Tea Diary: Week 2


I didn’t make tea Monday. Monday was a blur; by the time I came home, I was falling asleep behind the wheel. I went to bed as soon as I’d eaten in the hopes of getting some much-needed sleep.


I decided to experiment on Tuesday to make up for Monday. I dug through my samples and grabbed a Masala Chai from Destiny Rescue Storehouse Tea, with a donation to Destiny Rescue (I was originally confused by the packaging on the sample). This is a certified organic fair trade blakc tea, claiming 60mg of caffeine; I believe I bought this at the local Farmer’s Market, since their address puts them in my area. I brewed with 3 heaping teaspoons (I measured properly this time), which is a little more than they suggest, and brewed 4 minutes after washing the leaves, as always. It tastes…. like not a lot. I poured a little into a mug to experiment with how much milk and found that my usual vanilla soymilk easily overpowers the flavor:/ I managed to figure out how to get it palatable using sugar and the tiniest bit of soymilk, but it mostly tastes like sugary soymilk anyway, I’m not getting any of the delicious chai spices I expected. The tea smelled wonderful, and there were whole spices in it, so I’m not sure what went wrong. Perhaps I should try doing the proper chai method: boiling milk on the stove with tea + spices in it rather than brewing like a black tea, despite the directions not insisting on that method anyway.


Today I decided to brew the last of my Firebird’s Child Chai from Dryad Tea. I did the same procedure as for the Rescue Chai yesterday, but I didn’t have time to taste-test as I was running late, so I just guessed about the same milk as yesterday. It’s given me what I wanted: a smooth, flavorful tea with a bit of bite to the end of the sip to wake me up. I definitely need to order more of this stuff.  I bought it at the Steampunk Symposium, where Dryad Tea had a booth; I’m loving the spread of tea culture, as it gives me the chance to buy teas in person from someone knowledgeable about their blends rather than mail-ordering some unknown blend from an untried vendor. I told the woman at the booth I usually drink chai and she suggested this one, as well as informing me that Dryad makes a point of blending teas so they taste like they smell so the customer won’t be surprised. I’m definitely happy with the two teas I bought then:)


I was in pain and my roommate Kae was up, so he offered to make me some tea. I had him do an experiment for me: Tazo chai concentrate mixed with soymilk as per the directions. The tea is described as:

Black tea takes a Saturday drive in a milk-and-honey mobile through an exotic marketplace. The essences of sweet cinnamon, spicy ginger and fragrant cardamom float in through the open windows while black pepper flirtatiously grabs the steering wheel – just to heat things up a bit.

What I taste in my mug, however, is more like

Honey floats lazily down a river, teasing the tongue with thoughts of corn syrup before reasserting itself as honey after all. Then, suddenly, tragedy strikes: Black Pepper, having stowed away on the riverboat, detonates into an explosion of spice boosted by detonator cinnamon and accelerant ginger, obliterating the peaceful afternoon. Tea is listed in the closing credits but was cut from the film.

I told Kae he can have the rest of it, and I’ll brew loose-leaf again tomorrow.


Woke up super sore. I brewed Dryad Tea‘s Spring Court, but I wasn’t sure if I should treat it more like a black or an herbal (it smells so strongly of flowers when I scooped it) and ended up making a mess of it. My cup ended up cloying and bitter at the same time, and I wish I’d taken the time to taste-test a cup and figure out how to fix it before I took it with me. I’ll definitely need to have afternoon tea this weekend and experiment. It seems like a good tea if I was awake and mobile enough to make it work.

Posted in Cooking, Tea | 2 Comments

Tea Diary: Week 1


My husband left at 9am this morning for a summer internship two states away. He always makes my morning cuppa for me, to go, in a travel mug, so I’m going to have to learn how I like it all over again. I was horrified to find out he’d been steeping bag tea this whole time and I’d barely noticed. So much for being awake in the morning! I decided to keep a diary of my tea drinking choices so I could chronicle the learning process.

I have the day off, so I sat down in the afternoon and made myself the first pot of loose-leaf I’ve personally brewed in months. I used Twinings Orange Pekoe in my 20oz teapot, which made several cups in my small, polka-dot teacup. I used 3 and a half spoonfuls of tea in my pot; I rinsed the leaves before steeping (pouring hot water, waiting about 30 seconds, then pouring the water off and re-filling for the actual brew), and I steeped the tea 4 minutes. With milk and sugar it tasted nice and smooth, but it left a bitter and somewhat metallic aftertaste that annoyed me. Part of the tea? Or something else?

