Kindling the Fire

Last Sunday, in the midst of a sleep-in/no-alarm kind of vacation, my dad dragged my wife and I to early church. That meant falling out of bed by 7 and leaving the house by 8:15. Not my idea of a relaxed schedule, to be sure. On the drive to church and all through the service, I found myself in a fog and close to nodding off (the meh sermon didn’t help). Even at brunch afterwards – stoked with a double-dose of mimosas – I couldn’t seem to shake the cobwebs. It wasn’t until much later in the day I realized something significant went missing from my daily routine. I hadn’t had my morning coffee.

Morning coffee is more a habit than an addiction for me.  Or so I thought.  It wasn’t so long ago I occasionally substituted juice or water, and the day proceeded as normal.  Sunday’s drowsiness made me pause.  Maybe the impact of caffeine is more significant as you age.  Maybe drinking a hundred cups (or more) in a hundred days creates a dependency.  As they say, caffeine is “the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug”.

While I debate the impact of no caffeine today, I can absolutely attest to the impact of lots of caffeine, with two examples of inconvenience.  For me, caffeine sends a loud-and-clear, pulsing, Times-Square-sized announcement to my bladder saying, “IT’S TIME TO PEE.”  Not in fifteen minutes.  Not in fifteen seconds.  Now; as in – get up and go NOW.  I better have my path to the bathroom mapped out, and that door better be open.  It’s like clockwork biology, forty-five minutes after that first coffee sip.  Remarkably, the experts still question whether caffeine is a diuretic AND they wonder whether the amount of liquid expelled is equivalent to the amount consumed.  I emphatically answer “yes” and “MORE”.  With all the expelling, it’s a wonder my body doesn’t dry out and disintegrate.  No matter; it’s a small price to pay for my daily drug.

Here’s the second impact of caffeine.  Beware the cup of coffee (or any choice from Starbucks) after three in the afternoon.  Let that late-day caffeine hit take hold and you’re in for a long night.  I can very dependably fall asleep within five minutes of hitting the pillow except when my coffee intake is late-day (and on that note, why is upscale after-dinner restaurant coffee so good?).  I toss and turn like laundry in the wash cycle, staring at the ceiling and ruing my beverage mistake.  Then I stare at the bedside clock.  What a pretty clock it is.  Such colorful numbers.  It’s fun to watch the numbers change every minute.  Every hour.

Let’s review.  Assuming I plan my bathroom trips and lay off the coffee by mid-day, I can safely embrace my caffeine habit.  And if “habit” concerns me at all – its synonyms include “addiction” after all – here’s some good news.  Four cups a day is ideal for heart health, according to recent research by the Germans (my new favorite people).  Not up to four cups, but exactly four cups, netting you about 300 mg of caffeine.  Four cups is also the equivalent of a Starbucks “Venti” (the Nitro cold brew somehow packs in 469 mg of caffeine) but I steer clear of the big cups.  Wouldn’t want to get “addicted”.

We’ve only been talking about coffee here, but thankfully caffeine is found in only a handful of other foods and drinks.  What starts as a naturally-occurring compound in plants finds its way to teas, cocoa, cola soft drinks, energy drinks, and over-the-counter meds (i.e. cough syrup).  The only one I touch is cocoa (my chocolate habit justifies its own blog post).  So, unless I exceed my daily two-square ration of a Lindt 70% Cocoa Excellence Bar, my caffeine intake is all about coffee.

If you count milligrams the way you count calories, know that 300 of caffeine is the threshold to avoid anxiety and panic attacks.  A warning sign might as well pop up after 300 saying, “STOP!  Proceed with caution”.  It’s like there’s this sweet spot with coffee – an oasis between falling asleep in church and earning the jitters – that kindles my fire.  Gives me justification to start every day with a cup of coffee.  Or four.

Tingling the Spines

When Amazon began opening bookstores a couple years back, I wondered why an uber-successful online enterprise would turn to brick-and-mortar, especially after sales of more than fifty million Kindle e-readers through its website. Turns out Amazon’s walk-in shopping experience is worth the walls. It’s retail at its most relaxing – and it has a place in the equation.  As CEO Miriam Sontz (Powell’s Books in Portland, OR) puts it, “something special occurs in a physical bookstore that is not replicable online”.

I’ve been to an Amazon Books just once (fewer than twenty locations in the U.S.), but vividly remember what made my shopping experience so compelling.  First, the manager greeted me with, “Welcome to Amazon, and what was the last book you read?”  When I told him (Kristin Hannah’s “The Nightingale”), he replied, “Oh, that’s a wonderful book.  Wasn’t it so interesting to read an account of the war in France instead of in Germany?  Have a look on Aisle 3 – you’ll find some other great WWII fiction.”

As I indeed had a look on Aisle 3, the manager moved on to other customers, prompting similar conversations.  Suddenly I realized the whole interaction was intentional.  Personalize/focus my shopping experience by discovering what I’m reading.  Pique my curiosity by allowing me to overhear what other people are reading.  A + B = Increase the odds I’ll make a purchase.

