Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How I Learned to Stop Coffee and Love Green Tea

Green tea

A semi-secret: I gave up coffee for Lent. Going in, it was a bit of a scary sacrifice. I didn't say much about it to friends or family because I was afraid I'd jinx myself. I knew it was going to be tough, and previous attempts to go coffee free for a time had ended in failure.

But I did it. Starting with the Ash Wednesday fast day probably helped--what are a few more symptoms on a day when you're already going through some sacrificial deprivation?

I knew there was no way I could manage without a semi substitute, so Ash Wednesday morning after church, I stopped (ashy forehead and all) and bought a box of green teabags. I knew it wouldn't be great tea, but I figured it'd do until I could pick up some loose leaf. I brewed some and sipped it resolutely, steeling myself for 40 long days in the coffee desert.

And then along the way, a funny thing happened. Instead of green tea being a major sacrifice--a pathetic coffee alternative--I found myself surprised by the beauty and subtlety and delicate nuances of the stuff: Japanese green tea, particularly, and sencha specifically, though not exclusively (I like bancha, and I also discovered genmaicha, which includes toasted rice with green tea--IT IS SO GOOD). Here's a good run-down of the basic types: Types of Japanese Green Tea.

In some ways, tea is far simpler than coffee: pour hot (but not too hot) water over the leaves, strain in some way after enough time has passed. No equipment involved, really. On the other hand, there are so many *layers* to brewing green tea. For instance, most teas can be steeped not once, but many times, and each steeping has its own character. To my taste, the first steeping can be a bit edgy and brash, a wake-up. The second (my favorite) is super fast: the leaves are awake and don't require much more than a rinse, and the flavor is full. Depending on the tea, it can be almost brothy: richly vegetable, almost a little seaweedy. For the third steeping, I let the water sit a good while, and it tends to be sweeter than the first to, sometimes startlingly so, lingering on the tongue.

I picked up an itty bitty baby Japanese teapot (called a kyusu) so I can make little cups, running quickly through three steepings (or more) and then starting again. The nicer kyusus are beautiful works of art, made of unglazed clay which requires a bit of care...I'll work up to one, perhaps, but for now, I'm very much enjoying this little guy. At work I just use a Pyrex measuring cup and pour through a tea strainer, but...there's a certain something to doing things in a fancy way, at least some of the time.

My little blue kyusu

I'm most certainly not done with coffee, but I'm actually not yet back to it. I had a cup on Easter Sunday. It seemed the thing to do. But the next day I got up, eyed the coffee and then my bag of green tea, and it was the tea that made my mouth water. So I shrugged, put the kettle on, and got down to business.

There's a lesson in all this, I suppose: when we are willing to let go, sometimes we may find ourselves unexpectedly blessed. I am grateful.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Mmm, Plotting

So I've cleared off the cement pad next to my house (originally intended to house a kennel, I think), and I'm getting ready to set up a rather ambitious container garden. Aside from whatever buckets and flower pots I had around the house, I'll mostly be using Smart Pots. I found them for a little cheaper than a lot of the larger plastic containers, and the lightweight/packable nature of them appeals, as does the concept of "air pruning" (so you don't end up with miserable, root-bound plants).

Those "pots" are on order, and friends with a truck are going to help me pick up a yard of potting mix next weekend. I have a few seedlings started in the sunny guest bedroom: Cherokee Purple tomatoes, Golden Nugget cherry tomatoes, lemon cukes, Thai basil. I'm also hoping to grow some other tomato varieties, potatoes, peppers, snap peas, lettuce and radishes, carrots (purple and red!), Delicata squash, spaghetti squash and zucchini, onions, assorted herbs, and strawberries. Ooh, strawberries.

And whatever else occurs to me before I use up all my space. What am I missing? Something from the cabbage family, maybe?

I confess, I'm really clueless, and there is enough information and advice out there to make you dizzy. I'm vacillating wildly between obsessed over-analysis (plans for tracking the exact dates of every single plant, replanting on exact schedules for such seeds as can be continually harvested, different watering and fertilizing agendas) and a daydreamy "let's wing it this year and learn from the mistakes" approach. Each extreme is annoyed by the other extreme. I'm annoyed at them both. This should be interesting.

Whichever way, though, I have many excuses for scribbling: brain storming, documenting, rejoicing and venting! And if I get a few decent homegrown tomatoes out of the venture, I'll count it a success.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Know Your Audience

This week we had a going away party for one of my co-workers. We took her out for drinks and appetizers at a local Mexican restaurant not far from the office. As we were getting ready to head over, another co-worker, who'd not been there before, asked me where it was. "Over there," I said, "Just down the street and on the same side as Goodwill."

Blank stare.

So I tried again. "It's kind of in the same parking lot as Staples," I said.

Blank stare.

As a last ditch effort, I said, "There used to be a post office there, but it moved down the street."

Blank stare.

At that point, another co-worker looked over my shoulder and said, "It's across the street from Taco Bell."  And the one who'd asked me for directions lit up and said, "Oh, that place!"

