Tea Trials and Tribulations: Finding My New Addiction

I celebrated a tipping point in my annual acknowledgement of inevitable mortality this week–for those of you who don’t speak thesaurus, I had a birthday–and, as a result, I have decided to adopt an eccentricity commensurate with my age. I shall forthwith be known as The Tea Lady.*

As a follow-up to my last post, I am happy to report my somewhat victorious hunt for a replacement to my Teavana / Earl Grey addiction. While I cannot claim to find the exact same tea elsewhere, I’ve found a tea I like. And I’m here to bore you to death with the details. You’ve been warned.


I made a point of ordering some teas to try to find the good twin to my long-lost love (formerly produced by the evil bastards at Teavana may they rot in a mildewy, milk-tea hell).

This is what I’ve discovered–not all tea companies approach sales the same way.

I went to three online tea purveyors:

The Art of Tea

Adagio Tea


TeaLyra via Amazon

If I graded the companies on their packaging and delivery—the winners would be in this order:

First Place Packaging:

Adagio - Box package
Bonanza Box Extravaganza – They Really Want You As a Customer! Or else.


Adagio (HQ – New Jersey, US) – which sent a nicely crammed box filled with the $2.00– 0.8 oz loose-leaf sample of Earl Grey Moonlight which I asked for–along with several unsolicited samples and blandishments to purchase more. The fact that I ordered the week before my birthday might explain the ‘Birthday’ tea which I’ve yet to try and the ‘Pisces-Zodiac’ tea tin included gratis. I tried the latter. It smelled heavenly, but tasted bitter. I went on line to discover this tea has ‘lavender’ in it—which is a flower that makes me sneeze violently—so perhaps it was a subliminal allergic response as much as taste. For many reasons, this is not the tea for me. It will make a lovely sachet for my underwear drawer though.

Warning: print out your receipt–when I looked later in my emails, the details of the purchase were not included in the confirmation.

I was given a choice of one free sample; I picked the Earl Grey Bravo. If they hadn’t sent it, things might have turned out very differently. **

Second Place Packaging

Art of Tea Package
Not entirely bare bones, Art of Tea, but close.

The Art of Tea (HQ – Beverly Hills, CA) took almost a week to arrive. Going back, I re-reading their disclaimer on the invoice: “Art of Tea’s hand-crafted artisan teas take about 3-5 business days to create before they’re ready to ship.”

They sent their sample of loose-leaf Earl Grey Creme in a tin (5-7 servings for $5.00, plus shipping $5.97) along with two individual tea bag samples—one of the exact same tea, except bagged in an ‘eco pyramid’ filter, and one serving called Tali’s Masala Chai. It is hard to compare pricing, but the fact that the tea was boxed due to the metal container meant the shipping price was actually more expensive than the cost of the product itself. Although it is preferred to keep tea in a tin to preserve the contents, I don’t think it would hurt to send samples at a cheaper rate.

Third Place Packing

TeaLyra Packaging
The prosaic packaging promises–you aren’t paying extra for ‘Freebies’.

TeaLyra (HQ in New York and Canada) Was the fastest tea–I ordered from Amazon.com on March 5 and it arrived March 7. Self-described as the ‘Galaxy of Teas,’ the sample came wrapped in bulk packaging with a slapped-on label to identify the contents and a giant 25% off coupon good through July 30, 2018 for use by anyone.

GO AHEAD, here’s the code if you want to try: “Get-25-USA4”.

TeaLyra sent the biggest sample for the price ($14.99 for 3.5 ounces–which doesn’t sound like a lot but, man, the bag was huge next to the other samples.) There was some confusion though.

On the Amazon website the tea is called ‘Cream Earl Grey – Citrusy with Vannilla (sic) flavor’ but, if you go to the actual TeaLyra.com website, the name is Cream Earl Grey Moonlight. I wondered if Amazon was selling a knock-off, so I contacted TeaLyra. They explained that Amazon wouldn’t allow the full title for the tea so they omitted the word ‘Moonlight.’

Scooby Doo mystery solved, it was time for the battle to commence.

I set up my test kitchen.

Test Kitchen Trial 1
Three Contestants Enter – But Only One Tea Leaves!

I didn’t have three identical cups, and I really wanted to show off my teapot/cup combination. (Proving my tea-geek chic.) Otherwise, I tried to be scientific about it.

I did my best to put the same quantities of tea, sugar and cream into each glass. I’m a sweet, hot tea girl, so three level teaspoons of Demerara sugar and ½ a teaspoon of half-and-half went in.

After a three-minute steep, sugar, then cream, it was time to taste-test.

I sipped from left to right and it was a bit like the three bears, except that none of the three was ‘just right’ in terms of matching my memory of the Teavana profile.

How The Competition Measured Up…After a Slight Hiccup

Art of Tea – had strong floral notes wafting from the tin. It was self-described as ‘full body, citrus, silky’ and I would agree with the full and the silky part. I could not taste anything but vanilla in this particular tea.

In fact, the vanilla was so overpowering that I had to stop and look up “How To Cleanse Your Palate” and found this delightful site:

The Cup of Life

I did not have the recommended plain crackers but I decided white bread is pretty close and I sucked on pinches between sips in order to ‘zero’ my taste buds.

I also learned I had been drinking my tea all wrong.

The key to tea tasting is the etiquette-aghast SLURP method. To quote the Cup of Life doyenne: “While that may seem impolite, slurping is necessary to experience the full flavour of the tea on all parts of your palette.”

I slurped my way through the three choices. I made some observations which I will share with you:

Notes Copy
Absolutely riveting reading, really. If I ever write a book on tea judging, be sure to avoid it.

Art of Tea

Earl Grey Crème Ingredients: organic black teas, organic cornflower, natural flavors, bergamot oil.

