When the Dog Bites

This looks a lot like the little yapper that bit me.

So, Thursday evening, I got bitten by a dog. It was my first real dog bite ever, and from a complete stranger dog, too.  Last night as I arrived home late from visiting a friend, I was approached by a man I’d never seen before as I parked my car – he wanted money and couldn’t understand why I refused to get out of my vehicle after he assured me, “I’m a good guy, I promise!” (I was fine, I opened the window a crack and passed him the only dollar I had. I watched until he was a full block away before turning off the ignition and going inside). Today, I inadvertently left my favorite gloves on the fender of my bike while locking the bike to a rack. When I returned to the bike: yep. Totally stolen.

But am I going to let these things harsh my buzz? No way. Because today I am focused on the things that make me happy.

Instead of the dog bite, I’m thinking about the awesome weekend I had with friends and family. Hanging out with Sara and her kids helped me truly relax. Friday’s dinner with my brother Jeff and his wife Marsha was particularly special because it served as a reunion between Jeff and our friend Mike after decades apart. I’m thinking about how grateful I am for the blessing of positive health news on all three family members about whom I’ve been concerned – a late-night panhandler can have my last dollar in light of that! The kindness of a stranger who wrote a personal note to me in a rejection letter or my coworkers bringing me information about low-cost services are good counterbalance to the theft of my gloves.

Earlier today I read a post on Allison Vesterfelt’s blog (This is Where Your Fear Comes From) in which she recounts watching an interaction between a mother and child in which it appears that the mother, in an attempt to reassure her child, actually convinces the perfectly content child to be afraid. Allison’s “AHA” that fear is a learned response got me thinking about how so many of our reactions to life’s events, big and small, are learned responses. And once we’ve learned to respond in a particular manner, we practice it until it is habitual.

If you’ve been following Jenion since I moved to Minneapolis, you’re aware that I’ve been living in two different realities at once – the reality of loving my new life and new city, engaging with new experiences and people; and also the reality of panic, fear and loneliness. Here’s the thing: most of my life I practiced what I learned as a kid and I got really good at risk aversion/avoidance, waiting for the other shoe to drop, feeling insecure, and worrying about bad things that could happen. Then, I experienced life-altering change, and began developing new skills like optimism, trust, confidence in my ability to figure things out. Also a belief that joy is readily available if I choose it. But these are fledgling skills, neither as strong nor as ingrained as the others. So I struggle to keep them active, to make them the default instead of the less-helpful skills I’m valedictorian of.

The lyrics of the song “Pompeii” by Bastille perfectly illustrate my conundrum these past few months:

I was left to my own devices
Many days fell away with nothing to show

And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Great clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above…

A pretty bleak picture, that. But the song goes on to ask what, for me, is an all-important question, “How am I gonna be an optimist about this?” 

No matter what we may have been told in the past, optimism and pessimism are not mutually exclusive or immutable traits with which we are hard-wired. You may, like my sister Gwen, be born with a disposition that bubbles with laughter. Or you might have an Eeyore-like tendency to overemphasize that which is glum. But these are predispositions, not personality requirements. We can practice rewiring our thinking, keeping the best traits of both optimism and pessimism, thereby impacting our physical and emotional health for the better. “Both personalities could use a little bit of one another to really keep an individual at peak health. The optimist needs the caution of the pessimist, and the pessimist needs the drive of the optimist. For well-balanced health, the middle road is the ideal way to go.” (“How being an optimist or a pessimist affects your health”)

So, since I may have been describing myself, above, instead of Eeyore, I am taking my cue from Bastille’s “Pompeii”. Whenever the negative threatens to overwhelm me, I’m asking, “How AM I going to be an optimist about this?” The truly amazing thing is that I can usually come up with workable answers. Answers that allow me to invest my energy in skills and beliefs that take me out of the anxious reality and back into the engaging one. Because there’s no question which one I – or any of us, really – would prefer to live in, is there?





Taking a Picnic to the Battle

“It became clear that the anticipated battle would take place on Sunday, July 21, 1861. Stories would often be told about how spectators from Washington, riding in carriages and bringing along picnic baskets, had raced down to the area so they could watch the battle as if it was a sporting event…And by late afternoon the Union Army was in retreat. The road back to Washington became a scene of panic, as the frightened civilians who had come out to watch the battle tried to race homeward alongside thousands of demoralized Union troops.”  (Battle of Bull Run in Summer of 1861 Was a Disaster for the Union Army, Robert McNamara)

I remember hearing this story in a history lesson sometime in my youth and wondering, even at my tender age, “What were they thinking?!” In all honesty, though, I’ve remembered this story primarily at moments in my adult life when I find myself in frightening situations that I am in only through my own volition.

