A [short] fall through darkness

There are dangerous and uncharted places in the world where we can get inextricably stuck.  They’re closer than you might imagine.

I did a conference call from my car yesterday and the cap from a pen I’ve come to appreciate fell between the driver’s seat and the center console.  Right in the middle of the gap, in the rut of the track for the seat itself, right where you don’t want it.  I reached in to get it but whatever bone in my wrist that folded to get my arm down there unfolded and refused to let me out.  It was such a stupid event, but there I was in remote part of a parking lot, prone over the driver’s seat, and stuck.

It does not take long for our brains to go primal levels of Stuck Animal.  The three minutes I spent manipulating the seat to try and free myself provided me with an acute insight into the mindset that can lead to someone cutting off their own arm to get free.  Inexplicably, a Simpson’s episode where Homer gets his arm caught in two vending machines flashed through my mind and I actually stopped to check whether I was stuck because I was holding on stubbornly to the pen cap.


Visions of having to call the cops, having the fire department walk me through the psychological process of breaking my own arm or- worse- removing the driver’s side seat flashed through my mind.

It hurt. But I got out.  I was exhilarated to be free. I was adrenal and so relieved that it was actually difficult to drive afterwards. Sitting in the driver’s seat trying to calm down I was reminded of something similar that happened years ago when my husband and I were still working on getting our sleep patterns in sync.

Getting to bed on time for me was about two hours later than his time.  As he was sensitive to both light and sound when asleep, this often meant I crept to bed from the den of our house in the pitch black.  Usually this was harmless enough, but one evening I fell sideways over a vacuum cleaner onto the bathroom floor.  For a brief second, probably an actual nanosecond- with no visual cues to convince me otherwise- I believe I felt what it must be like to sky dive.  I landed on the floor with my head nearly in the litter box, but the adrenaline released by the experience and the feeling of approaching terminal velocity stuck with me well into the next day.

Relaying the experience was nearly impossible.  “Oh?” people would say, “You briefly experienced free fall during a tumble over a vacuum cleaner?” but it was clearly lost on them that I had actually stepped through the looking glass.  My luck went only slightly better telling the story of getting stuck in the gap.

There’s a quote from the book Appointment in Samara which reads, “It is with the lose ends of life that men hang themselves.”  These mundane accidents – where we’re nowhere close to death but where our ordinary perceptions of safety have abandoned us – pull the wool from our eyes, revealing fears and thrills we had no idea were as close at hand as to be just to the right of the steering wheel.

The Diary of Cricut Jones

I bought myself a Cricut machine for Christmas this year. I’ve lusted after one for about three years, I finally had an Amazon gift card and no other more pressing priorities.  It’s called a Cricut Explore Air, and it’s basically a die-cut machine. You can precision cut designs out of any material more flexible than posterboard.

My stated goal for this purchase- on the internet, as part of public record- was to become “The Pinterest Mom From Hell.”

Since I actually really do like die cutting as a hobby, I will admit that there was more to it than just showing off for my fellow moms. I did the overwhelming majority of the decorations for Chloe’s birthday party. I’ve made some cards. I created a whole series of Yeti drinkware with urban legends depicted on them.
However, all of this was minor compared to the stakes this time of year, when everyone pulls out their A-game: Teacher Appreciation Gifts.  Challenge, accepted.

I’ve been experimenting with dioramas, and so I decided Chloe and I would design a diorama for her kindergarten teacher. Topics were proposed and rejected. We settled, finally, on an undersea theme.

It took the two of us about an hour to design. It took me ~20 hours to cut and assemble.


The Original Design


Some of the more complex cutouts.


The two most complicated figures

The finished product. Look carefully

As I was cutting, behold the scene I envisioned for the presentation of this gift:

Me: Sorry we missed actual teacher appreciation week. We made this for you.
Teacher: Oh wow! This is great. Thank you.
Me: Yes.
THAT MOM: Oh my god. OH MY GOD! All those times I set up group play dates for 3:00 in the afternoon on weekdays! And judged you for the amount of time your child bought lunch! And judged the nutritional choices on the bought-lunch tray! All of the time I spent theorizing that you didn’t breastfeed! All of that has just melted away under the weight of the fact that you can do THIS.
*That mom faints and is dragged to the restroom by a pair of Those Women*** who follow THAT MOM around.*

**Let’s face it we all know THAT MOM
***Let’s face it we all know THOSE WOMEN

What ended up happening was quite different.