Even after a palate cleanse and a slurp-tasting, I still couldn’t get past the vanilla in the Art of Tea – Earl Grey Creme. That said, the tea was the smoothest cup I tried. You could barely taste the bergamot and it had none of the bitterness usually associated with strong black teas. Slurping lowered the initial strength of the vanilla flavor but it hit the back of the throat after swallowing and filled the nose with the perfume.***

Conclusion: too sweet and flowery for my tastes but probably a really fine dessert tea for a vanilla lover.

Plain Tea
Left-to-right: Art of Tea, Adagio, and TeaLyra before sugar/cream.


Up next, the musically bold companion tea.


Earl Grey Bravo Ingredients: black tea, orange peels, natural earl grey flavor.

Opening the bag, your nose gets a much more complex series of notes: bergamot, vanilla and what smells like a hot summer in Valencia Spain in the form of dried orange peels. I had my doubts initially; I tend to avoid orange flavoring as it can dominate. I am happy to admit, I was wrong.

This cup had the most pleasing color as a brewed tea, but then, it was in the cup with the widest diameter and that may have affected the light hitting it. It was also the tea that had the sweetest taste. I swear, I put the same amount of sugar in each cup, but, again, the dimensions of this cup may have played havoc with the scientific method.

One odd thing I noticed was the description of the tea’s label. The company did not describe the contents as ‘Bergamot Oil’ as did the competitors. Made me wonder what exactly they considered ‘natural earl grey’ to taste like?

Last, but not least, came the economically priced Amazon brew:


Earl Grey Crème ‘Moonlight’ Ingredients: organic black loose-leaf tea, cornflower, oil of bergamot, natural flavors.

TeaLyra had the lightest scent in dry form. There were hints of vanilla and bergamot. The odor reminded me of pressed flowers—a light, but ghostly, lingering scent.

The tea was also the most neutral flavor of the three. No one scent overpowered the other either in dry or brewed form. Admittedly, I drank this tea third of each round and it is entirely possible the first two samples killed any nuance detection. The flavor was not as ‘bright’ as the other teas. Overall, it was a more down-to-earth cup.

TeaLyra’s sample reminded me of a good English breakfast tea more than an Earl Grey Crème—with or without moonlight. It was a mellow, medium strength cup at 3 minutes. I think a longer steep might bring out the ‘hairy knuckles’ in the flavor. And of the three teas, it came closest in a visual comparison to the admittedly powdery dregs I have left of the original Teavana brand Earl Grey Crème sample. See for yourself:

Teavana Sample



PROS: Quality and luxury hand-crafted teas. Smooth, round and silky brew.

CONS: Expensive. Excessive Vanilla may be to mask bitterness of higher prices and slower products.


PROS: If you want a quick delivery that will make you feel pampered at a mid-ranged price, I recommend Adagio.

CONS: Demerits for the overly complicated discounts offered. The company promises future discounts after purchase but it requires you share a $5.00 gift certificate on social media.

Adagio also emailed to tell me of their ‘points’ system encouraging you to buy a lot of tea to earn any more freebies:

Your purchase has earned you 4 points in our “frequent cups” program. With 100 points or more, you’ll be saving $10+ on future orders.

Like most drugs, the first sample is free. The rest is going to cost you.


PROS: A likeable, affordable breakfast tea without an overly strong Bergamot or vanilla presence. If you like to be able to taste your tea, this is the companion for you. Plus, you know you aren’t paying higher prices for marketing or for frou-frou bells and whistles.

CONS: Weaker kissing-cousin to Teavana’s Earl Grey Crème. If you want to try a smaller sample, go directly to TeaLyra.com, Amazon only offers the larger 3.5 ounce packaging.

In the end, I am surprised to say I preferred Adagio’s Earl Grey Bravo best. It wasn’t the closest match to my beloved Teavana, I suspect the TeaLyra would make a fair substitute if it had a hint more vanilla in it…


With this in mind, I dump the overpowering vanilla of Art of Tea into the TeaLyra batch and discover I like the resultant concoction very much.

Whether anyone else would agree is for them to decide. Perhaps there is something of the Dr. Frankenstein in all of us—we can only love the monster we’ve created?

Memory is a funny thing. It is a place in which the pleasures of something increase exponentially for each day lost to the sands of time.

I had my heart set on finding my beloved Teavana twin only to end up falling for the fast and bold Adagio Bravo instead.

It has taken me over half-a-century, but I can finally say I’ve found my inner, fickle-hearted, fancy-free, femme fatale. And it didn’t take me fifty shades of Earl Grey to find her.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*Note to self: get appropriately massive, flowery hat….or adopt a faux British accent.

**Insert appropriate “duh duh DUH!” sound effect for dramatic emphasis…or just mumble it to yourself.

***There were no instructions on how to clear a nose palate—and no, I did not stick bread up there to see if that would work


You’ve read this fricken far bonus:

There was supposed to be a fourth ‘Cream Earl Grey’ sample from Beantown Tea & Spices. Despite the name, the company must be shipping its product by a slow-boat from China. I ordered it March 5th–the same day as the TeaLyra product.

At last check, delivery is expected March 13th.

Addendum: Beantown sample arrived Sunday, March 12, and was delicious. I would have tested it against the other three for a truly detailed comparison, but I have used up all my tea sachets and have to order more. Sigh.


50 Shades of Earl Grey Crème…

Wanted: A naughty cup of tea with a bergamot bite.

I’m on my knees.

I’m begging for relief.

Aching for that particular and distinct pleasure that only a true acolyte of the libatious arts can attain. But alas…

My cup is empty.

I am truly lost without my Earl Grey Crème.



