Cup of Joe

In lieu of real or meaningful content, I thought I’d take a moment this morning to discuss coffee cups. Those of you who know me in the real world are aware of the fact that I had a coffee cup surgically implanted in my hand at the age of seventeen. (OK – I only WISH I did. I spend half my life wandering around wondering where I left my coffee cup on weekends.)

On your average morning – like this morning – I make myself a pot of coffee. The pot is thermal. The coffee is Starbucks Sumatra, but at about half the recommended potency. I will drink between one and three of these pots a day. On a work morning, I make my pot, give my husband a teeny cup, then fill a 16 oz mug and a 16 oz thermos. During one summer job during college, my commute was so long I made a 16 oz mug, a 16 oz thermal mug and a 16 oz thermos and would have all of it consumed by the time I got to work. During college – at which time you could tell my relative poverty by the fact I was drinking Maxwell House (although I would cut it with Starbucks if I could get any) – I used to store my coffee cup in my coat pocket. For one class, I’d have my 16 oz mug, my 16 oz thermos and a 16 oz mug for a friend in my pocket. I was a good friend.

Let us speak for a moment of the platonic ideal of the travel coffee mug. I give you this one:

Starbucks Coffee mug c1997

This might be my very favorite coffee mug (although the one with the dancing skeletons I use during Halloween is a close second).

Prime attributes:
– Perfect size
– Perfect shape
– Plastic thermal mug is ideal temperature wise (more on that in a bit)
– Lightweight
– Relatively durable (this mug is – cough – 18 years old)
– Beautiful design

Starbucks used to make these mugs all the time. They were all the same basic design, but with different pictures. I have an impressionist one, a red hispanic themed one, the aforementioned dancing skeletons… I had an extensive collection. They cost five or six dollars and came with a free drink. (For reference, my current drink costs $4.44 so that would be an excellent deal for me. Plus it’s $.10 off every drink you get in your own mug!) It’s a good thing I did since five or six years ago (more?), they stopped making them. They branched out to different designs – every mug having a different profile. They’ve innovated themselves out of something I loved!

The back of the mug, with the Space Needle in the background. 1997 represents the period where Starbucks was just beginning to explode as a global company, but was still strongly rooted in Seattle.

Right now Starbucks is basically only offering stainless steel travel mugs, to my sorrow. My problem with that is that I drink my coffee black. I pour it the second it comes out of my Mr. Coffee (not because I’m a purist – because I’m late for work). So it’s near boiling when I put it in my stainless steel mug. It stays near boiling for a looooooong time. I’m guessing the people who love these mugs add milk or creamer so they don’t burn their tongues off.

Which brings me to my last idiosyncrasy (I swear, half of my externally visible oddness has to do with my coffee habits…) I drink my coffee from these travel mugs with a straw. Always have. I learned to drink coffee and to drive at literally the same time. (Coincidence? I think not.) When I fell in love with java was when I was putting nearly a thousand miles EVERY WEEK on my parents car. (Loving parents!) I was in the car 2 to 3 hours a day, every day. Maybe more. Often first thing in the morning. If you drink out of a mug regularly in the car, you have to tilt your head back to finish it (briefly taking your eyes off the road). You also have to be more coordinated than I am, or you spill coffee on yourself. (Personally, I consider au de caffeine my personal perfume.) I neatly solved both of these problems by grabbing a straw from Starbucks and using it in mug until it breaks. In a positive innovation, Starbucks has recently started selling durable straws (for use in their cold beverages, they claim) which do not break. This is a bonus.

Thus, the on-the-go coffee.

When I’m home, as I am today, I prefer my coffee in a non travel mug. (At which time I do not use a straw, if you’re curious.) I’d never had quite a favorite, until about a year ago. I inherited a few small things from my paternal grandparents. Some pieces of jewelry. The melamine plates and bowls my grandma served me cookies on. A handthrown clay coffee mug with birds.

My grandmother’s cup
I particularly like how the birds are actually etched into the pottery. You can feel the design with your fingers. I bet this mug would be lovely to a blind person too.

