with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

My Not-So Secret Passon for Tea

Pearl of the Red Robe Cafe serves gongfu tea ceremony at Chinese Garden, Portland, Oregon - photography by Lorelle Vanfossen.I’ve always been a tea nut. Not just any old tea, but exploring all parts of tea – my own way of tea.

I first explored tea through the herbals, seeking improvements in health and energy. Along the way I ran into the legends of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and other history, recipes, and ceremonies around this powerful Asian plant, .

In the past few years I’ve dived even deeper into Asian teas, exploring the culture, ceremonies, tea equipment and supplies, agriculture, and, of course, the tea itself. A friend living in China brought over the most incredible green tea as a gift, a tea very expensive here but cheap there, and my passion for tea reignited as I researched the source of the tea and what is known as the Way of Tea, a form of spiritual journey that comes with a passion for all things tea.

I’ve built up quite a collection of knowledge, as well as equipment. In this post, I want to share some of the fun links to online resources I’ve uncovered.

  • Chinese tea – Wikipedia: A good starting point for learning the basics of Chinese tea.
  • History of Tea in China – Wikipedia: Wikipedia’s basic history of tea in China is a great introduction.
  • Gongfu Tea Ceremony – Wikipedia: Gongfu is the type of tea ceremony and service that I am truly attracted to. I love it among all the different ways tea is served and now do it most evenings for a last sip of tea before bed.
  • Chinese Tea: Drinking, History – Travel China Guide: A commercial guide to China, they have a good article on the history of tea and tips for service and consumption.
  • Chinese Tea – History and Types of Chinese Tea – About.com: About.com is a long-standing resource for quality information and their Chinese Tea and Liquor expert offers some great information on the basics of Chinese Tea.
  • How To Buy Chinese Tea by Daniel Lui: A clear and easy-to-read guide to buying Chinese Tea that has helped me make some wise choices.
  • How to drink Chinese tea | CNN Travel: CNN Travel did a great step-by-step article and guide on how to drink Chinese Tea, whether you are in China or not. Great resources are listed as well as solid coverage of the basics.
  • The Gong Fu Style of Drinking Fine Tea – In Pursuit of Tea: “In Pursuit of Tea” has amazing resources and their article on the Gong Fu technique is a good one.
  • Gong Fu Cha – Reddit: I was a bit surprised to find a group covering GongFu Tea on Reddit. It isn’t very active but has some great links and resources in the list.
  • The Traditional Chinese Tea Ceremony and Part 2: River Tea has a great article series on the Gongfu traditional Chinese Tea Ceremony.
  • The Japanese Tea Ceremony History and Steps Explained | Teavana: Teavana, the national chain of tea shops found in malls and shopping centers, explains the history and basics of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
  • The History & Origin of Tea | Teavana: Teavana tea store’s version of the history of tea, a condensed version of the history.
  • Poetry in Tea: A site dedicated to Asian teas and ceremony, as well as the tools and history of tea.
  • Shipwrecked: Story of why one tea pot is better for a specific type of tea over another. Results: Get one that thrills your heart and makes you return to it over and over for more tea and joy.
  • Steep.it – the simplest internet tea timer EVER This site serves as an online steep guide with a chart featuring different types of tea and the appropriate temperature and steep times. Very handy.
  • Teaware Museum: Link to the famous Hong Kong Teaware Museum, a place on my travel list to visit!
  • Buying Your First Tea Utensils: Fumiyaen – Japanese Tea Ceremony Utensils: As the article states, this describes the first tea utensils and supplies you need for the Japanese Tea Ceremony and the reasons behind the choices.
  • Tea Blog | Official Blog of the English Tea Store: This tea blog is not limited to only English teas. It features extensive articles on all aspects of tea. It’s regular tea gadgets feature is an eye-opener on all the gimmicks and gadgets for tea. One of my favorites was the museum exhibit for tea in space during the early days of the space flight program.
  • The Dragon's Well ?: The Dragon’s Well blog is only a couple of years old but already this tea enthusiast and blogger is making his mark in the tea world online. His articles on Yixing Zisha teapots and other references and resources are wonderful. His most recent post on the Tea World Festival 2013 in Seoul features excellent pictures of the exhibition.
  • Tea Masters: Tea Masters Blog is by a Taiwanese tea student learning from a Tea Master, sharing the tips and techniques of tea.
  • Tea Journey – A journey through tea from a member of the board of the Tea Guild of Canada. The author is working on her Tea Sommelier Certification and sharing the lessons she is learning along the way.
  • Daruma Magazine » Glossary: This is a glossary from the Japanese Art and Antiques Magazine with the names for things you may need to know about studying the Way of Tea.
  • Chado Encyclopedia: This wiki takes one through the entire process academically as well as procedurally of Chado, the Japanese Tea Ceremony. Great resources and historical information. It is a work in progress.
  • Koicha Dialog – Chado Encyclopedia: This is a phonetic pronunciation guide with English translation of the Koicha Dialog of discussion and admiration of the various equipment and details of the Chado, Japanese Tea Ceremony. A handy guide for travelers to Japan and those studying the Chado. It includes links to more information on some of the words and concepts.
  • SweetPersimmon: It’s tagline explains it all, “The Art and Practice of Chado, Chanoyu, and the Japanese Tea Ceremony.” Based in Portland, Oregon, this is a school to learn about the Japanese tea ceremony and it gets high reviews. It’s on my to do list! The blog is packed with fantastic information and resources on the ceremony.
  • Chanoyu to wa: A tumblr blog by Daniel Burkus, a dedicated fan of The Way of Tea and the study of it, and the work of Rikyu, Zen, and the tea ceremony. It includes scrolls and translations as often found in tea houses and tea ceremonies, explaining the history and details of the works.
  • Tang Dynasty Times: This site is not focused specifically on tea but includes many references to the Tan Dynasty and their love of tea which influenced culture, art, and way of life. Excellent academic references and resources.

