Insidious Encounters: Thought Control, Young Love, and a Mother’s Nightmare

This is a story about predatory alienation and a mother’s fight for her daughter. Unfortunately the story is true. While this is an abrupt break from my usual (and long-ago) posting about lighter and happier topics, it’s an important story and one I felt I needed to share. If all you do is skim the story and look at some of the pictures, all I ask is that you follow along at http://www.sampateam.com, http://www.sampateam.wordpress.com, and their related social media handles (facebook, twitter).

 Warning: Some of the language that follows is not suitable for young audiences and may act as a trigger to survivors of sexual assault and rape.

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From the quiet streets of small town Connecticut, to the World Wide Web, one mother is waist-deep in a fight to bring her daughter home, or at least to the table. Kathryn Cannon is a mother to triplets—one son and two daughters—who has endured her fair share of heartbreak and tragedy. Shortly after the birth of her three children in August 1992, the love her life and the father of her newly born babies, John Cannon, lost his battle with cancer.

Tasked with raising three young ones, Kathi (as many of her friends and family know her) spared no expense or time in an effort to give her children the best they deserve, as any loving and capable mother hopes to do. As her premature babies grew into toddlers and then teenagers, new hopes, opportunities, and challenges quickly emerged. For these three children—the best of friends since birth—the loss of a father they never knew pales in comparison to the more recent loss of a sister they have always known and loved.

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Pregnant with triplets!

Pregnant with triplets!

To be a teenager is to “know” love and heartbreak, wrestle with poor choices and personal victories, and ultimately accept frustrations and family drama—it’s all part of the process. The Cannon family is no different. In March of 2009, Samantha Cannon reached the same milestone faced by millions of young women and men worldwide: she started dating. Her first date was to a horror movie, which was atypical of Samantha, who—according to her family—hated scary movies. Unbeknownst to them at the time this was the start of some very abnormal behavior. Only the clarity of hindsight allows Samantha’s family to appreciate how much Samantha changed while trapped in the throes of unbridled teenage love.

It isn’t particularly groundbreaking that teenagers reinvent themselves to impress a love interest. Anna Breslaw at Cosmopolitan Magazine has written extensively (and humorously) about the perils of being a “cool girl.” The struggle between being your authentic self versus projecting an artificial persona for the sake of the people you start to date. The “cool girl” is so characteristic of young women (and “cool guy” for young men) going through the trials and tribulations of teenage-years, that it takes self-exploration, development, and ultimately acceptance, before one can come to terms with their authentic self and also find a love that treasures and nurtures our individual authenticity. This battle between what we are, and what we think we should be, plagues so many people, and ultimately separates healthy maturity from damaging insecurity down the road in life.

So perhaps Samantha’s willingness to see a scary movie was just a mild case of cool-girl syndrome. Perhaps it was just one more girl trying to impress one more boy. Perhaps this would have been the end of Samantha and Jeffrey’s story, a high school happily ever after. The rest of their story makes it abundantly clear that a neat and textbook ending for Samantha and Jeffrey would be wishful thinking. Instead, their romance has become one family’s lived horror movie, played out before them daily on nearby streets and far-flung screens.

Jeffrey and Samantha continued their teenage dream—as so many of us do—far longer any casual observer could understand. Admittedly, Samantha’s family did not have any opinions about Jeffrey as possible “forever” material at the time: few parents start speculating on their child’s romantic future when the subject in question is all of sixteen. But the Cannon family accepted that Samantha’s happiness was worth supporting, including her youthful relationship. Kathi played the role of awkward mom-turned-chauffeur for the two lovebirds—driving them to and from dates, welcoming Jeffrey to family dinners, cookouts, and small celebratory parties. Jeffrey came to events at Samantha’s grandparents house in New Hampshire, and Kathi even bought him some dress shoes to spruce up his outfit for senior prom. He helped with yard work at the Cannon house and refused payment for his work, so Kathi compensated him with a new jacket as a thank-you gift. As far as first loves go, things were progressing smoothly and pleasantly, and neither family had any objection to their young romance.

In August of 2010, Samantha began her freshman year at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania, her late father’s alma mater and her only school application after visiting twenty-three schools. The long-distance, massive changes, and life decisions that accompany college are rarely a recipe for lasting love. Nonetheless, Samantha slowly adjusted to the new distance between her and Jeffrey, and gradually began to isolate herself. The first change was her decision to give up her favorite sporting passions—field hockey and lacrosse— to insure that she would have time to go home and see Jeffrey.

Despite a successful first and second semester, and frequent declarations of love for the school and students alike, Samantha suddenly said she was unhappy at Ursinus. In fact, Samantha suggested to her mother that she might transfer to her boyfriend’s school, Springfield College, to be closer to him as he started his freshman year that fall. As most mom’s would, Kathi suggested that her daughter could find a school nearby—still close to Jeffrey and to home—with a better academic reputation – one that more closely aligned with Sam’s interests and abilities. Unfortunately, Samantha had absolutely no interest in exploring other options. Being at school with her boyfriend took precedence over her academic potential.