An example may be helpful to illustrate. One mild midnight, everyone trooped out of a friend’s New Year’s Eve party to stand on the deck of her neighbor’s pool while he set off a celebratory fireworks display. The pyrotechnician/arsonist for the evening was highly intoxicated, which should have been a red flag. In fact, my friend’s husband (a former firefighter) refused to join the group and this, too, was a warning that went largely unheeded. When the first volley of rockets was lit, they all came zooming straight at the spectators standing where we had been told we would be “safe.” I imagined the headline: “12 Revelers Hospitalized: Too Idiotic to Avoid Drunken Fireworks Display”.

I could give many more examples. But the point is that we all sometimes walk blithely into situations that, given a little time and forethought, we might otherwise avoid. So while I occasionally think of these events and rue my naiveté, I don’t beat myself up over them. Instead, I try to learn from them for the next time. Just as I’m fairly certain no one who rushed out with a picnic basket to watch the first Battle of Bull Run made that same mistake at the second Battle of Bull run, I am pretty sure I will listen to my gut telling me to distrust drunk men with matches and incendiary devices.

Usually, I’ve thought of the Bull Run revelers from the perspective of advanced reasoning skills – and whether or not these unknowns from the past employed them. I can totally see how it happened, though: everyone had been talking excitedly about the impending war for weeks; the rumor was that one battle would determine the war – and as luck would have it, that battle was going to take place in their backyard! They grabbed their friends, some food and beverages, and headed out to see history in the making. How cool is that?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about those picnickers from a different angle. I’ve been empathizing with the fact that they found themselves in a frightening predicament. Admittedly, they got themselves into the mess. Still, I imagine their bewilderment as the day went from anticipation to terrified retreat. I imagine them thinking, “How did this happen?” or “How could I have been so stupid?” or, for the high-feeling types just “Aaaarrrrggggggghhhhh!!!!!!”

This time last year, I was pondering a significant outing in my own life. I worked with a coach, I talked about my options with friends and family, and I carefully combed through my own inner desires. I worked with a financial consultant and parsed my choices. All of the work, the research, the endless discussions came down to this – I either packed my basket and went off to the battle or I stayed where I was. The battle was where great things might happen, where history might be made. Staying put was where, in the immortal words of Barry Manilow, it was “all very nice, but not very good.” Despite the forethought I gave this life change, I had no way to predict the course of the future. For this very reason, my empathy for the picnickers at Bull Run has increased – while they might, admittedly, have seen the downside to their plan, even they could not have known the future ahead of time.

In fact, upon reflection, it turns out that spectating at the Battle of Bull Run and taking a leap of faith into our own possible futures have a lot in common.

  • No matter what we’re packing for our journeys, we can’t predict what we will actually need. Did the Bull Run picnickers pack weaponry and ammunition with their sandwiches and lemonade? Lord knows, they likely needed things they hadn’t brought with them. We’ve all been there. You open your basket, or suitcase, or toolbox, and what you need is conspicuously absent. There is no point in crying about it, you have to just let it go and move one with what you DO have.

“Incremental growth is walking down familiar paths carrying the same assumptions. But, the first – real step – toward exponential growth is a profound and dreadful letting go.” Or so says Dan Rockwell, the Leadership Freak. (http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/about/) He goes on to say you must let go of one rope while reaching for the next – which means there is a moment in time when you are not actually holding on. Nothing you’ve packed prepares you for the disorientation of that “moment”, the length of which varies from literal moments to months or longer. Rockwell goes on to reassure us that “change happens quickly on the inside, even though it took a long time to get there. But, change on the outside continues to be painfully slow.” This is a reassuring message when you aren’t certain you’re holding onto anything that can support your weight – something is happening even if you can’t yet see it. (For more of Dan’s insights on radical growth, read this blog entry http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/8-growth-principles-that-transform-leadership/)

