Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Absence

Have you ever noticed how the absence of something can sometimes teach you more? More than you would have expected, in fact?

I’ve been reflecting a lot this week, brought on by shifts and changes in a multitude of areas in my life. And a common theme I’m noticing is just how much can be discovered through what is not instead of simply focusing on what is, and doing more of it.

Perhaps it’s an extension of the age-old “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” But this week, for me anyway, it’s been going deeper than that. It’s turned more into “what is the value in things unsaid?” or “when is the lack of something perhaps more interesting, more thought provoking, than the presence of something?”

You see our human brains create meaning, an understanding of what is, only by understanding what something is not. Take this for example: if I pointed at an object and told you “this is a table,” how would you know whether to agree or not to agree? What defines the characteristics of a table? Is it that there’s four legs and a horizontal surface? What about tables with three legs? Or six? Or multiple horizontal surfaces? Or one with a recycled-wood surface that is mostly horizontal but perhaps a little bumpy or jagged?

You can begin to see that your brain actually knows whether to agree with me that “this is a table” because it has a distinct understanding of what it means to not be a table. Tables are not things that our brains think of as a cup, a butterfly, a cloud, a telephone. You get the idea. It would be very, very difficult to describe the exact qualities the encompass what we mean when we say “this is a table.” But we learn, over time, how to associate a thing with the word “table” because we’ve learned what not to associate that word with.

And so I’ve turned my focus this week to that which is not present. Instead of focusing on coffee, and all it’s glorious forms which I (usually) am regularly consuming, coffee is on hiatus from my life this week. Some coworkers and I have (for better or worse) embarked on a 5-day journey together to “detox” our bodies. That means a fun diet of minimal calories, maximum nutritional value, and you guessed it…no “extras.” Meaning? No coffee. Yes, yes, I know. We’ve warned everyone that sits even remotely near us to stay away this week – we haven’t always been the friendliest bunch through this process!

Nevertheless, it’s given me some time to reflect on a week in my life without coffee. I know! Tragedy, right? But, actually, it hasn’t been. Neither has it been a tragedy to do without all sweets or anything really fun in the food category.

In fact, the absence of coffee this week has made me consider how coffee fits into my world. And, more so, what a personal experience it is for most of us, despite how much we all talk about the sense of community it can bring. The coffee itself, actually consuming it, drinking it, is in fact a highly personal experience. It’s something we look forward to, covet even, and something we feel the absence of when it’s not within our normal routine. Without it, I also realize there’s several things I don’t have to worry about. There are no good or bad shots this week. There’s no perfectly-measured french presses. No timers that misbehave prior to the four minute mark. There’s no “perfect cup of coffee” to potentially get un-perfected (because as coffee lovers, I know you’re all equally as obsessed with me over achieving that perfect cup of coffee each morning). And what can be more disappointing than coffee gone wrong, to those who love it the most?

No, this week, there is none of that. Without coffee in my daily routine, there is also no room for an unsatisfactory cup of coffee. There is no good cup of coffee. There is no bad cup of coffee. The absence makes that impossible.

But getting rid of that need to worry about and lovingly craft the perfect coffee beverage a-la-espresso, latte, or french press, has created space for something else. It’s created a little opening for me to explore coffee in other ways. To engage more with what the great wide world of coffee is doing and thinking and talking about. To discover a bit about things like #5awesomebaristas on Twitter and YouTube for my coffee fix, instead of staring at the bottom of my porcelain Starbucks mug while contemplating grabbing another shot from the espresso machine in the kitchen (these guys have some serious coffee and Starbucks passion!! Talk about what it means #tobeapartner).

In short, it’s given me some space to realize all the ways in which I haven’t been engaging with coffee, and inspired me to do some thinking about ways to break free from the porcelain-mug-at-desk effect (and the french-press-attached-to-arm effect).

This week, for me anyway, coffee is a thing left unsaid (or un-drunk, as the case may be). But its absence in terms of physical consumption has begun to make me think of it as something so much more than a standard presence in my day.

What are you feeling the absence of in your life? Is there more to appreciate from that than you might have thought?