As summer 2011 began, Samantha’s relationships beyond Jeffrey began to unravel. Unbeknownst to Samantha’s siblings, mother, grandparents, friends, or extended family, she was baptized secretly in Jeffrey’s family church. Living Rock Church in Killingworth, CT is a fringe “non-denominational” Christian church that practices a more obscure and cultic brand of Christianity than most would feel comfortable with. Samantha’s secret baptism happened the first week she was home on summer vacation. Her family did not become aware of this secret baptism until a year later, when they discovered an audio recording of this covert-baptism. In the audio recording, the Living Rock Church pastor announces that the ceremony was not really a baptism, not truly a “re-birth” but “rather a funeral—a funeral for all in [her] life that has come before.” Under clandestine measures, Samantha’s boyfriend’s family was beginning to separate Samantha from the Cannon family, literally baptizing her into their fold. Samantha’s baptism-turned-funeral marks the death of her identity: her family, her experiences, and her authentic self.

Samantha’s 2011 summer at home was a worrying one for her family. She spent increasingly less time at home—using every free moment to spend time with Jeffrey and his family. Kathi pleaded with her daughter to bring Jeffrey over for a dinner, swim, or canoe in the river, barbeque—“just spend some time at home with your family too, please.” On the rare occasion, Samantha did bring Jeffrey over, she no longer acted like her independent, fun-loving, self. She was subservient to Jeffrey in her own home—taking orders from him and alertly waiting for a new demand. Jeffrey would constantly tease her—saying they would have to break up because he “guessed” she didn’t “love” him anymore. “I guess we’ll have to break up.” Samantha would throw herself at him and shower him in kisses to prove her love. He would maintain the charade far beyond the realm of amusing. The balance of power in their relationship had shifted, and onlookers were concerned for Samantha’s wellbeing.

Fortunately, the summer ended and Samantha returned to Ursinus while Jeffrey began his freshman year at Springfield. As Samantha settled into a residential dorm amongst good friends, with her triplet sister nearby, Kathi felt at ease. This mom’s respite from parental worrying was short lived, as an acceptance letter from Springfield College arrived in the mail shortly after. Samantha had repeatedly dismissed Kathi’s concern about the application to a less academically rigorous school, and walking away from her generous scholarship from Ursinus. However, Samantha then went behind her mother’s back to apply to Springfield all the same. Sam spent the summer seemingly reluctant with each step of the application process – “forgetting” the application fee, then “forgetting” her high school transcripts. When the acceptance letter from Springfield finally arrived in the mail back at home in Connecticut, it was already two weeks into the fall semester at both schools. Samantha then continued to dismiss her mother’s concerns and insisted that she was staying at Ursinus.

Later that fall, while Samantha was at her Uncle’s house for Thanksgiving amongst family, Kathi entered into another realm fraught with friction for parents of teenagers: texting. After examining the phone bill one day, Kathi discovered that Samantha was texting. A lot. Making matters even more alarming, Samantha’s 6,000+ texts per month were almost exclusively to one number: her boyfriend’s. In an attempt to regain her daughter and bring everyone to the table, Kathi asked Sam not to text for the Thanksgiving weekend and Samantha agreed. Unsurprisingly, when Kathi checked the online phone records the next day, she found dozens of texts from that morning alone. Kathi turned off the texting for the duration of the family holiday weekend. Samantha was allowed to make phone calls, and had the use of her laptop for messaging, but text messages could no longer be sent nor received until Monday.

At some point during the holiday weekend, Kathi discovered that Jeffrey’s mother had launched into a Facebook diatribe insulting Kathi for “horrible” offenses (without naming Kathi directly), but nevertheless making it quite clear to whom she was referring. His mother never did actually say in her post what these extreme offenses were and painted a blurry picture to her Facebook friends of some unidentified “evil” meddling in her son’s life. A few months later, during a Cannon family vacation, Samantha’s siblings would persuade her to turn her phone off and spend time with them instead of texting her boyfriend nonstop. This attempt at family bonding brought threats from Jeffrey’s parents directly to Kathi, accusing her of theft because the phone Samantha was using was a second cell phone purchased by the family to prevent Kathi from interfering in Samantha’s relationship. Other than those carrying a work cell phone, a secretive second mobile phone is generally limited to the use by drug dealers, people caught in scandalous affairs, and intelligence agents.

Increasingly aware that her daughter was mixed up with an unhealthy and unstable family, Kathi brought in an expert on dangerous religions to talk to Samantha: Marlene Winnell from Berkeley, California. Marlene cautioned Samantha against making any major decisions without considering her family and the ramifications—not least among them avoiding any secret baptisms. Of course, Samantha had already partaken in the mysterious ceremony seven months earlier.

