Tag Archive | tea

Bone China Teacups, or more confessions of a sentimental fool

My new Sunday ritual involves tea and the iPad on the veranda.

My new Sunday ritual involves tea and the iPad on the veranda.

I’ve mentioned many times before that I’m a packrat, son of packrats, grandson of packrats, great-grandson of packrats, et cetera. Several times I have tried to purge things that I am just holding onto because of the packrat tendencies. The last couple or years I have been actively trying to be much more ruthless about it. Having to pack everything that had accumulated while living in the same place for more than 20 years (and more embarrassingly, finding things stashed in the back of closets that I had forgotten about decades okay) proved a very important motivator for the ruthlessness.

Some possession resist the ruthlessness. For instance, I have five bone china teacups that I inherited from my late first husband. They aren’t five perfectly matching teacups. They have exactly the same pattern of flowers printed on the outside one one side, and on the inside on the other side, and they all have gold rims. But three of them have tiny round handles, and five have slightly less tiny triangular handles.

The thing is, shortly after we first moved in together, back in 1991, Ray told me that they had belonged to his grandmother and one other relative. I am pretty sure that he told me many more details than that—for instance, since they are nearly identical yet clearly come for two slightly different sets, did three of them come from one relative and two from the other?—but all I remember is that Ray called them “Grandma’s Teacups.” And so, since he died, I have hung onto them, keeping them packed away in an upper cabinet, because what kind of monster would throw away the only things his late husband had had to remember his grandmother by?

Ray only had the teacups. No matching saucers or any other items from the china set. Because he felt that teacups ought to have saucers, when he found a single bone china saucer with a similar rose pattern (and the gold paint on the rim) at a Goodwill or Value Village or similar, he bought it. Never mind that Grandma’s cups were no longer white but had turned that antique ivory color that really old bone china takes, while the saucer was new enough that it remained very white—he thought of the saucer as belong with the teacups, so I kept it, too.

Ray died more than 21 years ago, and for most of that time the five teacups and one saucer were carefully kept untouched in a cabinet. And even during the most ruthless stage of the move from Ballard to Shoreline, I refused to even consider giving them up. Never mind that so many other things I had owned for years were subjected to the criteria that if I couldn’t remember when I last used it, it goes—the teacups and the saucer stayed.

I like tea. I have a lot of specific blends of tea of which I am particularly fond. At the office, for instance, I drink the company-provided coffee in the morning, then switch to my own teabags in the afternoon. At home I have a rather more extensive collection to teabags. I also have some loose teas, but as I mentioned a couple of months ago, making single cups of tea with an infuser was more fuss than I was willing to take. Until I bought an infuser pot, which lets me make 4-5 cups of tea from loose leaves in a single action.

Since I bought the infuser, I have developed a new Sunday routine (that sometimes also happens on Saturday): rather than grinding coffee beans and making a pot of coffee, now I heat a couple of quarts of water to boiling, select one of my loose teas, make a pot of tea, and then get out one of the bone china teacups and use it to drink the tea over the course of the day. I usually wind up making a second pot because 4-5 cups of tea don’t contain quite enough caffeine to cover my current addiction.

For the first few weeks after I obtained the pot, I was choosing a different teacup out of the set while using the one saucer with it. About a month ago when I was preparing to take a carload of stuff to Value Village I had an epiphany. At that time, I had two quests, if you were, that I pursued at each visit to Value Village: after I dropped off stuff, I would park, grab one of the scores of coupons on our dash (there was a 7 month period while we were prepping to move and then moving and then unpacking were every weekend I took at least one—and usually multiple—carloads of stuff to Value Village, and I got a coupon each time), then go inside and first go through all the commerative plates hoping to find a tiger plate to replace the one tiger plate that broke during the move, then go through the glassware hoping to find a sixth cut crystal white wine glass to complete my set. Since I’m already doing that, I could also start going through the dinnerware looking for china tea saucers that had a rose motif and a gold rim. Because since my five cups didn’t exactly match, there is no reason the saucers have to, either.

