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A Good Cuppa

Today’s post comes to us from Port Huron Steve.

I started drinking coffee in the week I began grad school. I had my first cup in a coffeehouse, a memorable day because I learned I loved coffee and coffeehouse music. That first cup was espresso, dark as sin and quite strong.

That launched an odyssey as I searched for a way to make great coffee at home. As far as I’m concerned, the odyssey—which took 53 years to complete—came to a happy end about two months ago. The odyssey involved three things: my coffee mug, the brand of coffee and the coffee brewing technology.

A few weeks ago I wrote about my pursuit of the perfect coffee mug. The story ran under the title of Arabia Beehive. I described how I bought a mug that I later decided was perfect. It shattered when knocked to the floor in 1983. Since then I spent hundreds of hours looking for a replacement. And this year in October that 32-year search ended when I found a copy of my original beloved mug.

I spent about three decades looking for a great brand of coffee. It was a curious hunt. I knew how good coffee could be, for the coffee in good restaurants was wonderful. But I couldn’t find coffee like that in grocery stores. My erstwife and I went from brand to brand to brand, never finding one that tasted remotely like the best restaurant brew. We didn’t know the problem was that restaurants got to buy coffee that was roasted to perfection, coffee of a quality not sold in stores.

The search for great coffee beans took an unexpected turn when Starbucks became so popular in the early 1990s. Suddenly there were little coffeehouses all over serving and selling wonderful brews. And suddenly it was clear why we looked so long in vain for coffee like that in stores.

Everyone has a favorite. Mine is the Caribou blend from the Caribou Coffee folks. It is nothing terribly special, being a medium roast suitable for all-day drinking. I’ve dallied with French roast blends, which are stronger, but I keep coming back to the Caribou blend. I love it.

The odyssey also included a lot of experimentation with coffee makers. I’ve owned about fifteen different makers. For a while I liked a French press. I used to make Italian espresso. For about a year we made “camp coffee,” which is grounds thrown into cold water that is heated. Then you clarify the coffee with egg shells, maybe filtering it as a last step. It is pretty good, but messy and not easy to do when half-asleep.

While trying different coffee brewing technologies, I spent several years grinding my own beans each morning. According to experts, that was necessary, and for several years I believed them. But grinding beans makes an awful sound that I can’t abide shortly after waking up. I ultimately decided making coffee from freshly ground beans was more trouble than it was worth.

My search for the ideal coffee maker ended when my daughter (who rarely drinks coffee) served amazingly good coffee four years ago. I say “amazingly” because the coffee itself was just Folgers from a big red can, the stuff they sell in every grocery store in the country. I was astonished to learn that coffee from her Cuisinart coffee maker was truly better than I could make with my more expensive German brewing system.

And now the odyssey is truly over. Each day begins with perfect (to my palate) coffee brewed in my favorite coffeemaker and served in my favorite mug. I’m a happy, happy guy. It is embarrassing to be so easily pleased, but I really enjoy starting each day with something so reliably delightful.

What is your favorite beverage? Do you have it all worked out or are you still experimenting?

 

Epiphanies

Today’s post comes to us from Port Huron Steve.

I once considered writing a book of personal memoir. The title was going to be Epiphanies. Not everyone is familiar with that word, which comes to us from the ancient Greeks. Epiphanies are those moments of sudden understanding in which a nagging problem is solved or a blazing new perception reveals itself. A less fancy definition would be “aha moments.” The word has special relevance to Christians, referring to the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. My favorite example of epiphany in popular culture is that moment in The Miracle Worker when Anne Sullivan pumps water over the hands of little Helen Keller, teaching her how language is the key that will reveal the world to her.

For me, epiphanies are special, even magic. Of course, we all learn lessons as we experience our lives. Usually enlightenment appears after a slow, unremarkable, evolutionary process. Epiphanies, by contrast, surprise and shock us. Routine mental growth is like lighting a candle in the dark; epiphanies are more like skyrockets that explode to fill the skies with color and noise.

Epiphanies I experienced as a child are hard to date with precision. When I was a toddler—somewhere between three and five—my grandfather took me out for a treat. He bought us drumsticks, those ice cream novelties with wafer cones. Up until that moment delightful things seemed to appear and disappear randomly. But when Grandpa Clarence bought those drumsticks I realized that these and other treats existed all the time. They were part of the world. If you had this thing called money, you could exchange it for a drumstick. The world was more orderly and benign than I had understood before that moment.

I experienced an epiphany in third grade that I often remember. Our classroom had an American flag (just 48 stars back then). Large portraits of George Washington and Abe Lincoln hung on the walls. Our desks were bolted in place facing the teacher’s desk, which was mounted on a raised deck to allow her to look down on the little humans in her charge. Our teacher, Miss Maybe, called on a kid named Andy to deliver a report. Sitting in my desk on the right hand side of the classroom, halfway back, I grinned with relief. The voice in my head said, “Hey, that’s Andy up there, not you! He has to give a report and you do not. He’s Andy. You’re Steve. You aren’t Andy, and you don’t have to give a report!” I’ve always wondered if most people have a particular blazing moment when they realized they are a unique consciousness, not part of a larger group.

