The phrase reading the tea leaves carries loads of connotations, most of them based in urban myths and folk tales. It’s an idea that brings gypsies, clairvoyants, dim rooms smelling of incense, tall dark strangers and dire warnings to mind.

Practitioners refer to it as tasseomancy and sell it as way of divining the future by interpreting the patterns left by tealeaves in the bottom of a cup.

Reading Tea Leaves, 1906. Harry Herman Roseland

Of course, since most people tend to use teabags these days (rather than loose-leaf tea), the practice may have lost a little currency. Somehow reading the teabag doesn’t have quite the same vibe. It just sounds soggy… and messy.

But it seems there’s always a workaround if you’re really keen. No tealeaves? No problem. Apparently coffee grounds or even red wine residue can do the job instead. Who knew?

It might just be me, but neither of those options sounds any more appealing (or reliable) than the soggy teabags. But perhaps that might be a side issue for those searching for signs, portents and clues to help them deal with the indecipherable future and our rapidly changing world.

Whatever works, I guess.

So, do I examine the dregs of my beverages for signs and portents? In short, no.

I’m a pragmatist, which means that I simply accept that life happens and cope with it to the best of my ability. The world changes and I can’t see how inventing rituals could provide me with any comfort or insights. So I don’t read the tealeaves. Nor to I examine my coffee grounds or red wine residue – other than to note that a refill is required!

My Teacup in the Sky mosaic, 2015

Even so, one of my siblings refers to reading my blogposts as ‘reading the tealeaves’ – which is what took me down this particular tunnel.

I’m pretty sure that’s simply because my blog’s called Teacup in the Sky. But since Sibling#3 lives a continent away, it’s just as likely that these posts provide him with some tools to build a picture of a sister who migrated across the world half a lifetime ago. Since the posts are generally a brain dump of something I’ve been mulling over, that’s not an unreasonable assessment.

Teacup in the Sky is a tool that helps me to explore ideas, to express myself and make connections. But my virtual tealeaves are nothing more than that. I doubt there’s much to be gained from looking for patterns or trying to analyse the content for insights or seven-deeper-meanings.

Even so, it has made me wonder how carefully people consider what they post online — and whether readers do, in fact, look for deeper meanings or life-clues in the posts.

I enjoy baking. Well, cooking, really – but baking perhaps a little more than any other option. This was great when the children were young and had troops of ravenous friends stampeding through the house on a regular basis. Cookies, slices, cakes, scones – they all disappeared in record time, consumed by ever-hungry and surprisingly undiscriminating youngsters. Ours was the house where there was always something tasty to eat.

Sadly, these days everyone seems altogether too grown up and concerned with figure shape and weight to make the most of one of my baking frenzies. So I’ve had to devise a cunning plan: I’m baking a little less often and, when I do, I’m making batches of smaller items. That way we (and guests) can enjoy a small tasty treat with our cuppa, and the rest of the bake-a-thon goes into the freezer for another time.

Mini bakes

Mini banana loaves have been a hit, as have these very tasty peanut cookies. Both freeze really well and taste very yummy as a mid-week treat or emergency teatime offering when people drop by unexpectedly. The nutty muesli squares didn’t make it to the freezer, but did provide mini lunchbox treats for Himself for a couple of weeks 🙂

My next foray into mini-bakes is a variation on a recipe I found in a delightful book called Traditional Teatime Recipes. It’s full of simple yet tasty sounding offerings – many of which are now on my list to try out over the next few weeks.


First off the rank is the orange tea bread. The recipe apparently originated at Moseley Old Hall, in Staffordshire. Whilst that’s vaguely interesting, I’m actually making it (today) because it sounds delicious, we have guests this evening (dessert, anyone…?), and I have a fridge full of oranges from our neighbour’s tree.

Here’s the recipe, in case you’d like to give it a go too.

Orange Tea Bread – adapted from Traditional Teatime Recipes

75g butter, softened

1 cup plain flour

1 cup almond meal

1½ tsp baking powder

1 large egg, beaten

cup caster sugar

2 oranges <juice one, zest both – reserve second orange>

50g walnuts, roughly chopped <I used pecans>

1 – 2 Tblsp extra caster sugar  <reserve this for sprinkling on top of the cake>

FIRST: set your oven to 180C  (350F) and prepare a medium sized loaf tin <or, in my case, 6 mini loaf pans>

THEN: rub butter into flour and baking powder, then stir in the sugar and chopped nuts.  Mix in the egg, then add the juice from one of the oranges and the zest from both of them. Beat the mixture well, then fold in the almond meal.