One my first trip looking for saucers I realized I needed to add another must-have. In addition to having roses and a gold rim, the saucers also had to have that little depression in the middle into which the cup would sit. I found a pair the met the criteria on the second trip, so now I have three saucers to go with my five teacups.

And I also have instituted a rotation system, so after I use a cup and a saucer, each goes to the bottom of the pile. The upshot of all of this is that all of the teacups and all of the saucers I own are getting used on a regular basis, so I should not feel guilty for hanging onto them.

Now, if any of my friends who like tea would like to come over sometime for a tea party where we get to use them all at once, not only will I not object, I may also get a bit teary-eyed. But that’s okay.

Because a little bit of sentimentality is always allowed.

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…

Can I offer y’all some tea?

Making sun tea on my veranda.

Making sun tea on my veranda.

A while back I was reading with more than a bit of amusement a conversation on tumblr where some Americans (by which I mean people from the U.S.), specifically some of my fellow southerners, were trying to explain sweet tea to some British folks. There were a few Brits who had spent some time in the U.S. also chiming in. I’m not sure if the most amusing bit was how many of the Brits were scandalized that most Americans don’t own tea kettles, or how horrified they were to learn about southern sweet tea. Southern sweet tea is not the same as tea which has had sugar or honey added. Southern sweet tea is an altogether different phenomenon. Just for a hint of what I mean, there is a recipe for Tea Punch (a different drink, but likely the granddaddy of sweet tea) from shortly after the American Revolution that includes this: “Make a pint and a half of strong tea in the usual way, then pour it boiling over a pound and a half of sugar…”

This article gives a nice overview: Why Sweet Tea Is the South’s Quintessential Drink.

In the movie version of Steel Magnolias Dolly Parton’s character observes that “sweet tea is the house wine of the south.” Which is true, though there can be weird nuances. For one thing, there are people who disagree about which parts of the country constitute the south. Seriously! I once had a temporary co-worker from Georgia sniff very disdainfully at I and another co-worker after we mentioned that our families came mostly from Oklahoma and Texas, that “those aren’t part of the south, those are in the West.” I have also heard people from North or South Carolina insist the Florida is not part of the south. I’ve been told by one acquaintance who grew up in New Orleans that “N’Orleans doesn’t really do sweet tea!” Whereas a friend whose family comes from other parts of Louisianna once commented after sampling my sweet tea, that I didn’t have nearly enough sugar in it. Some people insist that Sweet Tea states should get their own designation, with arguments about whether the “tea line” encompasses all of Texas, or only East Texas, for instance.

I grew up on sweet tea, and I learned how to make it from my mom and various grandmothers and one grandfather, and each of them had a slightly different recipe. They were all good in their own ways, but they were also very different. Many families guard their sweet tea recipes, sometimes referring to them by names like, “Great Aunt Pearl’s Sweet Tea.” So, before we get any further, I’m going to warn you right now that no, I absolutely will not tell you my Great-grandma S.J.’s Sweet Tea recipe, nor Great-grandma I’s, nor my Nice Grandma’s Sweet Tea recipe nor her Sun Tea recipe (which is a different beast altogether).

What I will do is tell you my Evil Grandmother’s Sweet Tea recipe. One reason why is because she frequently told it to other people outside the family. Another reason is because I don’t think hers was the best, but it will give you an idea of how these go.

My Evil Grandma insisted that Sweet Tea was best made in an aluminum pitcher. She had a 2-quart aluminum pitcher for just that purpose. To make her tea, you fill a whistling tea pot with water and set it to boil. While it is going, you measure out four and a half cups of sugar into the bottom of the aluminum pitcher, then you add a half teaspoon of baking soda. You let the kettle get to a loud whistling, then pour the still boiling water into the aluminum pitcher. Stir furiously until the sugar dissolved, then count out fourteen Lipton flow-through tea bags, put them in the pitcher, stick a lid on it, and put it into the fridge for one hour. Then, take the pitcher out, pull out the tea bags, but make sure you squeeze them so all the dark tea gets into the pitcher. Top off the pitcher with however much tap water is needed to fill, and stir some more (because some of the sugar probably precipitated out). Put it back in the fridge for at least another hour. Now, you can serve it over ice.

