Monday, June 30, 2008

Fancy Food Show

The Fancy Food Show is in full swing at the Javits Center. I went last year, but am too busy with a few other projects to make it there this week. Did any of you readers out there make it? What were your impressions? More importantly, how was the tea???

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tea Sommeliers

Tea sommeliers are, virtually unheard of in the US until a few years ago, are popping up arounf the US more and more. A recent article in the Washington Times discusses the addition of a tea sommelier to the Park Hyatt Washington staff. From the article:

"Elizabeth Knight, former tea sommelier at the St. Regis Hotel in New York and author of several books on tea, says a few years ago, this type of job description did not exist. Tea drinkers' palates have grown more educated, along with their desire for knowledge about tea's origins, health benefits and taste.

'People are getting more interested in tea and more sophisticated about their choices,' she says. 'For a long time, going to tea was about scones and finger sandwiches. What was in the pot was almost an afterthought.'

Not so anymore, although pastries are still part of the experience at most tony hotels. Ms. Knight says she expects the field of tea experts and sommeliers to expand.

'Every city hotel serves tea because you have to be able to offer your guests a meal in between lunch and dinner,' she says. 'But it is getting more and more difficult for hotels to distinguish themselves from others. People expect more at every level about travel - what they eat, what they wear. It is not enough to just serve English breakfast blend.'"

How true! I'm looking forward to the availability of good tea and the presence of tea educators at more fine establishments around the US. As always, if you would like me to train your staff on how to prepare, serve, and educate your clients about tea or to aid you in selecting teas, vendors, and teaware for your establishment, contact me at vee at veetea dot com.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Back in NYC

Just arrived back in NYC. My roommate welcomed me home with some summery strawberry-rhubarb sorbet, made with goodies from our local CSA. I also received some exciting new tea samples in the mail. Yum! Its good to be back. :)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Staff Training

One of my projects in NC is staff training. The staff had a good working knowledge when I arrived, but I'm proud to say that by the time I leave, they will be more confident and capable in their tea knowledge, which means increased customer satisfaction and sales for the tearoom.

It seems that tearoom owners are getting more and more savvy in their tea selections, food menus, and creation of ambiance. In my many tearoom visits (whether they are for business or pleasure), the area in which I most often see tearooms is staff training. Sure, the owner can tell you all about how the teas are grown, processed, and brewed, or the stories behind their teas' names, or each tea's flavor profile and what pairs with what, but most of the staff members I've interacted with still simply offer a menu and a pot of tea (which may or may not be brewed correctly). For more and more clients, this simply is not enough. They need to learn about your tea (and have it brewed properly!) in order to enjoy it (and your tearoom) fully. Unfortunately, new business owners are typically swamped and barely have time for things like order placement, much less intensive staff training. This is why I offer staff training for tea businesses. I learn your tea menu and business philosophy, and then customize staff training sessions which:

*ensure your staff is brewing, serving, and cleaning properly
*cover the customer FAQs (and how to answer them in a confident, unscripted manner) in depth
*illuminate the growing, processing, taste, and chemical differences between the different tea types
*discuss the cultural and historical significance of tea around the world
*aid staff members in developing their own palates and understanding the flavor profiles of each tea you carry
*include handouts, visuals, one-on-one training/Q&A (optional), and after-training follow-up questions
*help increase sales, customer loyalty, and employee satisfaction/retention
*save your company time and money in the long-run
*empower and encourage staff members to learn more about the teas you carry each day they work

To arrange staff training for your tearoom, email me at vee at veetea dot com with your location and the basics of your tearoom.

Monday, June 23, 2008


I'm enjoying my tea work and my friends in Charlotte, but part of me can't wait to return to NYC. As grating and fast-paced as it can be, I miss it! The tea mind and the New York mindset are so different, but in a way, they can balance a person out. (Well, they balance ME out, anyway.) The pace makes me appreciate the time I take for tea even more. How does tea relate to your life in the city where you live?

