Friday, March 04, 2016

Mug Shots - Last Call

Well, there you have it. The end (for now, at least) of my Mug Shots series. If you missed it, here's what happened: I went through our cupboards and wrote about some of our coffee mugs. 

Trust me, it was more exciting than it sounds. Or maybe it wasn't. 

Joking aside, it really was fun to go share some of the stories that zip around my head each time I brew myself a cup of coffee. It was great to sit down and simmer with memories of those close to me and flashpoint moments in my life. 

I'd like to encourage you to do the same. I'm not saying you have to sit down and write about everything in your kitchen, but take the time to notice the items around you that usually go unnoticed. What do you have in your house that was a gift or meant something to you at the time you picked it up? Is there something on your desk at work you placed there to remind you of a person or experience and the significance has slowly faded away? You might be surprised at the happy moments that come flooding back to you. Once those good memories are fresh in your mind, make it a point to not forget them. 

Chances are you're surrounded by more mementos of love and support than you realize. 

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Mug Shots - Among the Thirsty

I love this mug for so many reasons. 

First, let's just talk about its aesthetic design. This has fast become a favorite in our house just because of how it's made. It's large enough to hold a 12-oz homemade pourover, which in itself is a plus. But it's also much skinnier than most mugs, which means there's less surface area at the top and your coffee doesn't cool off as quickly. 

Secondly, let's talk about how I got this mug. I was working as the contest coordinator at a radio station and one of the record labels I got to work with was Tooth and Nail/BEC Recordings. Tess, my contact there, is one of the coolest people you could ask to work with and one of the on-air giveaways they sent to us was a package promoting the new project from the band, Among the Thirsty. It included a signed copy of their CD, a bag of coffee from Land of A Thousand Hills, and one of these super-cool mugs. 

I joked with Tess about taking the mug home for myself instead of giving it away...but didn't. I promise. A short time later, I got a package in the mail from Tess and - you guessed it - it was a mug of my very own all for me! See what I said about how cool they were to work with? 

Thirdly, let's talk about Among the Thirsty, more specifically front man Ryan Daniel. He's the kind of guy working in the Christian music industry that you're glad is working in the Christian music industry, mostly because he isn't "industry" at all. Follow him on social media and you'll soon see what I'm talking about. 

I believe that for a long time Christian music fans have castrated anyone and everyone in the CCM public eye, especially those in the music business. Say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, be human, and we're coming after you. Boycotts. Outrage. Protests. Wailing and gnashing of teeth. 

That tide is turning, and I like what I'm seeing. I like that artists and musicians have started to be less concerned with offending the easily-offended and more concerned with speaking the truth. You that one guy in the Bible. 

I really admire that about Ryan (you can listen to my conversation with him here). We need people who will speak out and take a stance when others don't have the guts (or permission from their publicity department). Life is hard. Wear a helmet.

And that's why I love this mug. Yes, it's conducive to a great cup of coffee but it also reminds me of Tess, whose unexpected expression of kindness made my day, and Ryan, who reminds me to never back down from the Truth just because looking it in the eye might make me a bit uncomfortable.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Mug Shots - Star of David

Once upon a time I did a show at a theater that was unlike anything I'd ever experienced. To say the working conditions were less-than-ideal would be a bit of an understatement. Up until this point, everyone I'd worked with in the past had been incredible and only encouraged my love for this creative field. I suppose that if you work long enough in the acting world, eventually you'll end up working for one of those directors you always hear horror stories about. This show was my time.

Fortunately, my number came up at a time in my life when someone screaming and swearing at me didn't bother me the way it would have if it happened to me in my 20s. It's much easier to keep a professional attitude when you have a loving wife to go home to and the insight that the more someone rants and raves and belittles others, that's more than likely a reflection of their own insecurities.

The girl playing my wife in the show was young and enthusiastic, this being her first professional job out of college. For both of us this was our first time involved with the company. The other cast members warned us about what the director could/would be like, but neither of us could have expected things to turn as sour as they did. 

Rehearsals were a test of everyone's mettle. When things didn't go according to the director's exact vision or if there was a line flub, she would let loose with a vulgar tirade that brought everything to a halt. To this day I'm still not sure how belittling and embarrassing someone in front of others is supposed to encourage improvement, but maybe that's just me.