The Cannon family struggled with Samantha’s relationship and the fallout that continued to rain down upon their heads. Samantha’s friends reached out to Kathi with expressing extreme concern, and asking her to come down to Ursinus and see the letters and messages Jeffrey was sending to Samantha. Like any mother in that situation, Kathi immediately did and what she stumbled upon was enough to shock any mother into action. Below is a small sampling from the pile of many hundreds of letters she found on Samantha’s desk: [Caution: Graphic Language]

It is necessary to make an important point about BDSM at this juncture. There is a distinct and important difference between what constitutes a “kink” and what constitutes a dangerous relationship. The insistence upon blackmail-ready pornographic material, thinly-veiled threats of bodily harm, manipulative and abusive language do not indicate that this is a situation of mutual respect, love, and appreciation for one another. This is not about sexual proclivities. This type of behavior is about control and manipulation with the risk of mental and physical harm. The fact that these letters are, in fact, coupled with a young woman’s isolation from her family and friends, indicate that this relationship is something far more sinister.

A short while later, in May of 2012 Samantha disappeared from her college campus, ran away with her boyfriend for the summer to his grandmother’s house in Virginia, and ceased all communication with her family. She enrolled in her boyfriend’s sub-par college and to add injury to insult, Kathi came home one day to notice that a restraining order had been filed against her. The court summarily threw the filing out. The Judge declared that the case had no merit whatsoever and the situation was absolutely unsettling. The Judge made it abundantly clear that in her opinion, it was apparent that the Cannon family was reasonably concerned about Samantha’s welfare and personally cautioned Samantha. 2012 was not a good year for the Cannon family, and unfortunately things have not improved.

Three years later, Samantha has effectively and repeatedly backed out of multiple promises to speak to her family, or engage in major family milestones—weddings, graduations, family crises—and the police have been repeatedly called when Kathi tried to contact her daughter, despite the absence of any restraining order. In three years, Kathi has knocked on Jeffrey’s family’s door to talk to Samantha a grand total of four times. On a good day, the officer on call will know the story and leave Kathi in peace, fully acknowledging the baseless nature of Jeffrey’s family antics. In the event that a new officer gets a call, Kathi must once again repeat this long and exhausting story.

Meanwhile, the Cannon family is pursuing new and creative routes to speak with Samantha, and try to establish some form of a relationship again. Springfield College president, Mary Beth Cooper, was asked to be an asset to this family crisis. Instead, she has repeatedly shirked her duties to protect the students she leads—going as far as to congratulate Samantha and Jeffrey on another milestone—their engagement, in October of 2014 despite being well informed about the situation. To make matters worse, she has continued a frivolous “no-trespass” order issued against Kathi on the Springfield College campus. President Cooper hugged Jeffrey at graduation. If a person responsible for overseeing the success and mission of an academic institution can hug a man that writes rape fantasies and collects blackmail-worthy material, this mother should be allowed to hug her daughter.

It does not take an expert to see the perilous road that lies ahead for Samantha. Marriage is a commitment, and for many couples, a beautiful union of two people in love. For the less fortunate, it can be a commitment to a life of misery, abuse, control, manipulation, isolation, and danger. Not all families are perfect—in fact, few are—but rape fantasies, revenge porn, controlling abusive behavior, and forced familial estrangement are not the best building blocks for a loving and successful marriage.

Kathi has not demanded that Samantha move home. Kathi has not asked for anything more than a meeting, with a certified counselor, to share the concerns of the people who love Samantha—her mother, brother, sister, grandparents, cousins, and friends—and to listen to what Samantha herself has to say. The goal is simply to talk and see if a basis can be found for a relationship to move forward. The constant failure to communicate has left Kathi exhausted, exasperated and hurt. In an attempt to reach Samantha, her fight and this story is now posted and updated regularly on the web. Please lend your support by following “SampaTeam” on twitter, #SampaTeam on Facebook , and their website www.sampateam.com or www.sampateam.wordpress.com

Holiday Series: Thank the Host

I plan on posting gift guides, holiday decorating tips, and festive recipes in the next few weeks (’tis the season and all…) but before we tuck into presents and fun, let’s not forget the hosts who put everything together. If you’ve ever hosted a large gathering, then you know every bit counts–whether it’s the people who stay to help clean, pitch in on the cooking, or come early to help set up–any and all help makes a world of difference.
This holiday season, however, I hope to go beyond helping in the cleaning and cooking realm, and make sure every host I encounter knows how much I appreciate their effort with a little token of my gratitude. Holiday Series: Thank the Host
As I think about a hostess present, I consider several things. Is this a family member or friend? Do I know their hobbies, tastes, and interests? Is this my first time at their home? All of these factors collide and provide insight as to what might make an perfect present. Nonetheless, it should ideally be something the host would not normally buy for themselves (perhaps it seems too frivolous a lá a Jo Malone candle) but fits their tastes to the extent of your knowledge. If I know someone who loves cheese, or simply entertains a ton, a fancy cheese plate and/or knives would make a meaningful and useful gift they’re sure to remember. Cool and eclectic tokens of gratitude, like rose gold playing cards, will certainly stand out from the pack with a hint of luxury and cool. Fun, festive barware always works for someone who entertains–from fun glasses to unique coasters, and beyond to copper pieces. If all else fails, finding food items that are part decadent, part interesting, is always appreciated.