If anyone is interested, I’ll share more tea tips and information as I keep learning more about the art and way of tea. Do you have any favorite online resources for your tea?

Time Counts

I’ve been helping Noah Weiss with his WordPress.com site and found his article on countdowns triggered a memory for me.

There are many forms of countdowns in our lives. Counting down as a warning, to prepare for launch, to time a game. There are also many ways to count up, counting to ten to control anger or prevent anger, control the length of an event, and measure your life in either direction. There are so many ways countdowns also represent times, times in our lives, counting up or counting down, measurements of moments.

One of my most memorable time countdown moments was in Israel. There are two holidays that rip me up every time. Holocaust Day and Independence Day. Both are started and ended with a siren that lasts two minutes. Everyone and everything in the country comes to a complete stop during those two minutes. Cars stop on the highway. People stop walking. People stand still no matter where they are. Trains, buses, everything comes to a complete stop throughout the entire country and silence falls dramatically (Israel is a noisy place).

The first time I experienced it, it hit me with a wave of discomfort. I didn’t know how long it would last and it felt like it lasted forever. I looked around at all the people stopped, standing next to their cars on main roads, and was very uncomfortable with the silence. I understood the significance, but I didn’t understand. I think I didn’t want to understand. Two minutes was a countdown representative of an eternity in that moment.

The second time, I had a better perspective on the reasons for the moment. I looked around and noticed people standing still, tears quietly flowing down their faces. Grim faces. Some people holding hands or each other. A young child grasp in arms squirming until the adult snuggled down into the child’s neck and both became still.

Years of history flowed into those two minutes. History representative of horror and destruction. Of loss. Of death. Of live. Of birth. Of renewal. Of faith. Of courage. As George Carlin so eloquently described it, “I say life began about a billion years ago and it’s a continuous process. Continuous, just keeps rolling along.”

In those two sets of two minutes, I felt a part of something, connected to the past and the future. It’s a countdown that goes in both directions. How long since when and how long until when – the when is a big question and it will happen whether or not we ask the question.