After the show was up and running, things didn't get better. On more than one occasion, she would come swooping backstage during intermission like a foul-mouthed Cruella DeVille to berate actors, swearing TO GOD they were horrible, should never have been hired, and are. Not. Funny (Have I mentioned this was a theater that only does comedies? Yep. Perfect environment to encourage humor, huh?).

One positive product of such a situation is how it fosters camaraderie among the cast and crew. At the time I likened it to the children of an abusive, alcoholic father, huddling together at night, whispering words of encouragement to each other after the tornado swept through. We encouraged each other to stay strong, let those words - all untrue - roll off your back, and not to give in. I assured my co-star that the situation we were in was not reflective of how most people work and at least she was getting her terrible experience out of the way early in her career. 

More than once we wanted to walk off, letting the director/theater owner dangle in the wind as the two leading actors just...didn't show up one day. War is hell, though, and you can't leave your fellow soldiers behind. So we stuck it out, did our best, had some great shows, and swore we would never work for them again. It almost because a game, as we threw down some incredible performances and then laughed as the director struggled to find something to get worked up about. Soon the rantings and ravings became just what they were: Hilarious. And fodder for stories such as this one. 

In the show, the character I played was Jewish and as a Christmas gift (the production was their holiday show), my co-star got me this mug. After the show's run was over, she went on to work with a different theater troupe, is still working with them to this day (she even met her husband-to-be there!), and it makes me happy to see her working in an environment where she - and her talents - are appreciated.

This mug reminds me that even though circumstances may be crappy, a lot of good can come out of it. And, if you stay professional and do your best, one day that crappy situation may come back to you, asking you to return to work for them and you'll have the pleasure of telling them no.

And, if you're especially fortunate, they'll ask you more than once and you'll have the pleasure of telling them no more than once. I'll raise my Jewish mug to that.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Mug Shots - Square One

Everyone thinks their local coffee shop is the best and I can't fault them for it. We're all a little biased toward our local businesses and I don't have a problem with that at all. Except... when I say Square One Coffee in PA is one of the best (if not the best), I can sort of back that up.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in getting my regular (a 16-oz latte) and when the barista Sarah was about complete, she dumped my drink out and began again. She apologized and told me she wanted to start over. When I asked what happened, she explained that the shot was pulling too slow - ten seconds too slow - and she wanted to make sure it was right. That attention to detail is just one of the reasons why I love the baristas over at Square One. Tell me you're going to get that kind of attention to detail at (insert name of a popular chain coffee shop with a drive-thru here)

Square One has gradually turned me into a coffee snob. Not a coffee snob in the fact that I look down on you for drinking whatever it is you're drinking that you picked up at the gas station, but in that I've come to appreciate the tastes and flavors that can come out in a perfectly made cup. A lot of that has to do with the bean. Square One roasts their own beans, and I admire them for so closely working with the farmers who grew them. Just like pouring the perfect latte design is an art, so is the process of roasting and I don't think most people know just what goes into it (or should go into it)

Coffee cupping (the process of tasting various brews and rating them for flavor and roast) isn't unlike wine tasting, and I don't mind bragging that I can now identify a coffee's origin by taste alone. Until Square One, I didn't even know there was a difference. Probably because most of the coffee I'd had until then was burnt to a crisp or pre-ground Folgers crystals that tasted more like something that should be used to fill a litter box.

Just a few more reasons to support my Square One fanboydom: They've won multiple awards for their coffee, co-owner Jess Steffy is a judge at the regional, national, and international coffee championships, and they have people like Hadassah training their new baristas. They have Joel, Sarah, Rachel, Trevor, Justine, and Taylor working the bar (not only is it a place where everybody knows your name, but you know everyone else's name, too) who always serve me a cup that makes me pause and say, "Man, that's good."

What really stands out, though, is how they've educated me about the coffee community - and it really is a community. The next time you visit your local coffee shop, ask questions. There's a lot to learn about the beans, the farmer that grew those beans, the process, the way weather affects how a shot is's fascinating. 

So yeah. I like this mug. Not only does it represent one of my favorite coffee places or let you know what brand of coffee is currently in said mug (as is usually the case in the Placencia casa), it's also a symbol of just how good you can be when you do what you love to do and take the time to do it right.