About Coffee

December 15, 2009

O macchinetta, stovetop maker of delicious espresso, I love you!

Yes. I must, finally, write about coffee.

If you’ve visited our Cafe Press store (http://cafepress.com/ragingmagmalife), you will know – well, ok, you’d have to have poked around there a bit, too – that we have pre-coffee-stained apparel.   You may also know that this is because coffee flies to white t-shirts – on me, at least – like moths to a flame.  Like dogs to squirrels.  Like cats to the laps of those allergic.  Like the buttered side of toast to the floor.  Like – well, you get the idea, perhaps.  And so, I figured, why not just take the uncertainty out of it all?  Why not just put it right on there, with my proud declaration of loyalty?

But here’s what I didn’t put on there.  Not just any coffee will do.  No.  I don’t pretend to be a connoisseur by any means; but I have figured out what I like, and I had rather not have coffee at all than have something that doesn’t fulfill my particular desire.  I don’t care about the caffiene, or the temperature, or many other things.  But it pretty much has to be dark roast, and made in a macchinetta, or moka, and it has to have a milk product in it with sufficient milk fat to make the flavor roll around in my mouth for a while.  (There are a few other things, too – but really, how much does the world need to know about my coffee preferences?  The thing about the shirt was probably more than enough.)  If the coffee meets all those picky little requirements, it brings me a ridiculous, all’s-right-with-the-world-for-this-moment amount of tasting pleasure.

And just recently, a friend brought me from Italy a one-cup macchinetta, which makes just enough for one espresso cup – and makes it perfectly.  That, in the bright orange or bright yellow espresso cup (also from Italy), is so absolutely perfectly the right amount of the right flavor in the right presentation…  But I’m straying into too much information again.

Here’s the important thing to know: with a macchinetta, if someone else has left any coffee in it (I, of course, would never do that), it is extremely – extremely – easy to splash coffee on one’s shirt.  And it is worth every single, unremovable spot.

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Susan Boyle

April 26, 2009

I got links from several friends recommending I watch the inspiring video, something really beautiful.  I did.  And yes, I found her singing quite beautiful, and she seemed a real character.  But I wasn’t left with a feeling of inspiration – at least, not unadulterated inspiration.  Actually, I was – well – enraged.

I gather this has been so popular because her voice is not what one would expect from someone with her appearance .  No one expected it, and they (everyone?) were brought to an abrupt and profound realization their own prejudice based on appearance.

As a woman who has never really fit the standard definition of beautiful, and who has chosen (I admit it – from laziness, among other things) to leave my eyebrows wild and woolly, my first question was, if she had been beautiful, would she have made anywhere near the splash she did?   Or did her combination of “frumpiness”  and talent just create in people a combination of guilt (“I pre-judged her wrongly!”) and self-importance (“But now I realize how wrong I was, and how wonderful she is, and I’m not prejudiced anymore!”)?  How long will the enlightenment last?   Can we look forward to a new era of average-looking people, or even ugly people, being more generally noticed for their talents and other good qualities, the way movie stars have been?

That would surprise me a lot more than the beautiful voice that came out of Susan Boyle’s mouth.  This is one of the reasons for my reaction.

Did no one in her 47 year lifetime realize she could sing?  Or did they just not care?   This is another reason for my reaction.

And does this mean that the spectacle of cruelty, which is part of the appeal of shows like Britain’s Got Talent and American Idol, will now be passe?  That people who are average to frumpy, moderately or not at all talented, will now be shown a larger measure of respect, because we now know they probably have wonderful qualities we’re just not aware of yet? 

That would be very gratifying.  But I’m not holding my breath.

Now, she’s dyed her hair and had her eyebrows shaped, and people are frantically worrying that she won’t seem as authentic, and will lose her popularity.  Or is it that they may no longer have the frumpy/talented dichotomy to bolster their feelings of virtuousness?   Why is it such a big deal?

Unfortunately, it all seems to be a piece with, and not a break from, our society’s fixation on appearance.   I would love to continue to see and hear Susan Boyle, as she develops her talent and goes through whatever changes this experience will bring to her.  I would also love to see and hear other people, who don’t quite look like Angelina Jolie or Britney Spears or Jamie Foxx or any of the other good-looking and talented people, develop their own talents.   And I’d like to see it all treated with respect, not like a freak show.  As my former boss used to say, “Don’t act so surprised.”


A Bitter After Taste

February 5, 2009

I’ve just joined a new club. This is what it takes to be a member:

Eat something.
Notice you have a bitter after taste in your mouth.
Notice it’s not going away. (And it’s really annoying!)
Notice that you’re not really enjoying eating other things.
Notice that eating triggers and intensifies the bitter taste.

Start to wonder what the heck is going on.
Start to wonder what’s wrong with you.
Start to wonder what’s wrong with your food.
Throw some food out.

Start to not be very interested in eating.
Mutter about it to your friends and family.
Fret about it an increasingly distracting rate.
Wonder if there’s any information about having a bitter taste in your mouth on the internet.

Search on terms like “bitter taste in mouth” and “unpleasant taste in mouth”.
Click on medical advice and medical diagnosis sites.
Wonder if you have an ulcer.
Wonder if you have a hernia.
Reassure yourself you don’t have heartburn.
Wonder if you have pneumonia.
Be reassured you’re not coughing up blood.
Wonder if you have oral cancer.
Convince yourself its more likely you have a cavity.
Think about going to the dentist.

