I don't quite remember when I fell in love with tea but I do remember the most special moments of me drinking tea. I was eighteen years old and I went to live with my biological mother for four months. I had just met her months earlier and it was awkward for both of us. She and her ex-husband lived a very quiet life in Boulder, Colorado. He was a professor at one of the universities and she was a housewife. After years of drug addiction and being in and out of jail, she deserved the break. I was homeless so she and her husband agreed to let me come live with them. Each evening my mother and I would find a spot in the living room with a cup of tea and a book.

Now, years later, I'm a self proclaimed tea expert. I start each day with a wonderful English Breakfast tea to get me going. As the day progresses, who knows what wonderful tea I will crown queen. But for sure, I have at least three cups of tea a day. And yes, when I can, I have tea everyday at about 3:00 P. M. I love to invite my friends over for tea and cupcakes and so far everyone thinks it’s a delightful experience. I am always in search of the best blend of tea. Yes, I’m a tea snob, I prefer loose tea but I do like some bags also. I have learned not to judge a book by it’s cover. Some bags can be quite nice. And yes again, any Diva knows, what you drink your tea out of is very important.

Tea for me is a way of life. It's wellness for the mind body and spirit. Here, I will explore every expect of tea possible, with a high concentration on wellness. I will review the best teas, the best places to have tea, the best ways to brew tea, the best tea accessories, what tea goes best with what foods, and the list goes on and on. I plan to share my passion for tea with you. And I've been told, nothing I do is ever boring so be prepared to go on this tea journey with me.

RLT Collection Tea Ball Frosted Clear Beads!

Mint Medley by The Persimmon Tree Tea Company

About This Tea:

Until recently I had never drank Peppermint Tea made with loose leaves. And Honestly, I will probably never go back. The freshness of loose Peppermint Tea cannot be denied. When I open the can of Mint Medley, From The Persimmon Tree Tea Company, I feel as if I stepped into a garden of peppermint leaves. It is a perfect blend of organic peppermint and spearmint leaves grown in the US.

Mint Medley has become a favorite and I find myself reaching for this tea tin almost everyday. It is great for on-going nausea. The health benefits and endless. It relieves muscle aches, headaches, migraines, stress. And now that it feels like someone is sitting on my chest and I have a mean cough, I'm sure it will help to relieve some of this congestion in my chest. Mint Medley has been in my tea cup more than any tea as of late. It has really helped with my winter cough, congestion related to this bout of pneumonia. You can read my full review on The Persimmon Tree Tea Company Mint Teas.

RLT Collection AIDS Awareness Tea Ball!

Welcome to my world of books! As an pre-teen books changed my world. I fell in love with the writers of the Harlem Renaissance period and the more I read the more I wanted to read. The fiction of this period was powerful and empowering all at the same time. It spoke to my own degradation and gave me hope for a better tomorrow. It gave me purpose for my own life and the courage to fight the good fight and never surrender.

I love to read! Inside a book I escape into someone else's life. There is something wonderful about turning to the next page of a wonderful story. Something intoxicating about the smell of the book and the story it brings to life. Reading brings me joy, and these days with my health in the balance, I find solace in my books.

I spent hours in my bedroom sequestered with the door closed reading the classics from the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes, Larsen, Hurston, Wright and Baldwin. Books became my escape and my salvation. The fiction of this period was powerful and empowering all at the same time. It gave me purpose for my own life and the courage to fight the good fight and never surrender.

Reading is the one thing that the pain of my life could never take away from me. It was the thing that helped to make it better. And even today, living with AIDS, books continue to be the safest place for me. It’s the one thing that belongs to me that AIDS cannot take away from me.The RLTReads book club will be books that I choose. It’s me sharing a part of me with you that has nothing to do with AIDS. It’s actually in spite of AIDS.

The RLTReads book club will be books that I choose. It’s me sharing a part of me with you that has nothing to do with AIDS. It’s actually in spite of AIDS. I have read hundreds of books from many different genres and I will pick the best of my reads over the years. I warn you, it will not be exclusively white or black, male or female, fiction or non fiction, it will be all of them.

I’m so excited and I’m grateful to everyone who wants to be a part of this venture. We already have 110 Book Club Members. You can email me @ RLTReads@raelewisthornton.com. The Twitter hashtag is #RLTReads. We can make this book club as wonderful as we want to make it. Who says that Oprah has to have the only ownership to a wonderful book club?

