Tag Archive | personal

Confessions of a bad son, part 3: the myth of regret

“Insensitive comments to suvivors of abuse: 'You need to give mothers a break because they tried their best.'  'You need to be the bigger person.' 'You're going to regret this when they are gone.' 'You are gong to understand when your own children to the same thing to you.'” - @theblacksheepsurvives

From @TheBlackSheepSurvices. Click to embiggen.

I was texting with a close relative this weekend. After the initial topic of conversation was nearly played out, they noted that when they checked their calendar just then, they realized the third anniversary of Dad’s death had passed recently. “I can’t believe I didn’t even notice it passing this year.” I had to confess that I hadn’t thought about it on the day, either. There was a point last week when I had thought about it, but it was in the context of the unexpected death of a co-worker.

Because I follow some blogs that focus on surviving abusive parents, I happened to see the graphic I’ve included above the same day this conversation happened. One of those example insensitive comments made me laugh—perhaps more than a bit sardonically. Because as soon as I read “You’re going to regret this when they are gone,” my immediate thought was how many people I would enjoy saying, “Every time you said that you were wrong. I absolutely do not regret cutting him out of my life at all.”

Before I go on, I should make a content warning. I’m going to be talking a bit about my abusive father, and some things he did… Read More…

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Fumble fingers, again

If you’re here following a publishing link, I apologize. I was trying to save a draft of the unfinished post and clicked the wrong button.

Confessions of a bad son, part 3: the myth of regret is now published and available.

Sometimes I just want to say, “Physcian, heal thyself” but they never get it

This is going to be a bit of a ramble. I realized some time ago that it is really easy for me to describe myself in ways that make me seem like a television stereotype of a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Never mind that actual OCD has virtually no relationship to such portrayals. That mythologized version of a person who absolutely must have everything arranged just so and has some sort of meltdown if a single teacup or pencil or whatever is out of place existed long before anyone had ever heard of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Someone somewhere wanted to write a character with those characteristics, and at some point someone else said something about compulsive behavior, and the next thing you know they have taken out the tired old trope about a meticulous person overly concerned with trivial details but slapped a label that somehow tries to shroud the cliche in a veneer of scientific/psychiatric legitimacy.

One silly example of how I can be made to sound that way is that I take my own shampoo with me whenever we go somewhere requiring a hotel stay. Let’s call it my Preferred Convention Shampoo. This is a thing that evolved over time. When I was on sports teams, band, and the debate team in middle school and high school, we would go on trips that often involved an overnight, and we were told be bring our own toiletries (sometimes with a list sent home to our parents) which included shampoo. So, eventually I found myself the owner of a small zippered bag into which I was expected to back a toothbrush, tooth paste, razor, shaving cream, shampoo, soap and other things and to always take that with me on trips.

As an adult I continued the practice, getting in the habit of routinely buying “travel size” versions of said things to keep what by then I was calling a “ditty bag” well stocked for trips.

Many years later, my husband and I were attending a sci fi convention in a suburb just south of Seattle, and after our arrival my hubby realized he’d forgotten something he wanted for the weekend. We lived in a neighborhood in north central Seattle at the time, so while I was busy staffing a table in the dealer’s den he hopped on the light rail to fetch some things from home. Later that evening, I noticed full-sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner sitting the the hotel bathroom next to the ditty bag. Michael said he had noticed while unpacking that the little shampoo bottle in the bag was empty, and he didn’t like the smell of the hotel-provided shampoo, so he had grabbed the bottles out of the bathroom cabinet while he was home.

The bottles he brought from home had been specifically matching VO5 Strawberries & Cream scented shampoo and conditioner. It was nice having full-sized bottles where I didn’t feel as if I was shaking the container like crazy just to get a few drops of shampoo out. And the reason it was one of the varieties in our cabinet was because we both like the way it smells. So, since then, whenever we are packing for a convention or other hotel stay, a pair of bottles of the VO5 Strawberries & Cream is usually placed in the suitcase.

But if I phrased that last bit a little differently, such as, “I always take a bottle of VO5 Strawberries & Cream shampoo and a matching bottle of conditioner whenever we go on a trip,” it might sound like somebody’s notion of OCD, right? But I don’t always take it, and I don’t freak out if I don’t take it.. When we’re packing, I usually grab the a pair of full-sized bottles, and because I have fond memories of that particular trip, if it happens that when I open the cabinet in the bathroom I see the strawberries & creamed scented stuff, that’s what I grab. But sometimes we don’t happen to have those in the cabinet, so I grab something else and I’m fine. And at least once I forgot to pack full-sized bottles entirely, and still I was fine.