As you move through your life, pause for a moment and consider the moments when time counted for you. Stopping time to remember time is a powerful thing.

Letter to Those Desiring a Career in Nature and Travel Photography

Brent VanFossen balances his long camera lens on roof of car while photographing big game animals from the road. Photography Lorelle VanFossen.

On a regular basis I get emails and comments from students attracted to the photography bug. To them, photography represents the exotic, exciting, and adventurous. While there are some aspects that involve travel, adventure, and excitement, for the most part photography as a hobby is fun. Photography as a business is hard work and boring.

A couple years ago I created the following form letter in response to the quantity of requests for advice and help with a photography career in travel and nature. I’m updating it but I thought you might enjoy the older version for posterity.

Brent VanFossen balances his long camera lens on roof of car while photographing big game animals from the road. Photography Lorelle VanFossen.Dreams of a nature and travel photography career is a good dream, but one that requires an education first.

I know I sound old, but I wish I’d had the photography, art, and business training I needed before I first hit the road with my camera. Traveling costs money, but it also presents a lot of opportunities I could have turned into income which would have allowed me to spend more time exploring and expanding my art and skills rather than taking any job I could to pay for the next trip. No matter how you look at it, photography is expensive.

School is boring. Go Anyway.

School really doesn’t teach you what you need to know to succeed in life. Still, you have to have the piece of paper that says, “This is proof I know how to complete things. I know how to suffer and make it through it.” There is no photography career you can take on without that piece of paper if you wish to do more than run your own business. Even then, a fine art or graphic arts degree is a minimum. A business degree is a requirement.

Water Droplets on Sheet Web

Water droplets on sheet web - photography by Brent VanFossen.

Water droplets on sheet web - photography by Brent VanFossen.

Just as there are many types of spiders, there are many types of webs. A favorite of ours is the sheet web.

Lying flat across plants and grasses, Brent and I are impressed by these diligent web makers as they work on the horizontal rather than vertical. Our front “yard” filled with knick-knick, Oregon Grape, and sahlal, native Pacific Northwest plants, is a haven for sheet web-making spiders.

In the fall, the rain comes down, drenching these sturdy webs with water drops. Brent was able to get in close to capture the droplets without disturbing the web.

I love the patterns, the wet texture, and the lovely colors of nature in this photograph. Made into a puzzle, this one would be a tough image to put together.

Backlighting Devil’s Club Overhead

Devils club leaves photographed by Lorelle VanFossen backlit in the forest.

Traveling to Seattle, a friend and I went to the John Bastyr School for one of their health and herbal festivals. A nature walk through the forest next to the campus intrigued me. It was incredibly informative, discussing how to use plants in the wilderness for medical treatments and health.

The Pacific Northwest forest was dappled with sunlight and the treacherous Devils Club hung over our heads at one point in trail. I worked around the group trying to get a good angle on the plant to capture the details with the strong backlighting.

The Devil’s Club is one that I’ve run into since a child digging around the forests of the Pacific Northwest, and trust me, this is one you do not want to stumble into. Called the Devil’s Club or Walking Stick, it can grow up to 16 feet (5 meters) tall in rainforests and damp environments to which Western Washington is well equipped. Spines are found not only on the stems but the leaves, making it a painful experience to touch in any way, even brush against.

According to our guide, Native Americans used Devil’s Club for medicine to treat diabetes, tumors, chapped lips, and tumors. It can also be used as an analgesic, though it isn’t as strong as traditional aspirin. It can be used in herbal teas and he said that they ate it as food. He didn’t clarify which part they ate, from the red fruits that form in clusters off stems that look like clubs, or from the leaves or root.

For me, this is a plant I’ve endured most of my life, having spent too many hours pulling its little thorn-like spines from by arms and legs and out of my dogs. Still, it is a magnificent examples of the unusual in the world. A plant I think of when I imagine what plant life was like during the dinosaur times.

Love Letters of Wood

Photograph of a large piece of Douglas Fir wood for a workbench with sale sign. Photograph by Brent VanFossen.