Now that you’ve read the one recipe that I am willing to disclose, we can analyze it a bit. Most of the sweet tea recipes I have acquired over the years use tea bags, not loose tea. And very often people have strong feelings about which ones to use. I have seen, for instance, recipes that call for specific brands and varieties of tea bags–specifying X bags of specific brand of black tea plus Y bags of a specific brand of mint tea plus Z bags of a specific brand of orange pekoe, for instance.

I will neither confirm nor deny having witnessed two relatives almost come to blows over an argument about whether an Earl Grey tea is ever suitable for sweet tea (with a third relative opining that Earl Grey is all right in a sun tea as long as you have a few other kinds with it, but really should only go in to sweet tea if you have nothing else).

Why do some recipes include baking soda, you may ask? Tea leaves contain tannic acid which is very bitter. When you steep most teas for more than, say, 2 minutes, you can get a lot of tannic acid in the tea. Some people swear that a small amount of baking soda (which is an alkaline compound and will neutralize an equal amount of acid) mellows out the tannic acid flavor. I’ve also heard people claim that the baking soda helps with dissolving more sugar into the water.

Many recipes specify how to boil the water. There are people who insist the sugar must be in the pitcher that the hot water or hot tea is poured into. Others say that most of the sugar should be mixed with the water as it is brought to a boil.

My Evil Grandma’s sweet tea was very dark, nearly the color of coffee. A lot of people say that is two strong, the tea should have more of a rich reddish color than a deep brown.

Because most of my life has been lived outside of the sweet tea states, I got used to drinking the rather weak and completely unsweetened tea served here. Also, in my late twenties when I realized just how rampantly adult-onset diabetes stampedes through my dad’s family, I made the decision to mostly stop sweetening my tea or coffee. And now that I am diabetic, I don’t make sweet tea ever.

And while we’re on the subject of diabetes, I want to point out that all of the sweet tea recipes from my mother’s side of the family called for way more sugar than any that I learned from Dad’s side, yet Dad’s family is where almost all the diabetes is. So don’t come at me on that.

While I don’t make sweet tea, I still make and drink a lot of tea and have many fond memories of sitting down with friends and family, everyone with a frosty glass of tea, on hot summer days. So the last few weeks, after my husband brought home a one gallon glass jug, I’ve been experimenting with sun tea recipes, based only loosely on my Nice Grandma’s. Put the collection of specific tea bags in the water, set it out in the sun for an hour, then remove the bags and let the jug chill in the fridge. The one thing to remember about sun tea is that since the water is never brought to a boil, it is more susceptible to bacterial contamination, so you want to finish off the whole batch in no more than two days.

It’s not quite the same, but drinking the cold, unsweetened tea that I’ve made this way, brings all those fond memories back. As Fred Thompson observed in his book, Cornbread Nation,

“Sweet tea—your mother’s sweet tea—means you are home.”

Tea and books and maintaining an even keel

A picture of a teapot, a steaming teacup and a pile of books: “Now that's what I call a hot date!”

“Now that’s what I call a hot date!”

There is something very relaxing about making a cup of tea, then sitting down with a book (or my Kindle or the iBook app on my iPad) and reading. It was especially nice to do that out on the veranda when the weather was warmer. I still go out there with a mug of tea, but I wind up drinking the tea faster because it’s getting cold (and I’m chilled). So I come back inside once the tea is done. Besides, now that we get frequent visitors to the bird feeder, I feel guilty being out there and scaring the little guys off.

I do sometimes sit in front of the window and watch them. Which means I don’t always get much reading done. But it’s all good.