I recognize that I am a creature of habit. I like knowing what I’m doing in the near future. And yes, I like it when I have my favorite things, or favorite foods, or favorite people around me.

But doesn’t everyone?

I mean, if the available options are either something you know you like and something that you know you don’t, the choice is pretty clear, right? Yes, if the option is something you already know you like and something that you might like just as much or more, then the choice is less obvious. And obviously, at one time all of the books, movies, music, food, beverages, and so on that I love were things that I had never tried, before. So, yes, I like giving new things a try, I just don’t see the point in abandoning everything I already like simply because some people think that returning to old favorites means that you’re stuck in a rut.

I hate that notion that simply repeating something means you are stuck, mired, or otherwise trapped. Or even worse, implying to enjoying what you like is always a sign of addiction. I breathe in oxygen many times an hour and breathe out carbon dioxide after each breath, and so far as I know every other person on the planet does, too. But no reasonable person would suggest that humans need to break their oxygen addiction.

It is okay to let people enjoy things, so long as they aren’t hurting other people in the process. And if you’re scolding people around you for liking things you don’t (again, so long as those things aren’t causing harm to others), well, that says more about you than any of us who are busy enjoying the things you disapprove of.

Maybe you should give not being a jerk to others a try. You might find you like it.

Snap, crackle, pop isn’t just about cereal

Tweet from @AaronLinguini: “*demon tries to inhabit my body* Demon: OUCH Me: yeah... Demon: WHAT THE HELL Me: I know Demon: EVERYTHING HURTS, WHY?? AND WHATS WRONG WITH THIS SHOULDER??? Me: idk man, can I offer you a mint?”

From Aaron Ansuini (@AaronLinguini). Click to embiggen.

Yeah, I used the graphic recently, but it’s appropriate. I need to do a real NorWesCon review this week, but today we’ll stick to one discovery I made.

On Monday morning, after our fourth night sleeping at the con, my husband was up and had already carried some things out to the car when I woke up. Most other mornings he had gotten up before me, gotten dressed, ran off to do his staff job, and sometimes came back as I was getting moving to see if I wanted to go to breakfast. So Monday was the first morning he was there the entire time I was doing my initial get up and get ready shuffle.

He kept expressing concern, asking if I was all right, a lot during the process. I attributed it to him feeling tired because he never sleeps well away from home, and he had been very busy all weekend. So I thought it was a bit of projection: I didn’t feel quite right, so he assumed I didn’t, either.

But when we were almost done loading the car, he asked again, with a really concerned tone of voice. So I asked him did I look bad? Why was he asked.

“You were complaining a lot while moving around this morning.”

I explained that that was just the usual thing: my joints are always stiff when I first wake up until I’ve been moving around for a while. And I always mutter to myself while doing certain tasks. “I just had that in my hand a minute ago… oh, there you are!” and so on.

“You weren’t just groaning! You were dropped the F-bomb several times”

And I had an epiphany. On weekdays, he leaves for work about three hours before my alarm goes off. Then on weekends, he sleeps in. So he’s almost never around during that time when I’m just getting up and moving. Apparently in the last couple years I’ve gone from just groaning when I reach for something and my shoulder protests. I now mutter bad words along with the groaning.

Now, I probably did it a bit more than usual Monday, because I also don’t sleep very well when I’m not in my own bed, so by the fourth night of sleeping at the hotel, I was also feeling less than fully rested. I was also trying to pack, which meant lifting and moving a lot more things than I’m usually handling during a typical get-up-and-get-ready-for-work routine.

The truth is I am getting older, and parts of my body just don’t work as well as they used to. I own several folding canes and keep them stashed around. This started in the early days of my pre-diabetic treatment. When I started eating a low-carb diet I started having random gout flare-ups where suddenly just trying to walk on whichever foot was having the flare-up was extremely painful. I almost never have random flare-ups any more, thanks to more adjustments to my diet and medications, but some days the ankle that had all the torn tendons a few years ago starts hurting when I put weight on it. Or the knee (in the other leg) that got banged up really bad a couple of different times gets a little unreliable.

Those are more likely to happen in certain kinds of weather, or when there has been a significant weather change. Someone watching might notice me having a slight limp on one side or the other for part of a day, or if it gets bad, I get out one of the canes.

Similarly, because of scar tissue in one inner ear, when there are fast changes in the local barometric pressure, I get to hear all sorts of buzzes and clicks and whistles and pops on one side only. That one can get particularly surreal, since ordinarily that’s the ear I can barely hear anything with.

Of course, I’m not the only person who mutters while doing things. Michael does it, too, and it can get particularly comedic if we’re both hurrying around the house trying to get something done. “What did you say?” “Nothing, just talking to myself.” Over and over and over again.