I don’t know why I like it so much. I’m not even – on calm reflection – sure how I know it came from my grandma. (Relatives, can anyone confirm, or remember it?) But it’s perfect. It’s warm to the hands, but doesn’t lose heat too quickly, or scald. It conforms perfectly to the proportions of my hand. It holds just the right amount of coffee for consuming at my pace without getting cold. And the three birds on it look cheerful. There’s a name of the artist neatly signed on the bottom in bell hook-esque cursive: “betty belle”. It’s as though the fifties blew me a kiss in the shape of a coffee cup. I love it.

One of the great curses of using beautiful objects is that they are exposed to risk in the use. That platonic ideal Starbucks mug hasn’t held coffee in over 10 years because it has a crack. If I put coffee in it, that design will be gone forever. I suppose I should just throw it away, but I don’t want to. Wandering around the house doing chores in my slippers – one day I’ll move wrong and drop my grandmother’s mug and it will shatter. It is pottery, thrown and designed by hand. It is breakable. I will mourn, but I’ll have the memory of a hundred hot cups to console me. I’ll take the great memories of a mug loved and lost over an intact cup in the back of my cupboard any day of the week.

I’ve Googled betty belle and come up with nothing. I like to imagine she was a Boeing housewife who did pottery in her spare time to supplement her income. She was almost certainly a Seattle area artist.

What’s your favorite coffee cup? What’s that object you touch every day that brings you pleasure every time you use it?

Grande, two-pump, non-fat, extra-hot, no-whip mocha

I even managed to find good coffee in my journeys through Africa
I even managed to find good coffee in my journeys through Africa

When I was seventeen, my dad and I packed a few of my most important belongings into our minivan and left my home in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, heading to an elite college in Connecticut (called, innovatively, Connecticut College). Mt. Rainier, my abiding love, disappeared over my left shoulder as I took Hwy 7 over the Cascades, to connect with I90. I left behind my family, my home and my access to good coffee.

The year was 1996, and Starbucks was in the first few years of its astonishing ascendancy. It was a matter of identity for a northwest kid to proudly announce their drink order. Were you a mocha girl? A latte guy? Or did you fancy a cappuccino? I remember horrifying my fellow youth symphonians by telling them just how unbelievably far away the nearest Starbucks was from my home (almost an hour). I had a set of four “favorite” Starbucks for the routes I took most. I bought in, hook line and sinker.

I used to bring three cups of coffee to school – one to drink in the car, one to drink in my first class and the third in a thermal tumbler I left in my locker for my second class. I was all in on coffee. That April, I’d been completely taken in by an NPR prank about Starbucks building East/West coffee pipeline. I was a little preoccupied about the coffee question on that long drive across Montana and North Dakota.

My four years at college were spent in a veritable caffeine desert. The closest Starbucks was in Cranston, Rhode Island, but I didn’t have a car. Eventually my long-suffering boyfriend got a car, but lacked a sense of direction which added a good 20 minutes to the Starbucks run. It happened only a handful of times a year. I accepted my caffeine-isolation as the price of education (although there are a few stories about what my friends were forced to do in order to get me to a Starbucks).

But when my now-husband brought me to our first shared home in Roslindale, I had high hopes that I might – for the first time in my life – live within easy access of a Starbucks. That hope was dashed – the nearest one was quite a way away. There was one near church I stopped at religiously, but certainly none within walking distance. Nor was there one near my then-office. Two years later, we moved to Malden. The Starbucks perimeter held firm. I changed jobs, and still was not near a Starbucks. We moved to Stoneham. If you draw a circle around my house, you would find I’m in just about the furthest possible location from any Starbucks. I was appalled to learn that Stoneham, when wooed by a Starbucks, didn’t enthusiastically support the project, but blocked it. Really, selectmen, the town is now sufficiently supplied with nail salons, convenience stores and liquor stores. But we’re terribly underserved by purveyors of fine caffeine solutions.

Black whole of Starbucks at home
Black hole of Starbucks at home

Since then, I’ve changed jobs twice. It wasn’t a huge surprise that the Billerica location was not close to a Starbucks. But when I got a gig in one of the most cutting edge districts of Boston, I was ready for my luck to change. At last, finally, I would have easy access to a Starbucks – for the first time in my entire life! I could go grab a cuppa in the dark stretch of afternoon. I could swing by in the morning if I was running short of my brewed coffee. It would be great.

Then I discovered that, while there are about six Starbucks at the half a mile mark, there is not a single one inside that radius. D’oh!

How is it possible to be this far from a Starbucks in Boston?
How is it possible to be this far from a Starbucks in Boston?