It has only been a few weeks since I changed the format of my Friday round up of links, and I have to say that the much shorter list has made Thursday night feel much more relaxing. I wish that I had been self-aware to realize that the old long form version was such a stressful chore, but that’s okay.

I’ve mentioned that I began questioning how much effort was going into the process because the number of people reading the round up had gone way down. What I didn’t mention was the timeline. If I look at the stats on my blog, I can point to a very specific time when the readership dropped: the first Friday after the Inauguration. They didn’t drop all the way to the recent lows right away, but the drop off was noticeable.

Now, long before then, the round up had always included a stories about unpleasant topics. And I dare say the ratio of bad news to good news was about the same. But I totally understand how exhausting it is to be reminded about this bad stuff since there is now so much of it, and it’s hurting everyone, and it feels as if there’s nothing we can do about.

So, that’s another motive for the change: I don’t want to contribute to other people’s sense of exhaustion or hopelessness, and I don’t need to wear myself out, either.

This doesn’t mean I’m not still reading as much news as before. Nor does it mean that I’ll stop calling my congresscritters and adding my voice to the throng. I’m just not spending as much time aggregating the news for other people.

There are other habits I’m trying to get into to try to limit how often I’m having to think about unpleasant topics. That’s part of the reason there is a lot less activity from me on Twitter, for instance. I still find reading my friends, acquaintances, et al on Twitter useful, I’m just limiting how much time I spend on it.

I’m behind on my writing goals (NaNoWriMo notwithstanding; there are things that I meant to have done before November that I didn’t get done). But there’s a lot of stuff going on, and I just have to accept that some of my energy is going to go into other things. And some of those other things are about taking care of myself and my husband.

Like curling up with a good book and a nice warm cup of tea.

One of those things we’re doing this week specifically along that line is we are not going to drive down to see family for Thanksgiving. I don’t need the stress of the drive each way. Neither of us needs the stress of constantly biting our tongues around my Trump-voting, Bible-thumping relatives. It will do wonders for the blood pressures of several of my relatives, too, truth be told.

Which means that instead of figuring out what dishes I can make in advance and transport down there, we’re doing a whole dinner! So far it’s just the two of us; which will be fine. And since I love talking about food, here’s our current menu:

  • Relish tray (many many olives, pickles, pickled carrots, pickled green beans, pickled asparagus so far…)
  • Turkey (my hubby found a 10-pound one, so not too big!)
  • Stuffing
  • Green bean casserole
  • Creamy sweet potatoes
  • Gravy
  • Sweet potato pie

There will likely be other things added before we’re done.

Also, the official cocktail of our holiday will be a Spicy Manhattan. Based on the recipe suggested at Central Market, this weekend, but after trying it, I have to change it so:

2 oz of your favorite bourbon or rye
1.5 oz of sweet vermouth
Several dashes of orange bitters
Tillen Farms Fire & Spice Organic Maraschino Cherries

Chill your glasses. In a cocktail shaker with ice, mix the vermouth and bourbon, stir at least 45 seconds. Shake a generous number of dashes of bitters into the cocktail glass, strain the contents of the shaker into the glass (turn the glass while he do so to mix the bitters better). Garnish with two of the spicy cherries.

Cheers! And happy holidays!

(Also, feel free to leave your menu or your favorite holiday food in the comments!)

Weather shifts, linguistic relativity, and the search for the perfect writing beverage

“Have you ever stopped to think that maybe coffee is addicted to me?”

“Have you ever stopped to think that maybe coffee is addicted to me?”

According to the “Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax” a particular ethnic group had over 50 words for snow. Though I’ve also heard people misquote the same pseudo-factoid as 180 words for snow. You can follow the link to get some information on the faulty reasoning that led to the initial viral spread of the misunderstanding of an anthropologist’s book in the 1940s, but I always thought that if the myth were true, that the dialect of English spoken by inhabitants of Seattle would have developed at least 180 synonyms for drizzle. Not rain, drizzle.