I didn’t really know what to do with myself with no husband to bother me and no work. Good thing I have work tomorrow! I ended up cleaning the kitchen out of a sheer lack of knowing what to do with myself.



Everything hurts when I wake up. Ugh. I’ve far overdone it the night before, cleaning and helping to cook because I was so excited about the coming week. I brew the same tea again; I’m concerned that I might have burned the leaves the first time, so I let the water cool off while I hunt for a candy thermometer and ultimately fail to find one. I also added the tea to the soymilk and sugar, mostly because I was in a hurry. The aftertaste was lessened in my first cup, but still present. I resolve to add more milk and sugar to my to-go mug, just in case that’s the problem.

I am no longer pleased to have work today.

By the time I get to work, the tea is 100% bitter, no smooth taste at all. I cannot drink it, the bitter is overpowering. Did it continue steeping while I left it to keep warm in the pot? Did the milk cause the bitter taste in the first place? Did I not add enough sugar? Ugh. At least I got here okay.


My husband suggested that soymilk turns bitter when it’s starting to go off, so I braved a thunderstorm to buy fresh soymilk. Today all I can taste is the soymilk. I steeped it the same, so either I’ve added more soymilk today or it tastes stronger when it’s not going off. I had to give up after half the cup as the bitter taste returned. Definitely needs more sugar today. Maybe I used a smaller spoon for sugar?


Today is going to be bad, I can feel it in my bones. I woke two minutes before the alarm; got up, peed, and then somehow it was six and I didn’t have time to shower. By the time I’m making my tea, everything aches and I’m finding it hard to catch my breath — some kind of allergen has set off my asthma. I use extra sugar in my mug so at least I’ll have that.

It’s so challenging to figure out what could have gone wrong. Minute temperature differences? A few extra seconds in the rinsing step, or not quite enough? Maybe the spoon I used is a slightly different size? The more I try to measure, the more daunting the morning cup of tea feels. It’s just tea, why bother? I stare ruefully at my pricier blends, but ultimately decide on the Orange Pekoe again. If I can’t even figure out this one, why waste the nicer tea?


Exhausted this morning, but more optimistic. I figured out how to set my kettle for 200F instead of setting it to 212 and letting it cool, which will help, but it doesn’t beep or anything so it’s hard to tell when it’s done. Tea was better today, so I drank more of it, and eventually got a bit of paper-like tea leaf on my tongue. That might explain the bitterness, if it’s continuing to extract. Maybe I need a better strainer?

Saturdays I buy tea when I go out to breakfast, and Sunday I’ll probably stick to herbal or bagged tea, so that concludes this week’s tea diary.

Posted in Cooking, Tea | Tagged | Leave a comment


The alarm goes off at 5:30 and I already know it’s going to be a rough day. I can feel my body’s warnings in the stiff resistance as I flex my fingers, in the subtle almost-ache in my knees, in the way I have to shift my head three or four times before my neck feels comfortable. I briefly contemplate the shower, perhaps fifteen steps away — the hot water will help, and I’m already naked so it won’t be too difficult, but I can’t face the thought of standing that long, struggling to figure out how to distribute my weight to produce the least pain. As my husband gets up, I roll over, struggling for five or ten minutes to figure out a comfortable position before drifting off to sleep.

He comes back once breakfast is ready, but I resist his attempts to rouse me. I’m awake enough, but I dread that first step when my feet have to support me and my whole body protests. Every joint I move feels stiff, even my toes. My neck already begins to hurt — I must have curled into a weird position with my pillows again. Eventually I rise, stumbling off to the bathroom blearily.

The next hurdle: after peeing, I often get pelvic pain. As I sit on the toilet, skimming through articles on my phone, I recount the days until I can see a specialist for that. August. That’s only two weeks and then four more and then another four and then some small change of days, it’ll go fast, right? I play these games in my head to keep from crying, pretending I’m okay with everything in my body betraying me.