I finished the diorama two days early, but I still fussed with it last night trying to get it cleaned, getting Chloe to sign her name to the back, and wrapping it in the color-coordinated tissue paper I bought yesterday at Kohls. I cricut’ed a matching card (it was darling and featured a jelly fish). In short, I would say that I spent a decent amount of time staring at it once it was in the frame.

Chloe and I proudly walked it down the hall to the classroom.

The teacher promptly placed it on the nearest table and opened it.


The finished product. Look Carefully

First, a win. She was delighted enough to pick it up and examine it closely. At which point I notice that there is a BEER BOTTLE CAP covering the jellyfish in the top left corner.  Specifically a Devils Backbone Real Ale cap.

Me: Oh my god. THAT is not supposed to be there.
The Teacher:  *laughing hysterically* Well it certainly looks as though you had a relaxing weekend.
Me: Hey. Listen. I have, in my day, contributed more than my share of discarded beer caps. Not this weekend though, that’s not mine.
The Teacher: Oh my god this is the funniest thing that has ever happened to me.
Me: *dying inside* Well, you’re certainly going to remember getting it, I tell you what.
The other kids in class: *Gathering Around* Mrs. G, there’s a bottle cap stuck in there.

There were no other parents in the room. The teacher and I politely agreed that she could probably handle opening the frame and removing the bottle cap. I left.

Upon reflection, I am forced to admit that my attempt to be Pinterest Mom will always be diluted by my innate Bridget Jones’ Diary self.
Also, I realize that all of this is a hard lesson in not trying to avenge millennial parent-on-parent violence with paper craft schemes.

Next time, though, I’m going to nail the whole scene. Just you watch.

No Dumping

I’m on sabbatical / unabashedly unemployed for two weeks resting my brain before my next challenge.  It’s been good – almost too good – to have some time off without even the trace of a work email to check.

I’ll probably share some other stuff from my sabbatical but this post is going to be about compost.  Or more specifically about a very specific bag of compost I encountered  at the ATM machine this morning

My AM routine involves getting a muffin at the bakery across the street. I also had to get some cash for the cleaning guy this morning, so after muffin acquisition I crossed the street in the other direction to the market.  This particular market is the source of some truly precious “Overheard on 43rd” quotes, but today it launched itself into a whole new dimension of weird.

There was what appeared to be a 10 gallon bag of moldy lettuce blocking access to the ATM machine.

Here’s the brain space Austinites live in – and it’s why I think much of the “Keep Austin Weird” mantra is actually on the detrimental side: I knew that whatever else I did about the bag of moldy lettuce, moving it or revealing  it was inconveniencing me in any way was NOT ALLOWED .  That lettuce was now part of my day.  It was my responsibility to support and maintain the atmosphere around the lettuce and cope with it as though I had not one whit of irritation to give . Lettuce had achieved inertial one-ness with the backdrop.  It was here before I was. Who was I to think I was so special that I could bitch about the presence of the lettuce? Too bad if you can’t reach the pin pad.

What could be done, though, as I was standing awkwardly to the side of the ATM machine trying not to step on it while inserting my card, was a Jocular Inquiry.  There were two cashiers and a manager standing at the ready to answer my carefully pitched question about this 10 gallon bag of brown lettuce.

Me: Oh hey, haha, what’s this bag here?

Clerk #1: Ummm. Uh. I think it’s a bag of compost some guy left?

Me: And…we’re saving it for him?

Manager: YEAH. So now if you have any sort of trash stuff you want to bring in here and drop off just feel free.

[Note: Manager was skating dangerously close to being not-hip about the compost.  Had he not been wearing an obscure band t-shirt and automatically grandfathered into hipness by virtue of working at this particular market, he would have been skating on said ice with heated blades.]

Clerk #2: Yeah. That guy accidentally left it here last night.

Me: So…you’re saving this guy’s compost for him in front of the ATM Machine?

Manager: YEAH. Who brings their compost to the market? Why would you even do that?

Clerk #1: Ummmm. Uh. I think…I think he was taking it somewhere?

Clerk #2: Yeah, he’ll be back for it.

Me: Well…like did he call about it?

