Friday, October 10, 2014

The Tarnished Silver Cup

I like to throw things away. People often give me a hard time about it, but I can honestly say I've never regretted getting rid of anything. I'm not cold-hearted, I do keep a few meaningful things. I have my photo albums. I have my Smurf collection. I have my baby blanket stowed in a box in my closet. And I have this silver, engraved cup from Neiman Marcus that my parents' friends gave me when I was a newborn. It sits fairly prominently on a shelf in my bedroom, and I stopped and held it the other day while I was dusting. It reminds me of so many things.


We weren't Neiman Marcus kind of people; we lived in a pink aluminum-siding house and wore handmade clothes. But my mom sure liked that cup. I got the impression that she would have liked more things from fancy stores. It's weird how hopes and disappointments can sit on a shelf in the form of a small silver cup. As I grew up, I admit that things from fancy stores became appealing to me, too, though you wouldn't know it from the choices I made.

At nineteen, I had a boyfriend in a punk rock band, a secretarial job, two roommates, and a lot of freedom. To obtain this freedom, I had packed up my clothes in trash bags and moved out of my parents' house a year before. I had dropped out of college because it got in the way of the lifestyle I was enjoying. This lifestyle consisted mostly of spending time with the boyfriend, drinking, and dancing. I did afford a few fancy pieces of clothing thanks to my trusty credit cards, but those were pretty much maxed out.

One November weekend, at my boyfriend's parents' house, I took a pregnancy test. It was positive. I hadn't considered my goals recently, but nevertheless I was pretty sure that having a baby wasn't going to help my circumstances. I was nowhere near a Neiman Marcus life.

A marriage proposal came haphazardly while strolling the upper level of the mall hours after the pregnancy test. There was no diamond ring, just a Coke from the food court. And no mention of true love and devotion, or any of the stuff that might be forefront in a proposal I would have liked.

I tried to bring up adoption - I was adopted - but he didn't like the idea. He wanted to get married like his parents got married in high school when they were pregnant with him. I'm not sure why his desires prevailed... maybe I couldn't imagine giving away my baby.

If this was really happening - and it seemed to be - my parents weren't going to be happy. I needed to tell them as soon as possible so they could get acquainted with the idea in time to help pay for a wedding. I couldn't fund it on my own, I was having a hard enough time affording cereal.

To spare myself the tantrum my step-dad was sure to throw, I called my mom during work hours and asked her to meet me for lunch. We chose the Jack-in-the-Box between her office and mine. I had never asked my mom to lunch before, and our relationship had been considerably strained since I moved out, so I can only imagine what she anticipated.

Did I look out the window when I told her? Stare at the table? I have no memory. What did I wear on the day I told my mom I was pregnant and marrying a guy she barely knew?

I got the words out. A baby was on the way, there would be a wedding. There wasn't more to say. She said she'd tell my cranky step-dad. And I went back to work.

I have no recollection why I told my coworkers about that Neiman Marcus cup, but I did. Maybe I was being wry about it - lamenting how this baby wouldn't have a silver cup. In any case, a day or two later, one of the women I worked with appeared at my desk carrying a shopping bag. She said it was for the baby and held it out to me. It was a plastic baby cup from Pic-n-Save.

Would my baby have had different standards with that cheap, plastic cup on a shelf in our house, rather than the silver one? Would she be less disappointed in herself over her mistakes? Would it have mattered? I still haven't achieved a Neiman Marcus level in my life. How have my expectations for my children been shaped by what I went through as a young adult? These are all the questions I think about when I dust that cup. And still I keep it. I don't bother polishing it, though. And the plastic one? I confess --- I threw it away.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Teri's Bulletproof-Lite Coffee

I have no desire to make this a nutritional post, nor am I qualified to do so. But when I try geeky, gimmicky things, I tend to want to share the experience so here goes.

Bulletproof Coffee

I heard about it only a week ago from my trendy friend who keeps me apprised of all things coffee.

