Spaghetti Arms

Chocolate

I understand it’s quite fashionable to talk about one’s mental health problems. I’m all for fighting the stigma around mental health, but part of the issue with talking about mental health like we talk about physical health is that is removes most of the nuance surrounding mental health conditions. I think people who suffer from mental illnesses should be allowed to say they are sick. I think they should be allowed to access the same health services as those suffering physical ailments. And I think they should be treated with the same gravity as someone suffering a long term physical illness. But I also think nuance is important in the discussion.

There’s a distinct difference between feeling depressed for a few days and battling suicidal thoughts for a few years. There’s a difference between the baby blues and prolonged post-natal depression. There’s a difference between concern over a big work presentation and debilitating anxiety. And like the general public has learned to recognise the difference between a sprained ankle and torn ligaments, the public ought to be privy to the differences in degrees of mental health concerns, and the circular causes that perpetuate certain mental illnesses. Every statistic and study and in the world won’t necessarily help the average, mentally healthy person come to grips with the complexity of what an unhealthy individual faces. That is why stories matter.

Mental illness is not untreatable, however, as a patient it can feel as though the future is bleak because it takes time, commitment, and experimentation for an individual health solution to be reached. The common remedy for most mental illnesses is a combination of good sleep, healthy eating, physical activity, routine, social connection, medication, counselling, and some kind of mental rejuvenation habit like mindfulness or meditation. To a healthy person, it seems like this is a manageable combination of factors with a little bit of dedication.

So why does a mentally unhealthy person have so much trouble managing?

Well, imagine the 8 things listed above are physical items you have to hold. Healthy people will find a way to cradle them in their arms, or just put 1 or 2 things down if it’s too much to hold all of them. The mentally unhealthy have arms made of overcooked spaghetti. So we stand in front of the very things that will help us improve our situation, with no way of knowing even how to move our arms. And so, we despair. How are we ever going to get better? We can’t move our spaghetti arms.

It’s not unusual that well-meaning people tell us sick folk to ‘just try to get up’, or to ‘have a green smoothie’, or ‘go for a run’. All good suggestions, all things helpful to overall well being. But you’re a step ahead of us, healthy people. We have the spaghetti arms thing going on.

Some people carry on as if they don’t have spaghetti arms, and these folk are one step behind again. First they need to be able to accept their slippery appendage situation. And this isn’t easy, especially when for your whole life, you’ve had normal arms, and you look at everyone around you with normal arms and you wish for all your life the spaghetti arms weren’t a thing. But they are a thing, and some of us have them.

This is one of the many reasons it can be so frustrating to hear stories of people who have successfully managed their mental illness. They say the same things helped them: exercising regularly, sleeping well, eating healthier food. I’ve found myself reading success stories thinking, “I KNOW all this, but I just CAN’T!” I haven’t learned to work my pasta arms. I hear these things and it makes me feel like I might never get better, which exacerbates my condition.

We need you to be patient as we learn to accept our new wobbly-armed existence. And as we learn to hold all the pieces in place with our wobbly arms, one baby step at a time. And for all my spaghetti-armed buddies out there, be kind to yourself. Sometimes you’ll hold it all together. Sometimes you’ll drop everything and have to start from the beginning again. But on those days, just wave your spaghetti arms high in the air with me. You can count it as exercise for the day.

The ‘what’ might be very similar between people when it comes to recovery, but the how is going to change from person to person. All the spaghetti arm stories matter. They’re all a little bit different.

On the days when we’re waving our wavy arms in the air, we have to be kind to ourselves. Most of us have some kind of coping mechanism we resort to. I’m a big fan of chocolate.

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I tried really hard to eat less chocolate, by investing in Chocolate tea. And hear this: it’s a great tea. It’s a strong black tea with cocoa husks in it. This means it tastes like black tea, but comes with some added sweetness and an aftertaste a little like you ate dark chocolate half an hour ago. It’s a terrific tea. A little bit of milk makes is creamy, but I like it best all on its own.