Continue to find eating really unpleasant. It’s day 2 of it now.

Do more internet searching.
Go on forums and discussion sites.
Discover your people – there are others like you!
Discover the secret: pine nuts.
Wonder if you ate pine nuts recently.
Remember that you did!

Read Wikipedia about pine nuts.
Tell your story on the forums.
Thank everyone for helping you know you’re not crazy.
Thank God that you live in an internet age.

Tell the people that had pine nuts with you that night.
Commiserate. (Or not.)

Wonder why pine nuts never did this to you before.
Wonder if it matters if you eat them raw or cooked.
Wonder if it matters if you eat a few or a lot.
Wonder if it matters what country they came from.
Wonder if it matters what genus they are.

Wonder if it’s the pesticides.
Wonder if they were rancid.
Wonder if the store that sold them to you should be notified.
Wonder if you should sue.

Continue to find that food is STILL unpleasant. Dang it! This is no fun.
Wonder if there is a remedy.
Do some more internet searching.
Find no remedies.
Commiserate with your people.

Consider the hidden benefits of enforced dieting.
Be reassured that it does go away.
Count the days. (Praying your a 2-3 dayer, not a 2 weeker.)

Write a blog entry about it.


A Favorite Spoon

January 30, 2009

There is one spoon in my house that I cherish above all others. Its qualities reveal more about me than it – I have no reason to believe anyone else would choose this spoon, or feel the spark of delight that I do when I look in the silverware drawer and see it there. The way it fits my hand and mouth, how its texture pleases my skin, how its shape appeals to my eye – all this is an expression of relationship. Its value is created there.

I found this spoon in a tangled jumble of silverware at Goodwill. It was not love at first sight. I was in the midst of a significant life transition and had few spoons (or forks or knives or plates or bowls).  My main goal was a more functional kitchen.

There were spoon qualities I was looking for, though. For me, silverware alters my experience of eating. If I had my way, a goodly portion of what is called a fork or knife or spoon would be used to create art or dig in the sand or pry nails out of places they’re no longer wanted – instead of being used to detract from the pleasure of eating as they so often are. Sharp edges, imbalances and asymmetries created by inattention, inadequate metals – it’s amazing how many ways there are to ruin silverware.

Most of the spoons I brought home that day passed the test: they added to my interest and pleasure in eating. At first I deliberately rotated through them, casually noting how I felt using them. As they got more familiar, I’d celebrate their specific contributions – “Oh, good. Today I get to have the one with the curlicue in the handle!” or “Mm, the shape of that one in my mouth is definitely interesting.”

But only one of them became my favorite spoon.

I know if it’s clean or dirty. I know where I’ve left it sitting after curling up with a book and cappuccino. The other spoons are spoons. This one is my spoon. The distinction is not about an act of ownership – I own them all. It’s simply a description of how this spoon consistently delights me, increasing my enjoyment of myself and life just because it exists in its own unique way. It makes me happy.

And this, I am finding, matters increasingly in my life: appreciating the relationships (to people, places, things) that are measured by inherent delight that transcends the goal or need of the moment.

What people, places, or things make your senses thrum and vibrate, making you glad to be alive?  Do you have a favorite spoon?


The Paradox of Perception

January 27, 2009

I’m struck these days by a new understanding of a familiar awareness: perception is everything. I would like to think that, for the most part, I experience the world as it’s really happening – objectively, neutrally. But my experience says that isn’t so. A small example…

When I was younger, just the sight of a police car would trigger an anxiety response in me – shallow breathing, increased blood pressure, tunnel focus on where they were, what they might be thinking about me, what might happen next (i.e., was I in trouble?). And this was not because I was trying to get away with anything – I was far too entrenched in the ‘good girl’ category for that. Indeed, the one time I did have something to hide (details withheld to protect the innocuous), my anxiety response was actually lower. Rather than reacting, I paid attention to what was really going on so that I could deal with whatever evolved.

Then recently I had an experience that turned out to be a kid’s prank but could have been much more serious – and the police response was noticeably absent. Suddenly I realized how much I unconsciously deferred to the police, expecting them always to be the authority and the law, and how little that attitude served me. I magnified the role of the police and ignored the ways I need to be in a collaborative role with law enforcement: being a part of the solution rather than imagining and creating my own problems.

This shifted my perception from the fear-inducing “what if I’m in trouble” approach to a much more useful set of questions: how do I need to protect myself? what is a reasonable expectation for the role of the police? how do I hold myself and law enforcement accountable? In short, a much more reality-focused set of questions: what are we up against, and what can I do about it?

Yesterday I drove past a cop car and didn’t automatically go into my defensive worry and anxiety. Instead, I saw them more as equals, with a sense that we each have our job and that the first relevant question was how well we were each showing up to those responsibilities.

The paradox in this is that my experience of reality now is as fully determined by my perception as it was with the anxiety response – and yet, it’s also true that not all perceptions are equal. Some take us into the moment, while some just take us into la la land.

There was something to learn from my anxiety response – it had its roots in childhood and told me something about what I had learned then. But that story is ultimately boring – I know the ending. Here’s to stalking the perceptions that take us into the now where the moment is unfolding and creation is ours for the making.