Header for Courtney’s weekly tea
An illustrated pink gaiwan filled with amber liquid
the weekly tea
Honey Fairyland
Yellow Tea
from Friday Afternoon Tea
Weekly Tea: Honeyfairyland Yellow Tea
This tea was exceptional. I have to start with that, because it was the kind of tea where you take a sip and you can feel your eyebrows rise while your heart rate begins to drop. It’s sweet without being excessively so, robust without being over the top. It is the kind of tea that makes you think, ah, yes, this is what tea is about.
I sat with this tea on a day near the end of spring, watching everything turn green around me and flowers bloom. The roses in my yard are going; the yarrow is starting to turn yellow, and the blanket flowers are beginning to bud.
This tea felt exactly like that: a perfect little encapsulation of life, once dormant, now full of life.

I got this tea from Friday Tea, and alas, they are currently out of stock. I have entered my email and am eagerly hoping that they will get more, because this tea is something I want to revisit.

Learning how to love myself
I have loved dogs as long as I can remember: one of the gifts my parents got me when I was four was an encyclopedia of dogs. But there was much I didn’t understand about dog training when I was a kid. At one point, when I was still in law school, I visited a family member and ended up spending time with someone who truly understood dogs. She had the best-behaved dog I have ever met in my life and also one of the happiest ones.
She had books on training dogs purely through positive reinforcement, and we talked about her dog-training philosophy. I read everything she had. This is when I developed concepts like “dogs don’t actually speak English, and just because they look like they understand doesn’t mean they do” and “the process of training isn’t teaching the dog to do what you want, it’s learning how to communicate between two species who are trying but don’t have easily matched styles.”
Most of all, I thought: this, this is the relationship I want to have with a dog, when I can have one again.
Positive reinforcement training is what we used for Pele. I almost never yelled at him. The times I did—and they are few enough in number that I can count them on one hand without using all my fingers—I always regretted it. Always. It never helped.
One of those times was in 2017: he got very sick, and we didn’t know why. Our best guess was that he ate something he shouldn’t have. He was in the doggy ICU for three days, and when he left, we had a bunch of medications that he had to take, mostly to help support his liver function.
He did not want to take the pills. He spat them out, even if we smuggled in cheese or chicken, his absolute favorites. I was terrified that he would die if he didn’t take them. At one point, frustrated and terrified, I screamed at him: “Pele, you have to take your meds! Stop fighting me!”
Pele gave me the most crushed look I have ever seen. He can’t talk, but I could feel what he was saying even without words. We don’t do this, he was saying. You don’t yell at me. That’s now how things are between us.
I felt awful. He was right. Without being harsh with Pele, we were still able to get him to be a good citizen. We taught him not to jump on other people; not to rush the door when we were going out, to wait to exit the car until we gave him the OK sign, to obey basic commands and then used the basic commands to teach him games, which he loved.
He loved it all. He met every possible standard one could have for a dog.

A digression: it’s not actually every standard. He did not meet breed standard, but, and I say this politely, fuck any breed standard that doesn’t accept Pele. His ears have remained persistently prick ears after the point when the tips should have drooped. Also, since he was born before mini and regular Australian shepherds split into separate breeds, had we chosen to register him (which we didn’t, because again, fuck breed standards) we would have used his height to determine whether he should be a mini or a regular Aussie.
The mini Australian shepherd standard for male dogs is a dog that is below 18” at the shoulder. The regular Australian shepherd standard is a dog that is at least 20” at the shoulder. Pele is 19”—a thoroughly medium dog, consistently resisting classification as anything other than a miraculously perfect dog.

Some years back, I reached out to a new therapist. We had an initial meeting, where I told her what I thought I needed, which was someone to call me on my bullshit when I started overthinking things. (This is drawn verbatim from my first email to her.) She listened very carefully in our get-to-know-you pre-session, and then said, “you probably don’t want to hear this, but I don’t think that’s what you need. I think you need to learn to love yourself.”
My first reaction, which I delivered to her, was “whaaaaaat? That makes no sense! I like myself just fine!” She hummed and made appropriate noises that expressed that she believed me, but nonetheless! Perhaps it was something to work on!
My second reaction was, “you know, nothing else I’ve tried has worked yet. Maybe try this?”
I don’t think I was an easy client for her to have, probably because I most needed to hear what she was saying. I wanted her to help me make fewer mistakes; she asked me if I wanted to work on how hard I was on myself.
I told her that I had to be hard on myself, because how else were you going to hold yourself to high standards? She pointed out that unconditional love was a good standard, and I scoffed. Why on earth would I give myself unconditional love, when conditional love is so much more effective at getting things done?
I told this to some friends of mine, and the aghast silence that came in response helped me figure out that perhaps this was not the best strategy for personal happiness. Perhaps I needed to do something different.

I know where I learned how to be hard on myself. It was my parents.
I say this not to blame them. My parents have tried their hardest. They have been loving and supportive. They weren’t always perfect—both my parents were raised in homes that can charitably be described as insufficiently loving—but they tried their best to not duplicate the mistakes of the homes they were raised in. They did a lot of things right.
Despite that, I internalized a pattern of self-talk so negative that if anyone else talked to me like that on a regular basis, you would call it abusive.
I don’t think I understood where it came from until recently when I visited my parents’ home. My parents both talk to themselves out loud. (I do, too, a habit I probably got from them.) Often it’s things like “okay, let’s remember to put out the recycling.” But when I was there in March, I heard my dad say something to himself. I’ve heard him say things like this over and over, and only until this last time, with years of therapy learning to catch those thoughts as they come out, did I realize what I was hearing.
”Doug,” he muttered as he was going through some paperwork, “what is wrong with you? You are such an idiot. Why can’t you get this one thing right?”
To put things in context, I was visiting my parents because my father had just undergone major surgery and was on intense pain medication. And yet he spoke to himself like that.
That’s when I realized: ah. That’s where I got it from. I got it from my parents. It doesn’t come from anything they said to me; they tried so hard to do better with their children than what they had themselves. This is what they said to themselves
So I learned from them: this is how you talk to yourself. These are the things you say.
The voices of my deceased grandparents linger in the words that echo in my parents’ heads, which they have passed on to me.

This is how I began to understand that unconditional love was in fact effective: from Pele.
From Pele telling me that we didn’t need to scream at each other. From me listening to him and apologizing and learning that the most effective way to give Pele his medications was to make it a game where I held out treats and took them away if he took more than a second to take them from my hand. He had to learn to be fast, to be sneaky, to get the treat before it went away!
After playing this game with regular treats for a bit, when I held out the medication-hidden-in-chicken, he gobbled it up and he didn’t resent it and I didn’t need to worry about finding it spat out hours later.
We didn’t have to scream at him to help him be healthy. We just needed to work with him, to love him, to make him happy. We needed patience, and we needed to trust that a happy dog was in fact the best kind of dog.
I could give Pele unconditional love and this would help him be a stronger dog. And if it was true for Pele, maybe it was true for myself.

It is still hard, to learn to have patience with myself. To forgive myself, the way I would forgive my dog for the mistakes I make. To not talk to myself the way my grandmother spoke to my father, once upon a time. To try to swallow the words I naturally think and take a deep breath, and to think about how I would treat my dog if he were in as similar a situation as he could find himself in.
I can so easily love my dog; I am hard. But I know it is possible, because that is the way my dog loves me. And if he thinks I’m worthy…
Well, he’s probably right. After all, who can argue with this face?
Pele, a black and white dog, 19” at the shoulder, with prick ears, walking toward the camera, a little smile on his face.

Until next week!
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