Eventually I get up. I fumble with my bra — surely I’ll have less pain when the new bra arrives, I tell myself, intentionally forgetting how many bras I’ve tried in the past in an effort to find one that fits well. Pants are the worst, demanding I bend and lift my knees and fumble with buttons, all movements likely to cause pain. I remember to stretch my hamstrings; last week’s awful leg cramps in the middle of the night have only just begun to fade in my mind.

By the time I stumble out to breakfast, it’s perhaps 6:45. I pick at my breakfast; I’m in no mood to eat, but I’ll be hungry before long if I don’t. I take my allergy pills, checking the pollen forecast on my laptop and trying to remember why I’m awake at all. Work. I have to get to work. I check my calendar mentally; nothing of interest today, but I’ll have to go in anyway. I take some ibuprofen, trying not to think about what happens if I get a leg cramp while driving, and pile into my car for the almost hour-long drive to the office.

I haven’t written much lately. I think I’m okay with that. Eventually it’ll get better.

Posted in Musings | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Bitten: Chaos (Chapter 11)

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve bought a new Kindle Paperwhite, which has absolutely nothing to do with the long haitus of Bitten but is an interesting factoid I feel like sharing instead of going into the reasons for the long haitus:) Now that I’ve finished Dogs and Goddesses, I’m back on the terrible travesty that is Bitten. I’ll be linking to TvTropes fairly heavily this time around, so be sure to hover over links before clicking if you don’t want to be sucked in:)

If it’s been as long for you as it has for me, you can re-read Chapter 10 to refresh your memory. Basically, though, rape culture reigns among werewolves and this book is disgusting. Let’s begin!

I raced into the main room. There wasn’t any screaming.

I love when I enter a room and nobody is screaming:) Best feeling. No, but seriously, a werewolf just ran through, there ought to be carnage.

A boy well under legal drinking age sat cross-legged on the floor, cradling a broken arm.

Jesus. Broken arms hurt. If I broke my arm I’d be screaming and crying, not sitting calmly on the floor cradling the damn thing. Is anyone calling an ambulance? No. They’re trying to get the half-changed werewolf to pay for spilling a drink. Because… that’s important. This might be super realistic, but I still don’t like anyone here, not even the “innocent” bystanders.

I was still making my way toward the dance floor when Brandon roared. Then came the first scream. Then the thunder of a hundred people stampeding for the exit.

But one weird noise and they panic? Huh. I guess wolves roar now? Pretty sure that verb is reserved for feline animals; wolves tend to howl or yip. Maybe bark; real wolves tend to not be as vocal as dogs but I could see a werewolf doing so.

At first, I was polite. Really. I said “excuse me”, tried to squeeze through gaps, even apologized for stepping on some toes.

So let’s talk about this passage a little. The goal here is for the protagonist to stop the bad guy, and the obstacle placed in the protagonist’s way is that of a panicked, stampeding crowd. This is a common enough setup, fairly genre-agnostic (maybe not so often in post-apocalyptic scenarios but pretty much anytime you have crowds, a clear protagonist, and someone they need to catch for whatever reason, you can use this setup).

At times, we see a protagonist trying to be polite: for example, Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride tries to politely push through the crowd until he has to ask his more uncouth friend Fezzik to shout, prompting the crowd to let them pass. In situations like this, it is used for comedic effect at the protagonist’s expense: being polite is shown to be less effective than being rude and pushy. Other examples include Gaston trying to reach Belle in Beauty and the Beast; in this example, he is merely ineffective.

However, usually the trope is for the protagonist, usually male, to shout something or otherwise make a show of aggression and let the crowd part to let him through. Elena here might be being softspoken for comedic effect — she does make a crack about being Canadian — but I doubt it. This is a tense moment, and the stakes are high. Why does she waste time being polite when the matter is urgent? Because that’s what “good girls” do. Women are taught to be polite and softspoken and gentle, even when the matter is urgent. Therefore, her first instinct is to be polite, and that is only abandoned after it’s proven to be ineffective.

Also, how many people are in this rave? It takes her ages to get through. There’s a dead body and nobody even notices as they trample it. Again, this could all be super realistic, given I’ve never really been in this situation, but I’m growing more and more dissatisfied with how unreal this scene feels. People are acting like faceless NPCs in a video game.