I'd honestly never noticed the Taco Bell.


Thursday, April 03, 2014

Silly Little Pencil Question: Sharpener Profiles

You all know by now that I have a wee tendency to overanalyze, right? Like...a LOT?

At this point, I kinda have several pencil sharpeners. The Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpeners get the most use at work and at home, because the seriously long-but-sturdy point they produce is my favorite. However, sometimes it's convenient to jam a pencil one-handed into the electric sharpener I keep in the living room. (What, keeping a pencil sharpener in the living room's not normal?) And when I'm out and about, I sometimes use the little brass Kum (which, incidentally, seems to have gone walk-about, which makes me sad, and which is completely out of the scope of this post). Also, in a ridiculous fit of spendthriftiness awhile back, I acquired a Carl, because I sincerely hoped it would function just like the CFPS except without leaving flea bites all over my pencils. (I should review it one of these days, but the short version is that while it is a great sharpener, it doesn't create quite the same terrifically long point.)

So...basically, all of these are a little different, which means any time you switch from one to another, you end up shaving a bit of extra pencil in order to reshape it for that sharpener.

For those of you who use lots of pencils and multiple sharpeners, do you even think about this? Do you actually stick with one or another sharpener for given pencils? Does it worry you that you might lose .002 cents worth of graphite if you switch from one to another?  Please, tell me.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Ramble About Town, March 22nd 2014

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Just a tiny fragment of the delights on hand at The Tea Lady in Olympia, WA.
It had been awhile since I spent a Saturday just wandering, and with a bit of spring weather setting in (if only temporarily), I may have had a bit of cabin fever as well. So...this Saturday I did a ramble about.

Went to the Tea Lady first. I've professed my love for this place so many times before, it seems a little redundant to state it again, but...I love this place! I'm currently off coffee (if only temporarily), which made a shop full of nothing but tea all the more exciting. I'd sort of planned to buy a teapot, but they mostly had large ones, too big for me unless I start throwing daily tea parties. So I'm back to obsessing on-line on that front. Still came away with some new green tea, some fillable tea bags for times when it's less than convenient to fiddle with a filter basket, and an interesting herbal blend with citrus, turmeric, and ginger. The instant I left I got requests from Dad and my sister for teas of their own, so I have an excuse to go back soon.

Next up was downtown, and the antique mall: Finders Keepers. It's always a fun place to browse: different vendors rent cubicles within the building, so each has a different assortment and you never know what you'll find around the next corner. First thing I noted was this boxy Hermes 3000. It's $145, or I might be giving you a review rather than just a photo. Looks pretty clean.

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Lots of other little assorted writing related things about:

Pencil Sharpeners at Finders Keepers
Pencil sharpeners
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Inks...and Shinola.
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Ink erasers and assorted pencil leads.

Typewriter cleaner.

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Some sorta old cash register? And a steno machine.
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SCM Coronet, just to be equal opportunity to the electrified among us.
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One of those heavy old staplers that could double as a blunt force weapon.
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Slide rules! The big one here is about standard size for these. The little one is little bitty. Shirt pocket sized, or smaller. Cute.
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Close-up of the little guy...
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If Hop-along Cassidy says it's his favorite ice cream, who am I to argue?
Had lunch afterward with a friend at The Bread Peddler: peanut curry chicken soup. Good, as is only to be expected from The Bread Peddler. Yum!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Graphite Dreamin'

Likely due to the pandas in my last post, last night I dreamed I was at a large Wintergrass-like gathering at a hotel, but in addition to my music friends, all the typewriter and pencil folks were there.

I was just about to join the pencil people for a big show-and-tell and possible trading party when I woke up. Serious bummer. I was particularly looking forward to trying Pencil Revolution's My First Ticonderogas and some of the more exotic pencils brought over by the European contingent, and maybe trading some of my pencils for new ones.

But I'll have to settle for solo scribbling. *snif*

Saturday, March 15, 2014


When I was at Goodwill today, they had a few big bags of brand new round pencils with little pandas on them, probably half a gross for $5. Quite possibly these: Musgrave Panda Pencils.

I didn't buy them.

The pandas...they haunt me.

As if I need more pencils.

I'm not right in the head.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Wintergrass 2014 (Late) After Report

This is the one and only photo I took: my scribbling and caffeination supplies for a morning of jotting down memories.

I spent Feb 27-Mar 2 at Wintergrass--the big indoor music festival held at the Hyatt in Bellevue, WA. We take over the whole place--people wandering around with fiddles and guitars and banjos and mandolins, jamming in hallways and stairwells. And then there are the concerts! It was, in short, an incredible experience. Highlights for me:

  • Beats Workin' (Peter Ostroushko on mandolin, Mike Dowling on guitar, David Lange on accordion, Cary Black on bass): they played swing and bluesy stuff and original tunes and...oh man, were just so good and so fun all around! My favorite was Peter Ostroushko's "Heart of the Heartland" on Thursday night.