There’s something for everyone out there. As you brave the cold and crowds, may your holidays be full of fun and love this year, and may your hosts always know the bounds of your gratitude!

Tea Talk: Everything you think you don’t need to know (but you do)

I’ve always enjoyed high tea more than a regular cup at home. At first read, that isn’t a particularly surprising statement. High tea means picking a pot of your own tea from dozens of exotic choices. That special tea is then served to you in the prettiest china (usually in an equally beautiful venue). High tea is also comes with an array of aesthetically-and-palate-pleasing sandwiches, petite pastries, and perfect scones (with clotted cream and jams). The combination of food, tea, and finery makes the experience an entirely civilized way to spend an afternoon.

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high tea time at the Rittenhouse

                                       Cheesing for high tea, and all the trimmings, at the Rittenhouse Hotel, Philadelphia

However, tea is so much more than a special occasion outing or a cup bland sympathy when you’re feeling under the weather. A little knowledge can help replicate the decadence of high tea at home or on the go, boiled down to the basics: the tea itself.

Tea tradition spans cultures, continents, and centuries: ranging from the Shang dynasty in the third century to modern day drinkers worldwide. From China to Portugal, Great Britain to India, tea remains a stalwart standby for medicinal uses and social gatherings alike.

Tea Travels

Tea originated, unsurprisingly, in China as a medicinal drink. Portugese priests and merchants were introduced to the beverage in the 16th century while on trading trips and missionaries. After its introduction to Europe, tea soared to popularity in Britain by the 17th century. As the British Empire began to encircle the globe, tea became part of colonization. The Brits introduced tea into India while colonizing the country, and the product eventually gained converts throughout Persia and the Middle East via the Silk Road. The combination of trade and colonization brought tea to the world as a whole, with each culture adapting and engaging with the beverage in a unique way. The result is an impressive variety of tea cultures, specific to each population that reflects its peoples’ history and customs.

Tea Science

Tea, from plant to drink, is a long process. It takes about three years for a tea plant to mature enough to harvest. The best quality tea plants are cultivated at high elevations because studies show the leaves acquire a better flavor while grown at a slower pace. There are, naturally, many strains of plants grown for different teas, but the size of the leaf is the basic criterion for classification (small, medium, and large). After the leaves are picked, they are wilted and oxidized or immediately dried. An enzymatic oxidation caused by the plant’s enzymes makes the tea darker in color. This process is halted at a particular stage (depending on what tea) by heating the leaves to deactivate the enzymes.

Nearly all tea (in bags and loose leaf tea) is a blend of some type. Teas are mixed with other teas to obtain a better taste and also, a higher price.

There’s more to tea than just taste though, and there is a reason tea’s history began with medicinal intent. Tea contains catechins, or Flavan-3-ols. Catechins reduce the risk of stroke, heart failure, cancer, and diabetes. Catechins combined with habitual exercise also delay some forms of aging, reduce cancerous biomarkers, keep arteries flexible, increase small vesssel circulation, and reduce blood pressure. Additionally, tea contains vitamin, flavonoids and caffeine. Ample evidence suggests that green and black teas protect against cancer and help manage weight by boosting metabolic rates.

Green and white teas have the highest concentration of catechins thanks to their particular oxidative preparations. Tea also contains the amino acid L-theanine, which modulates caffeine’s psychoactive effects and creates the “umami” taste many associate with tea.

Healthful Tea Options: 

There’s already plenty of evidence that states black and green teas are exceptionally good for you (and great for cutting down the coffee drinking…) but there are more than just the basics when it comes to picking a healthy tea option. Just like reaching into a medicine cabinet to find the right fix for a head or stomach ache, knowing which tea does what can help relieve some common problems.

  • Peppermint tea: relieves bloating, muscle spasms, and nausea. Not ideal for people suffering from heartburn.
  • Ginger tea: a digestive aid proven to curb nausea, vomitting, or upset stomach due to motion sickness. Boost any tea by adding a piece of simmered ginger (on the stove for 10 minutes or so to soften) to your strainer after brewing.
  • Chamomile tea: a calming and sedative tea that is helpful for insomnia and post-meal digestion. This tea also helps with coughs, bronchitis, a cold, and fevers.
  • Rooibos tea: high in vitamin C and minerals, it can help with aging and is super high in antioxidants. As an added bonus, it helps with common skin concerns.
  • Rosehip tea: rosehips are one of the best plant sources of vitamin C making this tea great for your immune system, skin, and overall tissue health.
  • White tea: the least processed tea, named for the fine white fuzz present on the young tea leaf buds when picked, it has a similar, if not greater, antioxidant content as green tea making it a good option for overall health.
  • Oolong Tea: Similar to black tea but with a richer taste thanks to a shorter fermentation period, it may aid in weight loss and increasing metabolic rates.