What really sets Amazon Books apart from the others is the displays.  The books are laid flat and on angled shelves, so you’re looking right at the cover as you’re standing in the aisle.  Below each book, an easy-to-read card delivers a crisp synopsis of the book, as well as a smattering of the ratings and reviews you’d find online.  Think about that tactic.  You peruse the entire colorful cover.  You take in the book title and author without cocking your head ninety degrees to the left or right.  And you know a little about the book (and whether it’s a recommended read) without turning a single page.  It’s almost like those moments in front of paintings in an art gallery.  “Displayed flat” sounds counter-intuitive in the per-square-foot world of retail, but damned if it isn’t a great way to shop.

Photo by Natasha Meininger

Amazon isn’t the only spine-tingler these days.  In a truly baffling trend, interior decorators and collectors are shelving books with the spines… facing the walls.  That’s right: take a book off the shelf, turn it all the way around, and place it back on the shelf.  Why?  Because “eggshell” – the typical color of the pages themselves – is aesthetically pleasing, instead of that rainbow of bright, colorful book jackets.  The linen texture is uniform, blending more confidently with whatever else is going on in the room.  Really?  Is this Feng shui on steroids?

Alas, as the Wall Street Journal reports, backward-bookshelving is no fad, .  You can purchase books on the cheap specifically for this approach.  Check out the goods at booksbythefoot.com.  BBTF sells you reclaimed books, covers removed, of various shapes and sizes, and yes; purchased “by the foot”.  You can even purchase your tomes in a color scheme (i.e. “burgundy wine” or “earth tones”).  Arrange them any way you want: facing in or out, flat or standing up, in piles or as standalones.  Any way you stack ’em they’ll look fully nondescript, suggesting you’d never go so far as to – gasp! – read them.  As Chuck Roberts (BBTF President) puts it, “Some people don’t want to have the literature as a distraction… they want books as objects on a shelf.”  You mean, like lobotomizing the intellectual meaning from the aesthetic?  Weird, just weird.

Or maybe not.  Now that I think about it, I own the complete works of Charles Dickens, painstakingly acquired years ago, one book at a time through the Franklin Press or some other mail-order rag.  My Dickens collection (above photo) sits neatly on the shelf gathering dust, just waiting for me to crack the first spine or read the first page.  But no matter; don’t they look pretty?

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

 

 

 

Beckons the Printed Word

I have a reading problem. Perhaps you can help me with it. I blame my mother of course. She was a voracious reader (feasting on those 700+ page romance novels) and raised my brothers and I to be readers too. Thus newspapers and magazines; hard-covered tomes and soft-covered easy reads; coffee-table books and cookbooks; news feeds, emails, texts; my ever-present Kindle e-reader; even instruction manuals for God’s sake – vie for my reading time and attention. Books reach out to me with invisible hands, fluttering their crisp pages and silently screaming “READ ME!!!”.

56 - voracious

Once upon a time I had this under control.  You see, in those first childhood visits to the school library you could only check out one book at a time.  Read and return.  Read and return.  Eventually you earned the right to check out several at once.  Small piles of books began to accompany me home.

Newspapers already lived in my house.  My dad read the newspaper and nothing else, but in his day you had the morning paper and the evening paper.  Then one day I noticed Time and Sports Illustrated arrived every week in our mailbox.  More reading.  And the ever-present World Book Encyclopedia (WBE) flew off the shelf for the many school assignments that demanded it.  Here’s an early warning sign: sometimes I found myself leafing through the WBE for no reason at all.

Those innocent resources of yesteryear cemented the multi-tentacled reading monster that dwells in my house today.  Our family room is loaded with coffee table books and the complete works of Dickens (which I really need to finish someday).  Our kitchen cabinets are weighted down with ten cookbooks for every one that we actually use.  Our bedroom has a wall full of books we simply can’t bear to part with – kind of like the clothes you swear will come back into fashion someday.  Our nightstands have several put-you-to-sleep choices in their top drawers.  And our home office is so loaded I’ve resorted to “stack” instead of “display”.

It’s a delicate balance, this fanaticism for reading.  You have to limit your resources and then limit the time you give them.  Thus do I only subscribe to one magazine and one newspaper.  I follow 10-12 blogs and only those that publish weekly or less.  At any given time I’m only reading one book of fiction and another of non-fiction.  But beware that book of fiction.  If it’s really good, all other reading is kept at bay until I’ve consumed the very last page.  And then I have to scramble to catch up.

Amazon has created the ultimate temptation.  Not only can you purchase unlimited free “sample reads”, but you can subscribe to a dozen newsletters advertising new authors or popular reads or “we think you might like this” options.  It can turn into a feeding frenzy.