The week I learned that Teavana was going to close its doors, I went straight to the mall, plunked down a piece of plastic and ordered an obscene amount of tea–something near 7 pounds–because that was the minimum I could order to get 30% off the total price. I did not even look at the receipt when I signed it. No price was too high a cost to pay.*

You think 7 pounds doesn’t sound like a lot?  Imagine the backpack sized tea parcels they gave me–I’m sure I looked like a tea mule smuggling fine grade, uncut pure leaf addiction–I’d show you…but I drank it all.

In less than a year, my precious was gone.

My Precious
Thanks to: http://www.vitamin-ha.com/gollum-memes-14-pics/ for coming up with a Gollum/Tea meme.


I swore I wouldn’t buy any more tea until I have drunk some of the thousands of other teas in the many, many containers I already possess.

You think I’m kidding?

I’m not.

Tea Time 2
I have issues. Crazy, manic, matcha-based issues.


I’ve stuck by my resolution not to succumb to temptation. Not to bend. Not to splay myself prostrate crying

Why have the tea gods abandoned me? WHY?”

I’ve been sucking down Twinnings Chai to sublimate my desires. I sugar it. I even use the latte foamer that makes me feel like a pampered princess…until I have to clean it.




I am now hunting for a replacement.

How hard can it be to find a fragrant facsimile?

A delicious doppleganger?

A tantalizing taste bud teaser to pleasure the palate? A tea that will make me whimper when it’s gone bottom’s up!**

I’m putting out an ad to the area tea purveyors:

“I’m a sweet young thing looking for the bad boy I’ve been missing…oh where, oh where is my Earl Grey Crème?

Fortunately, the internet is ready to cater to most discerning clientele.

Clickety, click, ka-ching!

So, bring on the Adagio Moonlight loose leaf and the Earl Grey Crème wares of Art of Tea–I can’t wait to sample your charms!***

Hurry to me, my darling. I’m waiting for you!

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

*I lied. I did look at the receipt. The total was shocking, and this was after the discount. And, though I did not faint, it was only because I was afraid I would drop my complimentary cup of tea in the process.

**I want a tea that will own me, make me say “Thank you! May I have another!”

***This post may be a sign that I need an intervention…or a really dominant cup of tea.


Things To Do On Valentine’s Day When You Are Single…

For some, February 14th might as well be called “Sorry-You-Are-Unlovable Day.

It is the annual event loners celebrate by default when Valentine’s Day rolls around like the hemorrhoid of holidays it is.  Honestly, I’m surprised there isn’t a bleak, dark corner of the Hallmark aisle already dedicated to us.

I'd Rather Die Alone
More gems like this available at https://jezebel.com

I could be petty and jealous and secretly hate everyone in a relationship on this one particular day of the year.* But it would take energy I totally lack to lift my middle finger and wave it about.

So, instead of moping about being unlucky in love, I am coming up with my sure-fire Emergency Preparedness List of getting through the Cupid-Vomit-Thong-Up-The-Butt-Overpriced-Hormone-Drenched Extravaganza that is February 14th. Feel free to add suggestions.


  1. Shower and put on the good underwear. You know the ones–breathable, big enough to cover your dignity and not low crawl up your ass when you walk. **
  2. Drink something fizzy and pink with an umbrella. Now, the only umbrellas I own are the collapsible kind that are half-broken, so one side droops down to guide the water down your collar. If this means I’m going to look like a mad woman with a Shirley Temple addiction, too bad.
  3. Buy those raspberries. I never buy fruit out of season as it is an unjustified expense. Screw that. I deserve me some fuzzy, deliciousness.***
  4. If you want flowers or candy–buy them. But I highly encourage you do it on February 15th when it all goes miraculously on sale.
  5. Massage chairs at the mall take credit cards. Ten dollars will make you forget about all your troubles–at least for a little while. Wear a mask if you are a moaner.
  6. Indulge. Read a book. Actually focus on the words and ignore that weird noise in the other room. I’m sure whatever it was can be replaced…or will heal.
  7. Heat blankets in the dryer (or stove, whatever) and then curl up with them just before you open that book. It’s totally worth the fire hazards if you lose track of the time. Trust me. I know. Some books are worth dying for.
  8. Plan an escape from dull reality with friends and keep it. It doesn’t have to be this day. Just knowing you are going out with people you like is a joy. It gives you something to look forward to outside of yourself. Speaking of self…
  9. Love the one you’re with. Take that however you want. Just don’t post any incriminating pictures on Facebook.
  10. Be kind to yourself. Take back the day. It’s not just for lovers any more.

You know that ideal world where everyone is nice and caring and thinks about what you need? (No? Me neither.) Make sure you take time be that person for yourself for this one day. Be your own valentine.

(And if anyone snickers at you when they catch you hugging yourself–punch them, hard, and tell them it was a love tap from me.)

Nothing screams “You is special!” like a nice tiara.

And if you have your own recommendations for surviving this un-celebration, please leave a note below. It’s a cold, cruel world for single people on February 14th. It’s good to know we’re not alone.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*Why limit myself to just one day? I prefer to spread my loathing out in a nice, even layer throughout the year. Like a bitter chocolate frosting that burns upon contact.

**I may have to go shopping…I’m not sure I still own any good underwear.

***Please do not take this as an invitation to insinuate a smutty association between raspberries and men’s genitalia. I’d like to eat them again one day. What? No! Of course I mean the fruit!! What did you think I meant? It’s people like you who are ruining the internet.

————————–You Read This Far Bonus_______________________

Please check out Jezebel.com and all the less safe Anti-Valentine’s cards I didn’t choose from. You’re welcome.

Or, if you want to walk on the wicked side, I found this little number on Disturbed Stranger: I Killed Cupid

Warning, this isn’t the kind of gentle humor you are used to on my playground. This is dark-side-of-the-moon, do you [expletive deleted] your mother with that mouth? kind of dark. In fact, NEVER google Dead Cupid. It was a disturbing journey all around.