This Month We are Reading In My Fathers House by E Lynn Harris

Read along and join our discussion July 19th at 7 pm CST

For more Tea with Rae "Vlogs" Click here to visit her youtube channel

Monday, September 27, 2010

Monday Reflection: Sanctuary

It was well over 20 years ago when my therapist at the time told me I needed to create my own space. A place just for me. I had been sharing an eight bedroom house with Jesse Jackson, Jr and his younger brother Jonathan for almost five years. I had long been an adopted sister in the Jackson family and Mrs. Jackson made sure I had a home. But I had made a transition to AIDS and my world was changing. At that time I was still living in secret about my infection. Too ashamed and too afraid to disclose my status. In many ways the secret was killing me quicker than the disease. It was clear even to me that I needed to make some changes.

The first step was finding a place of my own where I could exhale. The weight of the secret was way too much. I was a crazy lady hiding my medication and making excuses for my fatigue and the depression that was creeping up on me slowly. So I moved and it became the beginning: the first step in creating a space and place for me that brought me joy. Something that would be my own that AIDS could never take away from me. My sanctuary. Everyone needs a sanctuary. I purchased my first piece of art and it felt so right that it put me on a path of being a collector.

Every place I've lived has been my sanctuary. Three months before my separation from my ex-husband, we moved into a new place. When he left, it became my space. I lived there for 10 years. It was a wonderful three bedroom apartment in Chicago's South Shore neighborhood. One block from the lake. I decorated the hell of this place. Three bedrooms, two baths, a living room, dining room, a large kitchen and a sun porch. My apartment was the length of the building in this swagger three flat. My landlord lived on the first floor and she was even more passionate about her living space and art collection than me. It was a wonderful place to live.

Then it all collapsed. First, my landlord passed away and her family, who lived in Michigan, started mismanaging the building. The lady on the third floor moved and I was left in the three flat by myself. I was determined to stick it out. My place was fabulous. For Real! Every inch was picture perfect. Something out of a home magazine. And thanks to my OCD nothing was ever out of place.

But it started to spiral downward. My finances began to dry up. Speaking engagements slowed down to almost nothing. Then I got sick. I was hospitalized for 14 days and my health seemed to be hanging in the balance. Then from nowhere, I got a book deal. WOW! A major book deal with an A-list publisher, Hyperion. And speaking engagements picked up. Things were looking up, sort of.

Yes, I had a book deal and I had gigs on the books for the spring, but the right now of my finances was in shambles and then my heath didn't get better. I landed back in the hospital for a total of 22 days and once out I had to have intravenous medications for 13 hours a day at home for another 33 days and unfortunately it happened during my spring speaking season. I had to cancel all of my speaking engagements. It was a mess. 

But superwoman kicked in. I knew I needed to move. I couldn’t afford my rent and the new owners were letting the building deteriorate. Two years after my landlord's death, I was still living in the building alone. I needed to move!! But the reality of it was that I was too broke to move. Honestly, there were days I didn’t have grocery money. So I created a plan. If I sell everything and move into a smaller place, I could live off the book advance until the second portion of the advance kicked in and I went on book tour. I implemented my plan. I had a house sale for two months, I sold half of all my clothes, all my furniture, except my bed, bookshelves and two wingback chairs. I started packing and looking for a new place.

I chose a modest studio apartment on the Gold Coast. I had always wanted to live in that area and I saw this as my chance. For years, I basically did everything on the Gold Coast but live, so I decided to change that. The apartment and the building were very very modest. For sure it was a huge change for me. Leaving my three bedroom apartment and moving into a studio was a one hard hit. But I take all of my hits standing and I never fall down. But the hits kept coming. I lost the book deal. My editor was pissed that my writer quit and I ended up writing the book. I couldn't write, according to her, and she couldn't be bothered with all the edits that needed to be done. And, oh yes, she wanted me to "embellish, embellish, and embellish," in her words. That was not going to happen, according to my words.

So Hyperion walked and it left me devastated, emotionally and financially. I had invested everything. But that’s another blog. The economy took a dive and speaking engagements dried up almost completely. I was stuck in this studio. It became demoralizing waking up every morning looking at my bed. Depression set in. My OCD was hijacked by space. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't keep the place picture perfect. I had way too much stuff and the space was way to small.

For sure I made it do what it do. Looking back on this space, I can’t believe it was the same place, but it was. Friends who came to visit thought I had decorated the hell of of this place, but to me it felt like I was living in hell. I needed a new plan, but I was even more broke then before. I had been selling my designer handbags and jewelry for the last two years just to keep the lights on. So I didn’t have what I had before to have a house sale. Speaking engagements were few and far between, and when I got one, I was always so behind I could never get caught up.