A text and a chat alerted me to Brent getting way to excited about sharing something with me. I was driving, so it had to wait until I was in a safe place. The alerts on my phone instructed me to check my email for a love letter.

This is what I got.


I checked the beams in the garage last night. The first two I checked were at 34% moisture content – which is the maximum my meter will read. I also measured 24% and 20% depending on the piece.

I went to Restore again today. I found a beam that is thick and straight and dry and already glued up. 6″ x 15″ x 18′ for $2 a foot = $36 total. So I paid for it and will pick it up tomorrow. I’ll cut it in half with the chain saw. The wood inside is beautiful, looks like Douglas Fir, and the grain is all vertical, very tight and as nice as or nicer that the beams we got from the barn.

Photos attached.

Love you!


This is my version of a love letter from my husband. Sure, everyone needs mushy words of love and devotion, but after twenty years together, I get excited more when he’s excited. For the past two years, anything made of wood gets his passion flowing.

I love it.

Flash Isolates Natural Subject

Dried Thistle phtographed with flash, thus the background goes black. Photography by Lorelle VanFossen.

This dried thistle head in the Painted Hills of Oregon caught my attention with its textures and lines. I’ve always loved thistles, alive and vital with their fluffy tops, and dried out cone-like structures of mystery and pattern.

To isolate this thistle, I used flash to force the background to go to black. The flash also dove into the textures highlighting the dimensional quality of the seed head. The black background brings out the delicate curves of the plant.

To create this yourself, get close to your subject and use full flash. I recommend putting your camera on a tripod to maximize the sharp focus of the subject.

If the subject like this thistle is moving in the breeze, just be patient and wait for it to pause. The flash allows the camera to photograph at higher speeds, but you want all the odds on your side.

The Mystery of the Stargate Coasters and the Pears

Box and coasters representing the gate from Stargate - photography by Lorelle VanFossen.This is a story about the mystery of the Stargate Coasters and the pears.

The story begins with Stargate episodes on Amazon.com. It probably begins further back, but that is where I will start.

I’ve been having trouble sleeping for the first time in my life. My mother, once a chronic insomniac, continues to be jealous of my ability to drop off anywhere, no matter the noise or distractions. If I need sleep, I sleep, anywhere, in any position, at any time – except for naps. I’ve never been a napper. She’s attest to that. With changes in my body the past two years, my system is slowly stabilizing and sleep is returning, but it has been a battle.

A science fiction fan, a few months ago I started spending my sleepless hours snuggled up in bed watching reruns of Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, and Stargate Universe on Amazon.com, taking advantage of their Amazon Prime membership and Amazon Instant Prime Videos. Unfortunately, Amazon continues to make it extremely difficult for members without an iPhone or Amazon Fire. Android continues to be ignored, even though it is the fastest growing mobile OS worldwide.

A slip of the finger and I’ve purchased an episode or season. This leads to time wasted going to my desktop computer and contacting them for a refund since these are available for free.

The storyline expands with our housemate and his preparation for moving to Canada. In preparation for his move, he ordered computer equipment and materials he will need in his new home, as anyone would when preparing for a big move and life change. Along with Christmas presents, daily visits from UPS, FedEx, and other shipping companies have been a daily routine for months. The boxes pile up and are sorted and divided up when we get time. (more…)

Exploring Painted Hills in Oregon

A few years ago, my mother and I went on a genealogy romp through Oregon trying to track down the records of my family. We swung out into Eastern Oregon to one of my favorite nature parks, Painted Hills. I’ve photographed it for many years. Here are a few of the choice images from that trip to revisit this odd geological spot where the winds and rains have worn away the topsoil to reveal amazing colors of the minerals in the ground.

Are You Still Paying for International Phone Calls?

Cell phone on desk next to coffee mug with Doctor Who logo - photography by Lorelle VanFossen.According to a recent Harris Interactive/Rebtel Research Study, smart phone and web users are idiots and spending money they don’t have to call internationally.