I need another bath now.

On Grey Days…Beware Bedeviling Baked Goods

February is the grayest month of the year and I can prove it;  even my cooking is suffering a major depressive disorder.


I love to throw things into a pot and see what happens. Sometimes I end up with a miraculous, delicious invention that could hold it’s own in a modest kitchen stadium.


And then, there are those unfortunate choices we live to regret.*

Dinner started out as basic boiled root vegetables. I had carrots, potatoes, onions, a red cabbage. I figured, “Ah heck, who cares if everything is vaguely pink?”

…then I remembered I had the makings of a nice green curry. So, I just kept tossing things in: peas, peppers, coriander, lemon grass, fish sauce, chicken, coconut milk…

Red Cabbage Swamp
Unintentional Red Cabbage Massacre


Red cabbage is so good in many things, but not as a visual aid in Green Curry Recipes. And purple curry is just WRONG!

Every time I made the mistake of looking at my meal, I felt like an institutional stew from a psych ward was staring back at me.

At least it tasted okay…as long as you closed your eyes.

Dessert was not so lucky.

It’s been a long week. My son has had more snow days, half-days and doctor’s visits than usual. I’m starting to twitch trying to keep him occupied.

So, I decided to make some cupcakes…from a box mix.

I think to myself, “You can’t go wrong with a box mix.”**

Then I remembered I wanted to try mixing in a box of pudding…so I go to the internet.

I whip everything together. Plunk some festive papers in the cupcake tray and pop those bad boys in the oven for forty-five minutes at 350 degrees, just like the cobbled-together recipe online says.

I’m watching reruns of Supernatural. The Winchesters battle God’s sister for the sake of the universe and the loving scent of vanilla wafts through the house. The oven is so warm that I can feel my toes thawing.

All is well with the world.

Supernatural Cupcakes
I searched for images of ‘Supernatural Cupcakes’ thinking I’d find Sam and Dean draped in suggestive poses covered in pastry. Alas, I did not. But the internet did not disappoint. Admire these hexed treats. I’m in awe of you, Justina Kropp/Pinterest.

Time passes. I’m distracted by a noise, pause my show, and I get up to check it out when I  realize there is still about fifteen minutes left on the oven timer…

And that’s when it hits me.

Cupcakes are not cakes. Not really. They are precocious infants that might someday grow up to be real desserts.

And they don’t take 45 minutes to bake.

Surprisingly, what I took out of the oven wasn’t entirely inedible.***

“I’ll just make a fantastic frosting and hide my crimes.” I say, with desperate bravado, the hallmark of self delusion.

Back to the internet I go…because I am a slow learner.

I wanted to make a ganache…a rich, chocolatey, mouth-gasm of a frosting.

Ganache, for those of you who don’t know, is fecking awesome when done correctly.

That last part is important.

This is what I made instead:

Crappy Cupcake 1
This really needs the sound track to the shower scene from Psycho. That’s how big a tragedy this was.


“How bad were these cupcakes?” You ask.

I’ll show you.

Exhibit A:

Cupcake vs Mango
I gave my teenage son a choice…cupcake or mango.


I myself was curious to learn whether there was any kind of sugary confection my son would turn down.

This was his answer….

Cupcake vs Mango 2
Yeah. That’s pretty damning.


So, I did the only thing a sad baker can do.

(Besides eat two anyway because. Denial!)

Garbage Cakes
Good Bye, nasty garbage cakes!

They clung to the tray as if saying, “We’re not that bad…give us a chance.”

But no. Sometimes, it’s better, healthier, to let go of the things we cannot change.

And that includes damaged baked goods.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*Recipes, like horses, should never be changed mid-stream.

**I was wrong. Horribly, disastrously wrong. This was the monstrous amalgamation of inattention paired with random recipe Googling–creating a cake-tastrophy.

***But they were totally indelible.

The Beast

This is a test of the limits of my abilities to get this post to Facebook, come hell or high water.


I have fed the beast and still he screams

In fevered, agonizing dreams

His cries resound without surcease

You cannot fill this endless beast


He hungers, hungers, hungers still

Though every market basket spills

With trifles, desires, colored bright,

His aching need you cannot fight


No food can fill this gaping maw

A cornucopia is but a stall

A smidge, a nosh, a brief repast

Nothing you bring can ever last.


Before the final course is served

(Regardless of whether it’s deserved.)

You plead, you beg,

“Let this be enough!”

He gestures to refill the trough!


For some a feast would not suffice.

The hunger exceeding fields of rice

You cannot nourish, cannot swallow

That some are born with legs so hollow!


So bear your burden, feed the wish

Engorge the bottomless abyss

Stoke the fire, prime the steam

So someday you may once more…

View original post 116 more words

Opalescence – On The Edge

I was reminded today that being human takes practice and it is, thankfully, not as hard as propagating orchids. I did not know, when I headed to the Meijer Gardens Orchid Show, that I would learn that flowers grow in forms of glass, peat moss dreams, and human bonding–both casual and eternal.

Bonfire Peach 3
The Bonfire Peach – Not an orchid, but too pretty to feel insecure about it.


Sleepless after ill-conceived, late-night revels with the Princess Bride and Futurama, I staggered to Meijer Gardens Saturday towing a camera with a mostly-dead battery.*

Thank goodness for iPhones.**

My son dragged me to a corner and refused to budge while we both waited for salvation in the form of a fearless babysitter incentivized by college debt and the promise of at least a Benjamin to keep the orchid’s safe from harm.

Stained Glass
I so wish I were less clumsy…and hampered by morals…or I would have flower-napped this stained glass.

