Saturday, February 5, 2011

Confessions and history of a coffee addict

Hi my name is Becky, and I am a coffee drinker....

I swore I would NEVER become one, but it has happened!!!

I remember my parents drinking coffee in the mornings always knowing that it was something adults drank and since I  never planned to become an adult, I would never drink coffee like an adult.  Then I went to college!!  I resisted coffee at first but before the end of my first semester, I was hooked!  I blame my college roomie--she already drank coffee and she began brewing instant coffee in our room using an electric hot pot and the kind of instant coffee, (Folgers Crystals) that dissolves in boiling water. It wasn't long before I was sharing those great morning coffee moments, relaxing after conquering the monumental task of getting through an 8 am class!  We started with the instant stuff which quickly became a gateway into the harder core kind of instant that came in those tea bags that allowed you to "brew" coffee in your mug like tea.  This eventually led to getting a peculator- a garage sale find from my roommate's mom and finally, by the time I graduated- my apartment mates and I had a schedule for making coffee and cleaning out the drip pot.  Believe me there was hell to pay if you missed your turn, or worse, used the last of it! 
As a substitute teacher and part time retail girl living with her parents post college, I still prided myself on only needing that one cup in the morning.  I would occasionally have a mug in the evening if it was a special dinner out.  Then, in my own apartment, I was sure to have a coffee maker on the counter. I began setting up the pot before  bed so I could just hit the button in the morning to brew while I got ready.  Then I'd pour a cup as I rushed out to go.  Eventually, I  indulged in a brewer with a timer, eliminating the need to enter the kitchen at all until there was coffee waiting for me!! A few years later, my husband brought home a new fangled pot that allows you to dispense coffee directly into your mug, one handed, (a blessed thing for a new mom constantly holding a baby)!! It was one of those pots from Hamilton Beach that doesn't have a glass carafe, you put your cup under, hold it for a minute and go! It saves on cleaning and you don't have to actually lift your arm to pour--pure genius!!  I think it was at about that time that I began drinking two cups in the morning.  One at home and one to go!  My coffee mugs evolved over time as well, I started with plastic freebie mugs from mini marts and gas stations moved on to cups with screw tight lids. I am now tempted to spend big bucks on stainless, double-walled travel ware that has some cute design or trendy logo!!
There was a period of time when G and I would buy each other cups of coffee when we bought gas at our favorite station in town, another gateway to adding more coffee into my day.  This particular station was the only one in town that had flavored creamers, a shaker with cinnamon or cocoa, vanilla flavoring, nutmeg, or even mini marshmallows, very high fashion fancy coffee! He liked his with the French vanilla cappuccino and I would always add a splash of hot chocolate into mine! High class coffee at Sunoco, baby!
I still continued to drink two cups of coffee daily, for the most part and still prided myself that it was all I needed to start the day.  But then I discovered that morning coffee was much more enjoyable and effective if I spent at least  20 minutes drinking my first cup on the couch in front of the news, so I could use one of the 100s of cute mugs we have dedicated an entire cupboard to.  My second cup, is now poured into a second mug, a travel mug, to hastily sip throughout the morning.
This was the way it was for many years and still kind of is. Now we have a newer version of the dispenser-type brewer, with digital timer and automatic shut off, and my travel mugs are stainless (on the outside at least) or are cute in some way, not just emblazoned with a mini-mart's slogan.   But now another change in my coffee saga has occurred within the last 2-3 months, I have been introduced to the ultimate brewer that makes afternoon coffee at work a MUST DO:   The Keurig one cup at a time coffee system.  It involves purchasing and inserting one shot-glass-sized plastic cup into the machine, placing a mug of your choosing under the dispensing end, hitting the button; simply marked "BREW" and standing back for 30 to 60 seconds while the coffee (that now gets me through a long winter afternoon with six year olds) drains into a cup with some yummy flavored creamer splashed into the bottom.  Mmmmm... heaven!  I am officially a 3 cup a day (or more) drinker!!  It all started when December turned cold and snowy and the teachers across the hall and I all realized that the afternoons were very long when you have your break in the morning. We started using the drip pot that was a leftover in the faculty room. It was passed from room to room between 1 and 2 o'clock. you could fill your mug, and sip and enjoy while teaching the afternoon away.  But that did involve the necessity of having someone brew and do the passing around part.  So, thus we dreamed up a more streamlined process.  We dreamed about having a Keurig stationed in one person's room where you could just tiptoe in and quickly brew up a cup of sanity.  We were fortunate enough to work with a very generous person who provided us with an "extra" machine he just "happened" to have and now our dream is alive!  We pitch in to replenish the supply of k-cups (as the plastic cups are called) and share new and interesting flavors of both coffee and creamer, the latter sometimes hangs out the window for refrigeration purposes!  I am definitely hooked with a capital H!  On our recent snow day, I really missed the joy of my little afternoon cup and today I had a meeting in another part of the building that, again, prevented me from getting that cup of relief!  I actually came home and brewed a cup in my old Hamilton brewer just to get my fix!  It is official: I am a coffee drinker, I rely on it, it keeps me from snacking my face off after school---I need it and it makes me happy!!!  So thank you co-workers who support and cultivate my habit, thank you roommate who ushered me into this happy world of caffeine addiction and thank you coffee makers everywhere who get me through the day!!! (And, incidentally, allow me to be up half the night exploring blogs and rambling on about my own thoughts in my  blog!)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hometown Blog