Not all epiphanies are so fun to remember. In the first year of my marriage, my erstwife and I spent a winter month housesitting the home of Arthur Naftalin, then the mayor of Minneapolis. On a sub-zero February afternoon my parents drove all the way in from their Orono home to visit us. After a delightful meal they left, walking down the steep driveway to where they had left their car parked on the street. I stood at a living room picture window to watch. When they turned up the sidewalk, my mother and father spotted me. As if they had rehearsed this move for weeks, they turned, smiled radiantly, raised their hands and waved goodbye, each one mirroring exactly the expression and movements of the other. Tears shot out of my eyes, and I staggered back into the privacy of the living room so my parents wouldn’t see me crying. Something about the moment—the crazy synchronicity of their goodbye waves—made me realize these two people I loved so much would someday exit my life forever. Of course, I had always known my parents would likely precede me in death. That abstract, dry fact became a moment of scorching awareness when they waved goodbye that afternoon.

Do you experience epiphanies? Can you share examples?

Getting a Lyft

The weekend post comes to us from CrystalBay.

I have increasing anxiety about driving after dark, so I decided to scope out Lyft. I couldn’t figure out how to use the app to determine the cost of being driven to the few locations that I regularly go to. After messing around for half an hour, I decided to order a ride because then the price would pop up. My clever plan was to then immediately cancel it. The problem, however, is that I couldn’t figure out how to cancel it!

Within minutes, Jeff texted he’d be here in ten minutes. I called him directly to cancel, explaining what I’d done. Two minutes later, Amy texted she’d be here in five minutes. I again called her to cancel. Three minutes later, Tom called saying that he was pulling up in my driveway! I told him my woe story and he showed me how I could use the app, then mentioned that each canceled ride had cost me $5. Altogether, I’d just lost $15 because of not understanding how to use this app. What still troubles me is that, after my initial call canceling, other drivers kept coming. I wondered how many more would show up.

The good news is finding out that, between here and Navarre, where 90% of my needs are met, Lyft only cost 87 cents!

What technologies have challenged (or defeated) you??

Happy Thanksgiving!

This is a straight up-homage to the day. Not the turkey and football filled day, not the sweet potatoes and pilgrim hat day.  For those of us who don’t practice thankfulness as often as we should (including me), today is a day to help us do just that – practice thankfulness.

You’ve heard it before – what are you grateful for?

 

Cleaning Up

I don’t like cleaning. Organizing yes but cleaning no.  When I was living in Milwaukee I audited a class at the University of Wisconsin called “The Politics of Housework”. This was a LONG time ago but one of the things I remember about the class material was that housework is deeply dissatisfying for almost everybody due to its repetitive nature.  The housework never stays done.  No matter how earnestly you mop the floor, the dogs are going to wipe their muddy paws on it, probably within an hour.  This theory was very validating to me.

When YA was little, a co-worker asked me once how I get everything done and I replied “my house is dirty”. She laughed until she realized I was serious.  Then she laughed some more.  Any time I have a list of things to do, I can guarantee that cleaning is at the very bottom.  One of the upsides of entertaining a lot is that I’m forced to face the cleaning so my house doesn’t become a reality tv series.

With Nonny arriving on Monday, we’re in the last couple of days of getting the house clean (again). YA and I have a pretty good catalog of chores and luckily she likes to clean more than I do.  But mopping is still at the bottom of the list.

How do you get yourself to do the housework?

Paper Drive

This weekend’s post comes to us from Bill.
Photo Credit:  Ann Arbor District Library

Here’s a stream of consciousness for you:

Today I bought a roll of sisal twine to have on hand when I bundle tree trimmings or flattened cardboard boxes for recycling and I reflected that sisal twine always makes me think of paper drives. Remember paper drives? When I was in grade school and when I was in Boy Scouts, paper drives were a common way of earning money for extra-budgetary purchases. I especially remember the  school ones. We would each be given some lengths of twine and then, singly or in groups we would pull a wagon around the neighborhood asking neighbors, door to door, if they had any stacks of old newspapers we could have. There must have been a competitive aspect to it but I can’t remember specifically how it was set up. I don’t think it was individual; more likely it was grade against grade to see who could collect the most. I don’t recall a reward for winning either, other than the pride of coming in first. Paper drives have gone away because recycling has reduced the value of scrap paper and nobody has stacks of old newspapers lying around anyway.

It seems like there were a lot of fundraising schemes back then, most of which involved going door to door and trying to sell some commonplace item, like light bulbs, at an inflated price. An easy albeit unimaginative solution for some group of PTA parents to foist upon hapless students as a means to raise funds. Presumably, your native charm and powers of persuasion were supposed to compensate for the poor value of the transaction. Usually what happened is that your parents and grandparents ended up with a stockpile of off-brand light bulbs they had purchased at a non-competitive price. The only party to the scheme that made any real money was the company that supplied the fundraising products.

Door-to-door sales is almost extinct, it seems. Gone are the Fuller Brush men and I can’t remember the last time a kid came around trying to sell something. Although I imagine that would be considered child endangerment these days, most of us had some experience with that kind of commerce. I briefly considered trying to sell waterless cookware when I was in college. I had picked up the sample case and tried out my spiel on some female friends. I was so inept and so unconvincing that they were in helpless tears of hilarity before I finished. I returned the sample case the next day.

How about you? What did you sell?