The minute my child disappeared with his sitter, I was off. My goal—to photograph as many blooms as possible before my teenager got bored and came back. So, basically, like the count down timer on a nuclear device–I was set to go!

iPhone camera in hand, I stalked exotically named flora.

I hadn’t hit my stride when I ran into a mother and her 26-year-old son. We were fighting to capture the same bloom without flashing each other to blindness.

The mom struck up a conversation as I waited my turn at the luscious fuchsia petals that somehow managed to be the stealth bomber of the orchid enclave.

Phal Unkonwn Hybrid 2
Phal. Unknown Hybrid – which basically means they don’t know who’s the daddy and mommy.

I was too focused on the flowers. I almost missed hearing that this well-spoken young man has Asperger’s. And like a flower turned to the sun, I lit up meeting him.

To his mom, I said, “My son has ‘classic autism’, he’s non-verbal.”

“I know. I saw you earlier with him.” She confided, nodding toward her son, “We reached him through his love of photography.”

Her son took a break from photographing the coveted blossom. We shook hands. He told me his name and then asked me for mine. I spelled my name out for the young man. He dutifully entered it into his phone—taking delight when I asked if he knew how to spell my last name—citing the Harry Potter – Salazar Slytherin reference. He showed me his phone and he had it letter perfect.

Unfortunately, in the hustle, I totally missed taking his name down. (The day was about photography not blogging, so my notes were whatever I could slap into my phone between pictures.) Looking later, high and low, I couldn’t find his name. If you know this young man, tell him I said ‘Hi’ and ask him to find me.

But, because I met him, my whole day changed. I wasn’t there just for the flowers, but to flower in the company of human experience.

And in writing about each person I met, I decided, I needed to invent an appropriate orchid name.

First, I met…

The Freckle-Dusted, Curly Charmer – a/k/a Rachel

Rachel - Freckle Dusted Curly Charmer
Blossoming in situ with a lovely display of Star Wars Fandom Memorabilia

In such a small space, it is not hard to run into people—several times even—at various stations.

I inadvertently stalked this couple throughout the gardens: Rachel and her very tall, camera-shy companion, Kyle—a smug owner of a Samsung Galaxy phone who taunted me periodically with the amazing shots he could take.

Not to be outdone–here’s one of the best I captured:

Phrag Besseae 4
Phrag. Besseae – My favorite at the show looked like an opera singer trying to hit the C two octaves above middle C.

We exchanged observations while snapping pictures.

Almost every plant had a ribbon—though some of them could be the floral equivalent of an ‘Honorable Mention’ participant award as far as I knew. I have a policy of admitting my ignorance up front—it saves time and effort.

“They all look so beautiful,” I told her, “I really don’t know how the judges could evaluate the merits of any flower.”

That’s when Rachel dropped her orchid bomb!

“I’m sort of a cheater.” She confessed.

When pushed to explain, she said, “I was a biology major at Grand Valley [State University] and I had this professor who showed us how to propagate orchids using a method of injecting genes to create new flowers. So, I understand a bit more about this than most.” ***

This whole time I’d been standing next to an orchid whisperer and hadn’t known it!

When asked what she liked in a flower, Rachel confessed, “I like the weird ones.” So Rachel, this Columbine is for you!

Later, while trying to recapture what she told me, I tried to find an appropriate article on ‘gene splicing’ but failed. I did, however, stumble across an actual process to gene-test an orchid’s D.N.A. to discover its parentage: Orchid DNA

Basically, you can C.S.I. an orchid’s ass to find out ‘Whose your daddy?’ so to speak.

Octo or Squid Orchid 2
I missed getting the exact name of this one – but a search for ‘tentacle orchid’ turned up variations on an Octo/Squid Orchid that looked like siblings of this funny variant.

In our many encounters, I mentioned how rare it is for me to get out and interact with the world.

(True Confession Time: I was a bit giddy at the orchid extravaganza. I probably seemed a bit drunk with excitement—kind of like a deranged puppy with a floral fixation.)

I asked if I could take her picture for my blog—and tried to set a ‘privacy’ setting so her picture wouldn’t be plastered all over my feed. But the challenging wifi or vicious internet pixies played havoc with the Facebook options.

Rachel shrugged, saying she didn’t mind. This only encouraged me.

“It’s hard for me to go places sometimes.” I laughed and gave my iPhone a little shake. “So, I kind of live on Facebook. It’s weird, I can live so close to people I know but never get together with them. And yet, this summer, a friend from Japan is coming here and we’re going to meet at the nearby mall!”

Then Rachel said something profound.

“Facebook—it makes the far world closer and the close world farther away.”

It struck me as so true, I made her repeat herself so I could type it in my phone. Yes, I am that pushy.

Den Angel Kisses 3
Den. Angel Kisses – the closest you can find this side of heaven.

Every time I ran into Rachel and Kyle, we’d fall into conversation. Well, I babbled at them and Rachel willingly exchanged floral witticisms that I could not possible recreate here. You’ll have to come up with your own horticultural insights, I’m afraid.

Except, I can share one universal truth: “Crab grass is the bitch bane of gardening.”

Everyone I met was friendly, tolerant of my intrusions, polite and sharing. None more so than my next flowery friend.

Gratia Umbra a/k/a Elizabeth N.

A slender blond with an elegance that matched the floral occasion, Elizabeth carried with her a functional camera and used it like she knew what she was doing. So, of course, I asked whether she was planning on posting them online and could I ‘friend’ her to see them.

She politely accepted.

If I were to name her using floral taxonomy, the Latin to describe Elizabeth would be A Shade of Grace or Gratia Umbra.

To Elizabeth, who got the shots I could not make. Thanks for sharing.

Elizabeth's Orchid 2
Stolen with permission from Elizabeth N. Admire those sideburns!

