chai tea 88.
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Anna Maria (n e Stanhope) Russell and I have a lot in common. She was born to an Earl, married to a Duke, was best friends with Queen Victoria and lived in a house with over four dozen bedrooms and with 3,000 deer running through the backyard. I was not born into the aristocracy, nor did I marry into it (though my husband is a prince and my best friend is a queen in the eyes of those who know her, blue-blood notwithstanding). My home has enough rooms that we only have to double up, and the only animals in my yard are stray cats.
Where the similarities do exist between myself and Anna Maria is that we both feel a little down at around four in the afternoon, and need a little edible "pick-me-up."
Duchess Russell got into the practice of calling the palace butler to sneak some tea, bread and butter up to her room before dinner. I go into the kitchen and start attacking the fridge when others aren't looking.
One famished afternoon, some of the duchess' friends were over when her butler brought up her afternoon nibble, and asked to join in. Before long, all of English society was trying to emulate her. Serving low tea at four became the "haute du jour" of the aristocracies as well as the wannabes. High tea was what the poor ate, who didn't have leisurely afternoons to while away, at a high table accompanied by dinner. Low tea was savored by the snobs, eaten off low coffee and side tables on dainty plates.
Knowing how I feel about food and snobbery, it was hardly surprising that this week, when we went to friends for a Shabbat afternoon game of rummy, our hostess served us cream tea. I was thrilled and I believe that my taste buds were at the table a full 10 minutes before the rest of my body. Cream tea refers to the type of tea being served: In this case, tea with milk and sugar, served with scones, cream and jam. "High" or "low" is simply indicative of when and where the tea is being served.
I was delighted and saddened at the same time. Pleased at being invited out for such an enchanting treat, and sad that our day-to-day lives rarely allow opportunities for such low-key entertaining.
It's not just low-key entertaining that is missing from my life. I believe that it is finding ways to enjoy the day-to-day. There is joy to be found in the most unexpected places. Turning a "sugar low" into a national sensation that was in vogue for nearly 200 years may be a hard thing to compete with, but I was determined to turn my mundane "must-dos" into joyful "will-dos."
So I set up two different walking buddies; one for the morning and one for the evening. So much more enjoyable then a treadmill. I decided to create a book club because I'm convinced that watching TV for extended periods of time will sap you of joy. I'm finding that ironing while listening to my kids' books on tape makes the experience not only bearable, but it actually seems to go quicker. My next big venture is trying to convince the local dance teacher to introduce the American Zumba (samba and aerobics) exercise routine or pilates (body of a dancer without the commitment) to her studio. Exercise to music, what could be better?
Without question, the most important thing I'm going to implement is afternoon tea at least once a month for no reason whatsoever, other than the fact that I feel my sugar drop. I'll have friends over, serve them tiny pastries, scones, cucumber sandwiches and tea, which must be imbibed with pinkies cocked to perfection, just because I can. Duchess or not.
Recently my children asked me to put together a kiddush for them on a random Shabbat. As I invited the children, almost every mother asked me the same thing: "What's the occasion?"
Truth be told, there was no occasion, but I made something up all the same, embarrassed that I had been celebrating for no reason. In fact, I seem to do this often. When we were first married, I would buy Haagen Dazs and rent a movie almost every Tuesday, and a friend asked me why. I started celebrating Happy Tuesday from then on.
I have chosen to never again be embarrassed about celebrating life, about making the ordinary extraordinary. This week, try it yourself. Serve cream tea on Shabbat afternoon, find a walking buddy, dance around your kitchen, or celebrate a happy day any day of the week. I promise it will bring you joy, and perhaps you will start a trend.
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