Six reasons to love coffee

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Gift from a friend who knows me well

I’ve heard it said that the traditional Irish name for whiskey is “the water of life.” With all due respect to whiskey, I don’t think it deserves that name.  I can think of another drink that, in my opinion, is far more life-giving.

That drink is coffee.

I say this not just because coffee is responsible for the daily resurrection of Ginny from the sleep of the dead. It’s for a whole host of reasons, actually.  In ways that are big and small and delicious, coffee has enhanced my life.  And — because I’m on spring break and I have time to systematically ponder these things — I’m going to share them here.

1.  Coffee is proof that God wants us to take pleasure in the senses.  Seriously, is there any more fabulous taste than a really good cup of coffee (in my case, laced with half and half)?  It is one of the few drinks that can render me speechless with delight.  No matter how early the alarm, that first sip makes me actually glad that I am no longer asleep.  That’s some serious magic.

And it’s not just taste, either – the mere smell of coffee is intoxicating.  Even people who don’t drink coffee will speak fondly of the dark, delicious scent of freshly-roasted or -ground beans.  Ahhhh.

2.  Coffee is a good companion for both the alone times and the social times.  I always sneak my cup of coffee back to my bedroom in the morning and close the door.  The kids think I’m getting dressed for the day, and I do, eventually — but first I sit at my prayer desk for a brief session of morning prayer, just me and my coffee and God.  It’s a quiet ritual that gets my day off to a good start.

But coffee has also traditionally and historically been a social beverage.  The first coffeehouse in Paris was a major magnet for the thinkers of the Enlightenment to meet and discuss Big Things with their pals.  Nowadays, we meet friends at Peet’s or Starbucks to catch up over a latte or an espresso.  Growing up, coffee always made an appearance at family dinners; my mom or grandma or aunt would brew a pot and pour mugs to share over the dinner table conversation.  A drink that brings people together and doesn’t result in a barfight: that’s one of the virtues of coffee.

The Coffee Bearer by John  Frederick Lewis

The Coffee Bearer by John Frederick Lewis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


3. Coffee is evidence (if such is needed) that I am a grownup.
As a kid, I hated it.  In college, I discovered a taste for it, and there was no going back. It was a rite of passage akin to getting my own checking account.

It also figured prominently in an important college lesson. One morning in the dining hall after staying up most of the night studying for a midterm, I was desperate to wake up.  I thought, in my hazy fog, that drinking two large glasses (not cups, mind: glasses) would make me alert for the test.  In fact, the coffee made me so manic and jittery that it was a struggle to restrain myself from running circles around around the classroom like a cartoon character with puffs of smoke at her heels.  It was a good lesson: Do all things in moderation.  From then on, I drank much less, and enjoyed it much more.

4. Coffee has given my husband a new hobby.  A few years back, looking for a cheaper way to fuel our daily coffee habit, Scott started researching places to purchase beans online.  That led him to websites that talked about roasting your own coffee.  That led him to try roasting beans with a popcorn popper, which led him to set off the smoke alarm, which led him to move the popper to the garage.  That, finally, led him to tell me that he wanted to buy a $300 coffee roasting machine.

“I seem to recall,” I told him, “that we started this whole thing as a way to cut costs.”

He patiently explained that he still had some birthday money left over, and that he had crunched the  numbers and it would start paying for itself within a not-so-distant date, and I gritted my teeth and said okay, and he embarked on a hobby that he loves to this day.  He buys green beans through the mail, and once a week or so he goes out to the garage and roasts. He has experimented with different kinds of beans from different places (my favorite: Ethiopian), and he has a log book where he records it all, and his coffee is hotly (ha! unintentional pun) in demand among our family and friends.  Because believe me, if you think coffee is good, coffee that is freshly-roasted is even better.

So it’s a hobby that has enriched my own life immeasurably.  And now we always have a Christmas gift for those hard-to-shop for folks!  What’s not to love?

5.  Coffee makes the world a little smaller.  I’m of the generation that remembers the commercials with Juan Valdez and his donkey.  As a kid seeing those ads, you knew that the coffee your parents brewed did not grow down the street but in some faraway place called Colombia.  In its own small way, it helped foster a fledgling global consciousness.  And now, with the emergence of the fair trade movement, the purchase of coffee can actively promote better lifestyles for people around the world.  That’s a pretty great thing.

6. It has a really cool and obscure patron saint.  At LA Congress the year after Scott started his roasting hobby, I found this magnet for sale.

St Drogo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had never heard of Saint Drogo before and frankly I was skeptical, because it sounds like a name invented by someone who has read too much Tolkein.  A little research, however,  proved that he is actually a legitimate Flemish saint of the twelfth century.  He is not only the saint of coffeehouse keepers, but also of deaf people, shepherds, gallstones, and (I quote) “people whom others find repulsive.”  He also apparently had the ability to bilocate, which in his bio is not specifically attributed to coffee consumption but which nonetheless seems like the kind of superpower you’d expect from the drink.

So that’s a sampling of reasons why I love coffee: the water of life, the nectar of the gods, the drink I can’t do without.

He is risen!

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He is truly risen!

Happy Easter!

The first bloom is the loveliest

Edited

I love my little prayer desk every time of year, but especially in spring.  It is so nice to take a pause in the company of these beauties.

My younger son, on the other hand, seemed to think that my prayer experience was missing something.  I came home from my brief weekend trip to find that my little sanctuary was now an airport.