I prayed to God for a new place. A living room where I could put a sofa. A kitchen that was conducive to cooking, one of my favorite things to do. Walls where I could enjoy the beauty of my art. A building where young adults weren't in and out all hours of the night. And a place where they put their garbage in the can, not in the hall. I mean, I was living on the Gold Coast, but it felt like some slum building. Because the rent was so reasonable, it was the perfect location and building for young people who wanted to live in a trendy area, but at 48 and managing the world of AIDS, this was not the place for me. Things had to change. I no longer had a sanctuary and it was eating at my core.

My plan this time was faith. I had no resources to create a pragmatic plan. So I just acted on faith. I started packing. I started looking for a new apartment. And when my lease arrived, I laid it on the counter and didn't open it for two months. By that time I had missed the deadline and had no other choice but to move. But I had no money, that was a hard core reality. I let my faith guide me on this one. I never stopped packing and looking.

But I was flawed. I was looking at all these big fancy buildings with a doorman. And it was all alluring. I wanted to be able to move into one of these fancy buildings. But I had to be honest with myself. #ForReal. Who the hell was I trying to impress? Why was I considering going into more debt then I was already in? I had to get over myself and over this image of living large. You can’t live large broke, that’s a fact!! Living that lie will only dig your hole deeper and deeper. So I let it go and faced the reality. And once I was honest about it all, doors started to open. I was able to think with a clear head and act within my realities. Faith plus honest action will get you a lot farther then some pie in the sky dream. There is a method to climbing up the ladder: one step up at a time. If you take one step, God will take another. But faith without work is dead. I called my current landlord. He ain't the best landlord but I had heard through the grapevine that his other buildings were a whole lot better than the one I lived in. They had an apartment for rent and I saw it the same day.

The next day I filled out the application and by the end of the week, I had signed the lease. It was a one bedroom in yet another modest building. But the apartment was too cute. And far less apartments in this building then the other building, which means less traffic. And best of all, my rent was only $15 more. No security deposit, no pet deposit, it was a lateral move. I even moved on faith. I rented a truck and I had three crews of people helping me move. Old friends, but mostly new friends I met through Twitter. Even the doorman in the building down the street that I always speak to helped. It pays to be nice.

And for the last three weeks, I have been creating my sanctuary yet again. A place where I can exhale. And it’s turning out to be some kind of fabulous. I’m grateful for this blessing. Grateful for the therapist that insisted years ago that I create a space to call my own. In the world of AIDS and my public life, my home is that special place... my private space...my sanctuary.

To have lost it for a couple of years has been humbling. It has given me a better appreciation for that which I have and less worry about what I don’t have. I’ve learned in the last two years that I didn't really need all that space that I had. And even in that hell hole that I lived in, I was able to create small sanctuaries for myself. My Sophie woke me every morning with kisses. I spent hours reading, taking me away to another place. I knitted, beaded and tweeted. My sanctuary became less about space and more about my actions. Now I can merge the two yet again. I’m #FeelingBlessed.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday Reflection: When Life Knocks You On Your Ass

Sometimes life knocks you flat on your ass. It’s not one thing but the sum total of it all. Lately, that’s what it’s been like for me in a nutshell. Just feeling knocked down and having a hell of a time trying to get back on my feet. I will admit that any one thing in my life would have been enough to knock the average person down. But I’m not average in the least bit. Never have been. Even as a little girl being beat until my young body cried with welts, I was determined to hold on to the joy that comes from within. The thing that comes from God and rests deep within.

So if I admit to being knocked down then it’s big. And I’ve got to admit, I’ve been in a funk. Feeling overwhelmed about my life and all that it is. My health has been a freaking thorn in my side. More obtrusive then normal, reminding me of the days of yesteryear when AIDS was an absolute death sentence and you prayed for T-Cells. I have clearly taken a hit. This stomach virus has yet to go away. And the longer it stays, the longer I have to stay off my HIV medication leaving my body vulnerable to that bitch of a virus.

I am hopeful that this will be my last week on this drug holiday. Hopeful, but then that’s even with mixed emotions. Once back on the medication, I have to readjust to the side effects all over again. There are five medications in my HIV cocktail but the two with the worst side effects are Norvir and Isentress. So here were go. Isentress causes fatigue and severe headaches, Norvir causes nausea, diarrhea and fatigue. So understand this, I got off my medication so my body could become normal again to be able to tolerate the side effects of the regimen. And then we pray that I haven't developed a resistance to this combination. It’s all so much to think about and deal with. But I know in my heart that God won’t let me fail. I have to remember my history with God. Remember what He has done in my life. And remember that even now He is an actor in my life; case in point, I have breath in my body.