When we got home and we were both doing it again while unpacking–it was worse because home is much bigger than the hotel room, and so we’re often further apart and in different rooms making it even harder to tell whether the other person is trying to get our attention, or just talking to themself. I had to tease him about it, particularly since today is his birthday. For the next five months, he’s only nine years younger than me, instead of the usual ten.

Catching up with me!

The wheel of time keeps turning, but never enough to make fresh coffee while rushing to get ready for work

Tweet from @AaronLinguini: “*demon tries to inhabit my body* Demon: OUCH Me: yeah... Demon: WHAT THE HELL Me: I know Demon: EVERYTHING HURTS, WHY?? AND WHATS WRONG WITH THIS SHOULDER??? Me: idk man, can I offer you a mint?”

From Aaron Ansuini (@AaronLinguini). Click to embiggen.

I found a meme some time ago of the text from the tweet pictured here, but just white text on black and no attribution. It been sitting in my “For Blog Posts” folder for a while. Because this weekend I kept getting more twinges in various joints than usual, I kept thinking about it and that maybe I should do a post about that sort of thing. Anyway, I’m happy that I seem to have found the source of the text, as some others who have shared it have attributed it to Aaron Ansuini on twitter, so I replaced the black graphic with a screenshot, because if Aaron is the one who came up with this, they deserve the credit!

When I first saw it, I immediately wanted to do my own version, which would go something like this:

*demon tries to inhabit my body*
Demon: OUCH
Me: Yeah…
Demon: WHAT THE HELL?
Me: Welcome to my world, buddy!
Demon: EVERYTHING HURTS, WHY?? AND WHATS WRONG WITH YOUR SHOULDER???
Me: Which one?
Demon: WHAT? *moves one arm, then the other* WHAT THE HELL? BOTH?
Me: Left shoulder is because of broken collar bone from a beating from my Dad when I was ten.
Demon: BEATING? TEN?
Me: Right shoulder was shattered in a bicycle crash when I was forty-one and should have known better. So that one is on me.
Demon: *grabs a pencil* I NEED TO WRITE THIS DOWN… WHAT THE HELL? HOW DID YOUR WRIST DO THAT? AND WHY ARE SOME OF THE FINGERS NUMB?
Me: That’s kind of a funny one. Horse stepped on my right hand when I was 14 helping repair a stable floor with my grandpa. My younger cousin was supposed to be keeping the horse outside, see…
Demon: *moves fingers again* BONES SHOULDN’T DO THAT!
Me: I learned years later that the doctors should have put a pin in my elbow after stitching the hand back up and putting the braces and cast on, so I couldn’t move the wrist bones while they were trying to heal. They didn’t even tell me not to try to do things with the hand…
Demon: WHY WOULDN’T DOCTORS TELL YOU THAT?
Me: I mean, I was 14 years old, probably in shock, and they gave me stuff for the pain. So maybe I missed some things. Fortunately I’m ambidextrous, though since most of the school desks weren’t built for lefties, I didn’t have much practice writing with my left hand before that, so my writing was even sloppier on that side. And then, of course, there was Mr. Stahlecker, the geography teacher.
Demon: WHAT DID HE DO?
Me: Yelled at me for doing my work with my left hand. Said my right hand wouldn’t heal if I didn’t use it. Maybe if the doctors had told me not to use it I could have told him. But he probably would have scoffed and given me more detention. I mean like he did when I told him it hurt to try to write with the right hand.
Demon: DETENTION FOR BEING IN PAIN?
Me: Well, he said it was for talking back. But, yeah, basically. He was a real piece of work. Kept a swear jar on his desk and made us put money in it if he thought he heard us mutter a dirty word? But he was also the assistant basketball coach, and he called us faggots any time any of us failed to do something during practice.
Demon: WHAT THE FUCK?
Me: I’m kind of disappointed you don’t know all this. I mean, I always figured that the redneck American public school social environment had to be designed in Hell.
Demon: DON’T TRY TO BLAME ME FOR THAT!
Me: I suppose next you’re going to tell me that arthritis and gout aren’t plagues from Hell, either?
Demon: OH, THAT’S JUST BIOLOGY! TECHNICALLY HEAVEN’S FAULT, SINCE THEY SET UP THE PARAMETERS OF CREATION AND… WAIT, SO THE ARTHRITIS IS WHY MOST OF THESE THINGS HURT?
Me: Actually, going by the tests, I barely have any arthritis, yet. But, they say the damaged joints show it first, and it just gets worse everywhere over time.
Demon: AND YOU HAVE GOUT, TOO?
Me: Don’t worry, if you just remember to drink at least one glass of water every hour you’re awake, and take the little white pill each night, it’s almost never a problem.
Demon: *reaches for the pill minder* WHICH PILL… WAIT, WHAT ARE ALL OF THESE FOR?
Me: Oh, this and that… I can go over all of it if you want.
Demon: AND DID YOU SAY A GLASS OF WATER EVERY HOUR? EVERY HOUR?? HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO WREAK EVIL ON THE WORLD IF I HAVE TO TRACK DOWN A GLASS OF WATER EVERY HOUR?
Me: Don’t forget, you’re going to be needing to find a bathroom just about every hour, too.
Demon: THAT’S INSANE! AND EVERYTIME I TRY TO DO ANYTHING *waves one arm wildly* OUCH! I HAVE TO PUT UP WITH THIS!?
Me: You get used to it.
DEMON: …
Me: I have some dark chocolate squirreled away if that would make you feel better.
Demon: I REFUSE!
Me: I was just offering.
Demon: NO, I MEAN, I REFUSE THIS ASSIGNMENT! THIS ISN’T A POSSESSION, THIS IS UNSAFE WORKING CONDITIONS! THIS BODY IS A HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT! I’M GOING TO GO FIND MY SHOP STEWARD AND LODGE A COMPLAINT WITH LOWER MANAGEMENT!
Me: If that’s what you think is best!
Demon: DAMN RIGHT I DO! *starts to withdraw from the body*
Me: Sorry it didn’t work out.
Demon: *pauses* WAIT, YOU SAID DARK CHOCOLATE?
Me: Would you like some for the road?
Demon: IT’S BEEN A WHILE SINCE I HAD ANY WHILE I WAS WEARING HUMAN TASTE BUDS, SO, YEAH… JUST ONE BITE.
Me: Sure!
Demon: *eats chocolate, sighs appreciatively* I BETTER GO.
Me: Good luck with the complaint!
Demon: UM, YEAH, THANKS. *withdraws and vanishes in a puff of sulphuric smoke*
Me: *coughs* Gee, we never even got to the hay fever…