Meanwhile, this operation has gone all the way bad. Brandon is now darting about, murdering people and ripping up corpses and having a wonderful time.

Clay has a brief moment of being not the worst character in the book:

“He’s not even trying to kill him”, I said

“Why would he?” Clay said, curling back his lip. “He’s having fun.” Disgust dripped from every word. This wasn’t killing for food or killing for survival. That Clay could understand, This was, to him, a display of another incomprehensible human trait — killing for pleasure.

Which is, of course, the old idea that humans are the only species that kill for fun. Which is, of course, not strictly true. Elena meanwhile can hardly stand to watch and not rescue the guy, because she’s more moral than Clay and belongs to the more nuturing gender and therefore her being a woman overrides her being a werewolf and leaves her with some morality. (It’s a theory in progress, maybe I’m wrong, but I get the feeling her being the only one with morals is tied into her special snowflake female status).

Case in point:

I don’t ever want to be like that, that hard, that tough. Clay had an excuse. I didn’t.

Notice how his amorality and lack of empathy are portrayed here as positive traits: a strength of character to contrast to Elena’s weakness. She could have said “that callous, that cruel” and the sentence would have made just as much sense, being just as accurate. But that would be judging the male lead harshly, and we can’t have that. His actions must be held up as justifiable due to his tragic backstory, because I don’t know, if Hitler was an orphan it’d be wrong to hate him.

Oh hey, Elena finally recognizes the guy! He’s a serial killer from North Carolina, and must have been bitten after he got out of prison because he’d have been discovered while in captivity otherwise. He must have recovered from the shock of being turned rather rapidly, which Elena chalks up to his wanting to be a werewolf while she rejected it and thus took longer than average. Yet her mind stubbornly refuses to accept this theory as true, because it means some experienced werewolf is turning serial killers, informing them about the pack structure, and letting them loose in pack territory to  make a fuss. Mutts apparently don’t help people transition, because rejecting the social order means you’re now subhuman and incapable of assisting someone or spreading information or generally scheming to take down the social order you so clearly rejected.

Elena thinks about warning Clay, but

I realized it wouldn’t do any good. Brandon was a killer from the human world. I could tell Clay that Brandon was a chartered accountant and it would have the same impact. He wouldn’t understand.

Because werewolves secretly live on a different plane of existence, what we’ll call the “faerie world”, and therefore have absolutely no knowledge of the Prime Material Plane, or “human world”. Because it’s not like Clay’s ever ventured outside the werewolf compound to, say, do a doctoral dissertation and defend it. Because obviously human killing is different than wolf killing, because with human killing, you intentionally take the life of another living  being, but when wolves kill, they actually just generate rainbows and fluffy bunnies and unicorns, so it’s totally the opposite. Because it’s not like werewolves ever plan or coordinate attacks or use strategy of any kind, so all these words are totally foreign to Clay the anthropologist, as he knows nothing about humans or how or why they kill each other.

I’m sorry. What?!

I feel like I’ve fallen asleep and my dreams are merging into the text of this book, because clearly, we’ve lost all sense of continuity or logic here.

Elena, who only has one plan in her entire stock of plans (which is one more than any other werewolf, making her the best at planning) uses herself as bait again, intentionally making herself afraid so she’ll be a more tasty target to lure him away from the dying man and toward Clay.

His nose told him Clay was a werewolf and some dimly functioning part of his brain realized this was cause for concern.

See, it’s not just me. The book even calls werewolves stupid. It’s right there on the page.

Clay chases Brandon up to a balcony. Brandon jumps off, but then runs around in circles, ending up trapping himself in a corner. Elena stands by, unable to help in any way, watching tensely in case Brandon rips up  Clay, at which point she will…. I don’t even know. Again, why did Jeremy need Elena specifically to come handle this?

Clay slips on blood and loses hold of Brandon, who streaks toward Elena and the exit. She grabs his fur, but loses her grip when he bites into her arm. Elena says the most true sentence ever:

“We shouldn’t go out together”

Exactly. Do not date this man! No, but she means they shouldn’t both go out in front of the panicky crowd chasing the clearly dangerous wolf because…. I don’t know. So she goes after him and Clay climbs out a back window because sure why not. Brandon, having no smarts, has run down a blind alley and gotten himself trapped, right in front of cops. So this mission has already gone all the way south, exposing werewolves to hundreds of bystanders, cops, and state troopers.