Making Tea

There are six basic types of tea: white, yellow, green, oolong, black, and post-fermented. Regardless of what type you choose to brew, realize that you’re indulging in the second-most consumed beverage on Earth, after water.

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The color variation is a result of different fermentation processes. From left to right: green, yellow, oolong, and black.

At first glance, you might think that brewing tea is just a simple process of adding hot water to tea, waiting, and adding any sweetners. But like anything else in life, anything worth doing is worth doing right.

Behold: tea brewing beyond the basics

The strength of tea should be varied by changing the amount of tea leaves used, not by changing the steeping time. The amount of tea, the temperature, and the steep time vary from tea to tea. Teas that have little or no oxidation period, like green and white teas, are best brewed at lower temperatures while teas with longer oxidation periods should be brewed at higher temps. The higher tempreatures are required to extract the large, complex, and flavorful phenolic molecules found in fermented tea. Boiling also reduces the dissolved oxygen content of water which reacts with phenolic molecules to turn them brown and reduce the potency of antioxidants.

Type                     Water Temperature                     Steep Time

White Tea              65-70°C 149-158°F                      1-2 min

Yellow Tea             70-75°C/158-167°F                      1-2 min

Green Tea             75-80°C/167-176°F                       1-2min

Oolong tea             80-85°C/176-185°F                       2-3 min

Black Tea               99°C/210°F                                   2-3 min

Pu’er Tea                95-100°C/203-212°F                     Any

After you’ve brewed your tea, according to the directions, there are options for what you might add to enhance the flavor and/or health benefits of your tea.

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Additives

Different cultures add different things to their tea.  For example,adding milk to tea started in Europe around 1680 and some cultures, where dairy products are consumed, still add milk to their tea today.

  • The Indian masala chai and some British blends suggest adding milk. These are hearty black teas that can still be tasted clearly though the milk, which is added to neutralize any remaining tannins and reduce the acidity.
    • Some insist that milk needs to be added after brewing the tea, so that the correct temperature is maintained to sufficiently steep the leaves and dissolve the sugar (if using) as well.
    • Fun fact: Historically, the order of tea-preparation was indicative of class because only the wealthy could afford high-quality porcelain that would be able to survive the high heat of brewing tea without milk to reduce the temperature.
  • Some teas in Italy, Russia, Poland, and Hungary, are served with lemon juice

Tea cultures globally are more creative than just lemon juice and milk though…you can and should consider adding the following:

  • Chinese jasmine tea includes jasmine oil and/or flowers.
  • Indian masala includes spices like star anise, ginger, green cardamom pods, cinnamon, fennel, nutmeg and cloves.
  • Sometimes chilli, coriander and rose petals are included.
  • The British standard, Earl Grey, includes bergamot oil to achieve its taste.
  • In eastern India, lemon tea is immensely popular and is simply lemon juice, hot water and sugar. Masala lemon tea is cumin, seed powder, lemon juice, black salt, and sugar creating a tangy and slightly spicy taste.
  • Adding ginger when brewing tea is a popular technique in Sri Lanka, where cinnamon is also added to sweeten the aroma.
  • The options are essentially limitless, with additives like sugar, liquid or solid honey, agave nectar, fruit jams, mint, herbs, and spices. Additionally, some alcohols are added to tea including whisky, brandy, and apertifs.
  • Complicating matters further, high-altitude pouring is a practice from North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, and Libya) where pouring from different heights can result in different degrees of aeration and thus different flavors. More likely though, this technique cools the beverage so it can be immediately consumed.

The Great Debate: Bag vs. Loose

Up until recently, tea was always loose. It wasn’t until the 20th century that tea leaves came packed into small envelopes. This style of manufacturing/brewing became extremely popular during WWII, when rationing tea was made easier by the use of tea bags. The ease and convenience  makes bagged tea consistently popular today.

However, there are significant drawbacks that come with convenience, as is often the case.

  • The tea used in bags is usually “fannings” or the dust of tea: the waste product produced from sorting the higher-quality loose leaf tea. However, some high-quality specialty teas are available in bag form.
  • Tea aficionados insist that tea bags provide an inferior taste and experience. The paper from the bag may also be tasted, detracting the tea’s own flavor.
  • Dried tea loses its flavor quickly when exposed to air. Since most bagged teas contain leaves broken into smaller pieces, there’s a greater surface area-to-volume ratio on the leaves which means more exposure to air and staler tea.
  • Conversely, loose leaf tea is almost always left in larger pieces, if not entirely intact.
  • Breaking up the leaves for bags extracts and removes flavored oils.
  • The small size of the bag doesn’t allow the leaves to diffuse and steep properly because the tea can’t expand during the brewing process.