Not to be cliched, but I don’t like Mondays…

“My body is a TEMPLE ancient and crumbling probably cursed or haunted.”

…probably haunted. (click to embiggen)

Most of my adult life I have worked in office jobs where the work week runs from Monday to Friday, and office hours tended to hover around 8-to-5, with some workplaces and some positions have varying amounts of flexibility. I’ve never been a morning person, so whenever possible I try to get my “expected time to arrive at the office” no earlier that 9:30. That usually means I was expected to work later. Of course, like most tech companies, the expectation has become that a worker will be available at times outside of office hours, which is both exploitive and irritating. At my current workplace one of the ways they try to make that less annoying is to give most of us a lot of flexibility.

So, for instance, I currently have two recurring work-from-home days each week: Tuesday and Friday. On a work from home day I can sleep in a little bit, since I don’t need to commute in. It also means that as soon as I sign out and sign-off I’m already home. Yay! We also have the flexibility to call into meetings from pretty much anywhere. And since my group has a daily morning status meeting that I can fully participate in via phone while I’ve riding the bus. On good days, with the meeting goes quickly, we’re usually just wrapping up when my bus gets downtown. One more complicated days, I stay on the call while walking from the bus to the office, and sometimes for a while after I get to my desk.

But, back to the work-from-home days. When I first started having a single work-from-home day a week, my husband’s work schedule was such that I would get up, start making coffee, set up my work computer, sign in, check for urgent emails while my husband was taking his morning shower. Then I’d grab a travel mug, drive him to his workplace and hurry back to our place and settle down to work. The round trip to his workplace was less than 15 minutes, so that was like my morning coffee break. At the end of the day when I picked him up (if it wasn’t one of those days were a work emergency meant I needed to go back and keep working for a while), we could go out to dinner right away.

When his work shift moved to much earlier in the morning, that didn’t work any longer. And then when we moved, it became even less practical.

As it is, he comes home from work in the middle or late part of my work day. And since he often leaves early Friday (because he usually winds up working extra hours earlier in the week and isn’t supposed to log overtime except when told to), his return time on that day is very unpredictable. I therefore have a little game I play against myself. I start checking his location in the Find Friends app on my phone, and when I see he’s left the office, trying to keep tracking him until his bus is almost here. My goal to open the front door just before he gets to it and greet him. I consider that a touchdown and award myself 6 points when I pull it off.

But I also try to head out onto the veranda just before his bus gets to our stop (which I can see through a gap in the trees). If I see his bus pull up, I get an extra point. If I watch him stand at the corner and cross the street, I get another extra point.

This is all very silly, but particularly on stressful work days, just seeing my hubby standing out there on the corner knowing he will be home soon makes me happy.