But when you are looking for a block of chocolate, don’t put those expectations on the tea. It will not deliver. If you’re like me, some days you can’t substitute the big guns.

Chocolate: 3/5
Enjoy with: spaghetti-armed chums

Pulling it Together

Irish Breakfast

It’s Sunday afternoon. No matter what stage of adult life I find myself, Sunday afternoon seems to feel very similar. It’s those final hours of daylight I have to prepare myself for the week ahead. And the manner in which I spend these hours has some kind of impact on the type of week I will have.

As an undergrad student, Sunday afternoon was a time to order my week and determine how I would complete my readings and work on enough of my assignments to reach my due dates on time. All of this had to occur around errands, chores and work throughout the week. And when I was learning a new language, it was the only part of Sunday when I had time to review my language materials. During my postgrad study, it was the hours where I could fire off a few hundred words more, reach the target I had set 7 days earlier, and start the week with a clean slate. That was rare. I spent month upon month playing catch up to myself, but only being responsible to myself. There are a handful of benefits to having a negligent supervisor.

When I was working full time, Sunday afternoon was the time to inject some calm into the week. I would iron my clothes for the work week. I would prepare what snacks and meals I could, so I had food on hand. This was the time in life I was planning my wedding, and Sunday night meant dinner with my fiance. This acted as brilliant motivator for getting everything done. Completing tasks on Sunday afternoon gave me more time to consider wedding details during the week. And I was rewarded with the best dinner company I could imagine.

When I was a working mother, Sunday was the afternoon to lament the week ahead. It was peppered with lists and anxiety, the feeling that I never got on top of the previous week, and was unlikely to get on top of this week. I had to live each day in an anxious grip of fear and pain. I was sick and I had an injury, both of which inhibited my ability to be a good mother. I was desperately vying for promotion at work, only later to discover I was chasing an imaginary carrot. I was never at home when I was at home, and I wanted to be with my Little Lad when I was at work. Sunday afternoon was the time to be with my boy, to be with my Main Man and to hope that this week would be better. Unfortunately, the weeks never got better. I only got sicker.

And here I am now: living away from the city that feeds my anxiety, body gripped by chronic fatigue syndrome, back injury and PTSD. Unable to work, largely unable to mother. My Main Man is a Super Dad to our Little Lad, and I spend my weeks resting, predominantly in the hope my health will improve. And Sunday afternoon is the time to focus on a good week ahead. I’ve been imagining and attempting to engineer good weeks for a couple of months since we arrived in the country, but they haven’t been forthcoming. But still, I try. Two Sundays ago, I found myself planning a good week. And for the first time in over a year, I had one. I exercised every day, and noticed a reduction in my level of pain. My mood improved. I was present with LL more than I had been since he was a dependent infant. So last Sunday, I felt invincible, I could have another good week. Then Monday arrived and I had not slept the night before. The week was off to a rocky start. But I would not be deterred. I listened to my body and slowed down, hoping for a better day Tuesday. Tuesday arrived and I seized it with both hands. It was a good day, or so I told myself. The week was back on track, even though I was feeling more weary than I ought to. And then Wednesday came. I got up, slowly. I spent the morning with my family. And by 11am, I collapsed back into bed, where I stayed. I couldn’t believe the week was not going to pan out. Wednesday night came, and I didn’t sleep more than 10 minutes at a stretch. I was getting a cold, my burning throat swelled and I struggled to swallow. Thursday, Friday, Saturday: the cold took over and I was slave to it. Today I roused myself from bed, very late, and took stock of my Sunday afternoon, the cold still lingering.

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The house is untidy, my library books are overdue and a week’s worth of expectations have been swept aside. But Sunday afternoon feels the same. I’ll attempt to tidy something. I’ll fill my planner with my hopes for the week, though they have dwindled in number from my former years. Each day will contain something like: exercise, read, write, spend time with LL. Maybe just 2 chores this week. That should be achievable.

