Sunday, September 4, 2011

What's So Difficult About a Cup of Coffee?

On the joys of reading together 
One of the great joys of our years of homeschooling was family read-aloud time.  We read so many great children's books.  So many memories rapped up in those stories.  Evenings spent snuggled together, all of us sprawled around the living room or heaped together on the couches, little voices begging, "One more chapter!  Don't stop here!  Please!"  Those are richly emotive family-togetherness memories.  But there are also the less tangible things, like the shared memories of vivid characters or compelling plots to look back on, and the discussions and learning that flowed from the story lines, exotic or historic settings, or character traits.

I can't really blame our current difficulties with read-aloud time on our decision to put our kids in public school, although it would be easy to do that, since our time together was vastly shortened after that grave day. But the truth is, we had pretty much stopped any consistent read-aloud times about two years prior to our kids going into public school.  We always had a book we were allegedly working on, but the nights we actually spent reading together were progressively fewer and fewer in number.  It had gotten too difficult to span the large age range of our kids without older kids complaining about the dumb babyish stories, or younger ones being bored and unable to follow the more complex story lines.  Instead of the cacophony of happy sounds when Joe or I called, "Time for read-aloud!" we more and more often had grumbling and complaints.

The mother in me grieves for those lost days of togetherness.  But I've yet to find a way to recapture them, even for the younger kids.  For whatever combination of reasons, we just can't make it work.

One book we ended up reading two times throughout the years, is Red Sails to Capri, by Ann Weil.  As generally happens when we've read a book together, we ended with a collection of favorite passages from this book, that get tossed out again and again, in a variety of related situations.

The family of Michele Pagano, the primary character in Red Sails for Capri, runs an inn.  Each family member has chores to do, but the kitchen is Signora Pagano's domain.  She cooks like a dream, but is unable to pass on her culinary skills, since she cooks using a combination of scolding and cajoling the food into its proper form, and singing.  Each task has a certain song to go along with it; from the musical scores, Signora Pagano determines when to add an ingredient, or how long something ought to be beaten or cooked. 

Michele and his father agree to help some of the inn's visitors find a mysterious cove whose history is fraught with danger.  In an attempt to dissuade them from what she is convinced is a perilous mission, Signora Pagano refuses to cook for the guests or her family.  The men of the family step up to the plate, or they attempt to do so.  But Signore Pagano and young Michele don't know how to coax the food to do what it ought, nor do they know the songs that accompany the food preparation. This comes to a head one morning, when the two are expected to prepare a soft boiled egg for one of the guests.  After several attempts, it still cannot be passably accomplished. 

"What is so difficult about an egg!"  they implore.

From eggs to coffee
This morning, I had that phrase in my head several times, but with regard to my morning coffee.  First off, one of the girls had a little accident with a baking dish the other day.  The way the story came down to me, is that the baking dish flew from the dish drainer and landed on the coffee maker, breaking the carafe.  Frustrating, but not the end of the world.  I wasn't too worried since I try to keep some spare carafes on hand, extras I've picked up at second hand stores.  But apparently, I have no such spare on hand this time.

Not to worry...I also have a spare coffee maker from Joe's grandparents.  But alas!  We have been unable to figure out where we tucked it away.

But even so, this is not a travesty.  Joe came home with a blue enamel percolator from a member the other day.  So yesterday we successfully perked coffee, without a problem.  Mmmm.  I've always preferred perked coffee to dripped coffee, anyway.

Today however, Joe came into our room at a little before 7:00, as he was getting ready to leave for his earliest service.  I was still in the throes of slumber, so he nudged me awake to tell me that he couldn't get the coffee to perk right, but if I wanted weak and wimpy stuff, there was coffee ready.  I rolled my eyes.  How hard can it be to perk coffee?

After awhile, I roused myself to get up and try the weak and wimpy stuff.  Anyone who knows Joe can appreciate the fact that "weak" and "wimpy" are relative terms with regard to coffee.  Joe prefers to be able to stand up a spoon in his coffee, so I kind of assumed I'd be able to drink his weak and wimpy stuff without a complaint. 

But this was not to be.  The coffee was not even tan.  It looked as though I refilled a recently drained coffee cup with drinking water.  It had a tint.  Barely.

"OK," thought I, rather smugly, "Joe must have not had time enough to perk the coffee properly."  It can't be that hard, right?  A percolator is not really too mechanically challenging. There's not that much that can go wrong.  The water heats up, the heat causes it to spurt out the top of the do-hickey, and it drains through the basket.  Not much to it.

The only other possibility I could think of in my caffeine deprived brain, was that Joe didn't use enough grounds; but I had a feeling that with Joe, such a scenario was not very likely.

I put the percolator on the burner for a little while longer.  Just for good measure, I left it simmering while I quickly bathed the youngest three girls.  Then, with the most challenging part of my Sunday morning out of the way, I was ready to relax with that cup of coffee.