Whether I manage to time it so that I open the door for him, when he comes in I always say something like “Hello, honey! How was your day?” and he almost always says something like, “Hang on! Let me turn off my headphones. I can’t hear you.” And I don’t mean to repeat this little routine every time—I just in that moment forget that he almost certainly has his headphones on listening to a podcast or an audiobook or music and of course he can’t hear me, because when you’re outside walking along a street or riding in a bus there is so much ambient background noise that you have to have the music turned up a ways to hear it at all.

So, Thursday was not a work from home day. But it was a day where a bunch of things went just a little bit wrong and I wound up working later than usual. Ordinarily when that happens, when I realize that I’m still in the office at a point when I might be walking in the door, I’ll call him to let him know I’m working late.

I didn’t this time. For some reason it didn’t even occur to me that I hadn’t called him until my bus was nearly home—about an hour and a half later than I usually arrive. At that juncture it seemed pointless to call, because I’d be home in just a few minutes. So I got off the bus, waited at the crosswalk, crossed the major arterial, walked up the hill, crossed the more ordinary road, and came around the corner at the driveway into the apartment parking lot and I see my husband standing at the foot of the stairs, looking expectantly my way. He smiled and turned around to go up the stairs just as I raised my hand to wave.

So I crossed the parking lot, climb the stairs, come into the house, and I can hear him talking to me, but I have my headphones on and my phone has been blasting music so I say, “Just a minute. Let me turn off the headphones.” And he starts laughing.

Once i had the headphones off he says, “That’s okay, just consider it payback for all the times you do that to me.” And then he told me how when he got home midafternoon, he put the pork roast we’d talked about making for dinner into the crockpot then took a nap. He woke up at about the time I usually get home, and he checked the Find Friends app and saw that I was still in the office. So he waiting until app showed that I was about halfway home before he started working the side dishes, and he kept monitoring my location. He took the trash out, and since the phone app had indicated I was nearly home, he’d paused at the stairs to watch for me.

I don’t have a point to any of this. I just find myself on Sunday evening, when I probably ought to be working on other things, being annoyed that the weekend is nearly over, and I decided it had been a while since I wrote a blog post that was just about our mundane life.

And there you have it.

Life is short and other musings about writing, reading, and variety in sf/f

“Life is short. Write that novel. Paint that painting. Try new recipes. Learn black magic. Go into the forest at night. Summon a demon. Earn that demon's trust. Become best friends with it. Brag to everyone else about your new cool demon best friend. Knit that sweater.”

Life is short… (click to embiggen)

So, I started Camp NaNoWriMo yesterday. I and a few friends have a cabin (which is basically a private chat group for up to 12 people who have set up projects). Camp NaNoWriMo is similar to the full fledged National Novel Writing Month, but it’s meant to be a bit more low-key and flexible. You get to set your own word count goal, for one. Lots of people use Camp NaNo to edit or revise a large project (such as whatever they wrote during a previous NaNoWriMo). It’s fun. I like having the private chat and having a structure for posting progress, getting and giving encouragement to friends, and so on.

Our cabin isn’t full, so if something like this appeals to you, set up a project and send me a message with your user name so I can send you an invitation to our cabin.

My particular project is an editing one, and I’m counting words as I go through scenes in the larger project. When I finish the edits on a scene, I copy it into a seperate Scrivener document to keep track of my word count. I was a little suprised at how much I got done on the first day, since it was a day at work where I don’t really get a chance to take a full lunch to spend writing, and I was feeling more than a bit out of it when I got home from work.

In other news, the 2019 Hugo and Campbell Awards Finalists have been announced. I was quite pleased to see that in every category at least one thing I nominated made it to the final ballot. The flip side of that is that there are also a lot of things with which I’m not familiar that made it onto the ballot, so I get to read a lot of new stuff soon!

I was really happy to see that Archive of Our Own—a massive fan fiction repository—is nominated in the Related Works category. It’s a little weird, because there are thousands of contributors (including me, though I have such a teeny tiny bit of stuff posted I don’t really count). Clearly if it wins, thy won’t be handing one of the big rocket trophies to every contributor. There are a couple of things in that category that I haven’t read, so I don’t yet know if AO3 is going to be my first choice for Related Work, yet.

As I said, I’m once again looking forward to reading stuff that has been nominated for the Hugos. As happy as I am to see things I nominated make the list, I also love seeing new things that I haven’t read, yet. Because, as I mentioned as part of another point last week, no one’s favorites list can encompass all of science fiction/fantasy. And that isn’t just because a whole lot of it is being published today (although with self-publishing being so much easier, and the internet making things more discoverable, there is an incredibly wide variety to choose from).

