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A Cuppa of Hope

Hey. I have to be honest: I didn't think there would be so much frustration, turmoil, and even stupidity going on at full speed right now. Especially after what we've been through for the past 17-18 months. I'm sure most of you thought that once the vaccines were rolled out and more people got the shot things would get back to what it was pre-COVID. I'm sure most of you thought that after the BLM protests and guilty verdict in the George Floyd trial the BIPOC communities would be treated with more kindness and understanding. I'm sure most of you thought that everyone would be going to back to their in-person jobs or schools at full force after spending over a a year cooped up at home. I'm sure most of you thought the arts would be flourishing and thriving once again after physical theaters, venues, and concert halls being mostly shuttered for over a year. I'm sure most of you thought that things would actually make sense again after the roller coaster of four years or more in our nation and the world. Believe me, I thought so, too. But to quote a famous phrase: MADE YA LOOK! Even if you didn't think things would be back to "normal" or at least to what you're used to pre-pandemic, I'm sure many of you didn't imagine so much going on in the world that is turning things upside down again. The heated debate over masking in schools (and the apparent over authority of some in power taking away funding from those that put in mask mandates). Unexpected food shortages in grocery stores (again). Higher stress levels over whether or not to return to work in-person. An earthquake devastating the entire nation of Haiti. Taliban forces taking over Afghanistan, with thousands upon thousands trying to flee. Several governors in Southern states banning mask mandates (yep, you read that right) to the point of taking away funding or even bring about federal charges that defy their decrees. Raging wildfires in California are devastating homes and wildlife brought upon extreme heat and droughts. And then there's the Delta variant of COVID-19. Seriously? A VARIANT of COVID-19? The same virus that led to a global pandemic? Yeah, that's the one. But how can that be? Well, if I'm not mistaken, viruses can constantly change through mutation, which causes new variants of the disease to occur. Some of them emerge and disappear, while others persist and stay for a while. According to the CDC, variants are to be expected when viruses are widespread. The best way to get this is, of course, get vaccinated. Seriously. Vaccinations can help keep you from being vaccinated, being hospitalized, or even dying. You can even take this a step further by wearing a mask, washing your hands for 20 seconds, and social distancing. Sound familiar? That's what was said to us when COVID first broke the news in the US, and even prior to the first case arriving in the nation. So, in other words... We're not completely out of the woods yet in terms of this pandemic. (Insert face palm) Yeah, it's not exactly the news I was expecting either. In fact, I thought by now I would be sharing blog posts about the observations I have from the many adventures OUTSIDE of my apartment, hometown, or home state even. But instead, I'm sticking close to home, and I long to travel again. I long to hang out at restaurants, theaters, concerts, malls, and more without wearing a mask. I crave having a good meal inside a fantastic place to eat. I wish I could go into dressing rooms and try out new pieces of clothing. I miss giving smiles to people on the sidewalks in an attempt to brighten up their day (as long as I don't give them the wrong idea, that is!). I want to meet actors and musicians at the stage door after an incredible performance. And so much more. I miss doing so many things that we've all taken for granted, and because of this pandemic, it may never be looked at in the same way again. You'd think we'd reach a point in the past 17-18 months where we can start to get back to normal. We couldn't be further from the truth. The biggest culprits to why we've gone several steps backward and one step forward? Well, it could be a number of things. The government not making an executive order for a mandatory mask and/or vaccine mandate for everyone. People protesting lockdown orders and mask mandates. Vaccine hesitancy and distrust, even though the research has proven its effectiveness and safety. Rushing back into things pre-pandemic too soon. Lack of guidance and direction over how to properly get rid of a virus. In other words, this could be best summed by one word: FEAR. You know what I do when there's a lot stress, turmoil, uncertainty, and fear going around? I find something that brings me joy and gives me just enough hope to keep going. Something like cooking scones or cookies or biscuits. Something like taking a long walk while listening to my favorite podcasts and music. Something like reading a good book. Something like shopping online or at my favorite stores in-person. Something like watching my favorite TV show or movie. Something like reaching out to my friends and acquaintances to share what's going on and how we're feeling. Or if you really want to go the extra mile... I have a cup of tea. Want to join me for a cuppa?