If there’s a rehab program to harness too much reading, I suggest the following as the first step.  Stay out of bookstores.  Keep battling the monster that has taken over your house instead.

certitude

Several posts ago I told the woe-is-me story of leaving my Kindle e-reader in an airplane seat pocket.  Much to my chagrin I wrote, this was the second time in two years; exiting a plane without my prized portable technological wonder.  In the post I made two predictions about the eventual destination of my e-reader.  The first was into the hands of the Delta employee who cleans the plane.  The second was into the hands of the next traveler who reached into my seat pocket (“Congratulations!  You’ve just won an Amazon Kindle!”)  So one or the other of these scenarios was the end of the line for my e-reader.  I drew those conclusions as if they were fact.  I wrote with certitude.

Here then, “the rest of the story”.  On the eventual destination of my e-reader I was wrong – way wrong.  In what I would label a small miracle, my Kindle ended up… in my own hands.  The perseverance of DALLIRT (Delta Air Lines Lost Item Recovery Team) won the day.  Perhaps my Kindle was found immediately or perhaps it traveled on to one or more exotic destinations.  Either way, a human took pity on me and made things right.  Imagine my disbelief (and chagrin) when I received an email from DALLFC (Delta Air Lines Lost & Found Central) that began “Dear David Wilson:  We are happy to tell you that we have located an item that closely matches the description of your reported lost item”.  Twelve dollars and seventy-seven cents of postage and three days later, my Kindle was dropped on my doorstep.  No damage.  No note.  Everything intact.

I must own up to one other aspect of this story.  A day or two after I filed the lost item report with Delta, I promptly logged onto Amazon and bought another Kindle.  That’s right; before I gave Delta’s process a chance, I purchased a new e-reader.  I even upgraded to a newer version (“Voyage” – oooo).  That’s certitude in a nutshell.  Zero faith in the alternative.

14 - certitude

I suppose the lost dollars to Amazon represents my penance (another good word for my blog) for not trusting a process designed to correct my mistakes.  But to further cleanse my guilt, I sent DALCC (Delta Air Lines Customer Care) a glowing email, complimenting them on their lost item recovery process.  And they wrote right back, beginning with the following line: “It’s so easy to leave something important behind while flying”.  Gee, thanks for making me feel better.  Except I did it twice.

My son will probably inherit my recovered Kindle.  Yes I should probably keep it because things happen in threes but I’ll take my chances.  I’ll trust the process.  And I’ll certainly consider Delta Airlines the next time I fly.

chagrin

A year or so ago I left my Kindle e-reader in an airplane seat pocket when I deplaned.  Those seat pockets contain just a few things – an in-flight magazine, a plastic card that describes safety features, and the timeless airsickness bag.  So there’s plenty of room to lose an e-reader in there.  Does that sound like an excuse?  Well imagine my utter frustration and disappointment – my chagrin – when I did it AGAIN this past weekend.  Same drill.  I stowed my Kindle in the seat pocket along with some magazines before takeoff.  I did all of my reading in-flight.  And then in my haste to deplane, I took the magazines and left the Kindle.

photo - chagrin

There’s an interesting dance you do when you realize you’ve left something on an airplane.  It typically begins when you’re unpacking your bags.  You take out the clothes and bathroom stuff and then you get down to the little things.  About that time you start to wonder when a particular item will surface.  Laptop – check.  iPod – check.  Kindle – oh no, not again.  You double-check (okay, you triple-check) your suitcase and your carry-on.  You tear your car apart to make sure it didn’t slip between the seats on the way home.  And then after you’ve bounced around the bedroom cursing at the walls, you resign yourself to the fact that your Kindle is now in the hands of Delta Airlines.  Or one of its enterprising employees.

Delta has a promising process to claim “lost articles”.  You go on-line and fill out an official-looking form.  You describe the lost article to prove it’s yours.  And then you wait.  And wait.  After three days I got an email reply.  It started positively enough. “Dear Mr. Wilson:  The search continues… “.  But the paragraphs that followed are collectively referred to as “form letter”.   It was painfully obvious Delta was not going to drop everything to unearth my Kindle.

My theory on the current whereabouts of my Kindle has two endings.  In one, a Delta “cleaner” finds my Kindle and pockets it; or gifts it to his/her child; or stocks the nice little black market he/she has going on the side.  In the other, Delta doesn’t have enough employees to clean the seat pockets after every trip so my Kindle just continues on to the next destination.  To the person who got my seat after me, I say “you’re welcome”.

Here’s a great invention inspired by my Kindle-down experience.  It’s a wireless “leash”: a band that goes around your wrist with a removable Velcro button that can be attached to small personal items (i.e. Kindles).  When the wrist band and the Velcro button are far enough apart, the band beeps and you realize something is not right.  Not bad, huh?

In my defense for having abandoned my Kindle twice, a laptop is too big for the seat pocket so at least a portion would be visible.  iPods and mobile phones are too small to risk putting in the seat pocket and forgetting about.  But a Kindle?  The perfect size.  Small enough and flat enough to disappear into seat pocket oblivion.

This story will have an ending, happy or not.  Remember, according to Delta, “the search continues”…