And here rests the cup of Irish Breakfast. A faithful cup, but in its own way, a little disappointing. Despite its names, I’ve always preferred to drink it in the afternoon. It is bold with a musky flavour and malty notes. It isn’t smooth, so milk and sweetener are almost a must. And though I’ve tried, time and time again to like the T2 version, I struggle to elevate it over Twinings. But I go back to it. I hope it will improve. It hasn’t yet, but a good cup could be on its way. I hope it brings a good week with it.

Irish Breakfast: 2/5
Enjoy with: hope.

Greatness Brewing

Good Morning

Yuck, thought the cup of tea, I hate seeing yawning uvulas.

The black brew sat in the mug, steaming quietly. It was a wonderful brew. Rich and hearty, sympathetic of what was required of a human in the morning, and acutely aware of its role as a cup of tea in the morning ritual. The steaming liqueur was home to just the right amount of stormy tannin to ensure a necessary boost into the day. Better without milk, but happy to have some on board, Good Morning was always friendlier with a tiny bit of sweetener.

The liquid bumped the edges of the mug a little as two hands engulfed the mug in an effort to be warmed. Good Morning transferred the heat as quickly as possible, to satisfy the eager hands.

Good Morning took this time to contemplate the relatively short life cycle of a cup of tea.

Those endless leafy meadows, when I was nothing more than a juvenile sprig, it reminisced. I was too young to make memories then. We all were really.

Then, into the real business of becoming tea leaves. The first introduction of heat.

Oh, I remember! I felt so alive. So grown up, so mature, finally becoming the very leaves I was destined to become. But the wait from then on was ghastly.

Tea leaves spend a lot of time waiting to become a cup of tea. They wait to be packaged. The packaged leaves wait to be shipped. They wait to be placed on a shelf. They wait on the shelf to be purchased. Once purchased, they wait on another shelf. Oh the thrilling narrative life a box of tea leaves leads! Finally, they wait to be placed in a cup and drenched in hot water, leeching their essence into their new environment like a parasite creating an epidemic.

Alternatively, the leaves could wait in the cup for a good few minutes if the absent-minded drinker is distracted, and forgets that the kettle has finished boiling.

But above all, tea waits. There’s a metaphor for life in there somewhere.

Ahh, sighed Good Morning, I am a cup of tea at last. I am fully grown and ready to be fully appreciated!

With every passing minute the brew deepened and thickened and grew in such exponential strength it could have taken on the world.

Yes, thought Good Morning, I will lead the feeble humans to greatness. I will have immense power due to my new found strength! I will pour from this cup, accumulating more hot water. I will gain more strength! I will become AN OCEAN OF TEA!

The little human beings will flounder in my unmatched greatness, sipping at my edges for their caffeinated lifeline. They will depend on me for I provide about a third as much caffeine as coffee does, and therefore they will require me always. FEEBLE HUMANS AND THEIR LACK OF FUNCTIONALITY!! POWER IS MINE!!! AHA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HAAAA!

A drop of Good Morning splashed over the lip of the mug as the cradling hands relocated. The mug rose to a set of waiting lips.

Oh my, thought Good Morning, This is the end. But what about my plans of greatness?

As the tea gushed over the lip of the mug and into the opened mouth, it summoned one last attempt to reveal it’s strength.

Good Morning! the tea shouted its name as it was swallowed.

The warmed hands reached out and drew the curtains. A trail of sunbeams was invited indoors on the frosty morning.

“Good Morning,” the mouth sighed.

 

Good Morning: 4/5
Enjoy with: a plan for dictatorship, or a piece of toast.

Bad Haircuts

Good Evening

I’m going to jump right in here and start with the tea, because the moment I drank it I knew there was only one way to describe it: the mullet tea.

Anyone who has grown up with even the slightest hint of bogan understanding knows that the 80’s hairstyle ‘the mullet’ was consistently referred to as ‘business up front and party at the back’. What ensued was the one of the most ocularly offensive hairstyle fashions in living memory. But it is distinct and it is memorable. It even enjoyed a brief resurgence about 12 years ago. I couldn’t believe it.