I think I have small town fever.  I grew up in a small town, I currently live in a small town, I love to discover small towns and drive slowly through them imagining what it would be like to live there.   I especially love the phrase hometown; it makes me feel like something important happens to people who feel connected to a place known as their hometown.  Youngstown, NY is my hometown. It just happens to be a small town that sits right at the mouth of the Niagara River where it meets Lake Ontario.  It is the place where I first caught small town fever.  As a child I was always impressed that it measured one square mile, or so I’d been told (and still choose to believe that without knowing for sure).  The village has one major intersection with a flashing stoplight; a red, yellow, green traffic light would have been too much for our small amount of traffic.  Growing up there I enjoyed the freedom of biking or walking most places in my free time, we were bussed to school, but church and many friends’ houses were close enough to walk or bike to, most of the time. 
Having that said, I have also had the luxury of moving away from Youngstown as an adult.  Now, I am not saying that to show distain for those who are living there now, believe me I have moments of great envy for people I grew up with who are living there still, or again-- I am simply pointing out that I have a unique perspective on my hometown.  My parents don’t live there now, there is no one place I can go to and call home, the whole place is my home!  I have never been made to see Youngstown as a place where I ended up, it is a place frozen in my memory.   I have a treasure trove of memories of my childhood, adolescence and just a smidge of my adulthood as a citizen of this little village.  When I was just finishing college, my parents moved away, not far, just about 60 miles east, but far enough to tug at our heartstrings and to freeze Youngstown into our lives as a wonderful place to live, one that we would move back to in a heartbeat if we could.  It became that unattainable place; you can never go back to and have it be the same.  I do so love visiting and feeling the longing to live there again.   I love to reminisce.  I love to look around to see what remains the same and what has changed.   I love to bore my husband by going out of our way to drive past the two houses I lived in growing up and to point out familiar places, announcing them like he hasn’t heard it a million times before, which he has!! I love to point out the fire hall, the red-brick schoolhouse where the library and my nursery school was housed, the VFW where I took dance lessons, houses my friends grew up in and houses I just love to drive by and check up on; the church, the river, the park; the apartment my parents moved to when they first were married.  It is with hungry eyes that I revisit all of these old familiar sights.   Maybe it is the very fact that this place was once new to my parents as newlyweds.  They left their families and familiar places to start their married lives near where my dad started his career.  They were once newcomers to this place, just as I once was here in the town where I am now raising my own family.  Their deliberate choice of this place where I spent my growing years is what makes it special for me.  They are the ones who created a life for my brother and me there, choosing the houses we lived in the church we attended and who made friends who have become a special family to us and will always be. 
Driving past the church, the park, taking a slow drive down the steep bank to look past the sailboat mast docked at the Yacht Club to get a look at the river and wave to Canada on the other side, it is a part of going back for me.  I almost feel incomplete if I haven’t taken the 15 minutes it takes to see these dear places and scenic views.  I love to recount stories and memories to whoever happens to be in the car with me, whether they have heard it once or several times, it is my way of coming home. 
This past weekend, I got to make that trip again.  German, Sofia and I made the trip along the southern edge of the lake driving the 60 or so miles through flat farmland on one side and the great lake, only visible at times, on the other.  I bit my tongue over and over again wanting to speak memories aloud, saving German from hearing them all over again and also saving some tucked away memories not to be spoken…
Entering Youngstown, as the driver I had to keep darting my glance from the road to the houses and landmarks that we passed.  I noticed new houses where there had been empty fields, fresh paint on old houses, improvements made to the front of the post office and new signs Main Street.  We stopped at the little grocery mart on our way in and I was surprised at how this once convenient little shop, great for having that forgotten ingredient was now kind of creepy and deserted.  But I was pleased to see a new building going up where a burned out house-turned-restaurant had sat vacant for several years.   I found myself enjoying showing Sofia some of the places from my childhood, but we didn’t take the time to make the grand tour, because we were heading to THE PARTY!