Now appeared Manager #2.  She has been there less time than the other manager but for some reason in all conversations, actions and prevailing theories she is the Automatic Queen.  I think this is due to her age and her complete lack of hipness, which throws everyone else backwards to when they were 14 and Mom caught them smoking.

Manager #2: What are you talking about?

Clerk #1: The bag of lettuce or whatever.

Manager #2: WELL! That. That’s nothing. That guy is coming back for that.

This conversation was clearly over, the ins and outs of the situation decided beyond appeal. I got my cash and left, giddy at the thought of being able to relate this little exchange on the internet. It’s a testament to the fullness of my unemployed-but-overscheduled day that I completely forgot about it until I went back to the market to get drip pans and lentils.  Also eggs. I bought eggs.

The compost situation came back to me in a flash…and the bag was gone.

This put me in an  an awkward situation because I wanted to know what happened to the compost but there was a completely different set of clerks now.  As I was checking out I decided to ask anyway, as it was at least theoretically possible that the compost retrieval or disposal happened after the 1:00 shift change.

NuClerk #1: Do you want a bag?


[Okay second note: THE BAGS SITUATION in this city is completely out of hand.  They banned plastic bags for environmental reasons. The ban was repealed but that was after stores started fully enjoying the increase in profit margins that resulted from not carrying bags, so the plastic bags have never been restored.

This particular store takes it one step even farther and acts like brown paper bags are in short supply.  They will put 30 items in one brown bag and then hand you the eggs to carry home in your other hand.  It’s some shit.]

NuClerk #1: *waves drip pan at me evocatively to indicate that she doesn’t think I need a bag because I can easily put the lentils in the drip pans and carry the eggs*

Me: UHHHHHHHHHHH. No. No I don’t. I don’t need a bag. No.

[Third Note: Y’all I really did take that amount of time to figure out if I could justify getting a bag. I wanted one with all of my soul. But I also wanted to maintain a level of personal hipness that would grant me entree into finding out about the compost.]

Me: Hey…What happened to the compost?

NuClerk #1: Not sure.

Me: Because there was this big bag of compost here this morning by the ATM machine and I wondered what happened to it.

NuClerk #1: What happened to it? You mean they didn’t throw it out?

Me: *sliding off to the side so that my conversation doesn’t prevent the next customer from being checked out. Because I’m polite like that YOU’RE WELCOME*….So yeah there were two schools of thought, one being that the guy who left the compost was going to come get it and then another decidedly more annoyed one that said it should just be moved from in front of the ATM machine.

NuClerk #2: The compost? There was compost?

NuClerk #1: Well gosh. I’m all wondering about that now myself. I wonder what happened?

Me: Oh. I’ll come back tomorrow morning and find out.

After which I rolled on out of there with my drip pans, lentils and eggs.

So I leave it to you to decide which of the characters was really the weirdest – the person who apparently brought their compost to the market and LEFT IT THERE or the person who remembered that fact 12 hours later and inquired about it to someone who was only at best going to be tangentially involved.

This post continues on a theme about how our attempts at sustainability are gradually inconveniencing us to the point where we’re all being driven insane. See Also: LightBulbs.

But still, man. WHY? Why bring compost to the grocery store? Why save that compost so that the original owner could come back and get it? Why put it in front of the ATM machine of all stupid places?

Austin. Do it like a local.

Morning Routines: Our breakfast contains sugar and other confessions.

Yesterday Forbes published a list of the morning routines of 12 women they described as “At the top of their game.”  I give them credit for the diversity of both industry and race of the profiled women, but there was still a certain uniformity of  privilege and obnoxiousness.  Specifically around breakfast selections, exercise, and fashions.

The one that personally put me over the edge was right here:

6am My little ladies wake up and I make their breakfast—green milk (almond milk with coconut water, banana and steamed baby spinach) and either whole wheat French toast or pancakes.

There was another woman whose description of her initial groggy outfit included name dropping a pair of $115 sweatpants.  That also struck me as a little random and more than a little competitive.

Bringing me to the point of what bothered me about the article – even in the morning routines there was a sense that these ladies were being pitted against each other.  Who did the most arduous pre-dawn yoga?  Who cooked their kid the veganest soul crushingly awful breakfast?  Who was the most grateful to have woken up?  Who best set themselves up to slay everything in their path that day?