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Anyway, Good Evening relates to this iconic hairstyle because it is a blend of green and black teas and it is so well blended you get a wonderful mouthful of both teas without any competition. It is green on the front and black on the back. You’ll swear you’ve taken a draught of green and by the time the last drop has trickled from your tongue you’ll be certain it was only ever black. It will draw you back for sip after sip until you too have the misfortune of discovering an empty cup.

Rarely have I lived in the total absence of bogans or some kind of equivalent. I can’t say never, because there was one time in my life when I lived in a place that saw virtually everything as beneath them.

When I was 19 I lived in Connecticut for 3 months. I did so voluntarily, but without doubt, naively. The place I lived had no neon signs, no stragglers or homeless people, no bars or nightclubs, and no idea that the big, wide world existed out there as a real place occupied by real people.

As an idealistic youngster, I decided to spend a year overseas as a nanny. I know people think the term ‘au pair’ sounds fancier, but the main distinction between an au pair and a nanny is that nannies have formal training, which I had, and au pairs are largely untrained. I never really got to make that distinction during my time nannying, because I found my work through an au pair agency. So I got lumped in with all the other au pairs who had come to the USA with varying degrees of nobility in their intentions.

I accepted a placement with a family in Connecticut with 3 children. Children is a generous term, they were aged 15, 14, and 11. Once the youngest reached their 12th birthday, the family would no longer be eligible for another au pair through this agency. This is the usual overseas worker nightmare story, where the family was unkind and the terms of my employment were constantly shifting, and never in my favour. Rather than relay the whole sordid affair in narrative terms, I’ll present you with an accurate job description of my brief time with this family.

Would you like to work with children? Have you invested time and funds in growing your understanding of child development and would now like to apply your knowledge and skills in a personalised setting? Do you crave the adventure of working abroad in an exciting, new location?

Great!

Here in the Black family, we have 3 precocious brats that have been handed everything they have ever wanted their entire lives. Mr Black works on Wall Street and is almost never home, though when he is, he will treat you like the working class citizen he assumes you are. Mrs Black is a stay at home mother who never has time to stay at home. She is insistent that she volunteers constantly with both snooty schools that the children attend, but you will never see any evidence of this. Her nails are always done though. She can make snide remarks about people’s weight (including yours) at half a moment’s notice.

We will grossly overstate the amount of time off you have, and generously understate precisely what is expected of you. We will communicate in vague terms like, “Can you do me a favour?” Meaning you are not on the clock, you aren’t obligated to do what we’re asking you to do, but we are exploiting your young age and willingness to please the people that keep you housed and employed.

When a point of difference occurs between us, we will lean heavily on our religious and ethnic background that is almost useless to us at any other time, potentially insinuating that you have some kind of prejudice against us.

We teach our children solid values. Like making money and getting into college, even at the expense of other people’s very lives.

You will look after our dogs while we go on vacations, even though it’s a violation of your employment terms.

Furthermore, where we live is in the middle of absolutely no where. You will drive in excess of 1000 kilometres per week between school drop offs and the 13 after-school activities our precious snots are involved in, in the hopes of getting some kind of college scholarship.

We expect you to pick up the phone IMMEDIATELY when we call. Bear in mind you spend the majority of your time driving, so what we are asking you to do is blatantly illegal. We don’t care. Do as we say. No, we will not purchase you a hands-free device.

Enjoy the endless sprawl of McMansions, and have no viable form of entertainment within an hour’s drive of our snowy, soulless home.

We can’t wait for you to join our family (payroll).

Never in my life have I so desperately longed for Tim-Tams to greet me in the mail and remind me that life exists outside the frozen wasteland I found myself in.

It wasn’t all bad. I spectacularly totalled their car before being transferred to another family. That worked out much better.

Good Evening: 5/5

Enjoy with: a decent haircut and a perusal of the classifieds.

Are You High?