 For many years as children, Andy and I would go with mom and dad to our friends, the Rogers’ big house in Niagara Falls for a fantastic Christmas party, good food, lots of church friends, many hugs, we went enough times to think of it as an every year thing in our memories!  As adults, our generation became too busy to be invited or to attend the party on a regular basis, but we tried to go when we could.  The Rogers have now retired and moved into a neighborhood just outside of the village proper, giving us a quick version of my memory tour as we made our way there in the growing twilight.  
THE PARTY itself speaks of the best things that Youngstown has to offer for me.  Upon arriving at the Rogers’ house, it quickly became filled with folks I haven’t seen since the last party we attended, or longer. The majority of the guests knew me as a teenager, a child, or even as an infant!  It was certainly like coming home.  Most of those friends knew the basics of my life; their kids graduated with me, they watched us kick soccer balls around Fort Niagara State Park, were in Christmas plays and dance recitals with me, they had been guests at my wedding, attended baby showers and kept up with me via my parents in phone conversations and Christmas card letters.  I also kept up with their lives in the same way.   It was nice to see those faces in person and to receive and to give hugs to people in person, touching base in the form of small talk with mouths full of yummy Buffalo wings and chip dip.   
But the best part-- the part that will make this year’s party stand out for me-- was the simple fact that I got the chance to sit and have a heart to heart conversation with women who have known me forever and knew my mom and share an empty spot in their hearts about her loss.  It was like exhaling to be able to ask some of these wise women questions about strange, random things I can’t ask mom anymore.  I sat and got advice about being a Girl Scout leader from the woman who was my Girl Scout leader.   I got a warm, healing hug from my dancing teacher.  I looked into the kind eyes of my nursery school teacher and chatted with mom’s closest “girlfriends” the ones she had luncheons with and tapped danced in public rest rooms with, laughing till they cried.  Those women, their husbands, sharing them with my husband and daughter, that feeling of coming home are enough to give anyone small town fever.  It’s is addictive, it is therapeutic, it is good!
I came away from this weekend hoping that I am also providing Sofia with some sort of that feeling for her own life to be built upon.  I want her to know the people that knew me when she was born, who know her now, who will witness her growing years.  I want her to know the people who attended my wedding, those that saw me dance in recitals and those that knew my mom.  I want her to be able to ask people questions about things I may not be able to answer someday.   I want her to know she is loved and has roots that are entwined deep within her soul, just as my memories and this special village called Youngstown are to me.  
I am not sure I would feel this strongly about this little town if I had not moved away when I did.  I think leaving and looking back has given me the gift of appreciation for this place.  I envy those who are my age and are raising their children there, yet I am thrilled that I am creating a new path for my family.  I do find myself bewildered when other lifetime residents don’t see the charm, the draw and the memories that I see.  I revel in the improvements and the wonderful things that are still happening there, going on after my departure, continuing without my participation.  But I leave knowing that Youngstown will forever be my hometown, the place where I grew into the person I am today.  I know it isn’t the place so much as the people that make the place, but I happen to believe there is a little magic in this little place and the people that inhabit this town possess that special magic.  I am grateful to find that magic when I return for visits and I crave it when visits are too far apart.  I look forward to breathing that good air and letting my eyes scan those old homes, familiar sidewalks, the river and the sunsets that are not to be found any other place on earth.
  I feel such gratitude and good fortune to know people who live in Youngstown, to know the geography of the place as well as I do and to feel such a connection to a place of huge importance in my life.  If you live there, have lived there, or have lived somewhere that makes you feel the same, count yourself as a lucky human being.  In a way I feel the need to say thank you to the church goers, the dancing teachers, nursery school teachers, Girl Scout leaders, soccer coaches, neighbors, Sunday school teachers, Vacation Bible school leaders, and residents of this place for creating or discovering the magic of Youngstown. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Gum Drawer