It transformed what should have been a lightly interesting,  inspirational article into  another opportunity to judge and be judged by each other.

I was not the only one who felt this way.  There’s a delicious parody of it published here, where everyone basically does their best to exaggerate their own complete inability to function in the morning.   Which is nice, it lets us off the hook, but it also makes me feel like I’m seem sort of silly for even trying.  I would describe these as a little closer to my truth but I would also say I haven’t quite so completely written off the idea of getting the day started off on the right foot.

So here’s my version. Because what could possibly be more interesting than YET another morning routine.

My morning, my foibles, and what I’m working on.

6:00 –  Boyfriend, who starts work at 7:00, wakes up.  I’m occasionally dimly aware of his alarm going off but even then, the Schadenfreude of knowing I get to stay in bed later trumps even the best intention to exercise.

7:00– Alarm #1, which is a Sonos chime from across the room.  I have struggled my entire life with trying to get up out of bed on time.  This is the best system I’ve come up with so far, as this forces me to get up and turn it off.

7:01– First “data hit” of the day.  Check work email, personal email, texts, Facebook and Twitter mentions.  Usually nothing is on fire.

7:03– The snooze process begins.

7:15 – Alarms #2 and #3. Clocky rolls off the bed at the same time that the Sonos goes off again, this time on WXPN (yes it’s a Philadelphia radio station).  I have to sit up to retrieve the Clocky or it will go all the way under the bed, and I’ll have to lie down on the cold floor while I catch it.

7:16 – Dog whining outside the door becomes unbearable.

7:20– Downstairs. Depending on what day of the week it is I’m either stuck trying to set up the coffee pot or just clicking the button to start it. – Guess which days I prefer?  The dogs completely lack patience for any part of the coffee-making.

Feeding the dogs involves accommodating a bunch of odd dog-pack politics. I have one who refuses to eat until the other one is finished, and that one refuses to eat until he’s been out.  I can’t leave dog #2 to finish her breakfast on her own because afterwards she’ll run off and do dog #2 in my house.  The only upside to this whole thing is that I usually get to drink at least a few sips of coffee while juggling the two of them.

7:35– Missing something. Oh, that’s right, I have a daughter.

7:35:30 – Upstairs. I wake my daughter up and then turn off the Ellie Golding album she listens to on repeat ALL NIGHT  like someone being held in conditions that violate the Geneva Convention.  I await her first full sentence of the day, which is usually a jewel.  Failing her getting to full speech on her own, I engage her in a series of hypothetical breakfast propositions guaranteed to force her completely awake.

Me: How about a bowl of EELS?
Her: NO!
Me: How about a plate of SNAKES?
Her: NO!

Usually this enough to get her out of bed and down the stairs to supervise breakfast and make sure it doesn’t writhe.

7:45– Downstairs.  Clean up after the dog because whatever, outside, inside, it’s all the same to her as long as it’s done.  Wash hands. Depending on the day my daughter and I either eat breakfast together or I make her lunch while she eats.  Right now she’s big into putting her own peanut butter on a waffle.  The peanut butter is JIF.  Full sugar. Full salt. Glorious.

7:53 – Lunch constructed, I sit for five minutes and look my daughter in the eye before we start getting dressed.  I mean, I’m not staring at her menacingly for five minutes.  We’re talking about her day.  For someone who’s done the same thing at school for three years she’s still shrugging and unsure about what the plan is when I ask.  Interspersed: Second data hit of the day.

7:58 – Upstairs. Put together whatever clothes meet the bare minimum for school drop off.  This is just the first of a few costume changes.

8:05 – Select daughter’s outfit.  Downstairs, Beg, cajole, scream, draw lines in the sand that are instantly erased, rescind TV privileges and make promises until my daughter agrees to change out of her pajamas and put on school clothes.

8:12 – *While running up and down the stairs* -Where are the keys? Where are my glasses? Where’s my purse? Have you seen the keys? Where’s the spare key? Have you seen my glasses? Sure you can have a car snack. Sure you can take that toy just HURRY. Oh here’s the keys, under the couch. Please put on some shoes. Shoes. SHOES. PUT ON SHOES. Not those shoes.  Oops forgot the lunch I  just made. Screw glasses I’ll hold a hand over one of my eyes.