Friday, June 20, 2008


I've decided to take Fridays off from blogging. As much as I love blogging about tea, I'm too busy with other tea work to keep up. I'll still post Mondays through Thursdays, so there will be plenty of tea goodness to go around. I'll also keep you updated on some of the other tea writing I'm doing for other sites and publications. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Tea Videos

First, tea companies got websites. Then, some took the extra step and started blogs or forums. Now, the big thing is video. From YouTube's many flowering tea vids and ceremony demos to Twinings' and Dr. Tea's video posts and even various organizations' tea video competitions, tea videos are hot. As someone with a video editing background (I edited videos and animations through high school and college), I can't say I'm disappointed! Though it's not new, video is an exciting and vibrant medium. You can convey huge amounts of information quickly while keeping it easy (and even fun) to understand. I'm glad to say that I'll be taking a new step in the tea video world soon. I've been interviewed by the local TV news as a "tea expert" and I've worked with a professional video editor to make a video of my footage from India for an Indian tea tasting event, but this week I'm writing and narrating a tea video for Urbana Cityspa & Teabar to post on Citysearch. Fun! It seems that most tearooms have so much to share and simply lack the means to get it out there. I hope to work with other tearooms on similar projects in the near future--let's get those stories and unique features out there!

Oregon Chai has announced a new video contest. Here's how to compete for Digital Nirvana.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tango @ the Teabar

What a fun event! Here are a few photos before I end my mate high and go to sleep. :)

Just as yerba mate is the national drink of Argentina, aflajores (pronounced alfa-CHOR-eys) are the national cookie. They are kind of like shortbread cookies with dulce de leche and coconut, though they are made differently in other parts of South America (no coconut, dipped in chocolate or white chocolate, etc.). Delicious! They went very well with the iced mate, which is how they are often consumed during a sort of Argentinian late-afternoon tea-meal.

Empanadas--an Argentine staple! I live near an empanada place in NYC and it is my favorite meal-in-a-hurry place in all of New York. These are baked rather than fried. Yum! You can see some of the crowd (there were 30-40 people total) in the background.

Here's a little more of the crowd. They loved the iced mint mate and the hot lemongrass mate. Yum! They didn't mind my speech or the wine tasting too much either. ;)

Tango @ the Teabar would not have been complete without the tango. These dancers were fantastic! They also did a rhumba. Cool!

Time for me to go to sleep. More tomorrow!

Yerba Mate

I'm preparing for the Urbana yerba mate/Argentine event today. (Mmm... alfajores, how I love your dulce de leche filling and coconut flakes.) I'll post pictures late this evening. Have a great day and enjoy your tea!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tea Menus

While I'm in Charlotte, I'm working on a tea menu. Planning a tea menu is a tricky and never-ending process. Teas' and importers' quality levels and availabilities change from year to year. What was right for your client base when you opended may not be right for your current client base. New products come out, trends change, specialty teas gain popularity... there are many reasons to update your tea menu and a lot of ways to go about it. Personally, I love working on tea menus. Finding just the right teas for a certain group, comparing suppliers' and estates' teas to see what is the best match, making sure the menu is well-rounded and still focused on the core interests of the clients--these are challenges I am up for any day. Lately, I've been ordering and tasting dozens of samples. What a joy! I'll try to snap some photos for you soon. In the meantime, enjoy your tea! And if you're interested in having me help you develop or update your tea menu, let me know! (vee at veetea dot com)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Chocolatea, Tea & Chocolate

One of the products I really enjoyed at the World Tea Expo was Chocolatea tea chocolates. It would seem that the chocolate and tea trend is growing quickly. At the Expo last year and this year, Pearl Dexter's tea and chocolate pairing course was a big hit. More and more tearooms are blending the two on menu items such as tarts, cookies, and chocolate-tea cocktails. Smile Chocolatiers brings the two into one line of products with Chocolatea, very dark, dark, milk, and white chocolate bars with powdered teas and tisanes as flavors.

At a choclate event at the International House in Charlotte, NC (my hometown, where I am currently visiting for tea lectures and tastings), I got to talk about the relationship between tea and chocolate, and to give out samples of Chocolatea bars. The Rosemary is a love it or hate it flavor (I love it). The Coconut Green Tea is also quite popular. Personally, I find that the White Tea (in very dark and dark) doesn't allow the flavor of the tea to shine through, but people liked the flavor and the antioxidants. As I've said before, good tea chocolates can be hard to find. I was thrilled to find these at the Expo, even if I don't lovelovelove every single flavor.