True Bulletproof Coffee was originated by a guy who likes his coffee, his nourishment, and his elevated brain function. I will not link to his page, but you can find him online by searching Bulletproof Coffee. I don't want him to find me through a link back (if I really even understand how THAT works) because he will publicly shame me for drastically profaning his recipe. But you can see on his website that he truly believes in the superpower of this coffee drink. It's a meal supplement. Drinking this coffee properly prepared will leave you satisfied until lunch, improve your thinking, aid digestion, rejuvenate your cells, decrease wrinkles, add shine and bounce to your hair, aid sleep, reverse erectile dysfunction, improve your driving, and make people like you.

There are a few ways to tweak the recipe, but the essentials are good coffee, grass-fed butter, and a healthy oil such as MCT or coconut. If you are an inferior human, and MUST sweeten it - at least have the decency to NOT use that horrid white granulated sugar. That's like eating cancer fire. I recommend this:
I think Agave is related to sugar cane. Agave is like sugar cane's rich and highbrow cousin from a nicer neighborhood.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Start with this:
Brew coffee like you normally would. Unless you pay under $20./pound for coffee, then the purists will tell you to buy better coffee. I used my mid-grade.

Add this:
Ha ha! Just kidding. Aren't I a riot? That was my dinner at the buffet the other night. I can't understand WHY I have high cholesterol!

Once you've brewed your coffee, you pour it into a blender with one tablespoon per cup of coffee of this:

and another tablespoon of this:

This is good stuff. If you don't end up liking the super-coffee, you can spread this on your bread and it will be heavenly. I have another friend who loves this butter to such a degree that she once bought me a vat of it. How often does a friend buy you butter? Not often enough, I say! In fact, as you can see in this picture, I broke into the Kerrygold early to enhance some Challah I had in the house. Talk about cultural diversity! Irish butter on Jewish bread! The key here is the butter comes from grass-fed cows. That may not mean much to you, but your brain will delight in it, according to the experts.

Once you've blended everything, it will take on the appearance of a professional-looking latte. Look!
But it will not TASTE like a professional-looking latte. I drank about half. It wasn't as bad as poisoned broccoli, but I couldn't make it through the whole cup. Instead, I had this:
Regular coffee brewed strong with sweetened creamer, made more impressive in a stainless-steel cup. Not bulletproof, but at least somewhat imposing.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Feelings about Ferguson

Twitter tells me that bad things are happening in Ferguson even right this minute, even though it's hours later there, even though Mike Brown was killed over a week ago.

I'm sad. Sad for Mike Brown, sorry for his parents, and so, so sad for the state of our country where racism is alive and well and still cutting people down left and right every minute of every day. It's tempting to throw up my hands and say "there's no hope!" Can anything be accomplished this side of Heaven? God, I really doubt it. But shouldn't we try?

I had dinner at our friends' house tonight and brought up the subject because I want to talk about it. I want some wisdom! My friend asked what was bugging me the most and I gathered my thoughts and said that what bugs me the most is how bad racism is and how little anybody in my world wants to talk about it. And I'm disturbed because I don't know what to do.

On Sunday I wanted to go to Mass and have my priest speak about this. There was a visiting bishop asking for money for his very vital ministry among the poor in the Caribbean, but no talk about what happened to Mike Brown or what is continuing to happen in Ferguson.

There was a list of online suggestions of things white people could do about the situation in Ferguson other than keep gabbing about it on Twitter. Every one of them spoke to me - and yet as I read them I could imagine the protest I would get from people whose political views don't "line up" with some of the organizations mentioned or with the challenges the writer makes. I don't know the writer, maybe she's full of crap in every other area - but I WANT ADVICE and she's giving it.

It has also been illuminating to follow many more black women and men on Twitter. I want to empathize and this helps. I'm sitting in my white house on my white street in a mostly-white neighborhood in Nevada - how ELSE am I going to hear the viewpoint of a black American on this topic? It's hard to wade through the news and the politics on the major networks, so social media and some print media has to suffice to give me the information I crave.