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I’ll admire his aircraft if he’ll admire my roses. Win-win.

Review of “Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter” (which turns out to be a pretty good guide for Mom, too)

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Every year, about the midpoint of Lent, I realize that I’ve once again managed to get too busy to engage with it as fully as I’d like.  That’s when it’s good to have a little “Lenten reset,” to pause for bit to remember what this season is really all about.

This year, interestingly enough, a children’s book has helped me refocus.  Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter is a picture book that I have shared with my kids, but which has also nudged me to remember what the Lenten season is really all about.

This is a beautifully-written book.  Laura Alary packs a lot of important ideas into few words, written in a simple style that can easily reach kids (and their stressed-out moms).  “This is the season of Lent.  The church is dressed in purple,” it says on the first page.  I love how she starts with that; color matters, and kids notice it.  She returns to color elsewhere in the book (my kids loved tracking all the color references), talking about how “Colors are like a different language we can all speak even when we have no words.”  The closet artist in me goes, YES!  Exactly!  I love helping kids see that purple is the language of Lent, just as other colors correspond to other seasons.

The body of the book is divided into three parts: Making Time, Making Space, and Making Room.  Alary does a succinct but effective job of explaining why and how each one is a goal worth having in Lent.  She shares not only how Jesus made time, space, and room in his own life, but also offers kids some concrete ideas for doing the same (cleaning your room and giving away some of your possessions; going up to someone who is standing alone and starting a conversation).   The text is accompanied by beautiful pictures by illustrator Ann Boyajian; they are both vivid and soft at the same time, and very inviting.

Something else that is lovely about the book is also how it works in metaphor and parable.  Alary works in references to many of Jesus’ stories, and makes observations like “[Jesus] pours himself out like water from a pitcher.  He touches what is dirty and hurting and makes it clean and whole,” which is a powerful way for kids to understand the symbolism of so many Bible stories and church rituals.

As I look at my own busy life, with work and grocery shopping and Little League practice and staff meetings, I often think that I don’t have time or space or room for anything more.  But that’s not actually true.  If Lent does anything for me, it helps me be more intentional about where I do have time, and what I can cut to make more room and space for God.  I guess it’s a sign of my humanity that I am always hungry to be reminded of that.  I love how this year, the reminder came in the form of this gem of a picture book.

Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter is available through Paraclete Press and Amazon.com.  Many thanks to Paraclete for the review copy, which is one we’ll return to year after year.

Retreat on wheels: Why I need my commute

My fellow commuter (note coffee stains)

My fellow commuter (and source of coffee splashes)

For many, “commute” is a four-letter word.  The daily drive to and from work is a torturous ritual that taxes patience and frays nerves.

Call me crazy, but I am increasingly considering my commute a sort of gift.

First off, I’m lucky in that my commute is only half an hour.  (I should specify that that is only true if I leave the house by 7:06; if I leave at 7:20, I’m toast.  Such is the reality of traffic here in the SF Bay Area).  And I’m lucky that the road I take is — usually — one that keeps moving, without the stop-and-go traffic that makes drivers gnash their teeth.

My commute is also particularly pretty, on a road that takes me through gentle sloping hills.  It’s especially lovely this time of year, when the hills are bright green from the rain.  (In summer and fall, they’re ochre — pretty in its own way, but not as captiviating.)

There are cows grazing, and occasionally horses doing the same.  Every now and then I see deer, usually in a small group.  At times I see a long thin blindingly white heron standing on the slopes absurdly near the road, or I catch a glimpse of a hawk sitting on a low fence, managing to look both hunched and regal at the same time.

There are mornings where I find myself driving into a sunrise that is almost too glorious to be true.  Some mornings, the road is so socked in with fog that a road I know by heart suddenly becomes unknown, unfamiliar; I have to pay close attention to the signs that emerge out of the mist so I don’t miss my exit.  There are also mornings where the freeway itself is clear but mist moves, wraithlike and mysterious, along the wooded hills in the distance.

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Commute sky

 

It is a good thing to start one’s workday with a shot of natural beauty.  It’s like a caffeine boost for the soul.

And I’ve found that the half-hour in the car by myself is a necessary transition for me.  I’m an introvert who lives the life of an extrovert; I am a mom and a teacher, and both of these jobs demand a lot from me.  They require near-constant social interaction, relentless service and a focus on meeting others’ needs.  I love both roles, don’t get me wrong, but as someone who recharges her batteries through solitude, having that half-hour to myself twice a day is a necessary ritual.

I used to listen to the news in the car.  I rarely do now, as I’ve found it just increases my stress level before the day has even started.  Instead, I listen to my own music or to the local classical radio station, which has beautiful music and a morning DJ with one of the most calming voices I’ve ever had the good fortune to hear.

And I let my thoughts go.  They lead me in places that are sometimes predictable and sometimes surprising, and I find myself with new ideas for writing or lesson plans or how to address a problem on my mind.  Sometimes I consciously pray.  Sometimes I  just gather impressions from what I see around me, letting the green hills and oak trees and cows and morning fog sink into my memory, from which — in the way of the writing life — they may emerge again in future.

And I am, in those moments, ever-so-grateful that in my overfull and very social life, I am guaranteed two daily episodes of contemplation and silence, two daily chances to be alone with God and my thoughts.  I always wish for more, but what I have already is a gift.

Maybe that’s the secret to contentment: Looking at our lives and recognizing that God is already giving us what we need, even if it’s disguised as the morning commute.