  • Keep the faith, but also take the action. If you ever find yourself in the midst of a pitched battle, pray for guidance and assistance. Then, ditch the picnic basket and run! Cowering is a human reaction. Allow your humanity its experience of panic. But don’t stand still and wallow. I expected change in my own life to be hard. I am, by nature, risk-averse and here I was, taking a huge risk (quitting my job, relocating, starting over). What I didn’t expect was for it to be this hard – reality-hard, as opposed to thinking-ahead-hard. This horrible winter encouraged my natural reaction to hunker down and wait it out. The more I ducked-and-covered, the higher my anxiety climbed. What I have discovered is that any action with forward momentum, no matter how small, results in a lessening of the  fear.
  • We’re all on the road to hell So you didn’t intend to get caught in the middle of a pitched battle between two armies? Too bad, because that’s where you are now. What we intend and what actually happens don’t always match up. When this occurs, life doesn’t stop and wait for us to catch up with it or to get with the program – it inexorably marches forward. For example, I’ve had to intentionally tell myself that I can’t keep putting things off while I am “in transition”. I may not feel or even be settled, but my life IS this moment, not what happens down the line. If you’re not where you intend(ed) to be, work to change that. Just don’t forget that tomorrow is never guaranteed. Today is your real life, inhabit it!
  • Adrenaline might help you run faster, but it wreaks havoc on your health over the long haul. If you are in physical danger, by all means keep running! Your flight response is intended to keep you alive, to help you survive. But when the danger is fear of the future, it is probably time to take steps to let the adrenaline dissipate. There is a pandemic of anxiety in our society these days. One way to counter it is to make yourself stop running. Slow down, breathe, pray or meditate. Recently, I felt my own panic and anxiety rising daily to the point where it seemed to sit on my solar plexus like a huge granite boulder – immovable. One night it became unbearable; I laid in bed struggling to breathe around its weight. That’s when I discovered a secret: I could just give it away.

I said out loud, “God, I’m giving this to you. Its yours. Both this boulder of anxiety and the future I’ve been so panicked about. I’m trusting that you’ve got this.” I felt immediate relief in that moment. I strongly recommend letting God/the Universe/your Higher Power take this burden.  When the anxiety threatens, remind yourself that the future isn’t your problem or concern. Put the faith back in the phrase “leap of faith”.

We will all find ourselves at points in our lives asking, “What did I just do?” or “How stupid can I get?” These questions may occur at the surface (such as in the case of the New Year’s eve fireworks) or at the deep, interior level of growth and change. Like me, you may find yourself wondering, while feeling vulnerable and exposed, “Did I just show up for a battle with nothing but a picnic basket?” Our best response is to be open to the possibilities for exponential growth this may provide. Will it be frightening, difficult, and/or life altering? You bet. Will it also be worth the pain and self-doubt? Martha Beck, life coach and self-help guru says, “You’ll find that the more annoying or even devastating an adventure is to live, the better wayfinding tale it makes.”  Let’s take that as a “Yes”.

Big Coffee – It is What it Is (My life in Coffee, part 2)

Note: Last week, I shared my personal history and love for coffee. This week, I’m sharing about my experience working in a coffee shop. Plenty has been written about coffee baristas hating their jobs and, especially, their customers. For examples of what you are NOT about to read here, check out these links: Why Your Stabucks Barista Hates You, Starbucks Gossip: Starbucks Barista: We’re Not Your Friends. I can’t deny some of it rings true, if hollow and one-dimensional. Because so many have asked, this post offers a glimpse of my experience working for Big Coffee in a licensed store – meaning, I have been trained on the “Big Coffee Way” and attempt to provide that same “Big Coffee” experience, but I am actually employed by another company. 

Black coffee and a Minnesota sandwich cookie from Gigi's. (never mind the missing upper right arm of the state. I took a bite first, photo second!)
Black coffee and a Minnesota sandwich cookie from Gigi’s. (never mind the missing upper right arm of the state. I took a bite first, photo second!)

When I resigned my professional position in higher education and relocated to Minneapolis, my friends and I repeatedly said, “If nothing else, you/I can get a job as a barista!”. This was a nod to my love for coffee and the hours I’d spent in my local coffee hangouts, and an acknowledgement that I wasn’t in any way certain about what the future held. In some ways, it was also the real-life equivalent of Monty Python’s famous line, “And now for something completely different!”. We all knew I had loved my job for years, but was seriously burnt-out and experiencing a deep sense of betrayal – so much so that the thought of continuing my career with a simple move to a different institution was anathema for a time.

At the beginning of my job search, I applied for a variety of professional positions, primarily in nonprofits throughout the Twin Cities. As weeks went by with barely a word from prospective employers, I began to think more seriously about hourly jobs as a means of tiding me over, financially, until the right full-time professional position came along. And that, my friends, is how I began working for Big Coffee.

