Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

An “Odd” Favorite

I might have had to think about this week’s topic for 30 seconds before picking my favorite book, but I doubt it. I read a lot, but out of all the books I’ve read, the one that outshines all the others is Oddkins: A Fable for all Ages by Dean Koontz. Yes. THAT Dean Koontz – the author of suspense/thriller/horror books. What, might you ask, was a small child doing reading Dean Koontz? Well, my literary friend, Dean Koontz wrote a children’s book.

The story, briefly, is about a toymaker who has made some unusual toys. They come to life. Unfortunately, the toymaker knows his life is coming to an end and he wants to make sure his toys get to another toymaker who will accept them and take care of them. The toymaker dies and the toys embark on a journey across town to get to the new toymaker. Evil toys living in the basement soon come to life after the toymaker’s passing and chase the good toys, trying to destroy them so they can spread their own brand of evil to children.

Part of what makes this book so special is the illustrations by Phil Parks. I remember how sometimes I used to flip through the book just to look at the illustrations.

I think the reason this book stood out from all the others as my favorite has to do with the experience I had reading it. When I was in second grade, my elementary school had the “Be Excited About Reading” or “BEAR” campaign to promote literacy. I don’t remember the exact details, but I think one of the aims was to make reading a family event. My mother purchased Oddkins and brought it home to read with my sister and me. I remember every night after dinner we would sit on the couch together and read our book. The book is pretty large and my sister and I were fairly small so I think we were able to spread it across all three of our laps. We took turns reading, chapter by chapter, every night. Maybe it’s that more than the book itself that I remember so fondly.

I learned that the book is sadly out of print now. It’s terribly unfortunate because I was planning on buying it for my friends’ kids so they could read it to their child. I guess my copy is going to have to get used to doing some traveling.

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Two Little Girls at the Top of the Stairs

Our traditions have changed over the years. We used to go to my grandparents house Christmas day until they passed away. We still open gifts one at a time going in order from youngest to oldest. Stockings are always unloaded first. One unofficial tradition that has gone away with growing up is the morning routine my sister and I used to have.

Like most children I hardly slept Christmas Eve. I even told myself the sooner I go to sleep the sooner it’ll be Christmas morning. It never worked. My sister and would be up no later than 6am. My parents are naturally early risers but 6am Christmas morning was too early even for them. The rule was set that we were not allowed to go wake them up until 7am (or possibly 6:30? You get the idea) Christmas morning. We were not allowed to even venture downstairs to look at our presents until our parents were up.

Early Christmas morning my sister and I started our routine; we’d sit at the top of the stairs and wait until we could wake up our parents. We would ponder what Santa brought us and watch clocks intently until they stuck the appropriate time. We were always polite when we could finally wake up our parents. I don’t remember ever running into the room and bouncing on the bed like you see in commercials. We knew to knock, incessantly, until we’d hear the familiar sound of my dad being wakened out of a sound sleep (think of a drowsy sort of yelp as if someone had jumped out and said “boo!”). We’d then, politely, scream “It’s Christmas! It’s time to wake up!” We always got along on these mornings. It’s one of my fondest memories of Christmas; early Christmas morning sitting with my big sister at the top of the stairs brimming with anticipation to see what Santa brought us.

Once my parents were awake we still couldn’t go downstairs yet. We had to wait until they told us it was ok. My mother needed her. My dad needed to get his camera ready so he could get our Christmas morning reactions. There are dozens of pictures of me and my sister in our pajamas with huge grins on our faces at the bottom of the stairs. Looking back I’m glad he captured those images. They always make me smile. At the time, we didn’t appreciate it. We’d been waiting what seemed ages to open our presents and had to wait just a little bit longer. It was agonizing but so worth it.

Things have changed as we’ve grown up. I’ve discovered the joys of sleeping in on your day off. The concept of being up at 6:30 or 7 on a day when I don’t have to be at work just seems silly. Nowadays days I’m the one woken Christmas morning by my sister pounding on my door going “It’s Christmas! It’s time to wake up!” (At least the dialog is still the same.) I come downstairs and my sister and brother-in-law are already showered and dress. They have to scurry off to her in-laws right after we finish opening presents. I am the one that insists people need to wait until I get my coffee (again some things don’t change they just transfer to another generation). Once we’re all seated we’ll go through our stockings together and open presents one at a time like always. The holiday may have lost some of the whimsy it had when I was a kid but I’ll never forget those mornings sitting with my big sister at the top of the stairs.

Merry Christmas everyone! May you enjoy the traditions you have now and cherish the ones that have gone with the passage of time.

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Caffeine Genetics

I like good coffee. 

(Wow, that sounds pretty obvious, doesn’t it.  Maybe I should just quit while I’m ahead today, with mind-blowing observations like that!  Is your life changed from having read that?  Good, then I’ve done my job.  You’re welcome.)

Beyond that, though, I really really don’t like bad coffee.

(Still cookin’ here.)

In my case, it’s a learned behavior.  I came of age during the Great Coffee Revolution: the birth of Starbucks and the mainstreaming of Gourmet Roasts.  My parents always make coffee at their house; and they always buy the good stuff.  So, when I started to drink it, there was always a really rich, aromatic blend available.  My sister learned to brew coffee when she was five years old.  By the age of seven, she was the go-to coffee maker in our house.  I focused my efforts on drinking it, rather than making it (which, I still feel was a smarter strategic choice).

So, my coffee snobbery has deep roots.  I turn my nose up at Maxwell House and Folgers.  I buy the best beans I can afford from artisanal roasters, I grind them myself and every morning I brew a press-pot.  If coffee isn’t brewed strong enough, I feel cheated.   I prefer dark roasts over light roasts, but they have to be done right.  I have a great deal of disdain for Starbucks, because I think they over-roast their beans to achieve a rich flavor, but everything ends up tasting burned. 

When I travel to tea-drinking societies, I drink tea more often than coffee, but only because the coffee tends to be instant.  If I do drink instant coffee (only out of necessity: heading to the airport, need something to stay awake before leaving the hotel room), I double the dose of powder, hold my nose and wait for the caffeine to kick in before I start making any big decisions….like where to find something decent to drink.

Because coffee-snobbery is a family affair, when I travel, one of the best gifts I bring back is coffee.  My parents babysit for Roxy when I go away, so I bring gifts from my travels.  In Indonesia this Spring, I spent four days looking for good beans, I bought some that were just ok.  When I got back from shopping, my host had bought me two pounds of incredible coffee, so when I got home, I gave away what I bought and kept the good stuff to myself.  (Go ahead, ask me if I regret being selfish:  I don’t.) Last fall, I returned from Colombia with an amazing kilo of Colombian coffee.  Two days later, I left for Norway, a country that consumes good coffee, but doesn’t produce it.  Four days into my stay in Norway, my mom called me on Skype. 

“We drank all that coffee.  When are you bringing back more?”   

Told you….I come by it honestly.

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