8:16– In car.  I  spend a couple of minutes with the radio on Sirus XM’s Backspin deluding myself into thinking whatever’s playing isn’t going to be “that bad” for my daughter to listen to.  Radio edit of Notorious B.I.G’s “Give Me One More Chance?” Sure. No problem. Oh wait, that’s not the radio edit.  Oh my. Don’t tell Grammie you heard that. *click*

8:20 – Decide whether to make illegal left hand turn into the school’s driveway or wuss out and go around the block.  This decision, and how it subsequently works out, tends to be a real harbinger of how the rest of the day is going to go.

8:22– Mom-spit face cleanup for peanut butter removal,  scratching of sleep from eyes.  Possible spruce up of hair.  Out of the car and into school.  We have a deal where she will go to school without fuss but she won’t say goodbye.

8:35– Back at home, making breakfast decisions if I haven’t already eaten.  When I don’t eat with my daughter, I go across the street to the local scratch bakery to buy a muffin.  Honestly, I do this mostly because it’s the only 5-8 minutes during the work day that I’ll be in contact with other live adults.  It’s worth it for exchanges like these.

Homeless Man: I don’t know who picked your outfit out today but that vest just WORKS!
Me: Thank you.

8:49– Muffin and second cup of coffee in hand, I climb the stairs and log into the work VPN…


Not exhausting at all right?


What we talk about when we talk about the Blerch

The Beat the Blerch race I mentioned in my previous post grew from this particular comic from The Oatmeal. I bought the book – which is to be made available tomorrow- and I recommend it for new runners, much as I recommend the Couch-to-5K.
The Beat the Blerch comic takes its inspiration from Haruki Murakami’s “What I talk about when I talk about running,” which I have not yet read but will link to as I fully intend to add it to my queue.

On Starbucks, Part 2: Frappucin-EWWWW

To recap: I was at Heathrow. I’d bought a Starbucks mug. I was happy.

My post-acquisition emailing haze was shattered suddenly by someone behind me bellowing out the following:


I have a game I play at airport gates where I scope out my fellow travelers and give out a mental award to the person (or persons) I least want to sit next to when we board. The easiest way to win this award is to be loud at the gate, towards your family, an airline employee, or into the receiver of your portable phone. I was stricken by this voice because it had by nature won the award, but it was too early to give it out as I was still in the main terminal waiting hall. Not wanting to spoil my fun early, still high from mug acquisition, I willed myself not to turn around.  It continued:

OKAY. OKAY. So it’s because you want to move off of Windows. Okay. There was a lot of background noise and I couldn’t hear you. I APOLOGIZE. I LOVE YOU.

I recognized these as the well-tweezed words of someone who has spent a decent amount of time in couples therapy.  I had no choice but to turn around.  I had to lay eyes on the person who was taking the completely understandable desire to escape the lock jaw of Microsoft’s mediocrity and turning it into a public airport spectacle.   The best way of describing her – although my judgement is clouded by ensuing events- is that she was a human fireplug. Well dressed and surprisingly well-coiffed for an American woman traveling internationally on a Sunday, but still.  Fireplug in a pink cardigan.

I returned to my email for about 30 seconds when…there was not so much a sound behind me but somehow a received sense of reverberating shock on the back of my neck. I turned around again and saw the following things (in order)

A large puddle pile of reddish coffee colored vomit.
A sickly pale eight year old standing at the foot of that pile.
The Fireplug staring at the eight year old, frozen and agape.
A half-finished venti frappucino (with whipped cream) sitting on a waiting chair.
Ten other people, also frozen in time and space, staring at the same things I was.

Witnesses to a traumatic event experience a moment of paralyzed disbelief afterwards- as though we cannot quite grasp the hole that has rent itself in the universe.  I am not equating seeing a kid barf in public with witnessing a car accident. However, there is similar frozen moment, during which witnesses calculate their place in the x-y axis of personal responsibility for what happens next.  Normally the people who have the most responsibility – either the vomiter or their parents- take the longest to recover from the freeze.  The Fireplug recovered with precisely the reaction you’d expect from someone who let their eight year old drink a football-sized caffeinated drink at 11:00 in the morning.