Despite the number of free web services available to make international calls, US smartphone owners are shelling out close to $37.8 billion a year to keep in touch with foreign contacts. According to a recent survey, 21% of those with a smartphone use their device to dial internationally. That breaks down to an average bill of $156 a month.

Google Voice Stays Free In 2013 But VOIP Is $15 Billion Industry” from Forbes says that even though most people know that Skype is free, “30 million Americans pay for VOIP services and they are expected to generate about $14.5 billion in revenue.”

While we are not yet to Arthur C. Clarke’s prediction and dream of free communication world-wide, we are getting closer.

Come on, people. Get smart.

I’ve traveled all over the world and want to stay in contact with friends I’ve made in those countries. With the global nature of social media, don’t be constrained by the old boys club thinking when it comes to staying in touch across borders.

We know that this should be easier. I agree. Unfortunately, we are usually stuck calling people only on our plans, with our provider, or using the same software or app. Some charge fees for mobile phone access (2g, 3g, 4g) but are free for access with the same phones over WIFI. There are work-arounds, and these are worth exploring if you would make regular international calls like I do.

I used to use international calling prepaid calling cards and all types of gimmicks to make affordable calls internationally, but with the expansion of VOIP, there is no need for that any more. Save time and money being smarter about connecting.

I connect with my friends internationally from my computer (laptop, tablet, phone, etc.) frequently with Google Talk, Google Hangouts, and Skype. All for free. Skype is the easiest for those unfamiliar with the rest. Use their app or desktop program to place calls for free to international members of Skype. Need to call direct to a non-Skype phone, take advantage of their cheap membership prices.

I can’t recommend Google Hangouts enough. I love it. Not only can I voice, text, and video call for free to anyone in the world with a Gmail account, it features conference calling (up to a limited number for free), whiteboard, screen sharing, and more.

Snow on the Road

Snow on the road from Breitenbush Hot Springs, Oregon, 2012, photography by Lorelle VanFossen.

I love driving in the snow. Yeah, I know that most people freak out, but I’ve always been calm and cool when driving in winter conditions, even extreme. I know what I’m doing and I have total confidence in my abilities. What I don’t have confidence in are the other people.

I was thrilled when the snow started coming down in waves of great flakes on our last day at Breitenbush Hot Springs. It feel on our warm faces and into the waters of the meadow hot pools. You could see the snowflake as it sank and melted into the water. It was beautiful and amazing, and cold.

Brent wanted to leave early but I reminded him that it is always safer to drive on compact snow rather than slushy stuff. We had lunch and then headed out.

The trees bent down over the road with the weight of the snow accumulated over the past few days, creating a tunnel of white and shades of gray.

Love it. What a great way to leave our peaceful retreat and re-enter the world.

Photographing the Moon Eclipse 2008

Time laspe images of the moon eclipsing the sun in 2008, photography by Lorelle VanFossen.

Time laspe images of the moon eclipsing the sun in 2008, photography by Lorelle VanFossen.

It was freezing cold outside. And dark. Not the kind of dark that just comes with night but the dark that happens when the earth passes between the sun and the moon.

It was February 20, 2008, and I was in our new temporary home in Gaston, Oregon, an hour west of Portland, in time for the total eclipse of the moon. Brent and I stood in the cold for hours to photograph and watch this rare event.

NASA explained that the difference between this eclipse and other annual eclipses is that this one was first visible to the majority of people on the planet, covering the Americans, Europe, Africa, and western Asia. The full eclipse happens only when there is a full moon and only if the moon passes through some portion of Earth’s shadow, when the earth, sun, and moon are in total alignment.

We are used to seeing solar eclipses, where the moon blocks the sun for a few minutes. A lunar eclipse lasts for hours as the earth blocks the light hitting the moon. No special glasses are required for a lunar eclipse, unlike a solar eclipse. The previous total or full lunar eclipse was three years before. The next one is April 15, 2014.

