Thursday, April 24, 2014

Clam: In Which an Introvert Attempts Extroversion

It's an innocent, friendly little question, but I despise it: "How have you been?"

What else can I expect someone to say when they haven't seen me in awhile? What else do *I* say when I haven't seen someone in awhile? But when someone asks me, my mind instantly goes blank, my palms start to sweat, and I mumble something about, "Oh, busy. Work" And then freeze. There may be all sorts of interesting, amusing or edifying things I've done or experienced or read about recently, but they abandon me in an instant.

I am clam. Clam I am.

It's especially frustrating when I'm with people who know me primarily via the written word, who know I can be semi-coherent and even funny, and who I'm sure have a very hard time correlating who I am on-line with the pathetic, blushing and stammering lump of humanity they see before them. It must seem like I'm two different people, but I'm not: I'm just trapped inside. So they move on, looking puzzled.

There are few things more demoralizing than utterly flubbing social interchange. Bah. At that point, I usually find a corner spot where I can sit and observe and listen and hope no one tries to be nice to me again.

But I am learning. Sometimes--if not reliably, in the panic of the moment--I can turn the question around: ask the asker about a project I know they've been working on or an event they attended or a pet or a family member or the photo they posted the other day. Because I'm interested--I really am! And if all goes well, the ice ends up broken and, though to some extent I've slipped into my comfortable observe and listen mode, it's the proper, social sort. I get to learn something new about my friend, and it gives them the chance to talk about something which (hopefully) they are excited about. All is well.

At least until another person comes up and asks me, " have you been?"

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.