Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas morning "studying"


I spent my Christmas morning curling up with my new stuffed giraffe named Genevieve, and reading Mr. Boston Official Bartender's Guide, 75th anniversary edition.

A giraffe because I love giraffes, and a guide to bartending because I plan to go to a bartending school when I turn eighteen this spring. Y'know, college tuition. 

In my mom's words, since she's the one who kindly gave me this guide, I'm reading this for "professional purposes." That's mostly true, but it's also just fascinating. Relax, I'll only be practicing the non-alcoholic chapter for now. Can't forget about them Shirley Temples, Peach Melbas and Flamingos.

It's amazing, really, how the details makes a world of a difference with serving drinks. This guide really does get down to every last detail imaginable. Every here and there, one sentence stood out as snobbish. I never really appreciated how much of an art form serving drinks is. I'm sure I'll be just as snobby some day, much like how becoming a barista is slowly turning me into a coffee snob. The people who contributed to the guide certainly are particular in the way they like things done.

"Clean, polished glasses show off good drinks to great advantage. The best glasses should be thin-lipped, transparent, and sound off in high registers when 'pinged.'"

"A good number of cocktails are finished with some kind of fruit or savory garnish. (Well not discuss nonedible doodads like paper umbrellas, but really, they might be appropriate for some retro drinks. Stock them according to your aesthetics.)" 

What if I waste a bunch of fruit because I can't slice it properly? I imagine myself behind a bar frantically trying to slice fruit and failing. File that under stupid fears I need to get over.

Rimming a glass: 
"Rimming separates the pros from the amateurs. The crust must only cling to the outside of the glass. If it is inside the glass, the inner crust will fall into the drink and overseason it."

The precision of it all is honestly quite intimidating. I wouldn't want to accidentally overseason someone's margarita. Goodness. 


Sunday, December 27, 2015

"Tell your story."

A couple months ago, Kevin Breel came to my high school to promote his new book, Boy Meets Depression: Or Life Sucks and Then You Live. I haven't finished the book yet, but so far so good.

Kevin encourages audiences to recognize the stigma surrounding mental health issues, and to stop that stigma by starting a dialogue in the community. I'm extremely appreciative of how straightforward he is about this.

Kevin said to the audience, "tell your story. You aren't alone. You can either share your story or be ashamed of it, and I didn't want to be ashamed anymore."

I am most definitely not ashamed of my story, but that doesn't make the stigma surrounding these issues disappear. Now we've come full circle. See? I'm hesitant to tell my story, especially on the internet, because of the stigma and misunderstanding surrounding mental health. Yet, in order to chip away at the stigma, one must start a conversation and share their story. 

I want to tell my story. I want to write about what really happened. Honest, raw, real, no guessing. I don't mean to sound full of myself, but I have quite a lot of things to write about. I know I will someday; not necessarily on this blog, but somewhere open to the public.


Friday, October 23, 2015

"Go write. I want to read it."

I've honestly never been more motivated to write.
In this case, my college essay.

For the past three days, I've been told to keep writing, in such a way that's completely shocked me. It was so simple, yet so incredibly uplifting. 

"Go write. I want to read it."
"Keep writing. I want to see it." 
"Here's what you do: go write, and show me." 

Wait, what? You seem genuinely excited. You want to read my writing?

It makes me want to write my heart out, and then write some more. 
It makes me want to carry a journal around everywhere with me, even though I already do. 
It makes me want to spend my afternoon drinking coffee and typing away until I physically cannot keep my eyes open any longer. That's precisely what I'm doing right now. 

I suppose this goes to show the impact of supporting writers, artists, musicians, actors, and anyone with creative ambitions. 

Thank you. It means the world to me. 


Saturday, September 12, 2015

blank walls are no good

"How do I stay on top of a hectic year without sacrificing self-care?" I asked myself over and over during the summer, as I calmly prepared for senior year. 

It'll be hectic, alright. 

I'm taking more challenging classes this year, ones that I never thought I would qualify for. Two intense history classes, and two intense art classes. No math. No science. (Relax, I'll graduate). There's also college apps, gap year planning, and taking on responsibilities in band. This year in band, I am the flute section leader and the librarian. Meaning, I have an army of flutes to watch over and guide, and I sort and hand out sheet music to everyone in the band. 

My solution had two phases. 

Phase one: reevaluate and prioritize the things I do out of school. Considering the classes I'm taking this year, I mapped out time for me to stay in the school library, and molded my schedule around that time, with plenty of wiggle room. 

I cut down on my work hours to just the weekends, I canceled an activity, and spread everything out so I had room to breathe. Room to take care of myself. 

Phase two: spread self-care everywhere I possibly could. 

So I did a bit of redecorating this summer, especially surrounding my desk, at both mom's and dad's houses.

This is one of my workspaces. The flowering lungs print and the "Beware of what you put inside" print are both off of this Etsy shop, very nice prices. 