Verdict: Loose leaf tea is what brings the decadence of high tea home, and with a few adjustments, can be as easy as using bagged tea.

Now that I’ve sufficiently scratched the surface of tea’s history, production, and preparation, it’s high time to talk accessories and purchasing.

Loose leaf tea is widely available (perks of being the #2 beverage worldwide). If you’re starting the hunt for it though, larger companies like the Republic of Tea and Teavana offer good loose leaf varieties internationally. For a more personal, informative, special, and quaint experience though, seek out smaller and independently owned stores near you.

Tea Time!
                         

As you make the upgrade from bagged to loose leaf, you’ll need a strainer to effectively brew all those loose leaves of tea! The choices above range from whimsy (a literal leaf, a robot, a mini tea-pot, and a shark fin) to practical: the floatea and the mesh travel one. I own both the floatea and mesh options because they make it easy to take tea on the go! Additionally….teapots and cups come in a never-ending supply of shapes, styles, colors, prints, sizes, and materials!

So enjoy the stretches between high tea with your own loose leaf tea at home, on the road, or at work. The best cup of tea still tastes amazing regardless what cup you use and it still does the body good.

Introducing Bentley

A pawminent part of my life was briefly hinted at in an earlier post. After seeing that his picture was posted, my four-legged friend informed me that it was rather rude of me not to make proper introductions. So to appease his sensibilities, and to share the joy that he brings to everyone he meets, it seems long overdue that I introduce Bentley.

To sweeten my apology to him, for not making those proper introductions, I decided he needed a little something to remind him how much he’s adored. Big chain pet-stores are great options, but this particular occasion warranted something a little more special, and it was definitely worth the effort.

If there’s a special someone in your life, and you’re looking to really impress them, you should give doggy style a try!

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Inside, the store is full of everything your dog (or cat, if you’re into that) could ever want or need and then some…

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IMG_1408Including an epic wall of toys….

And a huge array of special occasion treats that you should definitely label as being ‘for the dog’ because they might be mistaken for people treats…

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After much debating, it seemed only right to go big…so a large, super-tough, pterodactyl toy was purchased for the four-legged mister.

I rushed home to show him his pressie and he was waiting eagerly to see what exactly mom had procured to apologize for neglecting to introduce him earlier….

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and it was love at first sight…or bite….

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Bentley romped for a while before settling down to thank me properly, and remind me that a photo shoot was still in order. How could I say no?

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In case you couldn’t tell, Bentley is right at home in front of a camera. This isn’t news though, all his life my big guy has been quite the camera hog! I can’t resist sharing some of his cutest moments….

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Posing for the camera and for ME Photography

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Most likely posing for a treat…

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The day we brought him home….150730_3200233412470_1638048201_n 603832_10200112646526655_1184609543_n 525553_3204019707125_393709137_n 380318_3204068548346_418462492_n

So you can appreciate his growth in the first few weeks…needless to say I won’t be carrying him again any time soon.

Growth

So now that my dearest canine friend has been appeased, he informed me that he’s very happy you can all now appreciate his cuteness, and suggests you pick up anything at Doggy Style for your friends, to remind them how much you appreciate their unconditional love!

Also, puppies running:

Get Cooking

As a product of my generation, it’s safe to assume that I am dependent on the internet for a lot of information. There is just no substitute for the google machine. Despite the awesome powers of the world wide web, sometimes you really can’t beat the feel and experience of a good, old-fashioned, paper-and-ink, tangible, book. This applies to the heaping piles of  books I’ve read and enjoyed over the years and refuse to get rid of–our movers can testify to the truth in that statement. However, everyone has different taste in literature, so I’m not sure it’s my place to dictate what novels or biographies you should delve into and add to your shelves. Conveniently though, we all do have tastebuds, which means we can all enjoy a good cookbook or twelve. Get Cooking
Cookbooks make a great addition to your recipe repertoire, as well as to stylish bookshelves, counter-tops, and coffee tables everywhere. I picked the books shown above based on certain criteria:
  1. Accessibility: By this I mean you have a fighting chance of finding the ingredients near you. This seems like a low bar to set the standard for cookbooks, but check out The French Laundry Cookbook for a head-scratching experience. Also, the skill-level required to make these recipes is not unrealistic.
  2. Deliciousness: All the books listed offer truly epic recipes on a scale of one to omnomnomnomnomnomnom.
  3. Photography: A good cookbook needs to have pretty pictures, even if you can’t replicate the product perfectly, it’s inspiring to see how beautiful food can look!
  4. Informative: You can learn a lot from these cookbooks. Jason Vale is the master of juices and offers a ton of advice regarding nutrition and overall wellness, while Jose Garces gives a history of Spanish cuisine as well as meal planning advice to appreciate the flavors of various Spanish cultures.
I hope you invest in some of these books, I know I love Garces’s recipe for yuca bread and can’t wait to make all the juice recipes from Vale’s book. Not to mention all the desserts in the Bouchon bakery cookbook! So in the spirit of learning and eating, pick up a book and page through until you land on a picture of something truly wonderful looking, and get cooking!
P.S. Not everything you read on the internet (or in books, admittedly) is true (SURPRISE!), but at least you have a fighting chance of honest writing with cookbooks. An editor, or two, did have to page through those recipes before publication. Plus, let’s be honest, there is no such guarantee with Pinterest recipes.