I could not conclude this story without letting you know of the absolute perfect ending that almost didn’t happen. A providential duo I would regret not knowing.

Defining them by a flower name that accurately tells you who they are is impossible. But I’ll try. For this couple, you absolutely have to use a crossbred variety. Match a shy, subtly engaging flower with a showy, over-the-top genus to create an utterly unique new combination. I give you:

Painted Hearts x Mirrored Souls

Sometimes, you just know. You look at a couple and know they are meant to go together  So it was when I met Nick and Oberon.

I was done photographing the official orchid exhibit. But there is an arboretum that is part of the Meijer Gardens that is a glassed-in heaven in January.

I almost didn’t go. But, rare is my chance to visit the gardens and luxuriate in the peace it brings. And I’m so glad impulse led me to meeting a very special couple.

I wandered to the wall of orchids and sniffed to try and find the one that exuded a glorious, heavy smell that was sweet just to the point of being overpowering.

One of the garden volunteers—the human variety, not the plant kind—corrected me when I told her I loved a particular flower for its heavenly perfume.

“Smell this.” Is all she said.

She thrust a small pot under my nose–tiny fringy leaves with even smaller white flecks you could mistake as dots among all the greenery.

Those dots were actual orchid buds, so small, you had to pay attention to see them.

I did as instructed.

It was like being punched in the nose by the goddess of spring. This confirms a long-held suspicion and I told her so.

“I think the smaller the blossom, the stronger the smell.” I nod in satisfaction. “To make up for not being so showy and bright.”

Saying nothing, she put the pot back and I moved on my way.

Without knowing it, this was the perfect segue to my last encounter of the day.

Getting ready to depart, I was stopped by an incongruous sight.

NO! Not these self-described ‘Blue Birds of Happiness.’

Among the elderly wanderers, nodding white heads in appreciation of the wonderful view, the families with children, grandparents, and photo-happy parents, there sat a glaring anomaly—a tattooed duo dressed as if headed for a punk rave or a New York grunge art review. Ready for something, anything, more hip than an arboretum.

Nick and Oberon – The Perfect Hybrid

To Nick and Oberon—for the story about the beehive ink alone—I am indebted. The explanations of a clamshell with the number 13 drawn on your wrist. The laughter and the stories too personal to share here. The tattoo review was the most unique floral exhibit of the day. So if I had to pick flowers to represent you, it would have to be these two–so similar and yet so different, and perfectly matched.

You opened up to a stranger, one arguably stranger than most. You shared your origin stories like the super heroes you are. You let me take pictures that said a lot more about you than words could.

You let me remember what it was like to be young, in love, and filled with the adventure of it all. Thank you.

And yes, I will happily descend upon you the next time I’m in Chicago. I’m dying to color in all those black and white tattoos. Let’s find out if you are brave enough to hand me a needle to try.

And to my final floral tribute – the young man who made it all possible.

Mysterious One
To my Velvet-Petaled Open Invitation, I hope we meet again.

You invited me to be part of the human race instead of just an observer. At 26, you understand that connecting with people is more important that getting a perfect shot. I will remember you always and name you for your warm spirit as well as the small bits of fuzz that dotted your baby face.

My Velvet-Petaled / Open Invitation

You are not in my notes, my phone, my email.

I’ve looked for you everywhere.

You are the one who caused me to look up.

To put the camera down.

Hopefully this will find you, somehow.

To the autistic young man at the flower show.

You reminded me to be as well as see.

Thank you.


I dedicate this blog post to you, for without you it would not have happened.

You will forever be a gentle poem in my heart:


And for those curious as to the title of this post, it was the flower name I most identified with. We should all be opalescence on the edge!

Opalescent - On The Edge 2
I claim this as my spirit flower–Opalescence on The Edge

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*If you ever catch me with a fully-charged device, assume I’ve been kidnapped by aliens and that this is a clone doing research for the impending invasion of Earth. Act accordingly.

**Curse you, Kyle, and your fancy Samsung with those neato photo features. Smugness does not become you!

***This quote is from memory. So, take it with a large grain of salt that I got this at all right.


Don’t Lick This Card…

I started this post about ten days ago…but caught the flu so bad, I couldn’t finish writing it. I kind of collapsed instead.  I am finally crawling back up on my personal hobby horse–the bedeviling holiday traditions that trap you in a tinsel choke-hold and won’t let go!




I won’t say that I am single-handedly keeping Hallmark alive, but of my entire family, I am the only one I know who sends holiday cards because I have to and despite the fact that I lost all religious affiliation years ago.

I have never been diagnosed with OCD (?Overly Cheerful Demeanor?), but it’s the only explanation I can find for why I put up a Christmas Solstice Tree, bake and decorate a bajillion festive cookies and, of course, send out the ubiquitous holiday cards.

It’s a sickness really.

I waited too late this year though. The holiday came and went (a Day Early) and I had yet to write out a single card. You’d think this was a sign! Maybe this year would be the year? Can I break the cycle?

Turns out…no. I can’t.

Four boxes of holiday cards at the ready—espousing nicely generic season greetings—printed family photo montage highlighting 2017 high (and low) points ready to go, festive stamps at hand, I sat at a table and manically wrote out a personalized greeting to everyone on my list.*

Did I mention I was suffering the worst plague at the time and, maybe, started hallucinating about half-way through the pile?**

To say some of my cards were a bit weird…well…I really wish I had taken pictures of some of the better entries. Fortunately, friends were willing to send me a few as proof of madness friendship.  Seeing them now, they don’t sound nearly as weird as I thought they were at the time.

But, I do remember a few choice comments I wrote:

“Dear Boston-Family,

Please remember on New Years Day to toss a roast beef out your front door before heading out. This is to feed the dragon perched on your gables. It need not be cooked—many dragons prefer a raw gift—but a nice sear is also appreciated.