So anyway, if you have some local coffee shops you’d like to protect in your neighborhood, can I recommend that you hire me/sell a house to me? I can all but ensure there will be no Starbucks in your town then!

Prelude to the Afternoon of Shovelling the Driveway

The last few days have not gone as planned. First Grey got the stomach bug, and lo. Sunday was not as expected. Then Monday I had procured tickets to The Secrets of Tomb 10A, and my husband and I were going to go check out the mummies ALL BY OURSELVES. It was going to be just like Vienna. And maybe we’d have a dilatory lunch or something. Bliss!

Then I was going to pick the kids up from Lawrence and drive past all my old haunts one last time. You can go back to visit, but you never again go back to belong. It was such an unexpected belonging — me and the creaky, broke, corrupt, lovely City of Lawrence. I would go a last time over the 130 year old iron bridge that will soon be demolished, that I could see from my window at work. I’d check out the latest foreclosure signs. I’d whisper goodbye and feel silly and maybe shed a few tears as I pulled away from Rubertina’s a last time.

All this was not to be. I spend the day as sick as I’ve been in Grey’s lifetime. I think the last time I was that sick was while I was pregnant with him. The time before was my freshman year of college. I rarely get very sick. But I was washed out. Sitting up was too much work. I napped from 10 am to 3 pm. My butt hurt from excessive sitting. Before about 8 pm, what I’d had to eat was 20 cheerios, 5 Ritz and some Jello. I skipped COFFEE people, that’s how serious it was.

On the plus side, I seem to have lost some weight! Not the best way to go about doing it, but don’t look a gift stomach bug in the mouth! (No really, to be avoided.)

Then, this morning, the boys’ first day at their new daycare, we go in to find Thane’s crib covered in vomit. Of course, based on his behavior today I’m not at all convinced he’s sick, piker. He’s certainly not anywhere as sick as *I* was, Mr. Incredibly Perky and Can I Come Up On the Couch For the 93rd Time Mom?

And so my last week of employment freedom races by in a blur of effluvia. And I haven’t even done the taxes yet. (Tomorrow! It must be tomorrow!)

I’d tell you more, but there’s about 3 inches of sticky white snow that should be shoveled while Thane sleeps, or this’ll get ugly.

Internet skills… getting rusty….

When you’re not making a post a day, you don’t feel like you can just update folks on the last 20 minutes of your life (not that I, uh, ever do that…) but you don’t feel really ready to tackle the last 20 days, either. It’s been a definite withdrawal for me to have so much less computer time, and even more importantly very little computer time with both my hands free. Writing a post with one hand is time consuming. (An element to my prolific writing is doubtless the 80 wpm I type. You can say more in less time when you type quickly.)

Let’s see. The defining element of my last few days has been OMG SO MANY GUESTS. Last weekend was a wonderful Mocksgiving. Then on Thursday my beloved Aunt and Uncle arrived in Boston for a big Bible conference thingy, and they stayed the night. This would be the Aunt who can cook amazingly, so of course I felt the need to prepare a decent meal. And of course all my free time was spent chatting with them, attempting to catch up on the last 7 years in one evening. Then last night my brother Gospel came. (I asked why he got off for Thanksgiving break so early. He reminded me that there happened to be a big Bible conference thingy going on and he was at seminary. Huh. Go figure.) Granted, Gospel is much more helpful than guestful. He even raked our lawn this afternoon in the bitter, bitter cold! But still… he’s here much of the week and my Aunt and Uncle reemerge from their conference on Monday night (another dinner). I don’t have much spare time, and that’s taken up what I have. Still, it’s entirely worthwhile.

It got cold here in New England. I’m not a fan of this. I feel like I can’t walk nearly as far; not because Grey can’t handle it but because it’s hard to properly bundle a wee baby. I’m also still struggling with walking with both boys. Problem one is that I have much less recourse if Grey decides to be recalcitrant, which definitely happens with a 3 year old. If I carry Thane in a sling, it’s just too much to also carry the diaper bag and with a potty training preschooler, that’s dangerous. (I can carry one or two baby diapers in the sling, but the diapers and a change of pants for Grey… well, that seems like a bit much.) I don’t like strollers, but I tried that and I discovered that it’s really hard to steer with one hand, making it hard to hold Grey’s hand when we cross streets, etc. And here’s the kicker — I can just about manage Grey and the stroller, but the coffee is too much. (Heck it’s also an extra hand I lack getting into the car.) Parenting is threatening my coffee supply. This is dire, people.