  • Väsen, the truly excellent Swedish folk band, currently a trio with 12 string guitar, nykelharpa, and 5-string viola. I've liked them for a long time, but had never seen them live. My only regret is that I only got to see them twice over the course of the festival. I bought their Mindset album, and I have to say, while there were flashier, more mind boggling performers at Wintergrass, Mindset is the album I've had on repeat ever since. Favorite tune: Hundlaten, which Mikael said he wrote while walking his dog--the title, as I recall, means, simply, "Dog Song." It's bouncy and fun and gets hopelessly stuck in my head.

  • The Kruger Brothers. I'd not seen them before, either, and WOW. As someone said about Jens Kruger, there are good banjo players, great banjo players, and then there's Jens Kruger. I've never heard music like that before. And Uwe's voice and songwriting are icing on the cake. Favorites: "Carolina in the Fall" and the first bit of their "Appalachian Concerto."

  • Chris Thile and Mike Marshall. I just don't have suitable words for what they do. Improvising, in harmony, even at high speeds or in funky time signatures like 25/16. Really. They were amazing, and I do not use that word lightly. Mando gods.

  • Combination of the above: one of my favorite Väsen tunes is a beautiful waltz: Josefin's. Not only did they do it, at the very end of their last set on Saturday, but Chris Thile and Mike Marshall joined them. It was...I still can't describe it. Magical.

    I also have so many other happy memories: morning jams after breakfast, a trip to the dim sum place nearby, where we laughed at our varying ability to eat with chopsticks, running up eleven flights of stairs sometime after midnight when I got sick of waiting for the elevators after the last concert of the day, a walk to the QFC (across the street) wherein I got us so lost I think we saw most of Bellevue....

    Good friends, good fun, good food, good music. It was a perfect vacation. And the accommodations definitely beat the tar out of your average bluegrass festival...beds? Private bathrooms, with fresh towels provided daily? Thermostats? Whoa!

  • Saturday, February 22, 2014

    Blue for Bluegrass

    Starting a new Field Notes this weekend for my daily doings log. This will be an important one, since Wintergrass, the big indoor bluegrass/acoustic music festival in Bellevue, WA, is starting Thursday, and I imagine I'll have much to remember! I decided to keep with the "winter" theme, and grabbed one of the Cold Horizon notebooks. Seemed fitting. And I'll be bringing mechanical pencil, since it's easier on-the-go.

    So excited!

    Friday, February 21, 2014

    I Hate Arches: A Flatfooted Plodder's Rant

    I hate arches.
    Arch Colosseum Rome Italy

    No, not those. Those are pretty coo'.

    The shoe kind.

    I've always had more or less flat feet. When I flex my foot I have a bit of an arch, but when standing still, not so much. Which means shoe salespeople always want to put me in shoes with distinct arches to supposedly fix my feet.

    But those shoes HURT. And, while I'm not an ortho doc by any stretch of the imagination and probably shouldn't make such judgements on my own, I don't think I buy into the idea that strongly arched shoes will--somehow,eventually--make my world brighter and my life better. Or even that I need them. I've done plenty of hiking in my day. And walking. And marching. Which isn't the same as running, granted, but I'm just sayin'. The only time I've really had foot/leg/back pain has been when I've worn shoes that are supposed to eliminate pain. Chaco sandals, for instance, are instruments of torture in my book. And so, apparently, are many fancy running shoes.

    Case in point: as I set out on my current journey toward runner-dom, I have two pairs of shoes: one pair of the sort that per conventional wisdom (and the running store) should support flat feet properly, and one lightweight pair I stubbornly bought despite the fact that they are fairly shapeless. The nearly archless ones work better, I swear. I hurt less during and after running. The (admittedly fairly modest) arches in the other pair quickly give me shooting pains in my feet, plus hurt my hips. I know, I know, much of that is almost certainly due to my general out-of-shapeness and the fact that I don't have a clue what I'm doing. I know, but the foot pain is real and I don't think it's as it should be, or that it'll magically go away as I become a "runner."

    I'm beginning to think the "I can't run, I have flat feet" excuse I used for years was because my shoes hurt, not because my feet did. If that makes sense. But it's a valid excuse even so, because almost nothing feels right. Gar.

    This is apparently weighing heavily on my mind. Last night I dreamed I was watching a footrace (not participating, just cheering on the runners), and some of the competitors were wearing not shoes but oven mitts on their feet, tied at the ankles, thumbs pointed comically outward. And in the dream, instead of thinking, "Those people are crazy!" I instead thought, "Hmmmm..." I think my subconscious mind figured those'd be great shoe substitutes: lightly padded, no annoying bumps inside.

    Anyway, for now, I guess I chalk up the bumpy shoes as a learning experience and just run in my single pair of low-arched shoes until I have more miles under my belt and more knowledge of what I really want/need. Maybe once I'm a real runner I'll magically have feet that work with bumps? I dunno.