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Posted by on January 26, 2012 in Reflection, Tasting


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Snow and ice and flooding and…


Of course coffee.

Always always always coffee!

But this time it’s a bit about magic, too.

I have to admit I’ve gone a bit stir crazy these last three or so days as the Pacific NW has been hammered with a significant storm. Everyone keeps saying it’s the biggest one we’ve had in decades, which makes me realize just how much time has passed and how much life has changed since the last major snow storm. And above all else, how that last major storm still somehow feels like it was almost yesterday.

It makes me think about the lovely, steaming cup of VIA I have in my mug, and how that wasn’t possible even three years ago, much less 20 or more. What on earth did people do when they were trapped for days in their houses without access to their local latte hole a-la Starbucks? And then I realize…hey wait a second, 20 years ago, Starbucks had a mere few hundred locations, and most of us probably lacked our total dependance on the morning latte fix. Or at least if we had a coffee fix, it looked different than it does today.

All of it gets me thinking back to that simpler time in life. Twenty years ago when we had our last epic snowstorm, I was just a kid. I was grinning and full of glee, even though I had been trapped at my elementary school for hours late a night while the NW got hammered with a totally unexpected storm that nobody was apparently prepared for. My parents couldn’t reach me, until my best friend’s parents picked them up in their 4WD Jeep, and swung through the school to get the kids (aka me and my friend). I still have the image in my mind like it was yesterday, of dangling my legs out the back tailgate of the jeep as we drove home through the 2+ feet of snow that had fallen in just one afternoon. I was thrilled, and living in the moment. No concept of just how insane the weather phenomenon was. No regard for where we were going, how we would get there, if I would be warm, or safe. All I could do was look at the snow and smile, and try to resist the incredible urge to jump out of the back of the Jeep and roll around making endless snow angels and frolicking through the fresh, fluffy powder. It was magic.

And coffee was the farthest thing from my mind. EVERYTHING was the farthest thing from my mind, except the present moment. Except getting my little tush out there and playing in that beautiful gift from heaven. Snow.

And, come to think of it, coffee was about the farthest thing from my parents’ minds either. Really, I’m not quite sure how I ever became so enamored with coffee, because I was raised in a tea-drinking house. An English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Twinings tea-drinking house. And tea, unlike coffee, has been easily accessible, store-able, keep fresh-able for a huge amount of time. My parents never had to worry during a snow storm if they had enough tea around to keep themselves happy. They always had several dozen boxes in the pantry. Always fresh. Always individually ready to brew. Snow storm? Bring it on.

Coffee drinkers, on the other hand, suffered a different plight. Most of them, 20 years ago, were probably drinking the absolute crud from the bottom of a Folgers can. So, if they were lucky, they had their fix in their pantry, just like my parents did their tea, although it was likely not able to be described as fresh, or very palatable for that matter (but it’s all relative…that was all a matter of perspective back then. And back then, that’s all that coffee was. A can of Folgers in the pantry).

So here we are, 20 years later, an entire corner of the country virtually trapped indoors with a prison of snow, ice, and now potential flooding outdoors. And we’re at the point now where, at least in the Pacific NW, thanks in large part to being Starbucks home-front, a can of Folgers in the pantry simply won’t do. In fact, its considered blasphemy by most of us Seattle residents. Undrinkable. Unfathomable. But on weeks like this, it’s also pretty unfathomable to get to a Starbucks to get our customized-beverage-of-choice on. And even if we could get there, the odds that the Starbucks partners could get there to even open the store make us realize it’s probably going to be a fruitless venture. And so inside we stay. And the caffeine monster in our head begins to shout (usually in the form of a lovely, deeply-throbbing headache starting somewhere in the lower back of the neck and radiating outward through our skulls) and starts screaming COFFEE! COFFEE! COFFEE!

And I realize that amidst all of this snow and ice and flooding….there’s a little bit of magic. That thanks to the innovation and spirit of a little Seattle company, there’s a delicious, fresh, individually packaged answer to my prayers tucked away on my pantry shelf, just for such an occasion. Oh, VIA, how I love thee!

And I realize that there’s a little bit of magic around us all the time…even in my cup of snow-day morning coffee.


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