I was lucky enough to study abroad in London 10 years ago, and I loved every minute of this experience. Even though I was still struggling with so much mentally and emotionally, the opportunity to go to another country for the summer brought me so much joy. I've always been fascinated with London for as long as I can remember - the history, the landmarks, the food, and the tea. The British take their tea time VERY seriously, even to the point where around 5 pm they simply must have tea (at least that's a requirement for the actors and production teams in the West End on Equity contracts - there is an hour long break from 5-6 pm for tea. If this has changed in any shape or form, please let me know!). Or tea can be essential at any time of day, but it's still a must for those living and visiting England. One thing I've come to discover is how much I enjoy the different varieties of tea - black, green, white, herbal, chai, you name it! And sometimes I have it with milk, which is surprisingly a comfort to me since I haven't had it this way in 10 years when I traveled to London and had it this way. The trick is to have the right amount of milk and sugar in order to give a good taste while still retaining the flavor of the tea. Which is my favorite tea to drink on a regular basis? It used to be just herbal mint tea, but it has only recently grown into English Breakfast, chai, and Earl Grey. I guess it could be a mixture of drinking my way through the different varieties of tea given to me in the past year to widen my taste palate or my desire to return to London again after being there 10 years ago that's bringing up this week's post. Then again, it's being in London that's bringing up a sense of transformation in my wardrobe, cooking skills, and music. But I'll save that for another blog post. Back to the matter at hand... There seems to be a never-ending war with tea vs. coffee. You are either one or the other, no in-between or both. I personally drink tea and have never been a coffee person. As much as I can see how coffee can help a person wake up and take on the day with all of that caffeine and taste, I've always believed that tea can bring a different sort of power to me. It brings me the power of reassurance, positivity, and hope. I can't exactly pinpoint what it is about tea that calms me and brings me this magical spell. It could be the warmth of the cup, it could be the combination of the flavor and milk & sugar mixed all together, or it could be how the simple sip can create such a change in your perspective or the problems that you're facing prior to sitting down for a cuppa. And how with every single cup it brings me something that's sorely needed right now. It's a little thing called HOPE. Think about it: no matter what time of day it is, a cup of tea essentially helps out with whatever is troubling you, even if it's as something as insignificant as your nail being broken. It's more than just the warmth in your hands or as the soothing drink goes down your throat. It's how a cuppa can be an important part of listening, understanding, and offering advice, suggestions, encouragement, and even tough love in some cases. Sitting down to afternoon tea in a formal tea room or even just having some in your living room on the couch does wonders for those who need it the most. Having a cuppa can be good for just about anything: catching up with friends, a good cry after receiving distressing news, a conundrum that needs an outside pair of eyes, or even talking about nothing at all. I tell you, drinking tea can do just as much magic as a cup of coffee. (Fight me, I dare you.) Coffee makes you jittery and high-strung all day until you unexpectedly crash when you need to keep your energy up. It's true that some teas out there has caffeine, but it doesn't make you so wired up that you end up crashing and burning midway through your day. At least that's what I observe. But we'll settle the debate over which is better for you - coffee or tea - another day. Let's get back to the matter at hand. I offered you a cuppa of tea, and I have mine all ready to go for a good conversation and a helpful ear. What's troubling you right now? I bet it has something to do with this:

You have all of these wonderful ideas for the fall - birthday meals, going to see a live show, attending a wedding, traveling out of state, seeing relatives in the first time in over a year, or even thinking as far out to Thanksgiving or Christmas, and then the Delta variant comes in practically spoils everything. Believe me, I know all of this too well. I have, er, had plans to go up to NYC for my birthday week and see Come from Away on Broadway. I was also looking forward to potentially having pizza with friends or even going as far as having a - wait for it - afternoon birthday tea party with some friends. Much of those plans have gone up in smoke at this point, and like all of you, I'm not happy about it. I had this crazy idea that with so many people vaccinated that COVID would go away on its own, but I hadn't counted on the large group of people who chose not to get vaccinated, whether that's for misinformed reasons or due to their underlying health conditions which makes getting a vaccine difficult. Yeah, there's a lot going on right now. And it's stressful. I know I forget to breathe and step away from the bad news when it becomes unbearable. I'm scared, too. Not just for myself, but for everyone I care about, including complete strangers I may never meet in my lifetime. Before we go on, I need you to do something for me. Feel the warmth of your cup in your hands and let it bring you comfort right now. Take a sip of your tea. Feel the wonderful flavors go down your throat and allow yourself to relax. If you have to refill your cup or reheat it, go ahead. Now, breathe in and out several times. Let's continue with our conversation. Sometimes having a friend over for a cup of tea does wonders for the spirit and heart. It's just nice to take the time to listen without interruption before offering your viewpoint and advice on a problem, situation, or news. Plus, it's also good to have warmth in your hands and heart to help you have the ability to feel compassion towards others. That's the way I feel about a cuppa. I can't explain, but it always seems to help clear my head and put things back in focus and in a new perspective, sort of like what a nice long walk or exercise does for me when I'm stressed or having a difficult time with something. I know you have so much going on right now, and the way the world around you is going, it's not helping matters. I may not be able to solve all of your problems, but I can at least give you something to take with you as we enjoy