No words of comfort.  No words of remorse at their collective dietary choices that morning.  Nothing else.  Her husband, who had just prior to this whole event been on the receiving end of a lecture, reacted more practically.  Having evidently unfrozen slightly earlier than his wife, he procured a roll of blue paper towels, which he deployed to corral the mess as best he could without actually doing the hard work of cleaning it off the floor. There was an older child who evaporated and returned without having accomplished much except making his parents wonder where he’d gone. The sick kid reanimated enough to walk over to the chair on which he had left his Frap with the intention of picking it up to finish it.   Not on my watch. Nope.  I engaged in a moment of inter-tribal parent glaring with his father, during which I offered the vomiter a bottle of water to wash out his mouth.   This bought his one functional parent enough time to confiscate the caffeine sugar supernova and throw it away.

Having insured that there was not going to be another episode, I returned to my computer.  I’d moved on from email and was hip deep in the news when something odd occurred to me.  There’d been no actual clean up of the pile of paper towels. It was still there.   What was no longer there? The family that had caused the mess. They jetted, leaving their kid’s bodily fluids strewn on the floor of the airport, narrowly enclosed in paper towel, the roll of which had been left on the same seat on which the venti had once stood.

The ecosystem of an airport is so completely regenerative in nature that even though there was still a fouled mess on the floor, new people arrived and sat down in the surrounding seats.  Keep in mind, we’re still within 15 feet of the starbucks line.  So people are leaving Starbucks with their coffees, turning a corner, and getting confronted with the worst kind of coffee afterburn you can imagine. I f I’d had a camera at that moment I could have launched a blog to rival Humans of New York. I would have called it  “Humans and their mess.”   Remember the blissful faces of the lidded coffee cup carriers? Not so much when faced with it in floor form.

To paraphrase the Simpsons: Starbucks, the cause of and solution to so many of life’s problems.

With respect to the family, I think half of why I’m writing this is because I was disgusted with their behavior.  The consensus I was able to build amongst other parents on my facebook feed is that the parents had a responsibility to at least facilitate the hand off to the people responsible for mopping the floor.  Especially in an international airport during this the time of Ebola sensitivity.  No one expected them to mop it themselves. As it happens there had been a previous vomiting child incident (like an outbreak of some kind) at the check in desk at Charles De Gaulle.  These people, being decent human beings, had their kid corralled over by a trashcan with a bag at the ready.  And there was no sign that she’d been given coffee beforehand.  The upshot of this is I think running like that was a chickenshit move, but then so is letting your kid drink a frappucino before he gets on an airplane.

In case anyone is wondering, Fireplug ended up winning the award.  No one at the gate got close.  This includes a woman who was traveling with three warring screaming little boys.  Never let anyone tell you that the age of glamorous air travel is over.

On Starbucks, Part One: The Lidded Patronus

Starbucks is now a major force in tourist coffee in Europe. They’ve colonized the spaces you go in Paris if, on a homesick Sunday afternoon in the middle of your junior semester in Paris, you need to get your Chipotle or KFC on. They’ve also made some nice inroads in the airports, which we’ll hear more about later.

There are those who would tell you  the influx of Starbucks  is the End Times of individualization, and Europe’s coffee shops are in danger of being drowned by a corporate meta-incarnation of themselves. I disagree, largely because we’ve seen this all before with the incursion of McDonalds and other fast foods. French culture fights these things off as the body would a virus.

Stage 1 – injection and nasty immuno reaction  [Discusses the 2000 bombing of a French McDonalds, which killed an employee.]

Stage 2- isolation and healing [as evidenced by the fact that the Starbucks are being relegated to areas already popular with Tourists and homesick students.]

Stage 3 – adaptation, whereby the idea is picked up and replicated amongst France’s cultural white blood cells in native form. Hence places like Quick and Flunch, where you can get a burger and a decent white wine and eat it all with silverware and a nice pastry afterwards.

Exhibit A: Can you imagine finding this at a local Wendy’s?


France is in between stages 2 and 3 in the Starbucks contagion.  What is changing are the patterns of consumption.  Starbucks is not just about the coffee. It’s about the portability.   Portability is where Starbucks manages to wend it’s way into our day to day lives in a truly insidious way.  North Americans have adapted to the Starbucks cup in much the same way homo sapiens adapted when we domesticated the dog.  Our entire physical and emotional balance – the bags we chose, our walking style, and our sense of wholeness- is now centered around the idea that one hand is going to be occupied carrying around a lidded coffee cup.

