over from previous years? Also, be careful to choose the shades that look best with your natural colouring.

Churches of Coatepec

Everywhere we go in Coatepec and the surrounding area, the colour and architecture of the churches practically insist that I stop to take photos! Over 90% of the population of the area adheres to the Roman Catholic faith, so Catholic churches are everywhere.

In the nearby city of Xalapa, the Catedral Metropolitana de la Immaculada Concepción, or the Xalapa Cathedral as it is more commonly called, is one of the oldest buildings in the city.

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Every small town has churches that are equally spectacular. Santa Maria Magdalena is the patron saint of Xico and the church that bears her name is absolutely stunning.

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A little further away, this beautiful church overlooks the central square in the smaller town of Teocelo.

Here in Coatepec, the stately church of San Jéronimo is located in the central core across the street from the Parque de Miguel Hidalgo which is always a happening place.

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I don’t know the names of the other churches that I’ve stopped to photograph, but there are many!

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We specifically walked up a steep hill to take a closer look at this one this morning.

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But this is my favourite of all the ones we’ve seen in Coatepec. Not only is the architecture exquisite, but I love the Calvary motif high above the entrance.

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By contrast, less than 10% of the population is evangelical Christian and they meet in much more modest buildings. The Pescadores de Hombres Compañerismo Christiano (Fishers of Men Christian Fellowship) congregation meets in this building a few blocks away from where we’ve been staying.

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A church on Sunday morning and Wednesday evening, it’s a cochina economica (cheap kitchen) the rest of the week where you can buy tacos for 10 pesos (69 cents CAD) apiece.

 

Who’s your style icon?

LogoIs there someone whose style you admire or whose outfits you love? She could be a movie star, a character in your favourite show, a colleague, a next door neighbour, or even your sister or your mother. What is it about her style that resonates with you?

I get a lot of inspiration from the fashion blogs that I follow. I’ve provided links to several of my favourites here and here. Some of them have a similar personal style to my own.

Last Friday I wrote about how to use Pinterest to help you find your own personal style. As I added images to my style board, I noticed that photos of Kate Middleton kept cropping up. That’s when I realized that, in spite of the fact that she’s young enough to be my daughter and we don’t look anything alike, we have a similar personal style. She wears the same classy casual look that I admire and strive for. If you can identify someone whose style is similar to yours, you can use them as inspiration for outfits of your own. Again, shop your closet. Don’t try to copy your muse exactly. Instead, take ideas from her look and see if you can make them work for you.

Here’s an example of how I tried to emulate one of Kate Middleton’s looks using items from my own closet. The jacket is new and I hadn’t worn it this way before. Without Kate’s inspiration, I might never have thought to.

She looks like she’s saying, “Hey, look at you! I like your style!”