a cup of tea together. Let's start with the most challenging of problems going on right now, and then work our way down to the most simplistic of messages I can offer to you. In terms of the Delta variant, I understand that there is much fear and frustration over us going backwards even though we've made some form of progress. There are still plenty of people out there who refuse to get vaccinated or even wear a mask. It could be because of their underlying health issues, or it could be a case of misinformation. Either way, it's causing those of us who are doing the right thing by wearing a mask, social distancing, washing our hands for 20 seconds, sanitizing our hands, and avoiding large crowds to keep on doing this a little while longer. And if I know you, you are plenty tired of having to do this. I bet some of you are concerned about your children returning to school in person for the first time in over a year, and the constant debate over whether they should wear a mask or have a full week's worth of classes or just divide them in half, or even just being allowed to play on the playground at recess. I'm sure some of you have loved ones or people you know who disagree with you about staying safe by wearing a mask and getting vaccinated, right up to the point of no longer speaking to each other out of fear of the relationship being beyond repair and you're desperately trying to keep it together. It can even go towards people who you look up to who have said some questionable things about vaccinations and wearing a mask. It's a lot to handle right now. Now that I've had my cuppa (and I might go refill it in a little bit), here's what I have to say on this topic: Hang in there. Seriously. Nobody is going through this alone. Every single nation is struggling with this right now, and to think that it should be exclusive to a particular nation is not right. We've made it through 2020 together, and I'm pretty sure we can make it through 2021 together. And the years to come. It's hard adjusting to this "new normal", I get it. There are times when I'm tired of wearing a mask and having to avoid strangers like the plague. (Poor choice of words, I know.) But here's the thing: it won't last forever. Nothing ever lasts forever, even a pandemic. One thing to remember is that there are people out there who care about you and want you to be safe, and they will go as far as putting their lives on the line to ensure your well-being. That's called selflessness. Being selfless doesn't necessarily mean going to the front lines where the pandemic is at its worst, but it does mean thinking of others, even those you've never met. This has never been about you. It never will be. The only way we are going to get to the other side of this pandemic, variants and all, is if we stop being self-centered and start looking outward towards other's needs and do the right thing. Wear that mask. Wash your hands for 20 seconds. Social distance. Get vaccinated. It may be a nuisance to you, but to someone else who may not be able to do these things or understand the complexities of this, it can make a whole world of difference when they see how selfless you are by placing your needs on the back burner and thinking about others. It's been said so many times, but it rings true especially now: "Love is putting someone else's needs before your own." Love is selflessness, not selfishness. And if you do meet someone who is unwilling to listen to reason on this matter, think of what my grandma says in cases like this: "I refuse to engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed person." Sometimes the best thing to do is just walking away and being silent. If you are reading this right now and you are unsure about whether you should get vaccinated or even wear a mask, consider this: Getting opinions and ideas from misinformed people doesn't make you an informed person. It makes you stupid, and I'm know you don't want to be remembered for being stupid after you've died. The best way to get the proper information is to go to someone who is actually informed on these matters, like a doctor, nurse practitioner, research assistant, or anyone who has had the chance to do extensive study in healthcare, medicine, and more. Let them provide you with the guidance, resources, and suggestions that can help you form your conclusions and next steps on what to do. And if all else fails, get vaccinated and wear the mask anyway. Don't just do it for yourself; do it for the people in your life that mean the world to you, even the ones you may never meet in your lifetime. Don't bring politics into this. Bring selfless love into this. I'm sure all of you are aware of what's going on in Afghanistan and Haiti right now. In layman's terms, both nations are going through unmistakable tragedies right now - Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake where the death toll is in the thousands, while Afghanistan is being taken over by the terrorist group, the Taliban, just as the US is pulling out troops from there after being there for roughly 20 years. There's so much fear, shock, questions, and anger running in our minds at this moment. And what do we do when we see the images like this on the news? We find a scapegoat. And it's usually the ones in charge. First of all, I'm horrified and heartbroken by these events going on in two nations of our expansive world, but here's one thing that I need you not to do. Play the blame game. Saying things like "you shouldn't have pulled out so soon" or "it's all the President's fault" or other similar statements isn't going to change things. It's only going to make blood pressures rise to their highest which may cause even harsher health problems than we need right now, and it's not going help those in need the most. But the big question of the day: What can I do to help? That's an important first step right there. You have the will and heart to reach out and help those in need, and the fact that you are putting down everything and making an effort to assist those who are in trouble shows that you care. We don't need to be playing the blame game. We need to be playing the I care game. Think of the ways of how you can help those who need the basic necessities that we often take for granted - food, water, clothes, medication, a place to stay, and more. Nobody plans for things like this to happen, not even those in power. They can listen to all of the intel they receive, keep an eye and ear to any rumblings that could potentially be dangerous, or even see the news from afar. But even the unexpected things that happen may leave them unprepared for what's next. But the important that they do is do their best to show that they care through