The cops never bothered to look inside the building, having been standing around yelling ineffectually at the crowd standing outside the rave sheepishly. In fact, I can picture them as sheep: “Why did we run this way?” one asks, flicking his white ear. “I don’t know, Mary started yelling, and then Joe ran out, so I followed…” “That’s silly. Ooh, look, daisies!”

two officers yelled and gestured. Apparently, neither one knew who was in charge or whether ambulances had been summoned or whether anyone had gone inside yet.


Brandon leaps an 8ft wall to escape the alley, running past Elena again. She.. leaps over him, rolls into a crouch, then chases him. Because the leaping was vital to this plan, as was the rolling. She chases him, on foot, through the city, until he goes out into wooded parkland, and then…

I kid you not. I cannot make this up. This happens:

Unfortunately, I forgot the most basic of kindergarten rules: I didn’t look both ways before crossing. I ran in front of a semi.

I just.


The mind. It boggles.

She’s okay though! She executes another roll and everyone knows rolls are magic and save you from semis. Someone shoots Brandon, exploding his head and knocking him into the path of a pickup. We’re treated to Werewolf Mythbusters: Silver is not required to kill a werewolf, bullets will do, and they do not change back to human when wounded or killed, but remain in whatever form they were in. Which means the body was now mangled enough to look like a dog, which means the werewolves are safe I guess?

Clay again tries to emulate this thing called ’empathy’:

“Damn, I do hope he gets a proper burial,” a voice drawled behind me. “Poor misguided bastard deserves one, don’t you think?”

Which is, of course, to highlight how Clay, the rapist sociopath, is normal and good, while Elena, the dumb but otherwise decent protagonist, is The Real Monster: a moment ago, she was wishing he was still alive to be tortured in an And I Must Scream scenario because he’s a terrible person, a sadistic serial killer. Clay, on the other hand, somehow has the high ground here. But I don’t think so. I think it’s perfectly human and normal to wish terrible things on bad people; it means you have a sense of justice, which you then of course ought to temper with mercy, but it’s not like imagining something makes it happen.

Clay tries to kiss Elena, insisting that she did “just fine”, but she squirms away. They head back to the car,  where they run into Logan, who Clay is jealous of because Elena actually likes him. Unfortunately, he’s dead. End of chapter!

Fun fact: It took me a minute to realize he was actually dead,  because the book describes his eyes as being “blank. Unseeing. Dead.” so I figured he was in some kind of trauma coma or something like that. Oops.


Posted in Bitten, Deconstructions | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Dogs and Goddesses: The End!

See, I told you I’d finish it. Booyah! I feel like I finished a marathon or something.

Video below!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

On the classification of citrus

Because this is apparently super important! I’d been having difficulty in the produce aisle finding what I want, so I put together this handy dandy guide.

There are only a few kinds of citrus fruit:

Mandarins are a small, sweet, orange fruit.

Pomelos are also a thing. They’re green and large. They come in sweet or tart. One variety, the Grapefruit,  has also historically been called a Pomelo, the way Maize has been called “corn” in the US (“corn” in England means “grain”).

Citrons are a weird little thing that sometimes come in fingered forms, like the Buddha’s hand. They also are the ancestors of lemons.

Then there’s this weird thing called a Papeda which doesn’t matter for the purposes of this article.

But basically there’s four main kinds, and the rest are all hybrids:


Oranges are a larger variety of Mandarin, and while they may have included Pomelo in their history, they are sweet like Mandarins.


Tangerines are basically a type of Mandarin, but a bit more reddish. They taste about the same as a mandarin.


Clementines are basically seedless mandarins.


Basically, fancy Japanese mandarins.


A tangelo is a tangerine mixed with a grapefruit.

Blood Orange

This is basically just an orange, but creepy looking.


This is a tangerine mixed with an orange. I don’t know why you’d mix a tangerine with an orange, but they did, and it’s called a Tangor.

All of the above fruits basically taste the same; individual cultivars range from tart to sweet, and most out-of-season orange-like fruits taste bland anyway because of the way they’re picked unripe and shipped across the country. You do NOT want to substitute between the numerous types of orange-colored citrus and lemons and limes, but any of the orange-colored citrus fruits can be freely substituted in a recipe. I personally prefer the smaller hybrids, as they tend to be sweeter.

