Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Hot Tea Month.. or not

I was really excited today when I came across an article that stated January is National Hot Tea Month!!

And in exploring National Hot Tea Month, I discovered that you can cook with tea, you can bake with tea, and you can make alcoholic tea.  There are all sorts of sites that talk about trying out new teas, keeping track of your teas, and having tea parties.  Wow... silly me, I just drink it plain, or with a little bit of lemon and sweetener.

But then I got to wondering.  Just who declared January National Hot Tea Month?  And Why? and When?  I know that real national holidays need a presidential proclamation... and I'm pretty sure that no president has ever taken that great an interest in tea.  I know there's a Tea Council of the United States, and a Tea Association of the United States, but neither of them are taking credit for this holiday.  I checked Wikipedia, but there's no page for National Hot Tea Month, there's no page for Hot Tea month, and there's not even a page for Hot Tea.  There is a page for Tea... but it makes no mention of a Tea Month... national or otherwise, hot or cold.  I asked Siri on my cell phone... but she didn't know what I was talking about.  The Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science held its Second Annual Tea Party in 2009, in honor of National Hot Tea Month, but it seems to have replaced that with a "Mad Hatter's Tea Party, which it holds in November.

Hmm...  this deserves further exploration.

Ah, wait.. there's a World Tea Expo!  But that's typically been held in June, although it's  been moved to May for this year.   Well, that's not very helpful.

June 10th is National Iced Tea Day... and I was able to find information about this.  In 1904, at the World's Fair, Richard Blechnynden was serving hot tea.. but it was a hot day, and he had very few customers.  So in a fit of inspiration (or frustration!) he dumped in a bunch of ice, and - Voila! - we have National Iced Tea Day.

Hmmm...  I can't even find a reference to National Hot Tea Month  prior to 2001.

I did come across a claim that people who drank 3 cups of black tea per day produced 5 times more germ-fighting cells than those who drank coffee. While that's very interesting, I'm now rather skeptical, and I'm not sure if I believe that or not.  On the other hand - why take chances?

Yep.. I think I'll go have another cup of tea.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

(Not) My Bucket List

The online dictionary defines 'bucket list' as a list of things that one has not done before but wants to do before dying.    Recently, I put up a post about lists, and bucket lists are essentially the Mother of all to-do lists.  Obviously the name comes from the phrase 'kick the bucket'.  But although the phrase 'kick the bucket' has been in use since the late 1700's, it seems that the phrase 'bucket list' did not make its way into our vocabulary, until some time around 2005 or 2006.  Even so, it didn't come into popular usage until after the  Jack Nicholson/Morgan Freeman movie called "The Bucket List" came out in 2007.  Now, a few short years later, the phrase is used on popular TV shows like Glee and NCIS, the morning news shows have all done segments on bucket lists, and there's even a Bucket List Foundation.

Some of the bucket-list items in "The Bucket List" movie were skydiving, flying over the North Pole, and riding a motorcycle on the Great Wall of China.  But the lists of the main characters also included "laugh til I cry", and "help a complete stranger for the good".  Items can include the bizarre, the expensive, the dangerous, and the feel-good sorts of activities.  Clearly, a bucket list is a very personal thing, there is no 'one size fits all'.  Apparently, even the act of creating such a list can vary greatly from one person to another.  I found websites that suggested you should come up with your own list by just sitting down and writing, without stopping to think, and websites that said you should give a lot of serious thought and consideration to what you put on your list.  I even found a website that will generate ideas for your bucket list, in case you come up blank.

Now - I tend to be somewhat of a goal-oriented person, and I make lots and lots of lists, but I've never been attracted to the notion of a bucket list.  For one thing, I'm not really sure what qualifies to be on the bucket list.  How important does it have to be?  I mean, sure I'd like to go to Australia, and I'd like to learn another language, and I'd like to have a hot fudge sundae for breakfast...  but it wouldn't be the end of the world if none of those things happen. I'm not sure there's anything that is so important to me that I'd die, if I didn't do it -- which is kind of ironic since we're talking about a bucket list.