In boy news, Thane has already lost the newborn look and started in on the young baby look. His neck is unbelievably strong — he now holds it steady for quite a while. He still swims in his 0 – 3 month outfits, but has outgrown newborn diapers. I had actually remembered this, how in the course of a day a diaper size goes from ok to way too small. And if you try to make do with the too small diapers to use up the rest of them, you find yourself changing a lot of outfits. Thane really, really likes to be held and wants to be held almost all day. This seems entirely appropriate for a new baby, but it a bit hard to manage sometimes. When he’s feeling fussy, he really likes to be on his belly. In the big Thane-news, he rolled over twice this week. Both times it was from front to back, but still. Rolling over at 3 weeks? I would be more excited about this if I didn’t realize that physically precocious children are a lot of work.

Grey is wonderful. He has been telling us stories lately. “Once upon a time there was a boy named Grey.” He will do nearly anything if you apply pretend reverse psychology. “Grey, I do not want you peeing in that potty!” On the one hand, it’s nice to have something that works so reliably. On the other hand, I’m worried that I’m making trouble for myself. I try to use a very silly voice when I do this, but perhaps it’s not smart of us. Speaking of peeing in the potty training, it’s going slowly. The length of time between when he goes seems to have lengthened, but he still won’t initiate going to the potty and it’s often like pulling teeth to get him to go. I confess to feeling disheartened. On the other hand, he’s been wonderfully affectionate and cuddly with the cold weather. He has grown increasingly sensitive to the emotions of others. “Mommy, are you sad, happy or angry?” he’ll ask. What he’s really asking is “Am I all right with you?” He is also attuned to his brother’s emotions. He’ll come find me if Thane is crying. Sometimes he tries to make faces to cheer up the weeping babe. Sometimes, annoyed, he’ll tell Thane to “Be quiet!” In the amusing anecdote department, Grey calls letters emails. I wonder if they’ll still have letters when he’s my age. Generally, though, he’s been pretty fantastic.

The smallest one stirs. I go.

How I came to love coffee

My love is a love shared with many others — coffee.

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, home of Starbucks. Around 1994, when I was coming of age and learning to drive (damn, am I THAT old? I am!), Starbucks was creating it’s second wave of franchises. Coffee creations, for the first time, became HUGE in the region. You defined yourself by what you drank, how many modifiers were applied to it, your mug — the whole thang. Cool people worked as baristas in Starbucks. (I secretly wanted to. Still do, actually.)

I didn’t like coffee. But someone convinced me to try a cafe mocha. And it was good. Oh, so good. Soon, I had the Starbucks on all my major routes identified. I remember the Starbucks I always stopped at on my way to orchestra rehearsal on sunny Saturday mornings — listening to Car Talk and delighted to be up early to play Sibelius. There was the Starbucks near the Tacoma Mall, great for when one was running errands. There’s the South Hill Starbucks (next to where the Safeway used to be), great for when I was going to a theater event with my godfather. There was the Enumclaw Starbucks — sustenance when going to visit my grandparents. Often the first and last coffee after backpacking.

Having dived into the world of caffeinated beverages for the first time, I started drinking brewed coffee with my Dad. Since I took up the habit, I’ve usually had 2 16 ounce Starbucks mugs of coffee a day. One poured fresh, and one in a thermos. I used to keep my coffee in a stainless steel mug in my locker during first period Math because Mr. Johnson wouldn’t let me drink it in class. It was still pretty warm by English time.

When I left for college, coffee became a tangible connection to HOME. Starbucks was still rare on the East Coast, and I would go way out of my way for a mocha. A friend’s dad once drove me 20 minutes one morning to get one. He doesn’t remember, but I do. My parents would meet me at the gate with a mocha.

Unfortunately, I can’t handle mochas anymore. They hurt my stomach. I still drink 32 or so ounces of coffee a day, and it still says home and security for me. (It also says headache and exhaustion if I don’t have it.)

Coffee is a comfort food — happily I take it black so it’s a 0 calorie comfort food. It’s a joy to me. And it helps make mornings bearable for me.