As I packed for my vacation, I was faced with two weeks of being without my metal lidded Starbucks coffee mug.  I packed it with the actual thought that I was “treating myself” to a bit of homemade normalcy.  Not only did I chose to carry it,  but I used it on a road trip to Lourdes.   The thought of the walk to the car without the coffee cup, skipping the dance of putting it on the roof while I buckled my daughter into the car, missing the act of settling myself into the driver’s seat without situating my coffee, was unbearably foreign.  Americans are lost without our fix- and that habit is spreading much faster than any brand name could, Gone are the days when the french sit for 45 minutes enjoying their once ounce cup of rocket fuel – there is no coffee bar in France that doesn’t offer version of the 12 ounce to-go cup.

I’ve digressed..  My reptilian brain was overjoyed to see Starbucks in both London and Paris because it meant I would be able to add two cities to my Starbucks’ mug collection. Yep…I’m that girl. For the uninitiated:  There are generally two stripes of city-specific mugs. One, the standard issue with some iconic city images stamped on the front and the city name emblazoned on the front in Starbucks type. I have some of these, but they’re not usually the ones I pick up.  This group suffers from too much uniformity – there is no way to tell if you’re dealing with one from Tokyo or Cedar Rapids.  The second type is usually some artistic take on the city itself, or the specific neighborhood of the city. Those are the ones I grab.  I have maybe eight total mugs now.  People who know me pick up type one for me because they know I’m an enthusiast. I pick up type two when I travel.

I can’t even pretend to be apologetic about it.  My collection  fills me with such a sense of personal well being. I don’t know why.  It has something to do with the idea of having a collection of things from around the world (or the western hemisphere) that all share a common tasteful aesthetic. There is usually a good memory or two around the trip associated with the mug, but they’re not soooo different from each other that they don’t fit in with the decorative whole. They’re also typically of generous enough size that they function day to day as I stumble around the house with my first cup of coffee.

I’ve digressed again. I obtained my lovely Paris Starbucks mug on the Rue St. Germain on Friday. It’s black, with a white outline of the city imposed on it, and several important uniquely Parisian Metro signs interspersed on the white outline. Oh and the Starbucks logo is prominent, but that’s to be expected.  I felt stupid being in Starbucks for even the five minutes that it took to buy the mug. I purchased no coffee.

My London opportunity cropped up unexpectedly, as there is now a Starbucks in the main waiting hall of Heathrow’s terminal 5. Could it be, I thought? A two-for-one mug purchasing experience? Might I get two of the same themed mug in the same trip from two of the world’s major capitals? Clearly this chance could not be foregone, in spite of the fact I was lugging about 45 pounds of hand luggage already.

My daughter and I forded upstream to the Starbucks through the foot traffic headed out to the gates. A surprising number of the walkers were holding lidded coffee mugs, an expression of relief on their faces as they were reunited with their caffeinated guide dogs after an unknown period of kinesio-psychic uncertainty.  The bliss as they  moved forward with their Starbucks latte Patronus.  I cannot accurately describe it.  The closest I can come is the last scene of a medical drama when an accident victim manages to move their toes, regaining feeling in their lower body where doubt had lingered.  That or Timmy’s face in the last scene of Lassie Come Home.

When we reached the Starbucks, the queue was at least forty people deep.  The mug was there.  As anticipated  it looked similar to the Paris mug except that the white background featured London icons and a picture of a phone booth.  Still, it was hard to jump over the mental hurdle of standing in a forty person line for a mug.  I looked at the mug, looked at the line, and gave up. Then looked at the line, the mug, and re-upped on my crazy mission.  In the manner of chaotic Starbucks efficiency everywhere, the elapsed time between getting in line with the mug and cramming it into my overstuffed tote bag was an action packed 10 minutes.

We sat down with my treasure in some waiting seats adjacent to the Starbucks. I proceeded to check my email, all the while relishing the pleasant back-of-brain buzz that accompanies an exciting material acquisition. The  reptilian lobe was already envisioning the moment of arriving home and reuniting the two mugs, staring at them next to each other, and lovingly placing them in the cupboard next to Zurich and Maui. It was then, however, that the story took a turn for the dark side…both of Starbucks and of human nature.

And here are the mugs:screenshot_861 screenshot_862