But what now? I'm not helping anyone and that makes me sad, too.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Interview With a Barista - It's Not Just About the Coffee


The other day I got to interview Vanessa, a barista and supervisor at Grouchy John’s Coffee Shop here in Las Vegas. We sat down together just after she closed the shop for the evening. For me, worshiper of coffee shops and small local businesses in general, this was like being a groupie and getting a backstage pass after a concert. 

I wanted to talk to a barista for the same reason you’d want to talk to a barista. They have a noteworthy position in our culture because we need the drinks they make, and because we’ve come to cherish the world of the coffee shop and they’re the denizens of that world.

Vanessa talked, I listened, and I realized I had fewer questions than I thought about coffee-making and more about her life. Maybe this will be part one in a series of interviews of cool women in my home town doing stuff I admire. Here’s what I learned about Vanessa and her work:

1) She knows how to make your coffee, and she knows your day is better because of it.

Vanessa told me her first barista job was in the airport, of all fast-paced and crazy places. She admits it was stressful, and that even parking was difficult. But she said she had good training and learned the job so well that she moved into management within six months. Her first boss was strict but she appreciated that. “Especially with cappuccino,” she said. “It’s the hardest to make and he could tell by the weight if it was made correctly. It’s supposed to be equal parts milk and foam. It’s too heavy if there’s too much milk.”

So she has this super-knowledge of how to make good coffee, and she pairs that with an awareness of its effect on people. “We deal with mood swings,” she said matter-of-factly. People come in looking not-so-great but get their coffee and “sit here a bit and leave smiling.”

2) Her “spirit animal” is a honey badger, whose characteristics are damn good for customer service.

Owners and employees at Grouchy John’s have been trying to assign a “spirit animal” to everyone who works in the shop. Before our interview, I knew thanks to Facebook that it had been decided that Vanessa’s is the honey badger. When I asked why, she laughed and explained that one of the owners said, “because they don’t give a shit and they get what they want.” This is perfect for a strong woman persona, but how does it play out in a customer service career? From what I could tell, the only thing Vanessa doesn’t give a shit about is trying to be something she’s not. She says, “The corporate thing isn’t for me.” She has stretched ear lobes and once had a mohawk and there are past employers who didn’t appreciate these expressions. When that was the case, she quit and moved on. 

As far as what she wants, and getting it - Vanessa said the most important things to her are her family and her job, being a hard worker, and “doing what it takes to make everybody happy.” Well, hell… if that’s what she wants - any customer, employer, or family member will benefit from her presence.  

3) Her traits make her a valuable coffee-shop employee, but we may need her in national leadership.

Vanessa began and completed cosmetology school several years ago. She got a job as a hair stylist but knew right away it wasn’t for her. “You don’t get to interact with people. If you’re processing or blow drying their hair they can’t hear you.” She quit the job to go back to the coffee biz. She said she realized that working in the food and drink industry is her calling because that is what brings people together. 

Beginning even in high school, that emphasis on bringing people together was strong. She was involved in Key Club, with its values of leadership, character building, caring, and inclusiveness, and won the office of President by her junior year and Lt. Governor in her senior year. This is notable partly because she is Mexican and the club’s demographic was largely Asian. She had a vision to increase the diversity of the club right away and took deliberate action to do so. Her efforts were recognized; she was voted President of the Year for her 840-member division. 

The priorities she exhibited as a high schooler have grown stronger in adulthood. When she had management positions and did hiring she looked for diversity. Her inclusivity and the wisdom she had from an early age naturally influence her working relationships. If only this example in the life of a young barista could be followed by more of our corporate and political leaders! 

You only have to glance at a business publication (or better, step into a coffee shop) to figure out that the coffee business —from bean export to the barista profession— is thriving. And coffee shops serve as community hubs, places where people gather and share ideas and discuss things. So the baristas who are a significant part of this business have a large influence on our culture. In Vanessa’s case, and at Grouchy John’s coffee shop, this is excellent news.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Homeschool Organization Board

I found a blog today where this homeschooling mom of way-more-kids-than-I-have described her organizational system. It was epic. And it reminded me of my own system from two years ago which worked well but took a LOT of time to put together. Well, folks, all I've GOT is time these days leading up to the start of the new school year. And I also had the materials left over from that two-years-ago system. So I got to work, knowing how much I need a visual reminder of what the CRAP is going on hour to hour around here on the typical homeschool day.