Oooh, I couldn't wait.  Got the mug from the cupboard.  Set it along side the percolator.  Tested the handle to see if it was hot.  Gently and eagerly poured the anticipated deep brown brew.

But no!  It was not to be!  The liquid pouring forth was no darker than it had been to start with.  I was starting to lose patience with things.

I set the percolator off the burner.  I grabbed the computer chair from its slot at the counter between the kitchen and dining room.  Yes, I do realize I should not climb to the upper reaches of our cupboards on a swivel chair, but by this time I was a crazy lady.  I had a headache starting behind my right eye.  I was beginning to feel a bit unbalanced from my need for coffee.  How much worse could it be on a swivel chair?

Somewhere up in the depths of the corner cupboard, I knew I had some paper filters for the individual cup, drippy thing that we use periodically.  We actually have two of these, one a personal size, and another for making an entire pot.  But I was not about to wait around pouring out a whole pot and waiting for it to drip through.   I needed the plastic drip thing from the bucket of misc coffee items in the lazy Susan, and the paper filter from the upper cupboard.

We have a reusable metal filter, too, but I knew that was not put away properly.  I had passed it somewhere downstairs yesterday when I had my arms full of something.  Apparently some youngster was unable to resist it's appeal, and had used it as a hat or a broach or a pterodactyl.  When I saw it yesterday, I had made a mental note of its location, but that mental note had been flung to the darkest corner of my brain, and when I needed it, it clung stubbornly to the darkness, refusing to resurface.

It was becoming increasingly apparent that on this particular morning, a cup of coffee was not going to happen quickly or easily.

The (dis)organization of a multiple user kitchen
Those of you who have multiple older kids who help with chores might be able to appreciate the state of my corner cupboard.  Ideally, the top shelf holds the bulky, flat, rectangular tupperware container in the back corners; a collection of water bottles to the left of that; and to the right and in front center, the can of coffee and the stack of filters for our temporarily defunct drip machine.

The middle shelf is for the extra-large, round tupperware lids, along with any flat round tupperware containers.  Around the edges of this shelf are the teas, and whatever other non-coffee beverages we might have on hand.  

And finally, on the bottom, is the measuring cups, and a vairety of small baking needs such as baking powder, corn starch, salt, etc.  There is also a flat square plastic container that holds all kinds of little stuff: toothpicks, cheesecloth, colored sprinkles, and ideally, the package of coffee filters.  Depending upon how full that flat plastic box is, the bigger flat items such as cheescloth and coffee filters might have to be tucked against the edge of the cupboard, ouside of the box.

But we have lots of kids who help with dishes and cooking.  Much of the time, things are put away in a manner I'll call, for lack of a better term, "kind of right."  It's hard for me to know each time, which child might be guilty of the locational infraction.  Such infractions often end up going without correction.

The kitchen items have "a place" they are supposed to go.  This "place" might vary a bit, with the normal coming and going of kitchen items, due to breakage or replacement.  Because of the busy nature of a large family, the slight variances in "place" might or might not get passed on to each child who helps in the kitchen.  And so each item has its proper "place.  But it's also likely to have two or three other likely places, based upon who dried dishes last, or who was the last one shift things around while cooking.

And this brings us full circle to my ascent on the precarious heights of the swivelling kitchen computer chair, in the upper reaches of the corner cupboard, digging through the various possibilities of where the bag of paper trianglular coffee filters might be.

First off, I looked for the filters in the two most likely lower shelf locations.  Nope.

I scanned the disorganized contents of each shelve in the same cupboard, still anticipating an easy find.  Nada.

I quickly reorganized the miscellany on each shelf, hoping to discover, as I sorted, the missing filters.  But no.

The good news is that now the shelves of my corner cupboard are nicely sorted.  Not only is there a place for everything, everything is in its place.  But I still didn't find the filters.

And so I still didn't have any coffee.  It was nearing time to get everyone up for breakfast, but I really, really wanted to have coffee before the pre-church rush.  And that little hint of a headache behind my right eye, had now spread to a dull throb behind both eyes and along the back of my neck.

In a last ditch attempt, I climbed one more time up to the upper reaches, swaying precariously on the swivel chair, and pulled out the stack of rectangular storage containers, and there, hidden within the Tupperware Snack n Store Container, were the missing filters.

Aaaaaah. A huge sigh.  Finally I'd feel the relief that came with a long awaited cup of joe.

I quickly reheated the water I had put on the burner so long ago and subsequatnly pulled off again so it wouldn't boil dry during my search.  I pulled out the "save for special occasions" bag of Steep and Brew grounds that my  friend Lisa had sent last winter; that had gotten lost in the depths of the cupboard and so saved beyond it's recommended life expectancy; and that had been found anew during my morning's quest.  I tipped in the savory grounds, grabbed the pot of water, and swiftly drenched the coffee grounds.

Of course, by that time, the morning rush ought to have been in full swing, and I was running late.  Once again.

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