Good Afternoon

“High Teas” are popping up here, there, and everywhere it seems. Once reserved for retirees and characters of an inaccurate depiction of British high society, high tea is now a fashionable way to spend an afternoon, hen’s party, baby shower or any not quite real celebration. At least, these things are labelled high tea.

Most establishments offering high tea have only the vaguest handle on what high tea actually is. Most people zipping off a mass Facebook invitation don’t even have that. Thus, a quick education is in order.

Historically, afternoon tea or ‘low tea’ was exclusively an upper class affair. It was the mini-meal designed to tide people over from lunch to supper, which often wasn’t served until 8pm. It was served while seated in low, comfortable chairs (hence ‘low tea’) and consisted of an offering of multiple black teas, scones and finger sandwiches.

High tea was the purview of the working class. Tea was expensive and wasn’t splashed around all afternoon long. High tea was eaten at a table, or even a kitchen bench top (hence ‘high’) and the meal was hearty to satisfy the hungry worker. It often consisted of vegetables, bread, cheese, a mug of tea, and occasionally meat as well. Eventually, the upper class also developed a version of ‘high tea’. It was a meal taken at the table and was simple to prepare in the absence of servants. This is where the 3-tiered afternoon tea tray came into its own.

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So, what are we to do with this information? Before I answer this question, I’ll take you on a whirlwind trip of some ‘high teas’ I’ve been invited to, and we’ll see if you can spot the primary issue.

Mum’s Afternoon High Tea
The Mum’s group I belonged to when I lived in the city had a child-free ‘high tea’. I was the only one who brought tea leaves. I brewed one 4-cup pot and personally drank 2 cups from it. One other mum drank a cup of tea.

Engagement Part High Tea
We all had to bring a plate and a gift from an obnoxiously long (and expensive) registry. They served traditional lemonade.

Swanky Hotel High Tea
Champagne and coffee were brought to the table. Tea was self-serve, from tea bags.

The astute among you will have realised the primary problem with the modern high tea is that there is a distinct lack of tea involved. Call me crazy, but if you wish to resurrect the practice of tea in the afternoon, it should involve some actual tea. Also, in sticking with tradition, I’d expect to see some savouries, scones and sweets served on a 3-tier tray. Chalk that up to preference if you like, but a selection of tea at a high tea is a must!

“But lots of people don’t like tea,” I can hear the ‘macchiato in a syringe’ crowd grumble. Well then, maybe lots of people need to come up with a different term for their afternoon nibbles and non-tea beverages.

Alternatively, tiny minded coffee drinkers could expand their palates by trying today’s T2 sampling: Good Afternoon.

What surprised me most about this tea was the amount of expectation I had placed on it. I expected something dark, with deep tannins. Good Afternoon was not like this at all. It had very little tannin and was overwhelmingly smooth. For a straight black, it wasn’t as bold as Keemun (which I’ve discovered is now my black tea benchmark), but it was kind of bright. It was a tricky little brew to pigeonhole.

I drank it in the middle of the day and was surprised at how well it paired with late morning sunshine. I would recommend drinking this black any time before 4pm, due to how smooth is tastes. Good Afternoon is the friend to milk of any ilk, but tread cautiously with sweetener (as I always say, I know). It seems like its flavour could easily be washed out by some over zealous honey squeezing (or agave, or coconut sugar, or maple syrup, or whatever it is people are pretending isn’t sugar this week).

The main advantage of Good Afternoon is how inoffensive it is. This is definitely a worthy introduction tea if someone you know and love (yourself included) is seeking to dip their toe into the wide world of tea drinking, or simply attempting to broaden their selection and aren’t too confident of where to begin. That being said, it’s a bit boring, because it’s just a standard black.

What we all need to remember though, is that high tea is a real thing, with a real definition, and deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. And above all, it must include some tea. Otherwise, it’s time to call it something else entirely.

Good Afternoon: 4/5
Enjoy with: a high tea, because then it’s a Good Afternoon on every level.

Uh…no?

