Sunday, December 22, 2013

Normalcy is Good

A handful, meaning four, visitors have emailed to ask why I haven't posted many blog entries recently. The answer: life has been fairly "normal" from my perspective.

I'm grading finals, dealing with student pleas for homework extensions, and feeling overwhelmed — like every other instructor I know. A friend shared that he was up before 3 a.m. to grade essays and record grades by his university's deadlines. The end-of-semester crunch is what it is… no matter who you are as a student or instructor.

The only "autistic" frustration was our cat, Lucy, triggering the burglar alarm while we were on the PA Turnpike. For those unfamiliar with the Turnpike and Tollway systems, these are true "Expressway" systems. The exits are far apart (28 miles or more), and sometimes those exits are to service areas, not junctions.

So, when Lucy's Christmas tree curiosity tripped the motion sensor (which was supposed to aim above pet-level), we were about five miles from home… and 40 minutes away thanks to the nearest exit being in Ohio. We made the roundtrip, but I was so flustered I couldn't relax. Dinner plans were ruined, but I didn't want to be sitting at home, either. I wanted a break from grading and work. Unfortunately, there was no break. I couldn't find a place to sit and relax, and I couldn't relax at home.

People complain about some places being open 24-hours, but I happen to like those places. We have one 24-hour diner here where I have gone when my wife is away and the house feels strange. But, when I'm stressed the diner can be too loud and active. I wouldn't mind an IHOP… or a 24-hour Dunkin' Donuts.

When I mentioned the alarm to a coworker, she said that after their alarm has activated that she wasn't able to relax for a week. I explained, ours was a cat-incident. For her, the unknown was what made her anxious. Wondering if someone tried to break in would be upsetting. In our case, there were no footsteps in the snow, but Lucy was where she didn't belong.

Plans to take a break are necessary for most people. For me, they help avoid being too tired too deal with sensory input (and people). The missed dinner threw me off for a day. But, alarms apparently do that to people. You rush home, hoping it is "just the cat" — but that had me pondering a downed Christmas tree. At least the lights are always unplugged when we leave the house.

Anyway, life is pretty normal. Teaching and Christmas combine for a year-end crunch. None of my colleagues seem relaxed, and I know my students aren't relaxed. So, I'm perfectly normal.

I'll relax this weekend, after grading, by baking cookies for platters. I'll take those to work and distribute some to neighbors. We'll eat a fair number, too.

Happy Holidays.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Herbal Teas, Please... Not that Bitter "Real" Tea

Tea Time
Tea Time (Photo credit: Maia C)
I love teas. One of the best gifts ever was a "PerfecTea" maker (16 oz) from Teavana. I use it daily throughout the winter months, and several times a week in the summer.

My current loose-leaf tea collection includes seven berry, kiwi colada, spiced apple, pumpkin spice, red chai, hibiscus punch, honeybush vanilla, and several other herbal varieties. What I don't buy are most true teas: they are too difficult to get right without a lot of attention to details.

Maybe my tastebuds are too sensitive. Few people care if their teas are a little bitter or "off" in some way, but I can tell when a green, black, or white tea has gone wrong. Too much heat or steeped too long, teas are ruined. I can't drink ruined teas.

Teavana provides a basic guide to brewing teas, "How to Make Tea" []. When you boil a kettle of water, it is 212 degrees F. Herbal, rooibos, and maté teas should be steeped in 208F water for five minutes, so getting the temperature right isn't a problem. But, white and green teas work best at 175 degrees, for only a couple of minutes or less. White teas can be steeped for four minutes, but I've found they work best at two or three minutes.

I have had bad tea at several major coffee and bakery chains. It's disgusting to me, yet others seem unfazed by the bitterness. The problem is that the teas sit too long or are brewed too hotly in machines designed to brew coffee. Filling a coffee filter with green tea in a commercial brewer? The result shouldn't be served to anyone.

Just because you use "real" high-end tea doesn't mean you've brewed a good cup of tea.

Recently, we saw the Breville One-Touch Tea Maker at Teavana. Not that I'm going to spend $250 on a tea brewer, but this thing is cool: select the tea type and it does everything else: set the initial water temperature, steep the tea, and maintain the proper resting temp.

Since I'm not going to test water temperatures and I respond slowly to the beeping of our kitchen timers, I'll stick to herbal teas for now.
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