But even so, that's a trivial problem. You see, it seems to me that there is a fundamental problem in the concept of such a list ... the problem of timing.    
What happens if you don't finish your list, before you die?  In the Jack Nicholson/Morgan Freeman movie, {SPOILER ALERT} when Morgan Freeman dies, Jack continues to work his way through Morgan's list.  And when Jack dies, his assistant checks off the last item. Hmm, having someone else finish off your bucket list for you.  That hardly seems right.  After all, it's your list, not theirs.  

But even if you don't consider that a problem, there's the flip side of the coin.  What happens if you finish your list... and you're not yet dead?  Now what?  You've accomplished everything you set out to do, you no longer have a raison d'etre.  Are you just supposed to sit there twiddling your thumbs, waiting to kick the bucket?  What if thumb-twiddling wasn't on your list?

And what's the likelihood of kicking the bucket, right after you finish the final item on your bucket list? Well, I suppose if you put something like 'jump off of a really tall building without wearing a parachute and without a trampoline down below' as your final item,  the likelihood might be pretty high... but I don't think that's the sort of thing  people normally put on their list.

So at least for me, the issue of timing is an insurmountable problem in the whole concept of a bucket list.

However, I realize that not everyone is like me.  And I also realize that there may be some of you out there who would, indeed, like to create something more than just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill to-do list. So I want to help.  Here, is a link I found to a Bucket List generator.  But before you rush over there, let me tell you what you're in for. I clicked on the generator a few times, just to see what it would come up with, and here's some of what I found:  
Gamble at Monte Carlo  (hmmm, no...I'm not much of a gambler)
Learn to sculpt  (this isn't going to happen.  I'm as artistic as a one-armed squirrel)
Learn how to ice skate (tried that already.  results were disastrous)
Join a choir  (have you HEARD me sing?)
Swim across the English Channel  (Oh dear, I could drown in the bathtub if I wasn't careful)
Quit smoking  (while this is an admirable goal, I don't smoke now... so do I have to start?)

So while I like goals, both big and small, both lofty and silly, I guess I'm just not a bucket-list sort of person.  I am, however, a tea sort of person, and I hear the kettle whistling.  While you contemplate your own bucket list (or not!), I think I'll make a nice cup of tea.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Musings on Coffee

As a youngster, I was allowed to drink tea, but not coffee.  Back in 'those days', the general notion was that, among other ill effects, coffee would stunt the growth of a young child.  In fact, in the early twentieth century, cereal Tycoon C. W. Post  put out a major ad campaign to discourage children from drinking coffee.  Some of the advertising Post sponsored claimed that drinking coffee resulted in the undernourishment of children, as it crowded milk out of their diets.  Before you start nodding your head at how wise Mr. Post was, you should know that the same advertisements proclaimed that coffee 'robs children of their rosy cheeks' and 'lessens their resistance to disease'.  Post even claimed that a famous research institute had determined that drinking coffee resulted in lower grades for children.  There was a popular ad in 1933 which showed an empty classroom, save for one small child with his head on his desk.  The text said "Held back by coffee... this boy never had a chance."

Now admit it ..  you're reading this, scratching your head, trying to figure out why a cereal tycoon would care about coffee consumption.  Well here's your answer, boys and girls...   years before Mr. Post began selling Grape Nuts, he sold Postum, a caffeine-free coffee substitute.  He wasn't merely discouraging coffee consumption, he was advocating that people replace their coffee with Postum!

Today,  much of the coffee that is consumed is decaffeinated.   But interestingly enough, studies are now showing that caffeine is not the villain it was once thought to be, and the consumption of caffeine has even been shown to have some health benefits... reducing the risk of certain illnesses and diseases, like diabetes, Parkinson's disease, gallstones, and even Alzheimer's.

But coffee is about so much more than just caffeine.  After all, without coffee, what would you drink during your coffee break?  What would you order at a coffee shop?  How would you make coffee cake? What would we do with all those unused coffee beans?