Despite Seattle’s reputation for rain, we don’t get a lot of the heavy rainstorms that people who live in other parts of the world are used to. We don’t actually get that many rainy days at all. What we have are lots of overcast days. Many, many days of cool, damp weather that may include a little drizzle or mist here and there. Yeah, during some months (November, for instance) we get some deluges. This year we had literally the wettest winter since we started keeping records here 122 years ago, and last year was the second-wettest ever, so the pattern may be changing. We’ll see. In any case, much of our reputation for rain comes from all those cool, damp overcast days where it feels as if it must have just rained a bit ago, even though it may not have for several days.

Another reasons we have such a reputation is the sneaky prank Mother Nature likes to play on newcomers every spring. Every year, at some point in the month of May, we get a week or two of weather that seems like summer. It usually only gets into the low or middle seventies (Farenheit), but the thing is that after months of overcast days, drizzly days, and occasional rainstorms, a week or two of sunny weather with no rain at all and warm temperatures in the daytime fools people who think that summer is here. Never mind that most of those nights the temperatures drop back down to the 50s or 40s, in the middle of the day it was warm and sunny and dry, so summer must be here.

And then the June Gloom hits.

An upper atmosphere trough settles in causing almost constant on-shore flow. Cool, moist air from the ocean keeps coming inland. So every night we get overcast/foggy cool weather, and the clouds and fog may or may not burn off at all during the day time. And we get drizzles and light showers. Temperatures may get up into the low 70s for a little bit each day, but between the lack of sun, the damp, and the rain, it doesn’t feel that warm. Statistically, we have mostly June Gloom instead of summer until about July 12. And particularly in contrast to those couple of weeks of what seemed like summer, that long cool period breaks the spirit of people who aren’t from around here.

This last weekend was the end of our faux summer. And it was a lot warmer than our usual May foray into warmth. The temperatures got up into the 80s. But then the drizzle and rain came back. I happen to love the rain and the cooler days, but it this time it was a bit of a shock even to me. I couldn’t figure out last night—after I got home from work and ran my two errands, then peeled off my office drag and switched to shorts—why I was so cold! I actually had to pull a pair of sweat pants out of the drawer!

I’ve also heard a theory that the reason people who don’t live here long think it rains a lot is precisely because common English doesn’t have a single word that means “cool, overcast, with the impending feeling of rain.” Since the categories we sort things into are at least someone dictated by the language(s) we speak, the argument goes, people actually mentally perceive those days without rain as rainy. A friend once told me about the time she admonished her husband and son to go outside and get some activity in while the sun was out… it was late winter/early spring and the sun was not out at all, the sky was very overcast. But it wasn’t raining and it had been the day before. She said, “You live enough years in Seattle, and you start seeing any time when it isn’t raining and it isn’t so dark you need artificial light as sunny!”

We’d had enough warm days that I was starting to think that making a pot of ice tea might be a good idea. Of course, we tossed out a lot of redundant dishes and such during the packing, and when I looked in the cupboards, I couldn’t find a proper pitcher. We haven’t completely unpacked, yet, so I may well have something that would work in one of the boxes. So I didn’t want to run out and buy a pitcher. The other problem is that Michael will only drink tea if it is so saturated with sugar that you can’t get more to dissolve in. Ordinary sweet tea like my grandma’s used to make (where you dissolve several cups of sugar into the tea when the water is still boiling, because once you’ve iced it you can’t get them much sugar to dissolve into it) isn’t quite sweet enough for him. Meanwhile, I can’t drink that much sugar anymore, so I drink all my tea (hot or cold) or coffee without any sweetener.

If we had had one more day of hot weather, I would have broken down, made a mug of hot unsweetened tea with my electric kettle, then poured it into a big glass full of ice cubes. Which isn’t quite as good as having a whole pitcher of tea you can refill from, but tastes good. And now we’re going to cool weather for a while. So I’ve pulled my collection of tea bags out of the pantry. The tea bags had been out of sight since sometimes early in the move, so I haven’t been making tea at night. On days that I’m home all day, I wind up making a second pot of coffee and drinking coffee into the evening. Which is fine, except I think that tea in the afternoon and evening changes the way my brain works.

Maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to get back into the writing zone. Or maybe I’m just too tired from all the packing and unpacking. And it isn’t as if there isn’t still a lot of unpacking to do!

Maybe I should have a nice cup of tea before I tackle the next box.

Freaks — caffeinated or not

“You know how you just wake up some mornings and you feel so refreshed and cheerful, you’re like ‘I don’t even need coffee’? Me, either. And I don’t trust anyone who says they do. Uncaffeinated freaks.”—Nanea Hoffman, SweatpantsAndCoffee.com

“You know how you just wake up some mornings and you feel so refreshed and cheerful, you’re like ‘I don’t even need coffee’? Me, either. And I don’t trust anyone who says they do. Uncaffeinated freaks.” — Nanea Hoffman, SweatpantsAndCoffee.com

One time my husband and I were discussing sleep schedules, and specifically how I much I regret it if I stay up too late on weekends, because it is so difficult to get up and going on time come Monday morning. He didn’t quite understand what I was getting at, and made a comment along the lines of, “Maybe since you don’t drink coffee during the work week, you shouldn’t drink coffee in the weekends.”

I stared at him open-mouth for a moment then asked, “What make you think I don’t drink coffee during the work week?”

“I’ve never heard you say you’re going on a coffee break.”

So I had to explain to him that in the software industry (at least the places I’ve worked) people don’t take official coffee breaks. You get to the office, you hang up your jacket and so forth, boot up your workstation, grab your coffee mug and head to the kitchen. You then bring your full coffee cup back to your desk and sip it while you work. And you go back to the kitchen and refill your coffee cup whenever the heck you want to, and bring it back to your desk.

Yeah, sometimes you wind up hanging in the kitchen chatting with co-workers. And some folks prefer to have a specific time they leave their desks for a break, but most of us take a lot of mini-breaks throughout the day. And, of course, folks whose jobs involve answering the phone (tech support, customer service, sales) don’t have the flexibility to get up and go refill coffee whenever. But for the rest of us, particularly since most of us aren’t hourly and wind up putting in more than 40 hours a week anyway, don’t really worry about rigid break times.

I do block off lunch time. I used to not do that, and work while eating at my desk like a lot of my co-workers. But some years ago I had a boss who really believed that one of your responsibilities is to take care of yourself so you can do a good job. I still eat at my desk, but my work computer is logged out, and I spend the time writing on my iPad or catching up on the news.

At the time we had this conversation, I was drinking on a typical workday at least six mugs of coffee a day.

The other reason he thought I didn’t drink coffee during the week is that I seldom made pots of coffee at home during the week. I’m a cheapskate, son of cheapskate, grandson of penny-pinchers, et cetera. Of course I’m not going to make extra coffee for myself if I can get it free at work! Which proves that I’m nowhere near the caffeine fiend that I sometimes talk like, because I can muddle through the morning get ready for work routine without several cups of coffee.

Note, however, that I didn’t say without caffeine. See, on a typical Monday morning, for instance, there is coffee in the pot left over from Sunday. And yes, I will stick a mug of that in the microwave and heat it up on Mondays. And other days, well, before I had the fancy electric teakettle thing, I would fill a mug with water, drop a teabag in it, and stick it in the microwave. Just a little caffeine to start the day, right?

On a typical work day, then, I have a mug of some caffeinated beverage early in the morning, then a couple of mugs of office coffee once I get to the office, and then four or so cups of tea in the afternoon. I betray my cheapskate heritage on that, because the office tea selection is often pretty boring, so I have a few of my favorites (double bergamot earl grey, aged earl grey, jasmine green, lavender earl grey, blackberry oolong, green & black earl grey… that sort of thing) in a drawer at the office.

