Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike, This Tan's for You

It's amazing how much those first influential reads really stick with you. For me, it was the A & P, one of many short stories written by the great, and now late, John Updike.

It was an assigned read for one of my early creative writing courses, taught by famed Texas writer, Ron Rozelle. He had a knack for these kinds of tales, even though they were a little much for most high schoolers.

Basically, it accounts one of those not-so-epic life experiences that are still so bitterly disillusioning. Sammy, a store clerk at the nostalgic grocery store chain, A & P, heroically resigns his job after three gorgeous, tanned, bikini-clad girls are reprimanded by the store owner for being inappropriately dressed.

I remember most that he described--in detail--the glowing half moon of white just under the girls' butt cheeks (yes, I said butt cheeks) where the sun failed to do a thorough job. Yeah, a not-so-subtle allusion to raging teen hormones.

Sammy's big gesture, however, leaves him empty-handed. When he ventures into the parking lot sans A & P official apron, the girls are gone. He is jobless with no damsel in distress to comfort him. His standing up to injustice got him nothing, not even a smile.

Yeah, it's a little bittersweet. A keen observer of the every day, Updike was. I'd say it was one of the first stories of its kind that I encountered. Previously, I'd been a fan of more dramatic literature. After a dose of Updike, I appreciated the pain, heroics, and greatness of those little poignant moments in everyday life. And I enjoyed reading about them when written as well as he wrote them.

So thanks, Mr. Updike, for making me--and many others, to be sure--a better reader, writer, and thinker.
(Photo courtesy of www.issuemanagement.net)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Celestial Seasonings: 'Green' Tea

I know, I'm totally on this anti-coffee/pro-tea rant right now. Promise it will end soon. But I just had to throw this in there about the tea brand, Celestial Seasonings! It takes a lot to impress me in the time it takes my tea water to warm, but CS managed to do that this very morn.

I'll confess, I'd been a little frustrated with my 100% Natural Celestial Seasonings tea purchases. Unlike many teas, the bags don't come individually wrapped or with strings and tags. You have to keep them stored in the box as opposed to conveniently carrying them about in your hand bag. And when tea time is over, you have to stick your fingers down into the cup and fish out the squishy, wet tea bag. I know. Gross. Especially when it's all cold and stuff.

I'd pretty much decided that I was going to phase out Celestial Seasonings and stick with my more 'hip' brands like Tazo and Stash, but they had a 'Buy One Get One Free' sale on CS at Safeway yesterday. Due to economic motivations, I caved.

So glad I did! On the inside of the box, it clearly explains the reasoning behind their unconvential packaging. The tea bags themselves are made from natural fibers and because they don't include the string, tag, staple, and individual wrapper, CS claims that it's able to 'save more than 3.5 millions pounds of waste from entering landfills every year!' How awesome is that?

Not to mention, the boxes themselves are made from recycled materials and the tea itself is based on fair trade and sustainable harvesting standards.

Maybe I'm a little late on the draw and everyone new this about Celestial Seasonings, but they've just won me over! I will be a CS drinker from now on! I particularly like their Raspberry Zinger Caffeine Free Herbal Tea and the Country Peach Passion Caffeine Free Herbal Tea. Yum.

Now there's no need for coffee drinkers to feel left out of the green revolution. I loved--and still love--my filterless coffee pot. I don't know the numbers around waste as it relates to paper filters, but I'm sure it's staggering. A coffee pot with a permanent filter creates less waste and it's less messy! No more trying to run the wet, used filter over to the trash can! Yeah, you know exactly what I'm talking about!

Not to mention, I'm sure you could even take the same bag or canister to any place where they sell coffee beans in bulk and they'd fill you up. Besides, freshly ground coffee tastes better anyway.

Way to go, Celestial Seasonings. I feel inspired to do something greeny. Like, stay home and have a cup of tea.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Kate: 1, Caffeine: 0

No, this isn't turning into a caffeine bashing blog. I fully support other peoples' need, want, desire, and obsession for caffeine. Well, I did until I started reading this crazy book, Caffeine Blues.

Stephen Cherniske's book is practically ancient at this point--it's ten years old. It might as well be fifty years old in terms of medical research. Nevertheless, I think the info is still relevant. I'll say this: it gave me the heebie jeebies.

I've been avoiding this book for about ten years. I'd see it, perched ominously on my bookshelf, and I'd tip toe past, trying not to make eye contact, like you might a rabid dog. I knew what awaited me within its pages. I didn't want to hear it.

I'm not about to turn into one of those self-righteous ex-coffee drinkers. Coffee and I were reunited briefly over the Christmas break. But then I quickly returned to tea, especially after spending a few hours thumbing through Caffeine Blues: Wake Up to the Hidden Dangers of America's #1 Drug. Yeah, there are some big words in that title.