A size comparison can be found here.

Bonus fact: Fennel and Anise are also very similar plants, except you only eat the seeds of Anise usually, so if you’re looking for Fennel bulbs, stalks, or fronds and you see Anise bulbs, that’s the right thing to buy.


Posted in Musings | Tagged | 1 Comment

On ColdFusion’s ParseDateTime function

I know I rarely talk about programming on this blog, but today’s issue was a doozy and I want to be sure the information is out there someplace that can be found with a Google search, so if coding’s not your cup of tea feel free to skip today’s update.

Today was February 3rd, and one of our services started blowing up with errors involved in date parsing. The obvious answers were immediately discarded: there had been no change over the weekend, no change to this service in weeks in fact, and yes, it HAD been working previously. It wasn’t Jan 1, or Feb 29, or any of the usual suspects for date mixups. Both Feb 3 and March 2 exist, so it’s not parsing the format wrong for some international format. What the heck was going on?

We were able to trace the error back as far as the ColdFusion built-in function ParseDateTime, but no further. It’s part of the language, so it’s not like we could pop it open and see under the hood. The line was simple:

dateEffective = ParseDateTime(replace(xmlArticle.startDate.xmlText,”T”,””));

ParseDateTime is supposed to be a handy utility function to make a ColdFusion date object out of any conceivable formatted date string. Unfortunately, it can’t handle the XML date-time format (2014-02-03T09:00:00) natively, so we helped it out by removing the T to make the format something it could parse.

The more astute among you will have seen our mistake already, but I’ll explain it anyway.

I don’t know what ParseDateTime looks like under the covers, but after today’s debugging session, I feel qualified to give a fairly good rough guess. I’m going to say step one of their algorithm involves a regex. Something simple, similar to (but not exactly like*) the following:

(19|20)?\d\d[- /.]0?([1-9]|1[012])[- /.]0?([1-9]|[12][0-9]|3[01])[- /.]?((0?[0-9]|1[0-2]):?){0,3}

You know, your basic date parsing. This will only rule out absurd dates; not all date-like strings are valid dates, but it will rule out things like 2013-13-40 while still allowing invalid dates like 2013-02-31. That’s where phase two comes in: date validation. A series of if ladders, something like

if month == 2 && day > 29 return invalid date

if month == 2 && day == 29 && !isLeapYear(year) return invalid date

and so on and so forth. Standard stuff, really. All textbook, nothing to worry about here, no rigorous testing needed.

Until  we passed it this date: 2014-02-0308:50:46.

Now the clever among you have definitely figured out what’s wrong, but it took four of us over an hour to figure out what had happened, and I only eventually guessed because I suspected they were using a regex and so went through common regex debugging questions. You see, regexes like to be greedy. They like to gobble up as many characters for a single piece as possible. So instead of breaking that date into February 03, 2014, at 8:50:46 in the morning, it broke it into Feb 030, 014, at 8:50:46 in the morning. That is to say, when it read the string “2014-02-0308:50:46″, instead of treating that bolded 0 as the leading 0 for the hour 8, it read it as the crucial 0 in the date 30, which also had a leading 0 for no good reason. The regex matched on Feb 30, which the resulting if-ladder determined was an invalid date.

I was able to verify that the timestamp “2014-04-0310:50:46” also came back with “invalid date”, so it’s not just Feb 3, but it is every single hour on Feb 3 as opposed to two narrow windows per month (between 10am and 1pm and between 10pm and midnight on the 3rd of any month with only 30 days in it), so it was noticed today and only today.

The moral of this story is twofold: firstly, never trust your regexes to parse things without rigorous testing of edge cases, and secondly, always put a space between your date and time before passing a string to ColdFusion’s ParseDateTime.

The bolded sentence is being added to our Standards and Guidelines.

*I know for a fact my quick regex is not identical because the real one can handle things like MM-DD-YYYY instead of YYYY-MM-DD, but at this point I’m not certain if it’s one monster regex or a series of “valid” date patterns that it iterates over until it gets a hit, so I threw something together for the sake of example and moved on.

Posted in Computers | Tagged , , | 3 Comments