The areana of tea and chocolate pairings is fascinating to me and I'm glad to see it advancing. My lecture at the International House briefly covered the parallels in tea and chocolate's histories and production, and then addressed their similarities in health and mood benefits and in flavor profiles. Later, I discussed the major flavor profiles of tea and (using Pearl Dexter's "friends" and "lovers" paring philosophy*) discussed pairing tea and chocolate. The lecture also covered how tea blenders make chocolate teas, some of the major tea chocolates on the market, and how to make tea chocolates in your own kitchen (something many of the chocoliers at the event were interested in trying). It was a fun lecture to give and it seemed that the group of about 80 got a lot out of it, too. Here's a photo of the event as the room started to fill up:

If you're in Charlotte this Wednesday, come check out my yerba mate tasting (with an Argentine wine tasting and tango dancing demo) at Urbana. Call 704.543.1700 for more details. You can also arrange a personalized tasting (with a focus on tea history, processing, benefits, flavor profiles, pairings, or whatever other tea interests you may have) of six of Urbana's 100 teas with me through the 25th by calling Urbana.

*Of course, I credited Pearl during the lecture.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Red & Green, Organic Tea

At the Expo, I was very glad to see that Red & Green Co launched a new line of organic teas (scroll down about 3/4 of the way). I have spoken with the owner, Chongbin Zheng, at his San Francisco location at length about his committment to quality tea and I am very glad to see the addition of this new line. I also quite like the packaging. (In addition to running Red & Green, Chongbin is also an internationally exhibited painter. He designs his packaging and much of his teaware himself.)

On Monday, I responded to a Wired Magazine article advocating that environmentalists "forget organics." It suggested that local produce is the better way to go. The two are not usually mutually exclusive, but in the case of regular produce that can be sourced locally, I opt for local over organic. However, there are many proucts that are simply not available locally or can not be well-produced locally. In the US, there are some areas that produce tea. I'm even trying to grow some in my living room, though we'll see whether or not that works out. However, the simple fact of the matter is that the growing conditions in the US are not condusive to producing quality teas. Tea's ideal environment is high elevation, hot, and humid. Unless you count my third-floor, no-AC apartment as "high elevation," I don't think it qualifies. Likewise, other tea growers in the US simply do not have the environment necessary for good tea. So how can you reduce your environmental impact if you can't buy quality tea locally? Buy organic tea. Simple. I'm glad to see another line out there to make it that much easier for us!

Have a good weekend, and enjoy your tea!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Not a Tea Review

Today, I was going to review another item from the World Tea Expo. However, that is not what this post is about. This post is about health, life, and my father.

Today is the third anniversary of my father's death. He is sorely missed by his friends and family. You see, he died relatively young of a preventable disease. While he wasn't living a more unhappy or unhealthy life than the average American before his diagnosis, he wasn't exactly the picture of happiness and health, either. Like so many others, it was only after he got sick that he embraced life fully and dedicated himself to living healthfully. And, like so many others, he made that change too late to save his life. However, he was at his happiest during the time he knew and accepted was limited. He let go of trivialities and embraced the moment while dealing with very serious issues head-on, something so many of us mean to do, but don't really strive for on a daily basis. I understand that many people who have been diagnosed as terminal have the same reaction. It's strange that most don't live fully until they're dying, but I guess there isn't an obvious impetus to live until you realize how temporal life really is.

One of the ways that I embrace the moment, live more fully, enjoy life, and live healthfully is through tea. It's fitting, because it was my father who first introduced me to hot tea. Tea is a wonderful way to remind yourself to live in the here and now, to let go of your worries, and to enjoy the immediate. It's also a healthy beverage, and a fantastic alternative to sodas, sports drinks, and the like. I sometimes think of my father when I drink tea, and I find it to be a positive form of rememberance. This post and the cup of tea next to me go out to him and to you. If there's someone you're missing in your life, join me in saluting them with a cup of tea.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Off to NC

I'm flying to Charlotte, North Carolina right now. I'll be gone for two weeks, but don't worry--I'll keep blogging while I'm away!

If you're in Charlotte this Friday the 13th, check out "The World of Chocolate" event and tasting (where I will be doing a segment on tea and chocolate) at The International House.

