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Every Mug Tells a Story

Because sometimes, inspiration is in the upper left cabinet above the sink.

1. In 1993 we registered for twelve blue-and-white coffee cups from William-Sonoma. We received a gift box with eleven blue-striped cups and, like an ugly duckling, one with a stripe of green. Green Stripe always sat in the back, used only for a crowd, if we really needed twelve cups – until Josie came along and decided it was special, it was the lucky cup.  The renamed Lucky Green isn’t pictured – he’s busy holding her ice cream, or tea, or hot chocolate. Now he’s a swan.

2.  That is one big Kansas Jayhawks mug. It originally belonged to a friend, a friend who asked me to edit and proofread his dissertation, his 300-page, ten-years-in-the-making, bone-dry military history dissertation. I drank gallons of late-night coffee from that mug, pencil in hand, and when all was said and done he got a PhD – and I got the mug.

3.  Five-Layer Butterscotch. Lemon Angel. Raspberry, Blueberry, Bumbleberry. How do I love thee, Betty’s Pies of Two Harbors, Minnesota? Let me count the slices.

4.  Polly’s Pancake Parlor in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire resides in my pantheon of breakfasts: buckwheat waffles, cob-smoked bacon, bracing coffee and maple sugar, maple butter, maple syrup, maple heaven – all from right down the road.

5.  I’ve had this butterflied mini-mug as long as I can remember, which is – ahem – at least the early 70′s. It held everything from root beer to Lipton tea to coffee nabbed from dad’s bigger mug. Today I don’t think of it as child-sized; it’s espresso-sized.

6.  Oh Maine Diner of Wells, Maine. We were in such a crustacean daze after your meaty lobster rolls and melted butter, we sprung for a mug.

7.  Once upon a time, long ago when Josie was not a supercool 14-year-old, she marched into a glaze-your-own ceramics shop and boldly painted the word DAD. It’s been Greg’s number one mug ever since, enjoying permanent favored status in the front row. The bottom reads Love, Josie – which is code for “break this, and feel bad for life.”

8.  Greg’s brother Stephen and his wife, Swedish-born Moa, live in Stockholm. When Josie was 8 or 9 she fell hard for the charming Moomintroll books by Swedish-Finn author Tove Jansson, and the Scandinavian connection proved especially useful in obtaining cute mugs and other Moomin-shwag.

9.  Are you true to Anne of Green Gables, like me and Josie? If you get misty saying “Marilla’s cordial” and “Gilbert Blythe,” this souvenir is for you. My mom visited Canada’s Prince Edward Island last year and dropped by the real Green Gables, part of author Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Cavendish National Historic Site. I want to go. For now I’ve got a mug.

10.  I spent a good chunk of my childhood collecting penguins, and here’s what it taught me: people might forget your name, but never your collection.  And you will spend the rest of your life thanking said well-meaning people for penguin keychains and figurines and mugs. You can pack it all away and wait for people to forget – but keep out the mugs. They’re darn useful penguins.

11. I may or may not have stolen this cup from a restaurant in Falun, Sweden. I’m sure you’ve never nabbed anything from a restaurant. Have you?


That concludes our mug shot. Have a lovely weekend, and tell me – what’s in your cabinet?

If you like: classic films, aspiring movie-critic teenagers and a good old-fashioned summer blog project, visit Take One Hundred. I just might know the blogger.

I just might be the blogger’s chauffeur, alarm clock, snack provider, ponytail holder-buyer, chief room inspector and summer personal assistant. Also, her proud mom. Be sure to read the first post, 100 Movies of Summer, to see how it all started. Dim the lights and grab the popcorn! I’ll meet you over there.

Strawberry Girl

Josie turned 14 last week. A teenager. Of course she was a teen last year, being 13 and all, and possibly even before that at 12, which I recall as spiked with previews. Still – if 13 has training wheels, then 14 speeds away. You can let it run you over, and you can also lay down and get run over again. These are the choices.

There’s good news, too. She’s wonderful, lovely and smart and funny, as she always has been. She is all those things and now more, independent and stubborn and debate-ready, on matters from politics to proper barrette placement, which, I’d forgotten, is crucial.

She does not have one answer. She has ten. On a truly inspired day, twelve.