Have no fear, coffee die-hards, coffee is here to stay.  Recent studies show that, among US coffee drinkers, the average consumption is 3 cups per day.  That sounds a bit low to me, but what do I know?
But this information did make me wonder...  how does this compare to the rest of the world?  Which country consumes the most coffee?  I came up with several guesses, including Turkey (wrong) and Brazil (wrong again)... turns out that the Finns drink more coffee per capita, than anywhere else in the world.  The average Finn actually drinks 3 times as much coffee as the average American.  Wow.  9 cups a day.  9 cups a day of anything, is a lot... those Finns must be a thirsty bunch!

In my wanderings, I found a couple of other interesting things about coffee.  In 1674,  a group of women in London published a pamphlet  entitled "The Women's Petition Against Coffee". The pamphlet spoke of the 'debilitating effects' of this beverage, asserting that it rendered their men... ahem... let's just say it alluded to performance issues.  The Petition had no effect, so I can only assume that the coffee did not have the alleged affect.

And finally, some of you may have heard reports that NASA conducted a study in which various drugs - including caffeine - were administered to spiders  and scientists then studied the webs that those spiders spun.  This may or may not be true, but I didn't bother to check into it because, frankly, with the possible exception of Peter Parker, I'm not sure why anyone would care about the impact of caffeine on spiders.  (See note below, re: image)

You may be wondering why I'm musing about coffee, when you thought I only drank tea.  Well, I'm trying to show how open-minded I can be.  Just because I don't like coffee, doesn't mean I can't think about it.   But as it happens, you're right.  For me, the beverage will always be tea.  A cup of Typhoo with a bit of lemon, please.


Note Imagine a spider web here, with spiderman in the middle.  I tried to find one to insert, but couldn't find anything that wouldn't run afoul of copyright laws.  So you're on your own!

Monday, January 13, 2014

A list of thoughts on lists

I like lists... I think most of us like lists.  Whether it's a grocery list, or a to-do list, or it's a list of information that's been compiled, there's just something about a list that has a certain appeal, even a fascination.  One of my favorite bookmarked websites is essentially a lists of lists.

So, why the fascination?  On the surface, that seems a pretty easy question.

For grocery lists, even though we hate grocery shopping we love the list.  As we wind our way through the store, we check off the items that have been placed in the cart, and when everything on our list is checked off, we can finally leave.  The despair and exasperation we feel as we get to the end of the store and realize there's an items that has not yet been checked off, is nearly unmatched.  Fortunately, it's also short-lived as we make a bee-line for the correct aisle, grab the omitted item and finally find ourselves looking at a completely checked-off list.  (While this may seem extreme to some of you, it truly reflects how I feel about grocery shopping.  My antipathy for this activity is matched only by my husband's antipathy for this same activity -- or else I'd make him do it!)

To-do lists are similar to grocery lists, except that the tasks represented might be good or bad.  Repairs around the house - bad.  Items to pack in the suitcase for vacation - good.  But good, bad or otherwise, when we find ourselves looking at a list with everything checked off, it gives us a sense of satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment.  And of course let's not forget about the bucket list, which is the granddaddy of all to-do lists.  Although -  I'm not quite sure what you're supposed to do once you check off the final item on your bucket list.

These types of 'check-off' lists - whether grocery lists or to-do lists, are so popular, that there's somewhat of a mini-industry that has built up around them.  There are note-pads that present typical grocery items - either alphabetical or categorized by store sections.   There are note-pads that say 'To-Do' at the top, followed by a bunch of blank space.  Both of these items include  a whole bunch of boxes just waiting to be checked off!  
 And while I haven't personally seen such a thing, I would not be surprised if somewhere out there is a pre-printed To-Do list that includes items such as 'prepare grocery list', or even 'prepare to-do list'. And of course, in this day and age of apps, there is a long, long list of apps for smartphones and tablets, in case someone wants the list to appear on their device.  The apps that I've seen, actually allow for you to check things off (!) ... although personally, I've found it's not nearly as satisfying to indicate a check mark on my iPad, as it is to use my pencil to check off a written list. And after all, the best thing about these types of lists, is the ability to check things off.