Next Wednesday, I'm doing a yerba mate tasting and talk during Urbana Cityspa & Teabar's "Tango @ the Teabar" Argentine mate and wine tasting and tango event.

I'll also be available to do private, custom tea tastings at Urbana through the 24th. Call 704.543.1700 to make an appointment with me.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Expo Sample Reviews

Today, I'm going to review samples from Linde Lane. They gave out standardized goodie bags to everyone who came to their booth, which is a good way to get your products out there. Included in the doggie bag were two of their "Kids Tea," their TEAthbrush, and decks of tea playing cards. I'll be reviewing the first three items and giving the last one out to a lucky reader.

Many people want to give their kids tea, but are concerned about which herbs are safe and whether or not they should give their kids caffeine. Once the safety and caffeine concerns are out of the way, they have to deal with kids' finicky flavor preferences--sweet and simple is usually best, but that's not what most adults look for in a good tea. Linde Lane takes the guesswork out off the equation by providing "Kids Tea," which are just what they sound like (and what they would look like with an appropriately placed apostrophe)--"teas" for kids. They have simple flavor profiles and no caffeine. I tried both flavors: Rock A Bye Baby (chamomile mint)* and Strawberry Shortcake (flavored rooibos). Rock A Bye Baby was comparable to a VERY simple version of a tisane I used to serve at Urbana Cityspa & Teabar called Serene. (Serene also has jasmine blossoms, lavender, and lemon myrtle to round out the taste.) Strawberry Shortcake smelled and tasted, well, just like strawberry shortcake without the cream. From Linde Lane's site:

"Now you can have your own Strawberry Shortcake, in a teacup. Our tea taste (sic) like strawberry shortcake without the whip cream; but you can easily fix that. After you have served your warm tea, spray beautiful floral buds of whip cream into each cup to delight children."


The TEAthbrush was astoundingly popular amongst Expo attendees. It's a nice toothbrush with some text about how tea is good for teeth and regular brushing removes tea stains. The only thing that made the actual toothbrush different from most was its "mouth cleaner"--a ribbed back on the opposite side of the bristles. So, why is it a TEAthbrush instead of a toothbrush? It comes in three varieties: rooibos, black, and green! However, unlike the TEAth Floss, these types are colors, not flavors. Regardless, it will nicely complement your coffee-flavored sleeping pills.

So, who wants some tea playing cards? First to claim them via email or blog comment gets them. (Don't worry--they aren't flavored either.)

*A chamomile-soaked washcloth can help with teething, but if your baby has allergies, it may be unsafe to give him/her chamomile. Of course, kids hate being called babies, so there's an air of mystery surrounding Rock A Bye Baby's name.

Monday, June 9, 2008

"Forget organics."

I normally talk about tea, but today I'm going to talk about something that is also very close to my heart--sustainability. Once I've posted a bit more on the Expo, I'll also talk about ways to make your tea more sustainable.

The cover of the 15th anniversary of Wired magazine called for environmentalists to "Forget organics." Inside the cover, it briefly discussed the methane output from organic vs conventional cattle, as well as the yield of beef, using this as a case-and-point argument against organics in general. It mentioned that vegetarian diets have a substantially lower impact on greenhouse gases, and then talks about how big agriculture has taken over much of the organic industry. The conclusion: local and conventional is better than far-away, big ag, and organic.

I agree with each of their individual points. However, find their sensationalist style of journalism to be irresponsible at best. The American public is already confused about how to green their lives. Too busy (or perhaps to lazy or disillusioned) to do much research on their own, the average American either blindly accepts all organics as created equal or is extremely wary of all of them. Those who accept organics often use organic products as an "get out of jail free" card for other offenses, such as buying a new Hummer, having three kids (even one child is unsustainable if raised in the US), or living on a carnivorous diet. Presenting information in this style will only make the problem worse and increase cynicism about the environment's future. "It's screwed already. I can't make a difference."