So, yes, I need my caffeine. It gets me through the day. And some of it is in the form of coffee. And I sometimes make disparaging remarks about people who don’t indulge. And I know that I shouldn’t. Some folks have medical reasons to avoid caffeine. Some people have religious objections. And some people just don’t like coffee or tea. I am boggled at the last, but try to remind myself that lots of people are completely baffled at just how much I hate the taste of raisins.

So I try to live in peace with the decaffeinated freaks around me, even the ones who actually like the satanic fruit in muffins or cookies or whatever new kind of food someone has decided to ruin with raisins. And I hope that they will be equally accepting of what a weird caffeinated freak I am. Because on the whole, all people are strange. If there’s someone who doesn’t appear to be weird in some way, that just means you don’t know them well enough.


It’s December, and that means I’m trying to write yet another original Christmas Ghost Story to read at our annual holiday get together. But as is often the case, I have too many plots and can’t quite settle on which one to write.

Which is where you can help!

If you haven’t already, go to Which Christmas Ghost should I write? and take the poll. Seeing which things interests people does help. I may not wind up finishing the story more people vote for this time around, but just seeing people voting gives me at least a bit more motivation.

Thanks!

A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup… boy!

"Now, where in the heck did I leave my glasses?" This is a frightening accurate representation of the author.

“Now, where in the heck did I leave my glasses?” This is a frightening accurate representation of the author.

Absent-mindedness manifests in many ways. For instance, my coffee cup. When I was younger, I would often lose track of my current cup. I would spend time looking for it, and then conclude that maybe I was simply mis-remembering having poured a cup at all. I’d grab a mug from the cabinet, fill it up, head back to whatever I was working on. About a third of the time I’d sit down with the cup and hear a clink as I tried to set the second on top of the first mug, which I was absolutely certain hadn’t been in that spot on the desk just five minutes before. But there is was, half full.

Other times I would work for a while, then get up to retrieve a book from another room, or run to the bathroom, or something similar, and I’d find the first mug, sitting in an odd location, half full and gone completely cold. Some days I’d wind up with three or more mugs scattered around the house.

I was only able to reduce the occurrence of that problem by adopting the practice of using only my favorite mug for coffee. If I couldn’t find the coffee near me where I expected it, I’d keep searching until I found that mug.

Of course, it isn’t always coffee. I currently have a second favorite mug, and I use it for tea. If I decide to make tea, I go find my Queen of Everything mug, pick out a tea bag from my rather frightening collection, turn of the electric kettle portion of my coffee maker, and then make a cup.

Sometimes I get in the mood for tea and forget that I still have a half a cup of coffee sitting around somewhere. I usually find it a bit later, and half the time I don’t even realize it until I pick up the mug, take a sip expecting tea, and I get room temperature coffee instead. Never mind that my favorite coffee mug is mug bigger, is a different shape, and a completely different color from the tea mug. When I’m in the middle of something, I don’t notice any of that.

But that isn’t the end of it. Some afternoons or evenings, I’ll have a craving for some soda. So I’ll grab a can of La Croix, or a bottle of Dry Soda, or some other low- or no-sugar sparkling drink, open it, and drink half of it before I realize that I already have a half-finished mug of tea or coffee… and sometimes half a mug of each.

And then there are the evenings I decide to make myself a cocktail, or have a glass of wine. Yes, some times I have had the embarrassing moment when I reach for my beverage, and realize that within reach of me there is a half-full cocktail glass, a half can of soda, a half bottle of iced tea, a half mug of coffee, and a half mug of tea. Not often, but some nights…

“The Java Jive” (Ink Spots, 1940):

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Confessions of a cluttering packrat

Fuzzy phone picture I took shortly after moving about 14 boxes of tea into this organizer.

Fuzzy phone picture I took shortly after moving about 14 boxes of tea into this organizer.

I have mentioned many times that I am a packrat, son of packrats, grandson of packrats, great-grandson of packrats. On top of that, my husband is also a packrat son of packrats… so I hang onto things. I save things that other people would give away/take to Goodwill/throw away because “we might need that some day!”

