books

The Body of the Book

When you drink tea, you come to know the lingo. Teas are usually rated on body, astringency, fragrance, and liquor. I find myself thinking of books the same way, both in reading and writing. Tea & Crumples has daily graces as its body. It’s full-bodied with grace, but not very astringent, like the best-loved tea of the main character Sienna.

This is one of my favorite quotes about the intersection of the sacred and daily living with tea.

This is one of my favorite quotes about the intersection of the sacred and daily living with tea.

I thought of the idea for Tea & Crumples the tea shop and stationery store in college. I went to university in a small town with a vibrant main square around the courthouse. The buildings were elegantly proportioned brick with plate windows and balconies running along the walls inside. There was a building there that put me in mind of the perfect place to meld my love of tea and my love of fine papers. I purchased a notebook and wrote out a business plan and menu. Then I put it away for a Plan B, in case grad school didn’t work out, or in case life failed me somehow.

In the dark, the blanks on the pages filled with story. By my second year of grad school, I was writing letters to friends in the persona of Cleotis Reed. He was the narrator then, telling the world about Sienna and her shop, Tea & Crumples. His aged wisdom always came across in words as Southern as BBQ.

Around the time that Cleotis was turning my backup plan into a novel, I read Kathleen Norris’ essay, “Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and Women’s Work.” I was moving deeper into the Christian tradition, focusing my time and scholarship on the 3rd and 4th century fathers. Norris’ essay opened my eyes to the sacredness of daily rituals. It was through her insight that I saw the history I was reading come alive. I could see how the fathers lived out what they said. I was attracted ever deeper into the living, ancient faith.

Eight years, two children, and two masters degrees later, I found myself on the brink of publishing Can’t Buy Me Love, my debut novel. The process of writing one novel to publication shook loose the story that needed to unfold in Tea & Crumples. I delved in, spinning a story through sadness and joy. The book threw me a surprise early on when I discovered that Sienna had lost a pregnancy at 19 weeks. My outline had not contained that detail originally, but it made sense. I wrote the characters forward through the shadow of grief.

I was about 1/4 through the first full draft of Tea & Crumples when my personal life took an unexpected turn as well. Our third child whom we awaited with great joy and expectation died by miscarriage at around 10 weeks. Anyone who has experienced such a loss knows the horror of it. But I was left with an additional layer of grief. I had to finish the novel I had started, the story of a woman I had loved and imagined for over a decade, who lost her child in stillbirth.

That’s when I began to experience the truth of the words I had already written and the faith I had long held. I believe that God seeks us out wherever we are, in whichever state, and loves us. I believe that we can let ourselves be found. There’s a line in Rilke’s Book of Hours about a thing “ripened until it is real” so that it “can be found when” God “reaches for it.” That was my hope, that by sticking to the habits of faith, tea, and love, I would look up one day and see God reaching out for me.

I wasn’t worried that God couldn’t find me. I was worried that I wouldn’t notice.

That’s where tea comes in again. There’s ritual with tea. It’s a drink of welcome and succor. Even when you drink alone, the ritual of tea makes you pause and assess. It’s the perfect rendezvous point for meeting in the valley of the shadow of death.

Tea & Crumples isn’t my personal story, but it echoes the healing in my life that came through the kindness of friends, through the steadying power of daily rituals, and the wellspring of grace in faithful marriage. Elder Sophrony of Essex advised, “Stand at the brink of despair, and when you see that you cannot bear it anymore, draw back a little, and have a cup of tea.” To me, that advice sticks to the heart of Tea & Crumples. God strengthens us not only in our struggles, but in our refreshment, for He is a good God Who loves humankind.

***

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. If you have experienced loss, you might find a local remembrance day group by searching for October 15 events.

*Affiliate links are embedded above, but I would be pleased as peaches if you’d look up my books at your local independent bookstore. Here’s my local shop: The Regulator Bookshop.

Celebrity Endorsement

Elizabeth Bennet is Tea&Crumples' biggest fan.

Elizabeth Bennet is Tea&Crumples’ biggest fan.