The fact of the matter is that the issues are not black and white, but they are a lot easier to understand than most people think. Yes, organics are often produced my big ag and, yes, that is bad. However, a little research can often yield local, organic/minimal-treatment farms in your area. CSAs and farmers' markets are becoming increasingly common in response to big ag and to the consumers' demand for local, sustainable, quality products. More and more foodies are made each day. Perhaps they read up on issues of labor force mistreatment, pesticide damage to individual and environmental health, the amount of fuel it takes to bring food to your table, and the amount of political lobbying big ag does in Washington each year... or perhaps they tried their first heirloom tomato and just couldn't go back to the tasteless, uniform GMOs they were used to.

One sentence about local produce at the end of an anti-organic rant does NOT give readers the impression that they have viable options. It is the opposite of empowerment through knowledge--it is the spread of disillusionment through limited information. Likewise, the brief mention of vegetarianism as a more sustainable option is not given anywhere near equal weight to the rant about how bad organic beef is for the environment compared to conventional beef.* Once again, this is not a black and white issue. Raised animals were traditionally used as secondary sources of food (milk, eggs, cheese), as OCCASIONAL primary sources of food (meat), and for regular labor (cattle for carrying or pulling loads, chickens for pest control, etc.). In factory farms, they are used primarily for meat and the reasons are clear in any fast food advertisement. I am a vegetarian not because I think that meat consumption is inherently wrong (sorry, PETA), but because I am trying to do my part offset the absurd levels of meat consumption in America. It is wholly unsustainable for so many people to eat so much meat, but telling people their only option is vegetarianism is just silly. They balk at the idea. Telling them they can drop a few pounds and help the environment if they opt for some sauteed veggies and whole grain bread instead of a massive burger every now and then... that's something the average American can relate to--AND act upon.

Of course, the fact that conventional fruit, grain, legume, and vegetable production is devastating the environment (massive loss of topsoil and available water, monocropping leading to the loss of biodiverity and sustainable ecosystems, increased dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides due to chemical-caused "super-bugs," the use of questionable GMOs, such as one that causes plants to be sterile...), but they don't delve into that. Sigh... I could go on and on about this, but I'll stop ranting now. If you're interested in these issues, I suggest checking out Slow Food and looking up Local Harvest. And, as always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the issue.

*They do not take into account anything but methane production and beef yield in this comparison, by the way. Environmental damage done by antibiotics, pesticide-laden feed, high-density farming/concentrations of animal waste, etc. are not addressed.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Expo Media

If you attend the World Tea Expo in future years, be sure to peruse the media (magazines, books, CDs, and DVDs) available there. Some items are hard to find elsewhere, or would require shipping costs. Some of them are at a lower price or even free during the Expo. Here are a few of the magazines and books I picked up there. I also got "The Meaning of Tea," which I will likely review soon.

Have a good weekend and enjoy your tea!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Tea Samples, Plus Tea Art Tonight!

One of the great things about the World Tea Expo is the samples. They can really help you find unique, quality products for your tea business. At this point, I've tried many of the products that are being exhibited, but here are a few samples I'm looking forward to trying for the first time:

I often find that flowering teas in the US are sub-par in flavor, so I'm always on the lookout for hand-shaped teas that taste as good as they look. Perhaps some of these will fit the bill!

I'm also thrilled about the new Silver Green from Makaibari and I'm looking forward to trying the Le Palais du Thes samples.

PS--Michele Brody will be performing a tea art piece tonight. I've met her several times and seen some of her work before. If you enjoy my blog, I think you will also enjoy her work. The piece she will be performing is related to issues of immigration, work, ritual, communion, and (of course) tea. It will be tonight from 6-8 and Saturday from 1-4 at Henry Street Settlement's Abrons Art Center at the corner of Pitt and Grand Streets. For more information, visit Michele Brody's portfolio site or call Michele at 646.522.9924. Here's an image from a piece of hers I recently saw that deals with technology and nature.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

World Tea Expo: Is It For Me?

Most of you who are reading this series of posts on the Expo are probably doing so because either you wanted to go and couldn't or you are trying to decide if you should go in future years. If you fall into the latter category, or if you are planning on attending (or exhibiting or speaking) in the future, this post will be of use to you. I spoke with a number of people about their feelings on the Expo and found some major trends in their level of satisfaction about attendance. The people who were the happiest about their Expo experience fell into some of the following categories:

People who are strongly (and I mean strongly) considering opening a tea business
Those who were only toying with the idea seemed more overwhelmed than anything else. Those who knew the basics of tea and had some kind of business outline fared much better. If you're not fairly sure you want to take the plunge, consider waiting another year to attend.