Spoon mix into the prepared loaf tin / mini loaf pans

NEXT: cut the pith off the outside of the remaining orange. Then, holding it over the tin/s <to catch the juice>, carefully remove the segments. Arrange the orange segments over the top of the cake/s, then sprinkle with the extra caster sugar

FINALLY: bake your loaf in preheated oven for about 45 minutues – or until a skewer comes out clean. Leave the cake/s in the pan/s to cool… if you have the patience. Such yum!

MORE NOTES: the original recipe didn’t include almond meal; it called for 1½ cups of plain flour. It also gave the baking time as 1¼ to 1½ hours.

Orange teacake

Over the past few weeks I’ve reviewed constitutions, typed up minutes and attended the committee  and/or annual general meetings of a number of organisations. The meetings have been particularly tedious as most have tended towards unduly long discussions that don’t reach conclusions, poorly informed decision making and uneven participation – and some even devolved into bun fights (sustained, overblown arguments about a trivial point, sometimes of a personal nature and not relevant to the point under discussion).  Surely this is a self-defeating and pointless way to run any meeting?

If I were to hazard a guess as to why it happens, I’d say that a key reason might be that such meetings are so ubiquitous that most people don’t think that there’s very much to them. My experience has been that it’s generally assumed that the Chair will know what to do, whether or not this is actually the case, and that s/he will keep things on track. Indeed, I’d lay odds that the majority of voluntary committee members are rarely inclined to put much time into researching how to run a meeting or – more particularly – how to participate in one effectively.

Researching alternative meeting styles as possible solutions to the meeting dilemma, I came across something called collaborative governance, also known as the Sociocratic Method. This, if implemented effectively, is supposed to equally empower all participants, allow everyone to voice their concerns and/or objections, and to encourage participants to contribute information. Key to the process is the group’s shared sense of purpose and desire for collaborative decision making. Group members take turns to be the meeting facilitator, so that meetings are not always run by the same person. Each person present is given the opportunity to speak in turn (rounds), although they can choose to pass. Discussion topics each have two or three rounds of comment dedicated to them, so that clarity, consensus and consent can be achieved.

I’ve no doubt that, with practise, patience and commitment, this meeting style could work very effectively. Certainly, taking the time to listen to individual focused views on each topic from each person is a laudable objective. Ideally this would result in quieter members gaining a voice and feeling empowered. The downside is that this process is a time-hungry one, particularly for ‘new players.’ Since the issue of long meetings generally discourages meeting participation, I feel this is self defeating and may well result in difficulties filling key committee positions. Sadly, I personally have neither the time nor the patience for long meetings any more, so this wouldn’t work for me.

Broadly speaking, the success of any meeting actually appears to hinge on a combination of pre-planning, clear goals, and effective and focused chairing. Whilst this is a combination that is trickier to find than one might think, there are strategies that groups can implement to move their meetings in the right direction. Circulating a clearly prioritised agenda in advance of the meeting, followed by a quick overview by the chair at the start of each meeting, an effective hand at the helm to keep the meeting on track (in terms of decision making and time keeping) and an inclusive and cooperative manner would go a long way towards improving meeting outcomes. Following this up with clear meeting minutes, circulated in good time after the meeting, would round things off nicely.

I do wonder, however, whether combining an aspect of sociocracy at the start of meetings might prove useful. Perhaps introducing a round in which each person is given the opportunity to articulate what is uppermost in their mind in relation to the meeting up front might settle the group and encourage more active participation. It may also reduce the likelihood of additional items being added to the agenda at the last minute – one of my particular pet peeves.

I’ll give this some thought later. For now I’m completely meeting-ed out. Time to pat a kitten and have a cup of tea!

Prism adventuring_19mar15

So this whole hosting your own site seemed like an awesome idea… but didn’t take into account my very (!) limited programmery skills  and the high level of frustration that results in. Just logging in has proved a challenge! As for uploading images… well, suffice to say that it’s time for a nice cup of tea!

End of first post and first rant :P