Ok here’s a weird thing that rolled through my mind the other day: gum-- specifically: “The Gum Drawer”.

When I was a kid, my mom kept Carefree gum variety packs in the top right-hand drawer of her dry sink. The kitchen of our house at the time had a perfect wall for this interesting piece of furniture. I am not sure of the exact history of it, but I think my parents picked it up second hand somewhere. My dad made cupboard doors for the bottom half and replaced all the knobs so it looked finished, though rustic, and perfect for our kitchen in the house my mom referred to as her “dream house”.

The dry sink drawers were always full of interesting things, stamps, nail clippers, change purses, a deck or two of cards, paper clips, the good scissors and other small items we couldn’t keep in other places. The sink part held decorative tins labeled with coffee, flour, sugar, and tea and the only one that ever held what it said it did was the tea (now almost 30 years later it still does). Most of the drawers mom kept us out of, she kept her personal stuff there. But the gum drawer was up for grabs! We could go in there and grab a piece of gum almost whenever we wanted. If my brother and were whining before dinner, we could have a slice of gum! If we were in the mood for something sweet, or just to chew, the drawer was there for us. My favorite flavor was always the cinnamon, and naturally that flavor was the first to go. There were times when we would sneak an extra slice and take two instead of one, feeling so rebellious at the time! I probably crammed more than two in my mouth on one or two occasions to be honest. The freedom of that drawer was important; it represented a crucial step in growing up. We could make our own choices and could help ourselves without adult help and sometimes without permission. I remember sharing gum with friends over to play and feeling a sense of pride in having a drawer especially reserved for gum. There was also a sense of responsibility, we were encouraged to report to mom when the gum drawer needed replenishing, she’d get annoyed if we ever let it go dry without letting her know, evidence that she, too, enjoyed this satisfying drawer. I can’t remember when the drawer stopped being “The Gum Drawer”, but it may have been when Andy and I were grown and my parents moved to the house where my dad still lives. The dry sink is there, right next to the kitchen, no longer a perfect spot actually IN the kitchen for it. Some of the drawers still hold what they used to: cards, notebooks, the good scissors, but The Gum Drawer, alas, only contains a crochet hook, a roll of stamps, and other odds and ends--no gum. The dry sink now serves the next generation of children, holding crayons, games, books and hiding away craft projects in progress. But I will always refer to the top right-hand drawer as The Gum Drawer, I think there are times, when looking for a stamp; I still get a whiff of carefree sugarless gum.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ready for work!

Yesterday, my daily calendar quote read:

A good rest is half the work. ~Proverb

I have just had a very restful summer. I had plenty of time to rest and sleep in and really do pretty much whatever I wanted. It was great. For maybe one of the first times, my family didn’t undertake a huge home improvement project and we didn’t make plans for a long trip. (Although I should mention that I DID talk my husband out of starting a big project late in the afternoon of our last day of break!) We did a few smaller landscaping and maintenance projects and basically just enjoyed being home and spending time with each other.