People who are in the planning stages of opening a tea business and who planned their Expo goals
E.g.: "I will find (and get samples from) at least three exciting new potential vendors, decide on a packaging supplier, and investigate supplementary products, such as chocolates, teaware, and tea-related beauty products."

People who have already opened a tea business, but who have specific reasons for attending the Expo
E.g.: "I need to find three great oolong teas to add to my menu," "I need to learn more in-depth information about several of the topics covered in courses and demos," or "I need source supplementary products that reflect the quality level and attitude/image of my tea business."

People who had booths AND either had booths in the past or attended the Expo before to see how the whole game works
Most people who hadn't investigated which types of booths' products and displays fared best seemed dissatisfied with their exposure level. If you're considering a booth, attend first if at all possible. Note the display styles, the attention to overall design and the details, the logistics of setup, the quantities of samples and info handouts necessary, the numbers of employees manning each booth, etc. If you can't attend, well... I guess the closest second option would be to talk to as many people as you can about it. I'm available for consultation, but my first suggestion is still to go for yourself!

People who spoke about an issue they are both knowledgeable and passionate about

What better feeling than sharing your expertise with a room full of people who want to learn about something you care about? The people who seemed most satisfied with their speaking experience were those who had spoken at the Expo or a similar event before, were well-prepared, and who had been to other Expo lectures/tastings.

People who know the tea basics and are in beginner to intermediate stages of tea knowledge
Of course, this applies for people who are only attending, not speaking or exhibiting. If you are practically a tea master and none of the other reasons for attending apply to you, then you will not gain much by attending. On the flip side, if you are at square one and know nothing about tea, I suggest waiting a year and getting the basics down before you attend.

People who are seeking to network with other tea people
It can be a very social event just as tea can be a very socially-based industry and, for better or worse, both can be just as much about who you know as what you know.

People who can plan well AND go with the flow

A difficult balance, but necessary for such a large event. Some people were very frustrated with bureaucratic errors, unexpected circumstances, changes of plans, etc. Sure, it's expensive and you had to travel all the way from wherever and blah blah blah. Still, if you can't just drink a cup of tea, relax, and get over it, this may not be the best tea event for you. There ARE other tea events out there!

People who don't completely despise Vegas

It's a polarizing town, for sure. If you hate it, try to ignore it or find SOMETHING you like about it outside the Expo, even if it only your hotel room's bathtub. (I found Red Rock, Cirque du Soleil's Love, and time with friends as focal points to balance out the bright lights, gambling addicts, and overall sleaze.)

Another interesting trend with satisfaction and attendance I noticed has to do with repeat attendees. It seems that the first year, people are going to be a little overwhelmed regardless. (As I said before, you can reduce that by preparing well or by waiting another year to attend.) When people return to the Expo, it seems that they know what to expect and how to get what they want out of it. This can lead to increased satisfaction with the event. However, if they don't want very much out of it (remember what I said about specific goals before), they find it to be a waste of time and money. My suggestion--don't feel that you have to attend every year! If you need something urgently and can't find it on your own or you have a big enough "grocery list" for your business, go for it. Otherwise, wait until your trip is warranted. You'll feel a lot happier that way, I promise.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Last Day in Vegas

Visited Qua (the spa at Ceasar's Palace) for the steamroom, sauna, and tea lounge. Saw some Vegas sights. Arrived at the airport for a red-eye flight. I won't be posting tomorrow (I'll be sleeping), but I'll share some more Expo info when I'm settled back into NYC.

Monday, June 2, 2008

World Tea Expo, Day 3

After a night of Vegas-style revelry, I managed to sleep through two of my classes and just make it to Rona Tison's course on online social networking as a form of marketing. (Great class, BTW. And she was kind enough to mention my blog during her lecture.) The exhibit hall was open in the afternoon, but I had seen everything I needed to see, so I decided to visit Red Rock while alI was in the area. Afterward--sleep, and lots of it. I wish I hadn't missed the courses in the AM, but this is my first time in Vegas and last night was really fun... Next year I'll have to be more responsible. :)