Get Fit: The Big 3

I’ve dabbled in my fair share of fitness options: I like to run, I find yoga relaxing and challenging, using the row machine, stair master, and bike is always a good use of my time, and trying to be active is never a bad idea. However, I used to be genuinely intimidated by the free weights section of the gym, especially at the on-base facilities. However, curiosity tends to get the better of me so a few months ago I coaxed Jordan into teaching me some weight-lifting basics, and with the input of our very dedicated weight-lifting friends, I’ve learned at least enough to say that I’m sorry I didn’t start sooner. So why weight-lift?weights

  1. Strength training increases your physical capacity to complete daily activities with increased efficiency and performance. By this I mean, you’ll be able to do a lot more, for a lot longer, with better results. Have a friend who’s moving in soon and needs a hand? You’re going to prove a lot more useful without the strain it would normally cause you. In general, the sometimes exhausting tasks you face on a daily basis will definitely become easier.
  2. Weight lifting improves bone density. This is especially important because as we age, we lose bone density, which is why we get bombarded with ads about osteoporosis during the evening news. This means more broken and brittle bones, greater overall frailty, and a higher risk of injury when we’re old. At any age, weight bearing and lifting exercises actually slow the rate of bone loss and improve bone density by stimulating bone formulation. The same logic applied to muscle growth also works with bone growth: place more demands, reap more rewards. The best part is, you don’t have to be lifting an absurd amount of weight to see results. Simple exercises help generate bone health.
  3. When people want to lose weight, they often turn to cardio. However, while cardio is important and effective, weight training is  another valuable option for effectively burning fat calories and creating muscle. Cardio may burn more calories during an hour-long work out, compared to the calories burned during an hour-long weight lifting workout.  However, weight training boosts your metabolism for the following 24 hours which means you actually burn more calories throughout the day after weight training than from cardio. Also, where you lose is important. Sometimes cardio means losing weight, but not in a meaningful visual way. Weight lifting helps you lose in places that you might actually like to improve.
  4. Weight training also helps improve muscle, tissue, and tendon functions which means an overall lower rate of injury, and better performance.
  5. Improved quality of life. While this reasoning may seem heavy on the bull and low on substance, weight lifting has been a proven source of effective weight management, helping individuals feel better about their body, while improving their overall health with lowering their risk of injury.

There are an endless supply of ways to get started but the most important lessons I’ve learned as a novice lifter are:

  1. Start small: there’s no need to get competitive with other lifters in the gym–it’s important to respect your limits and lift what’s appropriate for your abilities.
  2. Form, form, form, form and form: The best way to get hurt is to lift too much and lift incorrectly. By using a reasonable amount of weight to get started, you are able to focus controlling your form so you do the exercise effectively.
  3. Rest: It’s important to isolate muscle groups and give them a rest in-between workouts. That’s why you always hear lifters talk about backs, chests, shoulders, arms, or legs. Rotating these muscle groups helps them recover from the workout, build muscle, and get ready to do it again.
  4. Ask questions from people who know more than you: how many reps should you do? how many sets? how much weight? can you spot me? Odds are, you have a wealth of valuable information at your disposal in the gym  from your friends and other weight lifters. While it’s rude to interrupt someone’s workout, it never hurts to ask a question when someone is resting between sets, or from an on-site personal trainer.

Now that you’re ready to lift, you’re going to quickly realize there are a lot of exercises to choose from and memorize. It’s always a good idea to start small, but there are undoubtedly three main exercises to learn and incorporate into your routine for great results. Known to most weight lifters as ‘the big 3’ the following exercises make up the three canonical powerlifting exercises.images

The Deadlift

  • The deadlift at its most basic involves lifting a loaded barbell off the ground, to the hips, and back down. It’s called a deadlift because the weight is ‘dead’ from the start, or lacks momentum because it’s on the ground.
  • The deadlift involves a compound movement which engages a variety of muscles including: abdominals, the back, quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, glutes, and forearms.
  • Grip: you can hold the bar with either an overhand grip, or a mixed grip with one hand overhand and one hand underhand to help evenly disperse the weight.
  • Position: You want to stand with your legs shoulder-width apart, and grasp the bar with your hands just outside your knees. Keep your head slightly up and drive upwards through your heels while pulling your shoulders, hips, and back forwards. When you lower the back reverse the motion, keeping your back straight and pushing your weight through your glutes and heels.
  • When you get the bar to your knees don’t pull with your back, instead jut you hips forwards to lift the bar.
  • This video gives you an easy to follow and understandable look at how to do deadlifts properly.

