The bitter and the sweet

I have a latte addiction. Over the last month or so I've had three or four chances to reflect on how I got here, on how this habit that is now second nature started, startled and transported without fail every time the memories came.

What you need to know is that I do not take sugar in my tea. I just don't. Black rates a lemon wedge, unless it's one of those fancy flavored black teas (like this one that I brewed a whole pot of the other day), and then it's straight. Herbal, green, white, roobois-- no sweetening any of them, thankyouverymuch. They are what they are, and if I don't like the smell, I don't buy the tea.

What else you might want to know is that I managed to get through both undergrad and good part of graduate school without developing a full blown coffee addiction. Oh, sure,  my first exam week, the one in the winter of my freshman year, was more or less entirely courtesy of chocolate covered coffee beans. But really, who could resist that-- deep dark chocolate goodness over the magic bullet of late night endurance? I had a baggie that I got as a gift less than two weeks prior. I budgeted my stash for optimal performance-- one bean every 30 minutes, or maybe 45, or even an hour, if the night was still young. I thought that was pretty clever-- a steady stream of low dose brain support, not much for peaks or valleys.

Anywaaaaaaay, fast forward seven or so years, and I am finding it a fun part of my morning routine to grab a cup of coffee on the way to lab or office. At the same time, I am finding it incredibly annoying that my period has been MIA for months, and that the hoity-toity doctor at the university clinic has sent me home with a prescription of progesterone and not a word of explanation. So just about when I am starting to think that this coffee thing is a great counterpoint to the windy and bone-chilling walk from where I park to where I work, I get to see the world's best nurse practioner, who, in three seconds flat, delivers the diagnosis of PCOS. I search the internets and learn of the low carb way of life that sometimes help. I read low carb books and websites, and I learn that coffee has to go, at least to start. So it goes.

It took us another year and a half to get pregnant with Monkey. Then it was the pregnancy, and me hyper-paranoid, and nauseous anyway. By the time I had given birth to Monkey I wasn't even missing coffee. Sushi-- now that was something I was keenly interested in getting back to. But coffee? Meh. Whatever.

I picked it up again when I went back to work, but only on as needed basis. And that's really how it remained up until A died-- not usually, but sometimes. I did like to order a cappuccino for desert at restaurants, but again, once in a while.

If you want a coffee lover, though, then my husband is your man. We own two traditional stove top pots for making Turkish coffee. We also own a drip coffee maker that grinds its own beans. JD was entrepreneurial in exploring locally available bean options, but for many years we also belonged to a mail service that sent us coffee once a month, service JD finally and gleefully cancelled last year as the alternative service, one that now sends us coffee pods came online. Sends us what, you ask? Pods. Coffee in the pods, for a one cup at a time machine. We saw the machine on one of the first Apprentice seasons, and the man fell in love. When friends asked what he would like for his birthday that year, I told them to pull their money and make his day. They did, and it did. We made room for it in the kitchen, but still for a long time it was his toy. Don't get me wrong-- I was happy we had it, since running a drip for one cup was a bit silly, and the stove top thing takes time.


So how did we get from his toy to my latte addiction? More or less in one jump. A died. I went to work three weeks later, as soon as I was physically able. Not the brightest of my ideas, I confess, but at the time it seemed like the thing to do. I wasn't exactly happy at work, as you can guess. I wasn't even exactly focused. The project I was doing at the time dragged, and as result, because the boss became swamped after I left, and even though I did leave her a finished document, is still unpublished. Bleh.

Ok, let's call things what they were. Unfocused is way too mild. I didn't want to be there, or anywhere, really. I had great colleagues, but I'd have rather sat on the couch and read blogs. I'd have rather slept. I'd have rather excavated my office, even. That was the project on my to-do list for the last couple of weeks of pregnancy or for when I was on maternity leave. See how well that worked out? (I did tackle the thing, a bit, last year, but it is again in need of major help. Maybe next weekend then...)

So not wanting to be at work, feeling more than a bit guilty for not getting the work done, and more than a bit pissed off that I was there instead of home with an infant, I realized that I needed something in the day to look forward to. Something that was just for me. Something that wouldn't tax me, something that was a reward for making it to work on my worst days, and a way to settle myself and get something done on my best. After a few days of little sleep and necessary caffeine, one of them splurging on a latte instead of my usual black with a lot of room of cream, that's what it became-- my ME moment, my daily latte. 

My lattes are so sweet that JD and a couple of otherwise perfectly lovely bloggers make fun of me. You put how much splenda in there? You let them put how many pumps of that syrup (sugar-free, usually hazelnut, if you care) into your order? A lot, and many (though not together-- one or the other). My latte is to be sweet, plenty sweet to cover the bitter. When it comes to coffee, I am not a connoisseur. I am an escape artist.


That year, when asked what I wanted for my birthday, my first instinct was to say "um, nothing-- what I want I can't have." A flash of inspiration later I started answering "Starbucks cards. No, not kidding." Eventually, we bought a frother thingie and, with an able assist of the pod machine, learned to make lattes at home. Six-seven months ago our pod machine broke. Sputtered water all over the place for a while, and then just gave up the ghost. JD tried to survive for a week or so, gave up, and bought a replacement. A few days later I called customer service, hopeful that maybe they knew of this ailment, maybe there was a part I could buy.

Turns out these suckers have something very close to lifetime warranty. We never registered ours when we bought it, but that didn't seem to matter. They sent us a box, postage pre-paid. We sent them the broken machine. They sent us back a new one with a note on how the old one was well and truly caput. My profit on the deal was that the new one JD bought went to work with me. For a full effect, I need to find a small microwave, to steam the milk in. I already have a spare frother. For now I am drinking coffee with lots of cream and splenda when at work, and proper lattes when at home.

When I drink either, I don't usually think about how this started. But I am not sorry that things this last month conspired to make me think about it-- somehow in this season that has been somewhat unexpectedly hard, I find it comforting to locate this link I have to my boy. In my mind, it's not a present from him, nor a consolation prize. And it goes without saying that I would rather have him than all the lattes in the world. But since this is where I am, I will have that latte with all the splenda I need. So there.


What helps you get through your days? Do you have your 'just for me' rituals? When and how did you acquire them? What do they do for you? Has that changed with time?