Pre-order now wherever books are sold. You can pick up Tea & Crumples at your local independent bookstore, your local chain bookstores, iBooks (iTunes), Kobo, or Amazon. I’m going to be over here dabbing my eyes with my laced hanky at the kind endorsement from one of my best friends ever –Elizabeth Bennet!

Prayer When You’re Busiest

Coming this November with Light Messages Publishers.

Coming this November with Light Messages Publishers.

After my dad died in 2012, there was a long period of going through the motions. What kept me sane and kept my family together was the daily need for food, drink, connection. I had loved tea with friends and family before then, but we solidified our family tea tradition that year, capping a summer of hot grief with the warmth of the tea table. I dug in a garden that summer, too, and the mints and herbs that grow there have come to be regulars at our teatime.

In Tea & Crumples, the protagonist Sienna is suffering under a terrible grief. But the people around her bridge the gap across her sorrow by reaching across the tea table. It’s not always our words that make sacred spaces. Sometimes it’s the daily rituals, the cleaning of cups, the laying of tables, the tucking in of chairs. Most of the time, holiness seeps in right between our weary fingers. Often, it leaves them warmer.

My hope for this novel is that it creates a safe space for love, for grief, for questions too big to ask all at once. It’s a spot of tea for the soul.

Has tea helped you through a hard time?

Tea in old children’s books

I love the past. I trained as a church historian in part because of that love. The past is full of vivid surprises if you can tolerate the dust. 

from Andersen’s Fairy Tales, New York: Grosset&Dunlap, 1945

My favorite old things (besides teaspoons) are children’s books. Maybe it’s the way they were published at such a high standard, meant to be cherished by cherished littles.   

The warm lignin burning away the pages in my hands brightens the saturated colors in the illustrations.  

I’m convinced that the books mean what they say, and they fully intend to shape my imagination when I open them. 

Alice in Wonderland Meets the White Rabbit, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1951

I especially like when they serve tea.

How about you? Do you like old books? What’s your favorite old thing?

 

Celebrating Best Sellers!

I have had quite a day, and I want to share some of the excitement with you. How else? With tea!

A little tea party for the children to celebrate all three of their mama's books becoming Top Ten Amazon Best-Sellers!

A little tea party for the children to celebrate all three of their mama’s books becoming Top Ten Amazon Best-Sellers!

Just yesterday, I published my latest novel, an Orthodox Christian paranormal romance called The Salvation of Jeffrey Lapin. Guess what? It made it to #8 in its category on Amazon this morning! Then, in honor of NaNoWriMo, I was glad to be able to offer my workshop model Creative Writing for Kids for free this week only! Creative Writing for Kids has risen to #2 in its category on Amazon!

When the children approached me to ask why I was so excited, I told them the great news. All three of my published books have made it to the top ten in their Amazon categories.

What do you think they wanted to do to celebrate? In the words of my four year old, “Mom, can we have a tea party with real tea?” 

I had already planned to tell you today about my favorite quick and easy tea treat “recipe” (assembly required, but no cooking). It so happens that the children love this treat for their tea parties. All it takes is two ingredients: Carr’s Whole Wheat Crackers (biscuits) and Nocciolata [click links to view on Amazon]. If you’re not allergic to soy lecithin, you can use Nutella in place of the Nocciolata. (I cannot eat regular Nutella due to a severe allergy to soy products.) But even friends who can eat both tend to prefer the richer flavor of Nocciolata when we have tea.

The “Recipe”: Chocolate Covered Biscuits

6 teaspoons Nocciolata chocolate hazelnut spread

6 Carr Whole Wheat Crackers

Spread 1 teaspoon of Nocciolata on each biscuit. Serve!

My children love these tea treats. They sometimes call them “Chocolate Covered Kipper Biscuits” since they look just like the treats eaten on the TV series Kipper the Dog.  Kipper’s chocolate covered biscuits are probably meant to be chocolate Hob-Nobs, which unfortunately also contain soy products and are therefore banned from our house. But as someone who enjoyed Hob-Nobs back in the day, I can assure you that these tea treats are a delicious substitute for those with soy allergies.

Thank you for celebrating with me! Please share your favorite super easy tea treat “recipe” in the comments!

Note: This post contains affiliate links.