There are two shadows that the earth cats on the moon, an inner an outer shadow. It is the inner shadow, the umbra, that happens when earth blocks all direct sunlight from reaching the moon, making it totally dark. If the moon passes through the umbra, it is a partial eclipse. If the moon passes through both the umbral (outer shadow), then a total eclipse occurs. We were in for a total eclipse.

As the moon passes through the various stages of the eclipse, it turns from red to dark brown and dark gray. That is what we experienced.

For us, it was a rare enough event as clouds didn’t interfere with the show. (more…)

Where the hell is Lorelle?

Like a game, Lorelle bounces around the world and the web. Here is a new listing of all the places where you can find Lorelle, and hopefully she will recover from speaking in third person soon.

Lorelle on WordPress: This is now considered my “main” site. It covers all things WordPress, blogging, web publishing, and social media.

Learning from Lorelle | Learning WordPress, blogging, social media, and web publishing: This is my teaching site where all my students go for the latest and best information on web publishing, WordPress, code, family history blogging, writing for the web, and more.

Blog Your Passion: This is a zen-like site dedicated to teaching you the basics of blogging and writing on the web. It features a simple How to Blog article series for beginners. Currently the site is in an innovative WordPress Theme called Duotone which changes the background color to complement the photograph in an article. It is used mostly by photographers so I’m pushing it beyond typical usage.

The Tech Nag: The Tech Nag is my place to expound upon the problems of technology, poor user interface, customer support, and general bitching about how miserable things are and how they can be improved.

Lorelle Writes: This is my personal online journal where I share my writings and lessons learned at various writing workshops and classes.

Family History | VanFossen, West, Anderson, Farlin, Knapp, Elwell, Disbrow and More: More than a hobby, I’m the family’s “official” genealogist and family history researcher. I share my family’s history and stories here.

I play around with many other sites, but these are currently the most active. Swing by and say hi!

Finding Vegetarian and Raw Food Sources Near Beaverton, Oregon

Red peppers in the market in Tel Aviv, photography by Lorelle VanFossen.I’m finally starting to explore our new neighborhood near Hillsboro, Oregon. My new quest is to find healthy and organic local produce and natural foods stores, and some good ethnic groceries so I can eat with healthy recipes from all over the world.

Here are some resources I uncovered on the web to help me find these food suppliers in the area.

Infinite Wilderness – Organic Resources near Portland, Oregon offers some of the best natural food groceries and resources around the Portland, Oregon, area, including Hillsboro and surrounding communities. The list includes organic grocers, gardens, produce delivery, clothing, restaurants, and more.

People’s Food Coop – Portland Area U-Pick Resources lists a wide area around Portland, Oregon, for picking your own fruits and vegetables from local farms and suppliers. Some are organic, and others are not quite organic, with information in the notes.

I’m still looking for some co-ops and CSAs that will deliver or provide really convenient access for pick-up. We’re just that step out far enough that we’re off their delivery routes, but I’m still looking.

Uwajimaya is a Pacific Northwest treasure. Currently, there are three Uwajimaya stores in the Northwest, one in downtown Seattle, Redmond, Washington, and now in Beaverton, Oregon. This is a magical grocery store stuffed with all these Asian including rice cookers, steamers, chopsticks, kimonos, books, fresh fish and seafood, Oriental teas and spices, and aisle upon aisle of international foods.

Seeking sushi, I stumbled into Tokyo Japanese Restaurant right next to Trader Joes on 185th near Highway 26 in Hillsboro and tasted some of the best sushi I’ve had in years…decades maybe. They have a citrus sushi roll called the Pink Dragon which is pure sin to me. The lemony flavor doesn’t overwhelm the fish and it slips down so fast – order two. They aren’t cheap but worth every hum, ooo, and awe. I usually get one to take home to relive the tongue joy the next day. They do specialty items as well and are always welcoming and accommodating and just about everyone can find something good to eat there, sushi or not. (more…)

Lorelle’s World as of April 12th, 2012

The following is a snippet of Lorelle’s online world published weekly.

blog (feed #1)
Lorelle VanFossen published Lorelle’s World as of March 30th, 2012.