I remember talking about customer service at my interview. I said, “Its important to read the customer. Some will come in looking for a pleasant exchange or to be recognized/known. Others just want to get their coffee and be on their way. How well you read what they want can make or break their day.” This has proven true. Very few of our customers want to chat at any length, but most are seeking a smile and expect me to ask how they are. In fact, a surprising number of them ask how I am first – and their question is more often than not a genuine one. The only customers who sometimes get on my nerves are the ones who can’t decide but don’t step aside to let the next in line go ahead of them. Ok, they’re not the only ones. As a licensed store, rather than a franchise, there are a few things that don’t work exactly the same way – I am also irritated by customers who get irate and yell at me because the corporate negotiations left these gaps in service. I sympathize, but am powerless, so please stop yelling at me.

I was surprised, as I trained, to learn that Big Coffee actually wants its baristas to be fairly knowledgeable about coffee. There were tastings of different blends with discussion of the flavor notes. There are strict standards for coffee brewing and the length of time a pot is allowed to sit before being replaced. And then there is The Machine: the fully-automated espresso machine which means that the barista never actually pulls a shot – s/he simply pushes a button. The shots are produced with a perfect crema on top. I already possessed a good grasp of steamed milk and the right quality of foam, but this was the first and most time-consuming part of my training.

My co-workers are an interesting lot. I didn’t expect to work with so many people who don’t actually like coffee. One of the difficulties for our store is that, due to not liking coffee, some of our baristas don’t understand the point of the standards for brewing or the time constraints placed on how long a shot of espresso can sit before it is served to the customer. To these baristas, it all tastes terrible anyway, so they cannot tell the difference between old coffee and fresh coffee. The lack of coffee-love also shows in the difficulty some have had in memorizing the recipes. On the other hand, with perhaps occasional lapses, my coworkers display excellent customer service…except for the somewhat high percentage of wrongly made drinks, which we remake with a smile, following the recipe the second time rather than relying on faulty memory.

The store I work at is located in an affluent community. People throughout the Minneapolis area refer to this community in negative terms, suggesting that they are particularly difficult because they carry a sense of entitlement. While I have certainly had a few experiences with customers who fit this stereotype, a much larger percentage of our customers than might typically be the case in other Big Coffee shops, are elderly. By and large, these individuals have manners and use them. Though an older clientele may sometimes slow the pace, it also offers the opportunity to engage with people who truly appreciate the extra assistance as we carry their coffee to the cafe or explain the differences between roasts.

As with all new experiences, working in a Big Coffee shop has been a learning experience. There are things that surprised me, things that bum me out, and things that I truly enjoy. I’d like to share a few in each category:

Things that surprised me:

  • Because we are a licensee rather than a franchise, our corporate owners have decreed that baristas may not accept tips. What surprises me, and warms my heart, is the number of customers genuinely outraged to learn this. (More on this in the “things that bum me out” list.)
  • Customers who know the exact recipe for what they are ordering – helpful on special orders, annoying on regular orders. There are customers who order their drinks made to a specific temperature – how do they determine their optimal temp? I just know I like my coffee very hot – but I am at a loss to quantify that.
  • How many children are allowed to order highly-caffeinated beverages. Yes, there is caffeine in most of the blended drinks.
  • How much I enjoy making caramel macchiatos, even though I would never order one (too sweet for me). These are basically the only coffee order that requires some artistry on my part.
  • How many people throw their money at you or drop it on the counter out of your reach. What is that about?

Things that bummed me out:

  • The Machine. I wanted to be a coffee artist, not a button pusher. The Machine allows consistency and is faster than hand-pulled shots. But. If I compare a Big Coffee Americano with one pulled by my black-and-green-haired barista at The Boiler Room there’s no comparison for taste. The hand-pulled shots win every time. Granted, some of this may also be the brand and roast of the espresso used – but it is also the care and consistency demonstrated by the barista.
  • Working for a licensed store can suck. There are a handful of us at Big Coffee, while all of our other coworkers are Union employees, which creates a glaring pay disparity. When hired, we were told that tips would be allowed – in Minneapolis this translates to hundreds of dollars per month of extra income for baristas. Without tips, what I make working 30 hours a week doesn’t pay for much. Big Coffee benefits such as health care, much lauded in the media, do not apply to us – even down to a cuppa during our work shifts. Official policy is that we must purchase anything we consume (including brewed coffee, despite the fact that we dump pots of it out every 30 minutes), except for testing samples when a new product is rolled out.
  • Schedules are produced on a week-by-week basis, without reference to the previous week’s schedule. This means that I never know in advance what my schedule will be, and I might have worked four days in a row at the end of the last schedule and four at the beginning of this one, making an 8-day week. This prohibits planning as well as doing in my off hours. Volunteer work? No one wants a volunteer who can’t commit to a set time. Job interviews translate to begging others to trade shifts. Time off requests mean that you are penalized those hours that week – it is always assumed you would have been scheduled for an 8-hour shift during that time and those 8 hours are “counted” against your total of 30 or fewer for the week. The upshot is that no one requests time off, resulting in a cut-throat trading free-for-all the minute a new schedule is posted. Health codes require us to call in sick under certain conditions. But no one does, because none of us can afford the lost income.
  • I remember a faculty member in graduate school saying that the higher your earned degree level, the more control and autonomy you would experience in your work life. Altogether, these bummers are teaching me a lot about things I may not have valued as deeply as I ought to have in my previous career.
  • The final bummer I want to share has to do with our elderly customers. Big Coffee is expensive. Every shift there is at least one person who approaches and says that they’d like to “have a treat today”, and asks the price of coffee or a pastry item. When told the price, s/he is crestfallen. Not irritated that it’s expensive, though we get that too. But genuinely, clearly unable to afford a small coffee. We have one woman who comes every day and asks for a sample of brewed coffee. She then sits in the cafe for an hour, nursing that thimbleful of coffee. Technically, this isn’t quite above board. But who is heartless enough to address it with her? It may be an affluent community, but it is clear who is living on a strictly limited income.

Things I enjoy:

  • Working the coffee bar when we’re busy. There’s a pleasure that comes with testing yourself to work fast with accuracy, and still manage to connect with the customers.
  •  I like being assigned to sample products. Many of my co-workers don’t like sampling, but I enjoy this process – a soft sell, answering questions, delighting people by giving them something yummy for free. Its the little things, right?
  • When I first started the job, I was disappointed that it wasn’t a more hip location. One where I might meet interesting artists or writers or…just a more diverse crowd. But as I’ve gotten to know our clientele, I’ve really liked working with the older customers. One customer orders a pour-over or a French Press every day, and every day with enthusiasm instructs us how to make it while also waxing poetic about how good it is compared to what he makes at home. Another older gentleman came in daily when we first opened, and garnered a reputation for being surly, cranky, and unfriendly. A month or so later, he showed up with a woman in tow – his wife who had been ill. He actually smiled, throwing everyone off. He still comes in daily, but with his wife – and the change in his demeanor has endeared him to all of us. There’s a quite elderly woman who has never ordered anything from us, but she is often waiting for her ride for 40 or 50 minutes. When I see her, I get something out of the case to sample. She’s particularly fond of anything chocolate!

There was some speculation, on my part as well as among my friends, whether working at Big Coffee would adversely affect my relationship with, my deep love for, coffee. I can happily report that it has not. Which is not to say that it hasn’t had an impact. For one, if Big Coffee is the only option available, I will go there. But now the idea of voluntarily spending my money and time at Big Coffee is much less agreeable to me. Not because I’m a hater – I’m not. But you know what they say about familiarity…some things are better with more separation. Besides, I’ve always preferred independent and local to chains anyway, and I have not come close to exhausting the coffee shop options here yet!

Some days, I wake up and all I can smell in my little apartment is coffee. I don’t know if it is something I bring home on my work clothes, in my nostrils, or if it is a remnant of the last pot I made in my galley kitchen. It doesn’t really matter which it is. I inhale deeply and think, “Hmmm. Time to make some coffee.”

The coffee bar at The Boiler Room.
The coffee bar at The Boiler Room.

You say addiction, I say love affair (My life in coffee, part one)

I posted this once before as a Flashback Friday: my sister Chris, brother Jeff and me (in the middle) in a staged photo from our childhood. Coincidentally, Jeff now owns a coffee shop!
I posted this once before as a Flashback Friday: my sister Chris, brother Jeff and me (in the middle) in a staged photo from our childhood. Coincidentally, Jeff now owns a coffee shop!

Let’s get this out on the table right away: I don’t really care what anyone else thinks about this. I definitely don’t care what conflicting medical studies show. And I don’t really even care if what I am about to tell you is factually true. That’s how one-sided I am when it comes to my life with coffee.

When I was a kid, my grandpa Postel lived in an apartment in the basement of our house. Occasionally, I got to stay overnight in the apartment with him. (There were six of us kids, so by the time he cycled through the bunch, it was a rare and special event). After spending the night, we’d get up early and go to 6:00 a.m. mass at the Cathedral, followed by breakfast at Rings Restaurant on Dodge Street. On these special mornings, I was given the choice: a cup of tea or one of coffee, loaded with sugar and creamer. I always chose tea. To this day, I regret my childish mistake.