But this understanding does not take away the right now struggle of it all. Being sick every day and trying to keep a roof over your head is no easy task. All that it encompasses from answering e-mails, sending out packets, explaining to people why I would be the right person to deliver the message and then the actual work. Becoming valuable and transparent with the hope that it will help someone, but draining everything that I have on the inside. And what’s so deep about it all is that people think that my life is glamorous and prosperous. Ministry is a lonely place, a hard life, and lately, harder than normal.

Being sick and packing a house for a move and then unpacking after a move is no easy task either. My OCD won’t let me stop. No matter how hard I try to rest I still find myself up at 1:00 am trying to make my place just right. Adding more physical stress to an already stressed out body. Trying to create a private space for myself that belongs to me in this public world that I live. It’s seems easy to just say rest. But the compulsion to keep moving dominates even the knowing that I need to rest. Yes, I have a lot going on and these are just some of the issues that weigh heavy on my heart and life - School: I am so behind in my Ph.D. program, praying that they don’t kick me out; Love and friendships: those you have, those you want to have. Yes, life has a way of adding up and then weighing down on you.

Wouldn't it be nice if all the bad would just go away? But that isn't the real world. In the world life knocks you on your ass. I understand this. And in this understanding I cannot let it keep me down. I understand that the victory is in getting back up. Some people believe it’s about the quickness of getting up. But then that’s unrealistic too. You have to give yourself the time to process it all. To come to terms with the losses and the changes in your life. If you don’t deal with that “thing (s)” it will paralyze you making the getting back up harder then the “thing(s)” that made you fall.

While I’m down, I find my strength in the memory that God’s has never stopped being an actor in my life. With this understanding of God’s history in my life I find comfort and understanding that the future can only be brighter. This is the thing that helps me to get back up, to not surrender to the darkness. The thing that helps me fight back one push up at a time. And in this knowing I can find the joy rooted deep down and comes from within. It does not leave you when you fall. It’s just waiting on you for you to push it back up.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Monday Reflection: Gratitude For Today!

I’ve been so off lately. Behind in ALL my work because of my health and the move. Blogs haven't been written, bracelet orders haven’t been sent out, and emails and messages have not been answered. For sure I’m moving slower than normal doing the bare necessities. When this happens, it seems like my whole life is in shambles. Like the overachiever in me is an epic failure. But actually it’s not and I have to remind myself to keep things in perspective. Not to allow the magnitude of it all create more drama than what it actually is. It’s hard though.

Yes, it is true that I am sick. But it is also true that I am getting better. I’ve been off my HIV medication now going into my third week and I can see slow improvement. My diarrhea has completely stopped. I’m not as nauseous all day everyday. Just periods throughout the day, especially after I eat. I’m able to eat more food each day. But it is still hit or miss. Like yesterday I was able to eat peach cobbler but then the ice cream was too sweet, the salad but then the dressing made me sick to my stomach. I can eat a cupcake but not the icing. So while I see some progress I know that I am still not at my normal.

The problem is that the longer I’m off my HIV medication the more afraid I become. I’m wondering how much virus activity is happening in my body. Like, what’s it (HIV) really doing now that there is nothing to fight back. I know in the long run my immune system does not stand a chance fighting HIV without any help. While I know I have to take this drug holiday to get better so that I can tolerate my HIV medications, I want microwave progress. But that’s not always the real world, huh? And with that said, I must be grateful for what I've got and not stuck on what I don’t have.

And yes, work is behind, but I’m writing a blog today. I’m on the road speaking today and I answered at least 50 of my emails so far today. So it’s all in perspective. We are a greedy society. American’s over indulge in everything. As an overachiever I have to remind myself that a blessing is a blessing. Like my girlfriend Alicia was in town. I didn't get to spend as much time as I would have liked, but I did get to see her. She did made it count. She came bearing gifts, with lots of love and that’s all that matters. What comes from the heart touches the heart no matter how big or small. And likewise some movement is better than no movement.

Last week I said it was better to muddle through chaos then to be stuck in chaos. Today I’m suggesting that we have to keep it all in perspective. Call a spade a spade in both good and in bad. So often we get stuck on what didn’t happen and how we want it to happen that we rarely stop and take account of the goodness that is happening. God makes no mistakes and what is suppose to happen does. Surrender your greediness to God’s goodness and it will then open the flood gates for the blessings to overflow. 