squat

The Squat

  • Another example of a compound exercise, the squat strengthens your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and hips while also engaging your arms, abs, and back too.
  • Squats are versatile: you can do them with your body weight, dumbbells, a barbell, a medicine ball, kettleballs, etc. The options are limitless.
  • Form (with barbell): Stand with your legs shoulder width apart, your chest out and your head slightly up. Step up to the bar so your back is in front of the bar in the cage. Ideally, the bar will rest below your neck, centered, with your hands holding it a bit wider than shoulder width. After you unrack and back up just slightly to clear the rack, you want to make sure your stance is back to where you were (shoulder width or slightly wider) with your feet pointing out about 45 degrees. When you descend, act as if you are sitting down in a chair behind you–your knees should not go past your toes, your back straight but moving at an angle, not directly down. Make sure you contract your abs while descending, until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Do not let your knees bow inwards. Once you’ve gotten parallel, or as close to parallel as you’re able, move upwards to your start position immediately.
  • To see a squat in action, click here.

The Bench Press

  • This exercise is exceedingly popular, and works your chest and arms, but when performed correctly it engages your core, shoulders, back and even legs.
  • Form: lie down on the bench and make sure your head, shoulders, back, and butt all have good contact with the pad. You want your neck in a neutral position. Place your feet firmly on the ground on either side of the bench, at a comfortable and neutral position. Your feet should not leave the ground because you’re going to use your legs to help drive the bar up with your body. You can grip the bar neutrally, about shoulder width apart, with your hands also in a neutral position–not strained back or forward. Your four finger knuckles should be behind the bar, not under it. As you get ready to lift, squeeze your shoulder blades together a little, along with your core, glutes and hamstrings. Unrack the bar while staying tight and engaged to lift.
  • Lower the bar to roughly your mid-chest, keeping your elbows in  and never letting them flare out perpendicular to your body. When the bar is lowered, your forearms should be perpendicular to the floor. Be sure to keep your head on the bench the entire time to not strain your neck. Right before the bar touches you, begin to drive upwards, engaging your core,  and legs as discussed before. Keep pressing forwards until your arms are once again straight and keep your shoulder-blades tucked behind you.
  • For a video look, try this one.

Once you get started you’ll realize it’s much easier than it sounds, and much more rewarding than you imagined. Plus, you’ll officially be entitled to quote videos like this (endlessly popular amongst our lifiting friends):

So enjoy being a genetic beast lobster–if that’s your thing–or at the very least, embrace a healthier and stronger you!

Let’s Eat: More Colors

Warm weather is just around the corner, and with it comes bathing suits, dresses, shorts, and that urge to look great when you’re not bundled up. While hitting the gym and exercising is the obvious choice now to help you look better later, it’s pretty important that you also feel great for summer and all seasons. Plus, it’s entirely true that ‘abs are made in the kitchen.’ With that in mind, I don’t personally think there’s one cure-all diet program that can solve everything for everyone, so I try to balance my food choices. One simple and effective way of making sure you’re getting the vitamins and nutrients your body does need to feel and look better, is to fill your plate, bowl, or drink with a variety of color.

This really only applies to fruits and veggies: we know beef is red but that doesn’t mean it’s full of phtyo-nutrients. However, odds are you’re not getting enough of either kind of produce. Color makes food more appealing in my opinion–a creative salad certainly looks more appetizing than just a pile of sad, pale, iceberg lettuce, and brown oatmeal is nutritious sure, but wouldn’t it look even better loaded with berries and bananas too? I’m not advocating for a vegan, vegetarian, or any particular lifestyle, merely an easy trick to keep in mind when making food choices! Besides, I’m not a doctor, I just play one on the internet today.

The guide below is of my own creation and is not meant to be all encompassing, just an intro on why different colored foods can benefit your overall health. I picked some staples–tomatoes and bananas–and threw in passionfruit to keep things interesting. Most information in the guide was sourced from searches on nutrition.gov and other nutrition data websites. If you’re looking for even more, this blog is filled to the brim with nutritious recipes and nutrition information.

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There are two final pieces of information I’d offer. First off is, that if you’re dieting for weight loss it is important to keep in mind that fruits are high in sugar. Second, some of the nutrients in foods like tomatoes and sweet potatoes are best absorbed when eaten with a small dose of a healthy fat. So putting a small serving of olive oil on your tomatoes can actually help your body reap the benefits. Otherwise, enjoy eating your colors!