Do not forget to watch for acid-spitting lizards though. They are much more temperamental and you’d be advised to crawl out a side window to avoid them…”


The longer I wrote, the more like a cry for help some of the cards started to resemble:

Dear Chicago Friends,

“I do not understand why or how this tradition started?! Nobody writes physical mail anymore! What is the point? This is going to reach you well past the New Year and, honestly, I’ll probably have babbled ten times equally dull daily complaints on Facebook. Maybe next year I’ll just do that. I’ll Tweet my greetings! Except, that I am a Luddite, and eschew Twitter. Not just because a certain member of our government has made it his bilious verbal diarrhea playground…but because I have standards. Dammit.

I practically accused my California cousins of outright smugness in their choice of vacating Michigan winters for the dubious joys of living on the San Andreas Fault:



Then there were the feeble attempts at humor involving the likely contagion I was spreading this season:

Dear Philly Friend,

“…can you catch depression when you catch a cold? Mostly it’s the fact that I had all of my cookie rolled, cut, baked and nearly all frosted when this cold happened. As a result, I didn’t dare send them to anyone…for fear of spreading the contagion…

Apparently, I’m less circumspect with card distribution. Don’t lick this card. You’ve been warned. Probably too late though. You’ve already licked it haven’t you? Sigh. Oh Well, swift recovery to us both in 2018!”

InkedDon't Lick This Card_LI - Erased image

Then I hit the wall I always hit after about four hours of writing inane holiday greetings (interjected with subliminal pleas for the madness to stop–see below). I start doodling to fill up the dreaded white space:


Holiday Card - Boston

I have a list of about sixty people to whom I send cards. I had enough holiday stamps for about half of the list…after that, you got a Wonder Woman or Star Trek stamp depending on your likeliest affiliation. When in doubt, I used one commemorating the eclipse!

The later on the list your name appears, the weirder the card entry you’ll likely get. Also, the more my dyslexia and spoonerisms would crop up.

I can only imagine what the person getting this one thought of it all…

Tingling Coccyx Greeting.
I am planning on writing a carol entitled: “May All Your Coccyges Be Bright!”


I have no choice. I have to send them. Then again, THEY have no choice, poor people, but to accept them. And secretly, I hope they like them and send me one in return.   It is the obsessive compulsive gift that keeps on giving!

In the end…only Hallmark really wins.

Booger Car Ride Signature

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes*:

*I cannot send a blank card. Really. Unless I am at death’s door, so a few of you may have one of these rare creatures. When I hit that marathon writer wall, I autographed a few and called it good. I’m still shuddering from the absence of ink though.

**I started to feel a little human, but the persistent cough worried me. So I went to a med center and caught a completely different virus. If this piece is unfinished, I probably died mid-sent…



Death Plague Victim

Calendar Mom Drops the Holiday Ball

Crass Consumerism Lite Show




Dear All,

I am spending Christmas Day writing cards to friends because, apparently, I am living the holidays backward. And it started off so promising too…

The cookies were baked and frosted in early December…ready to be handed out to teachers and neighbors instead of requiring exhausting shopping jaunts and wrapping to accomplish. Ta dah!

*She gloated and lo’ the gods of irony did take notice.* 

So, of course, the minute I added the last dragée sprinkle, I came down with the worst bubonic nasal funk, like, EVER. I didn’t dare hand out the frosted ones out to anyone…I liked.

We’ve been eating them all in lieu of chicken soup. (Note: I make something like 100 cookies each season.)


Cookies 2017
Over-sprinkle much?


As a result of the plague, all shopping was done last minute. Like on Saturday, or as I was calling itthe Eve of Christmas.

I gritted my teeth and plowed through the tinsel strewn madness in a frantic bid not to throttle my fellow man–just so I’d have presents to hand out at the family gathering.*

I stayed up all night Saturday wrapping the last-minute what-nots decorated with frills and furbelows and wondering why BBC America wasn’t showing the much-awaited Dr. Who Christmas special.

*A clue, she has not.*

Dizzy with a stuffy head, thrown by the fact I work from home and days are marked by whether I have to shove my kid on a bus or not, things are spectacularly wonky. Festivities happen in spastic fits and starts if they happen at all. To be perfectly blunt, I’m off! In fact, I am so off in my order of traditional holiday crapola, that we celebrated early.

LIKE…a DAY early.

I woke Sunday thinking that it was Monday because I saw a mail van delivering to the house next door. So, Santa came early. I made the traditional pop-n-fresh, cinnamon rolls from a Pillsbury can baked into the shape of a lumpy Christmas tree the way my mom always made for us when we were kids. My son happily opened his giant tube of popcorn and his Orville Redenbacher fun-fun air popper.

It is only after the morning is gone and all the presents are opened that I realize…oh, wait. It’s only the 24th.

Christmas Comes Early - Cinnamon Roll Tree
No…his shirt says “PUCK”…though I understand why you might be confused.


So, here we are, December 25th with nothing to celebrate. The snowy day precludes the emergency ‘road trip’ that I blankly promised my son yesterday with the caveat “If the weather is good.”**

And we woke to this…

Old Man Winter
Neon depiction of actual weather event – The Old Man Winter Blow-Out White Sale!


This wouldn’t be so all-fired tragic if it weren’t for the irony of it all.

My kid, the Calendar King, said NOT ONE WORD about the fact mommy was off by a day.***  I guess all kids dreams of Christmas coming early. This does explain the kind of puzzled looks he kept giving me when I told him to keep opening his presents though…

So, Happy Holidays to everyone… and I might as well wish you Happy New Year. I’ll be with you in spirit/s next Saturday as we toast farewell to 2017!  Because who in their right mind would put New Years on a Sunday of all things! Am I right?