Some folks can enjoy the occasional cup of coffee and live a normal life. But most of us abuse it. If you're not sure whether coffee is actually effecting your health above and beyond the occasional headache, Cherniske has a fun little quiz for you. And I do mean fun. Here it is, recreated just for you:

Do you experience any of the following on a recurrent or frequent basis?

  • Energy swings or periods of fatigue during the day
  • Mood swings or periods of depression during the day
  • Headaches
  • Gastrointestinal distress; cramping, diarrhea
  • Constipation and/or dependence on caffeine for bowel movement
  • Tension or stiff in your neck, shoulders, jaw, hands, legs, or stomach
  • Premenstrual syndrome; menstrual irregularity, cramps, sore breasts
  • Painful/sensitive lumps in the breast
  • Insomnia
  • Clenching the jaw or grinding teeth during sleep
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability, including inappropriate 'fits' of anger
  • Involuntary movement in the leg (restless leg syndrome)
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat
  • Light-headedness/dizziness
  • Wake up feeling tired
  • Generalized pain (back pain, stomach pain, muscle aches)
  • High blood pressure
  • Ulcers
  • Anemia
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty concentrating and/or memory loss
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Coldness in the extremities, especially fingertips
  • Hand tremor

Yeah, it's a heck of a long list, isn't it. I'd tell you how many of these things hit home for me, but I'd be a bit embarrassed. A lot, I'll tell you that. Here's what Cherniske says about your quiz results:

"If you have 12 or more 'yes' answers, your caffeine intake represents a critical health risk that may actually decrease your life expectancy."

Wha?? That's right, he thinks that excessive caffeine intake can actually shorten your life!! Crazy.

At one point, I would have thought, "Who would want to live longer withOUT coffee?" I figured life's short enough as it is. So here's to coffee-less month number three!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

2009 Beef #1: Corking Fees

I know that it's probably bad karma for my very first post of the new year to be such a negative one. I'm gonna go ahead and apologize for the forthcoming subject matter. It's overwhelmingly whiney, but I just can't help myself.

You know that feeling when an establishment--such as a restaurant--serves up a plate of utter disappointment? I know, it hurts. Especially when it's your favorite establishment. It happened to be tonight, folks. You walk out of the restaurant with your chest pounding and your Californian cuisine rising up in your throat. It makes you want to hurl a meager tip comprised of pennies at the scroogie owner.

Today was my birthday, y'all. Yup, the big 2-5. I'm officially a quarter of a century old, which would be cool if just about all of my friends weren't touting the same accomplishment. So my hubs took me to my favorite restaurant in Petaluma, CA, which will remain nameless. I'm vengeful, but apparently not THAT vengeful.

I first noticed that something was off when a bit of a foofaraw arose behind the wine counter. The owner was rifling around to the soundtrack of fine stemware crashing. However, instead of shouting out an embarrassing albeit more adult-like four letter word, she sought the member of the wait staff that was the farthest away.

She than began to publicly, and not delicately, reprimand the server as to the proper storing and stacking of the stemware. At one point, the phrase "it's not rocket science" was heard throughout the petite restaurant. Yah. Awkward.

Restaurant Ownership Rule #1: Do not break your own stemware. Restaurant Ownership Rule #2: Do not reprimand your employees in front of your customers. It's just bad form, no? I have to say, I was more embarrassed for the accomplished head chef/owner than the poor girl, who handled the situation with infinitely more poise than her supposed superior.

But then came the real blow, which I'm substantially more miffed about because it directly impacted my pocketbook. See, I don't know if you've heard, but apparently there's an economic crisis going on. And since the hubs and I intended to celebrate said birthday with more than one glass of wine, and this particular establishment boasts a BYOW rule to the tune of a 'meager' corking fee, we decided to pick up a mid-range bottle.

Our eyes were bigger than our livers, apparently, because as the end of our meal began to draw near, the bottle was shockingly full. We only thought we were shocked by how much wine we didn't drink until the bill came. Corking fee? Pshshs. A corking fee to the tune of twenty bucks. As in 2-0. And when I gingerly questioned the sum, the owner condescendingly brought to my attention that the corking fee is normally twenty-FIVE dollars and she'd knocked off five bucks out of the goodness of her heart. I'm convinced she dreamt the figure up while preparing our meal because nowhere, repeat, nowhere, is a $25 corking fee posted on the menu or otherwise.

Maybe I'm a little naive as to the reality of the corking fee here in Northern California. It's entirely possible. But I have to say, I was stunned. I thought, corking fee...maybe ten dollars. Maybe. That's stretching it. So basically, we enjoyed a $17 bottle of wine for the price of $37.

So here's what I'm thinking of doing: we go in there, order water, share an entree, and sit there for three hours requesting infinite refills of water and bread. Maybe they'll charge us a 'tabling' fee? I wouldn't be surprised.