My parents lived on coffee (reference the 6 children mentioned above). My mother didn’t leave her bedroom in the mornings until she’d had her first two cups, delivered by my father or one of us kids if a proxy was needed. Depending on the day, there might be a pot at lunch, but there was WITHOUT FAIL coffee at supper. I learned how to use an electric percolator at an early age.

By the time I was in high school, I was regularly helping myself to my parents’ stash. Of course, I poured in the sugar and milk, but there was no mistaking that dark, earthy coffee flavor. Then, in 1976 a coffee shortage happened, and prices skyrocketed. In an effort to curb their children’s burgeoning taste for the liquid gold, my parents instituted a “drink it black or not at all” rule in the house. They said that if we didn’t like the way it tasted on its own, we didn’t like it enough to justify the expense of drinking it. Unfortunately, their Machiavellian plot backfired, because 1976 marks the year I fell truly, madly, deeply in love with the bean.

Throughout my college years, I was an aficionado of the greasy spoon coffee: Saturday mornings at a breakfast cafe where a waitress named Patty kept it hot and filled to the brim; late nights at Perkins, where my friend Marty would wave the empty pot over his head to signal our server that we’d reached the bottom of yet another “bottomless cup”. By the mid-80s, I was in grad school and the modern coffee trend finally reached the midwest. Coffee shops with flavored coffees, brew bars, and coffee drinks proliferated. (Unbelievably, it took almost another twenty years for Big Coffee to claim any real estate in Iowa.) I officially became a coffee snob.

Regardless of the ambience or delivery method, I remained true to my coffee purist roots. I drank it black and strong, first thing in the morning and all day long. Occasionally, I ordered a cappuccino to experience the sublime flavor of coffee sipped through expertly foamed milk. (Eventually, a trip to Ireland changed my coffee habit irrevocably – the first time I drank coffee with real Irish cream. Now my Americano is almost always softened with half-and-half.) I often drank copious cupfuls of the stuff at night, then went to bed and fell peacefully asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

I realize that everything I’ve shared thus far serves as an argument for addiction. I can’t deny that. About ten years ago, I was suffering from horrible heartburn and acid reflux. I gave up soda and coffee, cold-turkeyed them both. I felt horrible for several days as I suffered with the telltale splitting headache of caffeine withdrawal.

And here’s where the love affair side of things kicks in. After successfully removing coffee from my life for almost a year, I felt physically fine but found myself still longing for a cup, for the taste of it in my mouth: I missed my cup of joe. More important, I missed the ME who indulged in those cups. So I started up again – and, like a miracle, discovered that coffee was not the cause of my previous discomfort. I still only rarely indulge in sodas, but I quickly returned to drinking coffee daily.

Why did I miss coffee so much? I missed the ritual of having a “first thing in the day”. I missed holding the warm cup in my hand. I missed the warmth of familiarity coffee offers in cold new surroundings, and I definitely missed the purposefulness of “going for coffee” as opposed to wandering about town aimlessly. Most important, it wasn’t until I gave up coffee that I discovered just how much a part of my social engagement with family and friends it was. When I visit my parents, morning coffee is my favorite part of the day – we read the paper or watch the morning news and talk in an unguarded way that is never really replicated at other times of the day. With my siblings (one brother actually owns a coffee shop) and friends, long, rambling, silly or serious discussions are had while hanging out over coffee. Or, like when I visit my brother Matt in Chicago, we get up and out to walk over to Cafe Mustache and engage with the neighborhood – something I’ve happily replicated in my new neighborhood by heading over to the Boiler Room. When I am alone, as I am so often since moving here, coffee shops are always welcoming, and good coffee fuels my ability to relax then focus on projects.

I’d like to mention that I have dear friends and family members who DON’T drink the stuff. Even some who cannot understand in any way its appeal. We have awesome times together, too, though they’ve accepted that I might bring coffee with me to their homes (and drink it while they share a bottle of wine). My friend, Sue, even keeps an elegant electric percolator in the cupboard – and coffee in the freezer – just to make me feel at home when I visit.

Can I live without coffee? I know the answer is yes. Would I want to? Not really.

So, you may be wondering, why am I sharing this long reminiscence about the role of coffee in my life and personal history? Well, I wanted you to understand my relationship with coffee, my love of it, before I share part two next week – my adventures in working at a coffee shop. Stay tuned!