Here is a list of things I don’t understand:

  1. People who flat out refuse to try tea. Ever.
  2. People who ‘found’ French Earl Grey and don’t need any other tea in their life.
  3. Horror films.
  4. Putting more than 2 sugars in a hot beverage. You don’t want a drink, you want a cake.
  5. Why losing weight is so difficult.
  6. People who go into T2, bypass the smelling table and ask, “Do you have any green tea?”
  7. Soccer hooligans.
  8. State of Origin.

Complexity

Jade Mountain

Some things are difficult to say, such as, “The Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book.” Growing up, it was just, “the cake book,” which is a far less complex collection of syllables. But MM doesn’t always know what I’m referring to, so I have to use its full title and sometimes add, “The one with the train cake on the cover.” I knew I was worn out the other night when I referred to it as, “The Australia Women’s Keithly Workday Cake Book.” Now I wish workday cakes were a thing. How much better would offices be if there was workday cake in the kitchen after meetings?

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The Cake Book

The cake book is nothing if not a web of complexity. As I’ve already demonstrated, it’s has a complex title. It is filled with complex recipes that involve intricate decoration. And the question of which cake in the book is best isn’t answered easily. When discussing the cake book, it isn’t long before an argument breaks out over which cake is the best. There are lots of advocates for the train cake. The train cake is ok, but the popcorn in the carriage gets soggy if the cake is prepared too far in advance. Plus, how lazy do you have to be to not even look beyond the cover?

The castle cake boasts an ardent following. These people tend to be the type that prefer style over substance because, again, soggy ice cream cones if the cake has to be left. This is also a prime cake for collapsibility.

The weirdest cakes in that book are:

– the duck with chips for a beak. Why? Why would you do that to a cake? What did cake ever do to you?
– the ghost with eggshells for eyes. Egg shells. The discarded shell of an egg. Even the rubbish truck cake isn’t adorned with real rubbish.

Obviously, most people are wrong about which cake is best. It is clearly the bear with the wagon wheel biscuits for ears, because you get

  1. chocolate icing
  2. chocolate coconut
  3. two chocolate cakes iced into one
  4. wagon wheel biscuits
  5. a Rolo for the nose

No other cakes in that book offer this kind of chocolatey bounty. It is the best cake.

By the way, my mum never made the cake pools full of jelly because she said they were too tricky. I now know lots of people who only got the pool cake because their mum thought it was easy. Can we come to a consensus? Should I just make one and see for myself?

Anyway, the discussion involving our hero, Keithly Workday, was just a roundabout way of discussing Rolos. They only appear to be sold in family-size blocks now. I was really after the sleeve of little caramel-chocolate morsels because they are exactly the correct proportion of caramel to chocolate. I’m hesitant to go on an earnest hunt for a sleeve of Rolos, in case I discover once and for all that they don’t exist.

The catalyst for my Rolo desire was a cup of Jade Mountain tea I’d had earlier in the day. As I’ve said in the past, I’m not sure I like green tea, but I never baulk at a cup of Jade Mountain. It has a classic green tea taste, but every mouthful is a wonderful complexity of flavours. It has a combination of chocolate and caramel flavours, perfectly proportioned. It also has salty popcorn notes, and a little fruity tone splashed in for good measure: apple, apricot, fig. It’s vanilla, brown sugar, and creamy, and seemingly more complex with every mouthful.

In fact, Jade Mountain reminds me of the complexity of a custard apple. If you just hook into the thing it’s easy to assume it just tastes like custard and apple. But a custard apple is so much more than that. It’s smokey and has maple notes. You can taste woody flavours, fig, and citrus. It’s an adventure in a tropical skin.

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A cup of Jade Mountain is like a showcase of everything a cup of tea is capable of. It’s like seeing acrobats prove the extremes of the human body’s ability, viewing an intricate painting, or hearing a stirring piece of poetry. Just as you can’t help but be in awe of the possibilities of nature as you stand in the shadow of a mighty mountain, you will scarcely be able to help contain your awe of a cup of Jade Mountain.

Jade Mountain: 5/5

Enjoy with: Keithly Workday, and a slice of cake.