Who was there? Well, so-and-so was there, and her friend, and nobody else. Nobody? Well, oh yeah, there was that guy, and his friend, and his little brother, but they’re boring. And someone’s mom dropped her off but then she had to leave, to go to yoga. And oh yes Emily was there but not that Emily, not the one you don’t like, the other one. There were tons of people I knew. Tons? But, you know, nobody else was there.

So the news, then, is that even when they are lovely-smart-funny, the pleasures of agreement are few. She thinks adults oversimplify, always assuming a situation is either perfect or totally awful. She says it’s all flexible, all open to possiblity. Nothing is just one way.

I called my mother the other day and asked, where is the reward here? What is it? Oh, Josie is my reward, she said. I was stunned. It’s not me? The adult me isn’t your reward? Well, she said, you are, but she’s the easiest reward.

I told her well, she’s quite complicated right now. Your own daughter takes longer, she said. You did.

One hot afternoon last week, first in a long line of scorchers, Josie got home from the pool and was sitting in the kitchen eating popcorn, briefly friend- and phone-free.  I pounced, and she couldn’t believe her luck: errands! She would join me on errands. Gas, dry cleaning, dog food place and the local co-op for eggs, asparagus, salad greens, fruit.  And because any errand-mate must act as my extra hands, on the way home it was Josie who held the small green basket, dropping tiny leaves and fine dirt in her lap, the first strawberries of the season.

The berries were misshapen and candy red, embroidered with yellow seeds. Josie cupped the basket, turning berries over with one finger, picking at curled green stems. Her hair was still wet and she wore friendship bracelets, the wrist code of teen girls: this is my favorite, these are my friends, that’s my design. I wore shorts, which I generally avoid up to August, and also a ponytail, in place through October. To me summer is a stack of camp forms, frizzy hair, bathing suit shopping, bug spray. Of course for most people summer, I know, is the golden child of seasons, joy without fuss. Josie was an unfussy baby, and later an unfussy child. Now she embraces its complications, this almost-high school life, juggling friends, algebra, parents, lockers, friends. Choices.

In the car she was quiet, rather suspiciously not asking for objects, rides or permissions. She wanted to get home, to zoom through dinner and reach dessert. Squinting through five o’ clock rays at the berries on her lap, I asked Josie: what should we do with them?

Should I make strawberry cobbler? Soak them in rum? Buttermilk strawberry cake, strawberry-rhubarb pie, strawberry rum sauce or ice cream or strawberry-banana crepes?

We should eat them, she said, and popped one. Just eat them.

And that is what we did.

Guest Blogger: Cleo

Five year old Cleo is our first quadruped guest blogger.

Skills: Sleeping, slobbering, ear-scratching. Being soft.

Likes: Josie, tennis balls, pumpkin biscuits, eating grass, pizza crust, chewing fur off behind, butter within reach.

Dislikes: Josie going to school, lack of pizza crust, humans talking too much, unfriendly cats, butter out of reach.

Loves: Josie

She doesn’t type, read, cook, bake or pay attention longer than five seconds, but Cleo has something to tell you:

Any idea what it is?

hazelnut mocha cherry torte
extremely faux macarons

how Cleo looks at a treat


Fundraiser: Hazelnut Mocha Cherry Torte, made this week for a fundraising auction. Not pictured: extra mocha buttercream, made for sitting around my kitchen.

Forsythia: Now popping everywhere in shades of lemon meringue, forsythia rings in the season by dangling over porches and sidewalks, showing its aggressive, smiling best in April rain.

Faux: Faux macarons – cute, but extremely faux – macarons. An open bag of oyster crackers plus extra mocha buttercream prompted these tiny, salty-sweet, maddeningly painstaking treats. How to split an oyster cracker? Use the tip of a paring knife – then sandwich with a piped dab of buttercream or chocolate ganache.

Farm: Josie used this farm-animal bowl from babyhood, grabbing, then spooning, years of blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, granola, gummi bears, ice cream. And oyster crackers. Now it’s a measuring dish on my scale – no longer her serveware but as I couldn’t part with it, now it serves me.

Focus: Here, our tender-hearted Cleo stares at a single treat, undistracted by phone, music, chatter, Internet, blogs or doubt. She will not budge. She will sit as long as it takes. And who among us couldn’t use a dose of that?

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