Yesterday was my last day of vacation; it was a gloomy, cold day. We had no Labor Day picnic to attend or to host. There was no exciting project to wrap up or and I spent most of the day agitated about the things that I didn’t quite get to, the large number of unproductive days and simply the fact that summer was over and another year had passed all too quickly. I was grumpy and frustrated and anxious about the “could have beens” and the “need tos” that were surfacing and resurfacing in my mind all day (and most of the night). That quote helped me feel only somewhat better…

Today brought Opening Day for teachers, a day when the entire faculty meets together in the High School Auditorium to kick off the year. I found myself looking forward to it and happy to be a part of a large group of enthusiastic educators. There was a lot to be done, decisions to be made, meetings to attend, and relationships to forge. We have all worked hard to ready our classrooms and our plans for the students’ first day tomorrow. The feeling of anxious anticipation was palpable in the hallways. We have to wait out the hours before the halls fill with children. Tomorrow starts a new year full of work, unknown faces, behaviors, challenges and blessings.

I am looking forward to the work, the routine, the structure and the feelings of normalcy that these things will provide. I am thankful to have had an unstructured summer to rest and relax. I feel ready for the work ahead of me. I hope that you, my fellow educators, and parents are feeling optimistic, and rested. I hope you have had a full enjoyable summer, doing the work of resting as we now head into a new year.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

My first post here: A rambling history of why this Blog

In October 2009, I happened to attend a Saturday morning workshop called a Morning of Writing with Amy Vanderwater. She is a poet, teacher and mother and is a master at combining these traits, which only describe a small part of her that make up her whole being, into a worthwhile lecture and workshop. I remember having trouble deciding whether to attend this workshop, did I want to give up my Saturday morning and get out of bed? Could I actually manage to get up and drive across the county to an elementary school I’d never been to? What about my husband, would he grudgingly support my decision to go, willing to deal with our daughter for a big chunk of the day? Despite of, or maybe in spite of all my perceived obstacles, I got myself there, and sighed with relief that I’d found the school and parking and was able to sink into an old school auditorium seat with a few of my co-workers. As I struggled to organize myself, travel coffee mug, purse, folder (given by the workshop organizers), notebook, pen and tried to find a comfortable way to sit, in the old velveteen seats, I began to focus on the speaker. Amy opened her mouth and started talking to us in an engaging and frank way about how to teach kids to write poetry, not my favorite thing to teach or to do on my own. I used to fancy myself as a poet and fan of poetry, but after one failed attempt to get published in my middle school newspaper and several failed attempts to wrap my imagination around the words of ancient poems in a compilation book I saw another friend reading and bought to look “cool” in college, I hadn’t really though seriously about poetry at all.
After the introductions, and Amy’s initial introduction to the topic, I was annoyed that she wanted us, at this early weekend hour, to start a poem then and there. But she did mention a poet I had heard of and felt akin to, Byrd Baylor. So in my cramped seat, trying not to spill what was left of my coffee, I attempted to write a poem about the morning. I followed her lead and listed some adjectives along the edge of a page in my notebook and wrote about what I noticed about the fall morning on my drive over. I recovered my sense of humor and positive attitude after that and focused on the structures and methods she presented to us.
Then Amy LV posed a question for us to think about while composing our next, workshop-demanded-poem, one that we were writing at her command: “What is rolling around in your mind? Just write about that, start a poem with something you’ve been thinking about but haven’t really done anything with.” Rolling in my mind??? At first I thought, “Oh cool, I can do this, focus on me a second, a good reason to get up on a Saturday, self introspection!” But then my mind really did it to me, I started thinking about my father. And this is what I wrote:

Small changes in his face
New crinkles around his blue eyes
Noticing more gray in his mustache
A different sparkle in his eyes.
His face, his sparkle, his sadness, a mirror of my own…

Our eyes have been darting from each other,like water striders on the surface of a stream, close together, apart close again, apart, afraid to stay still and locked together too long, for the true emotion to be unloosed.
He seems scattered, a small rock being tossed by the current, rolling one way and then another, his anchor gone… I, too, am a pebble, rolling in a current, not knowing how to take control. but somehow we are, both of us, sharing our grief but separately we have lost our anchor.
He a wife and best friend, a companion and confidant. Me a mother and best friend, someone to guide me and support me no matter what. She is gone, but we are left…left to find solace in one another, left to find our anchor and guide, left to get to know each other without her…