But a lot of people operate under the illusion that in times past a single fan could, indeed, read everything in the genre that had been published that year. It only seems that way if you assume that only the authors and stories you have heard of years later are who and what were being published at that time. A great example of this misapprehension is one of the flaws in a recent blog post by whacko Brian Niemeier (that I won’t link to directly, but since Camestros Felapton does a nice analysis of some of the flaws, I’ll link to his post: Did fandom cause the collapse of civilisation or vice versa? Let’s Assume Neither 🙂).

Niemeier makes the claim that “back in the day” everyone read Edgar Rice Burroughs and everyone listened to The Shadow radio show. Now, it’s true that Burroughs’ Tarzan books sold so well that he was able to form a film company and produce his own adaptations of his books, something that would be unthinkable for an author to do today. But it’s simply not true that everyone read the Tarzan books, if for no other reason that regular readers of novels and the like have always been a minority of the population. James Branch Cabell, a contemporary of Burroughs, sold more copies of his books during the nineteen-teens and -twenties than Burroughs did, yet he is largely forgotten today. There were scores of magazines publishing sci fi, fantasy, horror, and related fantastical fiction, publishing thousands of stories during that time most of which written by hundreds of authors many of whom we’ve never heard of.

While there is a huge amount of fantastic fiction to love now, there was a huge amount then, too. And I think that’s great! Because not everyone likes the same things, and the more variety there is, the more likely that there is something wonderful to discover and read for the first time, right? Similarly, the fact that many people like many things, mean that something you or I create is likely to find a receptive audience.

I am quite certain that if someone wrote a story about a conjurer who becomes best pals with a demon and they take up knitting together, someone out there will want to read it.

And those are good things.

Confessions of a bergamot addict

I love Earl Grey Tea. Lots of people who really love tea emphatically do not like Earl Grey–and that’s perfectly fine. We all have different tastes. There are foods other people love that make me want to gag, and I am happy to let them enjoy those foods. Which is to say, this post is not meant to convince other people to like the same tea I do, nor to disparage anyone who doesn’t.

I know that I do not have sophisticated taste in tea. I grew up in rural communities where Lipton Flo-Thru® teabags were considered fancy. Most of the grocery stores seemed to carry black tea blends from Tetley, Red Rose, and Lipton. Occasionally they had Twinings teas, and they were more expensive than the others, so I had heard of and seen Earl Grey tea long before I ever tasted it.

Once I had tasted it, it became my favorite tea for many, many years.

There are various stories about how Earl Grey tea came about. The one that seems least far-fetched is that oil of bergamot was added to black tea in order to counteract the high level of lime that came out of the well at Howick Hall in Northumberland, where C Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, and his wife entertained guests. In 1830 Robert Jackson & Company claimed to be the first to sell the tea after obtaining the recipe from Lord Grey, though written references to “Grey’s Tea” only date back to the 1850s. And the oldest advertisements using the name “Earl Grey’s Mixture” date from some years later, in the 1880s, and from a different tea company entirely, Charlton & Co (which was founded by a former partner of Robert Jackson).

Jackson’s company was later bought by R. Twinings and Company, Limited, and for decades Twinings maintained they were the only company following the original recipe. Until 2011, when they reformulated it (to much protest).

The bergamot orange comes from a citrus tree that is grown commercially in Italy. Like all commercial citrus fruits, it is a hybrid of wild varieties that are now propagated by grafting–in other words, every bergamot tree in the world is a clone of one particular plant.

As I said, I’m something of a bergamot addict, by which I mean that I like many different blends of Earl Grey. The Numi Tea Company, for instance, sells an Aged Earl Grey, which they make by layering bergamot and the tea leaves to age for several weeks. The aged tea has a subtler almost smoky citrus taste to my tongue than the typical Earl Grey. Stash, on the other hand, sells a Double Bergamot Earl Grey, which despite the name all they say is that it has more bergamot oil than their regular Earl Grey. In any case, the citrus taste of this blend is more prominent.

Then there are lavender Earl Greys teas. My favorite, when I can find it, is Revolution’s Earl Grey Lavender. The lavender taste compliments and mellows the citrus, to my tongue. Stash also has a lavender Earl Grey, though the name they market it under is Breakfast in Paris. For some reason they only mention the lavender in small print on the boxes. Stash’s is good, though not quite as brisk to my tongue as Revolution’s version. Revolution’s tea is a blend of black, oolong, and darjeeling teas, which may also effect the flavor. Stash also includes vanilla extract. Who knows.

Stash also makes and Earl Grey Black & Green tea, which is a blend of green tea and black tea with bergamot oil. I happen to like this tea better than the regular Stash Earl Grey, though not as much as the Double Bergamot.