Besides the 'check-off' lists, there are the compilation lists.  The summary lists are particularly prevalent now, at the beginning of one year, as everyone and his brother seems to be interested in summarizing the previous year.  A friend of mine pointed out the absurdity of this, pointing out  "I was there.  I remember."  Nonetheless... there are many who actually look forward to these summaries.  And of course there are the competitive lists -- Richest people, Most productive businesses, Best educated countries.  For me, the compilation lists that are most enjoyable are those that provide odd bits of trivia in the abbreviated format of a list...  Things you should know about Scotland; Bizarre Victorian inventions;  Different types of teas.

Lists represent organization and tidiness -- which is appealing both to those who are organized and tidy, and those who are not.  They represent progress, moving forward.. and a bit of a 'don't look back' sort of attitude.  Most of us throw out our completed lists.  After all, once all the boxes have been checked off, the lists are no longer of any use.

Oddly enough, when I looked  up 'attraction of lists', the result was lists of attractions; I couldn't find anything discussing this attraction to lists.  I would think that it was just me, except that there is an abundance - some might say an overabundance - of lists.  So perhaps it's just that people only care about the lists, they don't care about the fact that they care about the lists.

Hmmm.  This requires further thought, over a nice cup of tea.

What's that you say?   I promised you a list?
Well I suppose I did.
Seems a bit redundant, but here you go....

Monday, January 6, 2014

The importance of saying thank you

Originally the phrase was "I thank you" and its use began around 1400.  Over time, it was shortened to "thank you".  

I was taught to use this phrase as a child, and as an adult I tend to use it rather frequently.  Almost any time someone does something for me, or gives me information, I follow up with a sincere 'thank you'.   After all, the fact that the waiter/waitress is being paid to bring my food doesn't mean that I appreciate it any less than if they were doing it for free; the fact that someone answers a question through no effort on their part is appreciated as much as if they had to search for the information.

Saying these two little words costs absolutely nothing other than a micro-moment of time, but it seems that I hear this phrase, less and less often.  And that bothers me.  Yes, I know, life gets busy, we're all overscheduled, we have too much on our minds and on our calendars.    But still.

Not long ago, I finally gave in and got a 'smart' phone.   You know, one of those you can talk to.  Even if you don't have one, and you've somehow managed to avoid having any family or friends who have one, you've certainly seen the commercials where people talk to their phone.  "Siri, where is the closest restaurant?"  "Sherpa, what is the temperature in Cancun?" "Jeannie, how many movies has Brad Pitt starred in?"  Now, I do realize that there is not a real person at the other end of the line, just waiting for me to ask something.  But even so, after I receive the requested assistance, I  find myself automatically thinking - and sometimes saying -  'thank you' to my phone.  The phone doesn't have ears of course, I have to push a button in order for it to start 'listening', so it's not as if I'm really thanking anyone.  But I got to thinking.  And the next time I asked for information and then received the information, I pushed the little button and said "Thank you".  And my phone replied.  She said "You don't have to thank me, Laurie."

Whoa!  My phone said I didn't have to thank her?  I wasn't sure I liked this.  True, the phone was an inanimate object, but the makers of the phone have gone to great lengths to  make it seem like the phone is - well - a person.  What sort of lesson was this?  Why were the programmers behind my phone trying to undo 600 years of courtesy?

Well.  Before you snicker at my foolishness and walk away, I have some good news to report.  At first, I was taken aback at the suggestion that I didn't need to express thanks and appreciation.  But I've been known to be a bit stubborn  (Quit snickering, I say!), and so I've continued to thank my phone.  And I'm delighted to say that she no longer tells me I don't have to thank her.  Sometimes she tells me that my satisfaction is the only thanks she needs, sometimes she tells me that she was glad to be of assistance, and sometimes she merely says You're Welcome.  Apparently, I was not the only one who thought it appropriate to express appreciation - even to my smart phone.

Am I suggesting that we all start thanking our Android phones, and our iPhones, and our iPads?  Of course not.  And frankly, even if I automatically say thank you when my phone does what I ask it to, I'll stop pushing the button so that my phone 'hears' me.  But I am delighted to see that the brains behind the fake person in my phone has realized the importance of encouraging the use of Thank you.

Thank you.