It’s the reason we found multiple old microwave ovens hidden in the closets of my maternal grandmother’s house after she died. It’s the reason that clearing out the first bedroom in grandma’s house filled up the beds of three of my cousins’s pickup trucks more than four times each for trips to thrift stores and the dump. And it’s the reason that any time I replace an old appliance or gadget or household item with a new one, I hear that phrase, “you might need that some day!” in my Grandma’s voice. I essentially have to have an argument with Grandma’s ghost every single time I even contemplate discarding an item.

And Grandma’s ghost is stubborn!

Another eccentricity I have is They’re All My Favorite syndrome. For instance, I like tea. I admit to being a cultureless American who grew up on Lipton tea bags, I have made real tea with loose leaf teas, but 99.8% of the time I make tea from tea bags. And I have favorites. I love Numi Aged Earl Grey, for instance. And Stash Double Bergamot, and Stash Earl Grey Green & Black, and Revolution Earl Grey Lavender, and Numi Jasmine Blosson Green Tea, and Stash Lemon Ginger Green, and Twinnings Darjeeling, and Revolution Peach Ginger Black, and Revolution Dragon Eye Oolong, and Revolution Jasmine Blackberry Oolong, and Twinnings Orange & Cinnamon Spice, and let’s just admit that absolutely any blend that has Bergamot or Lavender in it will be bought by me and tried at least once, so there are always about ten Earl Greys of one sort or another…

And don’t get me started on Bigelow Raspberry Royale that used to be carried in all the grocery stores around here but I have to order it online—when it is in stock, which isn’t often!

The problem is, I love all of these teas, and I buy boxes of the teas, but I have tended to buy teas faster than I drink them. I take some boxes in to work, but I drink the free office provided coffee in the morning, switching to tea in the afternoon. Because I really need the strong caffeine hit of the coffee! Making tea with a kettle on the stove, particularly since most of the time I’m only making it for one, has always been more of a hassle than making a pot of coffee in the morning and reheating it as needed, or grabbing something premade out of the fridge if I want something other than water.

And for various health reasons, I’ve been cultivating a habit of drinking a glass or mug of plain water whenever I head into the kitchen looking for something to drink. As in, I don’t allow myself to pour some coffee or grab a bottle out of the fridge until I’ve drank water.

I have almost bought myself an electric tea kettle many times, but then feel guilty because the house is already cluttered everywhere, and do we really need another appliance that has only one purpose?

The last time our coffee maker died, my husband talked me into buying the model that had a separate tea maker. All it really is is a second separate water reservoir and separate heating element and so on that makes hot water that you can dispense in a cup in the separate location from the coffee pot. So now I make tea much more often.

Unfortunately, this had the effect of making me start buying even more tea. Thankfully, some weeks back my friend J’wyl sent me a link to a tea bag organizer thing that was selling pretty cheap on Amazon. Another friend she shared the link with bought it right away and waxed rhapsodic about how much it cleaned up his big pile of tea boxes. So I bit the bullet. I shared the picture at the top of this post with them the day after I moved tea bags out of boxes and disposed of about 14 boxes. I wish I’d taken a picture of the pile of empty boxes.

You can see in the picture I did take that I couldn’t get all of the tea bags into the organizer. For one thing, the larger Revolution bags don’t fit (and if you don’t keep them in their airtight resealable ziplock foil bag, they lose a lot of their flavor fairly quickly). But it does help. The compartments only hold about 12 bags each. The are another six compartments on the back side, so it holds about 144 tea bags, which I realize is a lot. Most of the teas I buy come in boxes of 18-24, so it would be nice if the compartments were a little bit bigger, but it is definitely an improvement over the pile of boxes. Particularly since a box that only has a couple of bags in it takes up just as much space as the brand new, completely full box.

It is a teeny, tiny step against the clutter. But an improvement!

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