All of these come in tea bags, and as one former co-worker liked to say, American and European tea bags contain the stuff swept up from the floor of the tea aging house. Loose teas are what true tea connoisseurs swear by. And when I make tea from loose leaves the taste does seem stronger than from bags.

Of course, to make it from loose leaves you need to have an infuser. I have a few that are intended to making a single cup, but the issue then is that I have to clean out the used leaves, wet, clumping leaves after making a cup, and I wind up switching back to tea bags for any cup after the first. Until a few weeks ago, where I gave in an bought a small glass infuser pot, that lets me make about four mugs worth of tea at once. So I don’t have to deal with the used leaves after each cup.

Which is a good thing, because my friend, Mark, bought me this very tasty loose leaf Earl Grey for Christmas before last, and I hadn’t been drinking it very fast. And the leaves start going stale after a while. Since getting the infuser pot I’ve been drinking more tea and less coffee on the weekends, and really going through that tin of tea.

Which gives me an excuse to go shopping for more.

If you happen to have any recommendations for loose leaf teas, particularly Earl Grey blends, let me know!

Then we can (virtually) sit down together for a nice cuppa…

Definitely did not dodge the snow and ice

It may not look like a lot, but…

New residents to the Seattle area always get amused when snow is in the forecast. Native Seattlites and long-term residents leave work early, make grocery store runs, and prepare for the worst at any forecast of more than a dusting of snow. “It’s only 2/4/6 inches!” these recent arrivals shout. “You guys are really overreacting.” If those people still live here the following winter, they do not repeat that folly. I grew up in the central Rocky Mountain region, where temperatures of -25ºF were common, where snow was deep enough most Octobers that you had to wear snow boots and a heavy coat to go trick-or-treating as a child, and so forth. So I thought I knew all about snow and cold weather. As a teen-ager when we first moved to western Washington I didn’t get it either.

There are several reasons it is different. First, we just don’t get that much snow here, at all. Maintaining large fleets of snowploughs that only get used about once every three years just doesn’t make sense for most city and county governments. We have plows, but most are the kind that can be attached to generic utility trucks. So they aren’t quick to deploy, and the drivers don’t get much practice most years.

A related issue is that usually we just don’t get that cold. The ground (and especially the asphalt on roads) stays much warmer throughout the winter than at other places. That means that if we get more than a dusting, the first bunch of snowfall immediately melts when it hits the roadway, but then as more snow falls, the asphalt gets cold enough that that melted snow turns into a sheet of ice. Which more snow is falling onto. Anyone who has lived in places that get lots of snow and has driven on it should know that there is a big difference between driving on snow and driving on ice hiding under snow.

Then there is geography. It’s very hilly here. Really hilly. And again because we don’t get freezing weather and snow often, people build houses on hills that in other parts of the country no sane person would. Several of the small towns I lived in back in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Nebraska had one or two stretches of road on steep hills. Those roads never had houses or businesses along them, and every winter the city would put up big roadblocks to completely block that section of road until spring. It was a convenient short route during the summer, but the rest of the time it was closed because it is too steep to drive on safely with snow. About 80% of the roads in Seattle are as steep as the hills that used to get blocked off every winter in those small towns.

All of those hills and the many bodies of water mean that we have microclimates. My favorite example was back when I lived near the ship canal. One day I needed to walk up to a friend’s house that was a mere six blocks from my place. Six blocks up a steep hill. It was very cold and raining hard at my place, down at the bottom of the hill, and it looked like a fog bank was engulfing the hill. I started walking. About half way up, I hit the “fog bank” which was actually snow. There was almost an inch of snow at my friend’s place, and it had been snowing for a couple of hours (so she was surprised I had shown up). I picked up the stuff I was supposed to collect and walked back down the hill. It was still raining hard with no sign of snow there, just six blocks away. So you may leave your house one morning thinking you only have rain to deal with on a short drive, and suddenly find yourself slipping and sliding on ice and slush. Probably sliding backward, because you were going uphill…

Because of the microclimates and how easy a very slight shift in the upper atmosphere can flip us between snow, rain, sleet, or freezing rain, we occasionally get situations where the ground and sidewalks are covered in deep mixtures of snow, ice and slush. That is extremely hard to walk on, and your clothes get soaked with barely-not-freezing water. So even if you try to avoid driving, it can be an ordeal just to walk to a nearby store or to get to the nearest bus stop or light rail station.

The sidewalks are particularly bad because while it is the responsibility of property owners to shovel the walks, most people don’t own snow shovels (cf. above mention that we only get significant snow about once every three years)—one of the local news blogs shared a video earlier this week someone posted online of a neighbor shoveling snow using a Swiffer (indoor mopping gadget). When you combine that with how many stretches of sidewalk go past large apartment buildings (whose owners are just as unlikely as individual home owners to own a snow shovel) and how many stretches of road go past green strips and other public property which doesn’t get shoveled (or in my end of the region, how many neighborhoods don’t have sidewalks at all), well, it’s just a mess.