action, whether that's deploying troops to the affected regions for assistance with warfare or providing the basic needs, or even safely surveying the area themselves. Taking action through compassion makes for a very wise and respectful leader indeed. Not through the blame game. And here's something else to remember: we shouldn't be relying on our leaders to do all the work we've voted them into office to do. The ones that should be doing the work is OURSELVES. We are the ones that are raising our voices, creating petitions, attending town halls and board meetings, doing grassroots activism, speaking to one another on the issues that matter, and so much more. We're not meant to become complacent and let things be in the hand of the leaders, especially those who aren't doing a very good job for their city, region, state, or country. Need I remind you what happened the last time that happened. And I'm sure you don't want to go through that again. A nation isn't strong because of its force. A nation is strong because of its people, especially those that show that they care for others. Whew! That was some heavy stuff I shared with you over our cuppa. Let's refill and even get some cookies before I offer one more important piece of advice. I'm guessing that apart from what's going on in the world right now you have some major decisions, events, and questions you want to share with me. An upcoming wedding? A new family member coming soon? A big job interview with a company you've wanted to work with for a long time? A chance to travel to somewhere new for your career or for your family? Or both? A troublesome day? A fashion show featuring several outfits you need to pick for an upcoming party you're attending? Visiting relatives, especially those you don't get along with relatively soon? Moving into a new apartment or house? How to get your child to eat something they don't like? Mourning the loss of a loved one? Deciding to cut ties with a friend whose views no longer align with yours? Debating where to spend your birthday? The best course of action for your health? The first thing to remember when you invite people over for a cuppa is to be able to take the time to listen to one another. Listening is such an important value of being a good friend, and not always turning the conversation over to you makes a big difference. It's important to know that you're there to help your friends, whether that's simply understanding what they're going through or even offering a good old belly laugh when it's needed. I'm always ready to listen to what's going on in your life, and without interruptions. I want to be able to understand, respect, and see clearly what's going on in your life. If I need any clarification, I will do my best to speak up and ask if you can reiterate or rephrase what was said in a way that is easy for me to understand. Even if it's the simple things going on in your life. I always appreciate taking the time to listen. And as we wrap up our time together, I want to offer some simple pieces of advice that I hope you can take with you as you go about your day. First, I want you to know that no matter what you're going through, you have me in your corner rooting for you. As long as you're not breaking the law or getting me involved in breaking the law with you, I will support you in whatever capacity I can. I may not understand every detail you are experiencing in your life at the moment, but you can bet that I will do my best to support you in however you need me to be. Next, I want you to know that it will be okay. Truthfully, it WILL be okay. I know things at this moment don't seem like it right now, but I can promise you that God doesn't give us more than what we can handle. He creates order, not chaos. And He's calling us to place our trust in Him, and not people, things, or events that have taken His place. I don't know if you believe in God or in a higher power, but if you simply take the time to breathe, let go, and trust that all will be well without taking control of every little detail, I guarantee you that all things will fall into place as it should. If you want to look at it from another perspective, don't take life too seriously. You'll never get out of it alive. Finally, I want you to know that by offering you a cuppa today, I'm giving you something that you need desperately right now. That's called HOPE. It's the little voice that whispers to us when we feel alone or lost. It's the cheerleader that shouts into your soul when you're facing a big fear, sometimes scared stiff, It's the hug the caresses us after a long day. Hope is so many things and more, and I want you to promise me that you do not lose it or give up on it. Don't place hope in the people, things, or events that can supposedly give you what you want the most. Hope is within ourselves, and it deserves to be shared with everyone around us in big or small ways. Please don't give up hope. I know I won't. (These times are hard for all of us, and I do mean ALL of us. I'm glad I can bring some form of joy, inspiration, encouragement, and guidance right now through the words I write. However, I will not tolerate any offensive language, hate speech, or anything derogatory from anyone. If you feel like you have something negative to say, do us all a favor and keep your mouth shut and move on. Otherwise, I will block you.)

I hope you all enjoyed having a cuppa with me today. I figured I would take time to check in and see how you're doing, and from the way things are going, sitting down with a nice warm cup in your hands truly does make all the difference in the world. At least it does for me. It's nice to take the time to actually listen to one another while sipping this wonderful warm beverage and offer our advice, suggestions, and humor over the big things and little things. I guess I could close this week's post with this: Coffee is nice when you need to wake up and face the day, especially if you cannot live or even manage your life without it. But I personally believe that sitting down to a nice cup of tea and slowing down from the fast pace of this world, with good friends to keep you smiling or even in solitude, can make just as much of a difference in our lives instead of keeping up with craziness of life. In other words, SLOW DOWN. Don't forget to breathe. Remember that you have wonderful people in your life rooting for you. Place your trust in God or in a higher power, and everything will be okay. And above all... Never lose hope. The door's always open if you want to have a cuppa with me. I'm here. "Tea time is a chance to slow down, pull back and appreciate our surroundings." ~Letitia Baldrige

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