Remember the Children of Israel and the manna. Well God ordered them to eat for the day and not worry about tomorrow. And each time they disobeyed God, the manna spoiled. So keep it in perspective, both the good and the bad. The blessing in the right now is better than no blessing at all. There is a lot of wisdom in the AA saying “One Day At A Time.” I have to remind myself that all I have is today. The blessing of today is more important than what I want for tomorrow. And out of the gratitude of today, God will give us a better tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Monday Reflection: Muddling Through The Chaos...

Where the heck have I been? I know... I know... the nerve of me. How dare I go one whole week without writing a blog? Without even a hello. But in the last week, I’ve been muddling through chaos. For Real... For Real... My stomach virus was one thing. But then the doctor discovered a mass near my ovary. And to make matters worse, my pap was abnormal and I needed a biopsy. This was something out of an old fashioned daytime drama. Oh yeah, let’s not forget, I had to finish packing and move. And all with no cupcakes. It was not a pretty period for me. So forgive me, superwoman #fail and this is why you’re getting a Monday reflection on Tuesday and the first blog in over a week.

So let's take it from the top. A little over week ago, during a routine gynecological exam, the doctor discovered a mass near my ovary. Everything stopped! Women with HIV/AIDS have a lot more gynecological problems then women without HIV, as well as a larger share of cancer. So the doc didn’t waste one moment. She scheduled me for an ultrasound the following day. I already knew that I needed a colposcopy, an invasive exam that allows the doctor to take a closer look at your cervix. This was starting to be overkill. So now it was all compounded. Could I have cancer? I mean, three abnormal pap’s and now a mass near my ovary the size of a small plum. Not good! Let’s not forget my stomach virus had not budged. Diarrhea, nausea, food sensitivity. I was lucky if I managed to get down and keep down 800 calories a day. Not only was I miserable, I was scared and confused. Not only did it seem that my health was out of control but my home and my life as well. I was muddling through the chaos as best as I could. I knew something had to give.

We tackled one problem at a time. Scared out of my mind, I agreed to go on the drug holiday. So a week ago last Friday I stopped taking all of my HIV medications with the hope that it will resolve the problems I've been having with my stomach. After one week we saw mild improvement, so the doctor extended the holiday through this week also. I have to say that I see more and more improvement with each passing day. Currently, my diarrhea has totally stopped. I still have mild nausea that seems to be more intense immediately following a meal. And slowly but surely I’m able to eat more at each meal. But it’s still hit or miss. Like today, I made grits for breakfast and the taste of them made me nauseous. So food is still trial and error. As for cupcakes, I tried one on Friday and I could only get through half. It seems super sweet and still isn't agreeing with my stomach.

Overall, the drug holiday seems to be resolving the problem. Remember, I had food poisoning and it made my stomach super sensitive to my HIV medication, leaving me on toxic overload. It looks like I may have another week off the medication after this week then back to HIV medication. Now, are all the potential problems still there? Yes they are. When I start back taking my HIV medication, I still may not be able to tolerate the same combination. Or I could have developed a resistance to them which means I will have to go on a new regime that we pray will be just as effective for my strain of HIV. But I can’t solve this problem today, it’s a dilemma I will have to cross when I get there. Can’t worry about what I don’t know. Now, on to what I know for sure. The mass they discovered seems to be nothing more then two common cysts. Typically they will shrink on their own. That was a relief!

As for the colposcopy, they had two experts look at my cervix and it looked “great.” Of course we will have the test results in about a month but they seem to think everything is just fine. The only thing though is this procedure left me pretty sore. But I had no time to think about my pain. The next day I was moving. No, I didn’t have professional movers, I had friends. The thing is, you cant ask people to do more for you than you are willing to do for yourself. So I “man-up,” as the saying goes. It only took us 8 hours considering I had over 30 boxes of books, 7 feet of bookshelves, over 100 pieces of art, and let's not even talk about the clothes and shoes.

Of course the house was in shambles. I mean, #ForReal! Of course I couldn’t let myself live in chaos. AIDS renders enough on it’s own. I can’t handle any extra. So for the last five days, I have been unpacking like a madwoman. I wouldn't dare ask those same friends to come help me unpack. So it seems that in one full week, my life was in chaos. I was hit from every angle there was. But, I muddled through it all. And let me just say, muddling is both good and bad. The dictionary says, “To muddle is to persist successfully in a disorganized blundering way.” The goodness is that if you keep on muddling, you will reach your goal. That’s far better then quitting and getting stuck in the chaos. On the other hand, it would be great if we could persist with clarity and direction all the time. But the truth of the matter is that life is not always clear. It’s like a puzzle with many little pieces, all you can do is live one piece at a time.
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