This year’s event has been a combination of several of our worst problems. The first big snowfall a bit over a week ago turned into sheets of ice with snow on top. Arterials were plowed and de-iced, but more snow kept coming, and sides streets all over the region remained icy slip-and-slides of doom. And more snow keeps coming. We get a break and people go out and try to shovel their drives and sidewalks…. and then it snows again. Then we got the rain/snow mix that put heavy ice on power lines and tree branches resulting in 90,000 households (including us) being without most of the night.

For some perspective: in the last 10 days we’ve had 8 times more snow than Boston has all winter. We are already the snowiest February recorded in the area in 35 years. Seatac Airport has broken a record for most snow in a single day set in 1949.

And we don’t know if it is over. Things are melting a bit today. It’s supposed to be much warmer tomorrow, which will cause more melting (at which point more trees will fall as the ground on all those hills I mentioned above turns to mud) and we may get a bit of flooding some places. Then another cold air mass looks to be moving in late Wednesday night, meaning all those wet street will turn to ice again just in time for the Thursday commute… and another wet air mass is coming toward us from the south hitting either late Thursday or early Friday. That might mean more snow. It might mean rain. It might mean freezing rain. It is likely going to mean all three just depending on where you are.

So, fun?

The unending struggle against thermal equilibrium, or, trying to get my coffee just right

© 2014 Gene Breshears

Coffee always helps.

I have a favorite coffee mug. It’s purple and holds a large amount of coffee. It’s a nice, solid mug that isn’t top heavy (a feature that a previous favorite mug did not share, which resulted in a lot of spilled coffee and swearing). You know those markings on the side of most automatic drip coffee carafes that tell you how many cups are in the pot? If my favorite mug is completely empty and I fill it from such a pot, the numbers on the side indicate that I’ve poured out a bit more than four cups from the pot. A standard-ish modern coffee mug usually holds about two cups. So when I said this one is large I meant it.

I like the mug a lot.

There really is only one problem, which I have been dealing with for several years, ever since we bought our current microwave.

This mug (my favorite) and this microwave do not quite get along... © 2019 Gene Breshears

This mug (my favorite) and this microwave do not quite get along…

For various reasons, most mornings when I go to get myself my first cup of coffee at home, there is usually enough cold coffee leftover from the previous day to fill my favorite mug. So I fill the mug and stick it in the microwave and immediately face a dilemma. If I press the 1 minute button on the microwave, by the time it is done, the coffee in the mug will be only barely warmer than tepid. If I select, say, 1 minute and 30 seconds, when I reach for the mug I will find that handle is scalding hot, while the body of the mug is only slightly warm, and the coffee is also only slightly warm. If I select a full two minutes, the coffee itself will be a very nice temperature, but not only with the handle of the mug be too hot to hold, but the body of the mug will also be a warmer than is pleasant to hold.

Exactly why the mug itself heats up more than the coffee in this microwave doesn’t really matter. The thing is, according to the Laws of Thermodynamics, once the mug has reached a point where it is warmer than the coffee, one should need only to wait for a bit, and the mug will cool down while the coffee absorbs some of that heat the mug is losing and warm up. So you would think that the ideal option would be to select the one and a half minute cycle, carefully carry the mug grasping the body and not the too-hot-to-touch handle over to my desk or whatever, and in let’s say five minutes time everything would be perfect.

But it doesn’t work. Most of the mug handle’s heat, instead of going into the rest of the mug and eventually the coffee, seems to mostly go into the air around it. The upshot is that by the time the mug’s handle is cool enough to comfortably grip it, the coffee has cooled down closer to room temperature than the warmth it had before.

Once a fresh pot is made, I have an easier time managing the temperature. Usually the coffee is cold by the time I’ve drank half the mug, so I can top it off from the bot and it reaches a nice warm—not too hot, not tepid. And if can do a little 30 second zap if the coffee is a bit cooler than I like. So long as I don’t let it get back down to room temperature, anyway.

I’m sure there’s some sort of life lesson I should be able to derive from this. It’s like the tiniest annoyance in my life. It’s been on my mind more lately because between one or the other of us being sick and all the weird weather, I’m been working from home a lot more often. And this will surprise some people since I seem to by such a coffee addict, but I almost never make coffee at home on days I go into the office. My first caffeine of the day on those days happens is the free stuff they have in the kitchenette down the hall from my desk.

Ah, well, I’ll just have to soldier on!

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