I got out the piece of sheet metal I bought at Lowe's and spray-painted that bad boy with a shade of green I hope will evoke feelings of super-smartness, focused delight, and studious joy.

This is what it looked like after the first coat.

Just four coats later, perfection! And not as much dry-time needed when you're painting in a garage in Las Vegas in August. Maybe the only benefit to our weather: shortened spray-paint dry-times.

Then, using my new blogger-friend's advice to use Post-it notes, one color per kid, I set the whole thing up. Voila!

The times, the kids' names, and the subjects are all written on Post-its. Each kid has a magnet in case he or she needs to show progress throughout the day - they can be moved easily down the list. In most cases, the kids can pick the order they tackle their subjects, as long as two people don't need math help at the same time, or the computer. And don't look TOO closely at the subjects because John's aren't done, and I'm not sure I covered all that everyone else is doing. But it's a start. Once it's done it will be affixed to the wall and the entire year will go smoothly!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Few Ways My Day Was Probably Different From Yours

1) My friend came over for a visit this morning and she brought her own breakfast. It was oysters. If that's not strange enough, I later found out on Twitter that today is National Oyster Day. This was unbeknownst to my oyster friend! What are the odds?

2) I got rid of all of our Play-Doh paraphernalia today. Another sign that my kids are getting older. This was part of having to clean out the school room in preparation for beginning school next week. Less significant chores were throwing out all the broken crayons, sharpening the colored pencils, weeding out used-up coloring books, and organizing all the craft supplies. This is the lesser-known side of the glamorous world that is homeschooling. You didn't know we had an annual crayon-and-colored-pencil reckoning, did you?
3) I got free advice from my son's second-grade curriculum. In a paragraph addressing the concern one might have about a kid's reading level, it read, "...the first thing you should do is sit quietly with yourself and resolve your fears in regard to your child's reading." Oh, for crying out LOUD! THAT'S all I have to do? Sit quietly with myself? Sorry, I can't help but ooze sarcasm right now. And I actually love other things about this curriculum and think it's going to go well for us. But even if I didn't, all I have to do is sit quietly with myself and resolve my issues with the soundness of my choice. Right? So glad I know that now. Off to unclog last year's glue dispensers and calm down a tad.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Monday's Decisions

Decision #1 - Swimsuits are for pools, not Post Offices. My girls were invited to a friend's birthday party today at a fun community pool and I assumed I'd stay for the party and keep cool in the water. But that's not how it turned out. The hostess had everything under control and it occurred to me that I had two free hours to run errands or read my book. On the way to the Post Office, my one big errand, I remembered I was wearing my swimsuit and spent the next couple miles of the drive trying to ascertain if my self-esteem could handle an appearance in a federal building wearing my swim skirt and striped rash guard. It couldn't. I went home and changed.

Decision #2 - A family of six needs a substantial-size meatloaf for proper nourishment. I finally admitted my family has outgrown my tiny meat loaf recipe. So tonight I doubled my recipe, molded it into a much-larger piece of cookware than my teeny loaf pan and made meat slab. It was delish in its larger form, if not attractive.

Decision #3 - Any stressful situation, especially the acquisition of seven new pets, is made easier with friends. After a two-week-long wait, I took my kids to the pet store to buy the fish they've been impatiently anticipating. We had the aquarium ready, we had friends along for fun, and we took a full hour to decide on exactly which fish. Thank God for a patient pet store worker, and thank God for my friend who came along and made the experience much more pleasant. I'm a fairly independent woman, but I would really rather have a friend along for nearly every new parenting venture.
I took this sweet shot of the kids, but really should have gotten a photo to commemorate Lynda and I at the pet store. Except my expression would have betrayed the amount of strange stress/worry/anxiety I had going on over these darn fish!