OK so that’s not exactly what I wrote, but the first six lines or so are, the rest sprouted off of that just now. Then, as now, nearly a year later, I cried. I sat in that auditorium trapped in the middle of a cramped row, crying my eyes out. I am not one of those lucky criers who can hide it, pretty little tears that don't ruin make-up and aren't noticed by others. I turn red and my nose runs and my skin gets all blotchy. Tears streamed down my face and I couldn’t stop them, they were uncontrollable. (Ironically in the comfort of my own house, I am not crying this way, but in an auditorium full of co-workers, and strangers, I was crying without ceasing.) I felt like everyone must think I was a freak, losing my mind! In truth, I think only my co-workers who knew about my mother’s illness and death over the previous summer and who had supported me through that tough time noticed, and could probably guess why my emotions were shaky. I am sure Amy could see my red teary face as she looked out at her audience and I am sure the other teachers in the row saw it and were puzzled too. It seemed an eternity until we had a break. I found my way to an empty girls’ bathroom down the hall, avoiding the crowded, nearest one so I could be alone and cry it out and get myself back together. One of my co-workers happened to find the same deserted bathroom and kindly checked on me, and more kindly left me alone to see if I could get through the rest of the morning of writing, not crying!!
Later, I rejoined the group perusing the latest teaching material and research books on sale in the foyer. Shopping is a great way to regain composure! A long drink of water and some sympathetic looks and back pats and I was ready to re-join the group tear-free. I learned a lot that morning about writing poems, teaching writing and about how dangerous it is to explore what is “rolling around in your mind” publicly!
Later in the morning, I escaped my uncomfortable seat for one that was in an empty row where I could fidget and stretch without disturbing others. Amy, taking a minute to step back and join the audience as someone else was speaking, sat in my empty row. I assumed she was probably trying to figure out if I was sane or not! I smiled apologetically at her, hopefully conveying the thought that I was ok, and that she shouldn’t feel bad for suggesting that we should explore our thoughts as a catalyst for a poem. I felt a kindred spirit in her, somehow knowing I would learn more from her another time.
That “other” time came just a few weeks ago at a two-day summer workshop in my home district. One that everyone signed up for as soon as the registration time allowed. I know that I was anxious to get in and had marked it on my calendar.
I once was lucky enough to hear and learn from Amy about writing and teaching and spent those two days riveted by her way of teaching and making us write. At this workshop I did the opposite of the last, I found myself laughing as uncontrollably as I was crying in the fall. Once again exploring all too publicly what was rolling around in my mind!
Amy referenced her “poem-a day-for a year-blog” several times throughout her workshop, inspiring one of my friends to get started on her own blog and reminding me that I had created a blog space to keep in touch with family far away and to (I’ll embrace it--) brag about my growing daughter and her accomplishments. I hadn’t posted anything on that blog since my mother died and I paid her tribute.
I could see now that it was time to explore more of what a blog could do for me, and I decided that like Amy’s Poem Farm and Lori’s blog of “little things” that I, too, have things rolling in my mind that I want to share.
Hopefully it won’t be too uncomfortably personal, only enough to be heard and to force myself to explore those things that I don’t ever give myself enough time to think about. And so this blog is born, a place where I will ramble on about what is rolling in mind. You can choose to read it or not and comment at will, this is a blog for me by me. Sometimes I might explore level 3 and 4 ideas that maybe should stay locked in a diary, but also 1 and 2 things that more people can relate to. And if you’ve gotten through this LONG introduction, maybe you’ll be interested to read my thoughts in shorter installments for a longer time period, if that makes sense to you.
My thanks to teachers and speakers like Amy who keep my attention for two long summer days and friends and co-workers like Lori who are brave enough and confident enough to share their own thoughts in writing with the assurance that kindred spirits and like minded folk will learn from and relate to their own thoughts rolling through their minds.