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*I was shocked to find other people shopping and leaving me with no place to park but the butt-end of the parking lot. Seriously, why weren’t they all home with their families and snug in their beds?

**Note: all weather is good weather for travel according to my son. The roads could be melting with lava, hail could be denting the roof and Pteradactyls might be making a bid to return from the primordial ooze from which they sprung and he’d still say, “Car ride?”

***Yeah yeah. I know. Non-verbal autistic. But he could have pointed to a calendar or something!

2017 – A SUCKY Year in Review

I was going to title this 2017 – A Year in the Crapper and include an appropriate photo, but my friends tell me I overshare.

So, here’s my modified letter to the world:


Like burnt-pan-of-forgotten-soup-boiled-dry SUCKED.


Recovery is Slow
How bad a cook am I? I burned soup, people. That’s how bad!



It took a whole year of bad things happening for me to put my finger on exactly what was wrong…


Yeah, yeah. Having a tree drop on your house in a sh*t storm was a pretty big effing clue. But you could just chalk that up to really bad luck and shrug it off. If it weren’t for all those bad juju kinda things that kept happening.


I tried traveling to exotic locations and exploring for fun and adventure. I generally learned there is a diminishing return on happiness. The farther away we got from home, the more likely we were going to need an E.R. trip or an intervention. We are now circling the drain of 2017 and sticking mostly to home as a result.

Camp Cadillac
CAMP CADILLAC – For when you finally admit tent camping isn’t for you!


My son loves to go places and sleep outdoors.

Or so I thought.


Instead, what I found was photographic evidence that my son just likes a variety of places he can write calendars–or, if not writing them, he is contemplating it with a fistful of markers or crayons awaiting his next fix.

My son discovered a love of popcorn. That was a new obsession.

But despite the happiness campaign the people at Orville Redenbacher are pitching, popcorn can’t fix everything.

Calendar Man
If you squint you can make out my son’s favorite pastime. Hunting for calendars a thousand years from now.


Not even calendars can do that.

It also took me nearly a year of misery to realize something…

Happiest Places - Water
Gun Lake Reprieve – Momentary Bliss


Despite the occasional flashes of joy and happiness I managed to capture…

Pizza Man
Do you have any idea how hard it was to get him NOT to eat this cookie so I could take this fuzzy image? You can’t!


In most of the photos I took of my son…he was not smiling.

Camping Ceiling View
Seriously, he really did love this place. But his face doesn’t show it!


He was there. But he was an unwilling participant in:

Mommy’s Campaign for Happiness and Symptom Control.

Happy Place - No Smiles
Millenium Park only reached a tepid level of joy.

If 2017 were a fairytale–it was the Hans-Christian-Andersen-dark-with-a-side-of-maniacal-laughter kind. And it would have opened with this line…

THERE ONCE WAS A HAPPY BOY…whose mother tried to address his recurring rage-outs with a wave of pharmaceutical fixes.


Quiet Desperation
This was his most common expression–a mixture of Why? and Please Stop!


We tried several different combinations of psychiatric panaceas. If a drug caused a side effect, we gave a pill to fix the side effect – or in theory, that’s what it was supposed to do. Instead, it produced yet more side effects that, surprise, surprise, we’d try to address with more medication.

It was the loopiest, saddest, roller coaster of a year you can imagine.

There were the bids for happiness that ended in tears.

Not As Pictured
Ten minutes after this faux happy moment was taken, my son had a massive meltdown that had made me feel as if angry mammoths were stomping on my soul.


Then there was the reality check that bounced. HARD!

Part of me wanted to believe this was a transition year. That turning thirteen and becoming a dreaded teenager was the root of this particular evil. But after several incidents of biting in school this fall, I decided to stop the massively medicated merry-go-round–at least in part.

We backed off the majority of his drug trials. He is back on the two drugs that have the fewest complications and I just deal with side effects that only have him crawling up the walls and not sleeping instead of the combo-platter pharmacopeia backlash that produced jittery anxiety, biting, and head bashing, among other things.

I now take comfort in momentary joys–as rare as a solar eclipse and therefore exponentially more cherished in their singularity.

Does he understand the significance of the earth’s shadow blocking the sun? I do not know. But he enjoyed a day out and that was good enough for me.


But when added up in seconds, the joys of 2017 could not outweigh the sorrows.

Unhappy Solar Eclipse
Yeah. His face says it all….


For every golden day in the sun, there were days that drained like pus from a wound.

In this year, I have watched my happy boy transform in a downward spiral of misery and depression, taking me with him.

The Face of Pain


Then I had to leave my job to take care of him. Because, once he outgrew his handlers, I was the only one who could get him off the bus.

I left a good place to work for a life of uncertainty and near-poverty that allows me to work from home in the hours that my son is in school.

The only upside to this stress?  I have spent less time developing an ulcer over the toilet tank of a government where The Great Evil and his Cabal of Cackling Soulless Ones are stirring a sh*t stew for the masses to swallow.

So, 2017–that’s it! I am out of it: Out of work. Out of patience. And now, out of time.

I AM DONE, 2017.



I am coasting the rest of this year and hope that 2018 has some upside that I just can’t foresee or imagine. But I doubt it.*

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

*In a traditional end-of-year review, I usually take a light-hearted look at the craziness of my life. 2017 hasn’t been so much crazy-fun as it has been crazy-needs-to-be-committed. I’m not going to pretend otherwise and that’s my gift to you. Some years, all you can give is the honest truth…even if it is wrapped in a craptastic bow.**

**Seriously, though, being sick with cough and congestion this past week may have affected this year’s letter. Perhaps after I finish coughing up a lung, I’ll find my happy place again?




Or, maybe not.

Sunset Walks
“This is the end, beautiful friend. This is the End…of 2017!”