The sticky notes help, too, regardless of how cheesy they sound: 
  • "Set yourself free." Can't remember where this is from. 
  • "Breathe in strength, breathe out bullshit." (Taken from this foul language guided meditation).
  • "Do what impassions you." One of my favorite teachers told me that, more than once.
  • "Think about how far you've come, and how far you'll go." From tumblr, probably. 
Not included in the picture are several print-outs of emails that mean a lot to me, from several different people, and decorated with pretty tape. 

In the top right corner, you'll see some bricks. That's part of my colored pencil symbolic self-portrait, an assignment from my art class last year. 

This is my other workspace. I'm extremely sentimental, so I put up several theatre programs and posters that give me nice memories. The "micca" ones are from previous marching band competitions. MICCA Finals are always one of the best days of the year. 

For Christmas this past year, most likely with the same self-care goal in mind, my mom gave me that big red "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster. I recently turned it into something much better: "No thanks. I'd rather raise hell and change the world." 

I also have song lyrics to a beautiful and terribly emotional song called "One Tin Soldier" pinned on the wall, a Red Sox ticket, and a few snail mail letters down below. 

We'll go bottom to top. 

Again, this is cheesy, but the poster with the sunset has been in my possession for as long as I can remember, and it says: "We can only see with open eyes, we can only listen with open ears, we can only think with open minds."  

Directly above that is an image taken from an old wall calendar, that says: "'Any given moment can change your life,' she said, 'you just have to be there.'" 

Next to that is from the same wall calendar. This one is my favorite. "She packed up her potential and all she had learned, grabbed a cute pair of shoes and headed out to change a few things." 

Above that is something out of some sports catalogue, that says "be more human." The one above that is from the same catalogue, and it says "fight the beautiful fight." I know, these all sound so cheesy and ridiculous. Trust me, I know. But they help, especially since I'm very into martial arts. 

That big painting of the bone and the teapot and the flower? Yeah, I painted that last year. I also set up the still life for it. Pretty proud of it! 

Above that in the upper right corner is a photo print from Iceland. There's an old woman with a long jacket on, and a crutch under her arm, and she's looking at this big wall with the words "Pussies beware!" sprayed onto it. It's a gorgeous photo, really. 

And at the very top of this display is another cheesy thing from that wall calendar, that says, "'I just don't like to see you waste your time on silly things,' he said. 'Well then,' she said, 'close your eyes.'" 

There's also a small orange bottle sitting on my desk with flowers that are two years old, and they were given to me by a woman who is one of the kindest people I've ever met. She gave those to me the day we met. Back then, I wasn't in a good place at all, so I was always very surprised and emotional whenever someone gave a gift to me. 

So that's that. 

In a separate post, I'll write about my mini bag that I tuck away in my school bag. It's full of wonderful sensory things that can be surprisingly helpful when I'm not feeling too great. 

I've also found a way to read for pleasure just a little bit every day. Right now I'm reading "It's a Funny Story" by Ned Vizzini. I know I wrote about buying this book around two years ago, but now I'm ready to read it, and it's wonderful so far. Very honest and straightforward, not much "fluff." 


Thursday, August 27, 2015

drinks at the cafe

If nothing needs to be done at work, you'll find me making funny little drinks. 
Below are a few that I had the chance to take a picture of. 

1. This mug is adorable; I love it. It's bigger than those tiny espresso mugs, and smaller than our "small" mug (if you were to order a small coffee). 

This is two shots of espresso, and just a bit of steamed soy milk and foam. Cinnamon on top. 

I like to make this an hour before closing, as we have lots of cleaning to do after closing. Sometimes I feel like I just don't have the energy to get through it, and this is a cozy quick fix. 

2. This is pumpkin spice latte in my cat mug. See the ears poking up on the sides? Yeah, they poke me in the face when I finish a drink in this mug. Always a fun time. My brother Ben gave me this mug for my birthday this past May, and he wanted me to take a picture of my latte in the mug. Sorry, I kinda messed up the latte art. Oh well. 

3. This is a medium whole milk latte, and it actually wasn't mine! The customer had walked away and no one else was around, so I snapped a quick picture before sending this beauty away. Not perfect, but I thought it was cute. 

4. Plain old soy latte. Probably my best latte art, to be honest. 

5. Alright, bare with me here. I know, this looks like a complete disaster of a drink, but it's amazing. 

I start out with two shots of espresso on the bottom of the mug. Then I steam soy milk, a couple splashes of the chai concentrate (that we use for chai lattes) and a couple scoops of cocoa all together at once. Now I have this soy chocolate chai mixture. 

I pour it right in the middle of the espresso, so I can keep the outline of the crema and the chocolate in the middle. Plenty of foam on top, and sprinkled cocoa. 

The orange outline is the espresso, and the brown in the middle is the chocolate. Best of both worlds, I'm tellin' you. 

A regular chai latte with a shot of espresso is known as a "dirty chai," so I guess you could call this a double dirty chocolate soy chai? I don't know. I just call it my special drink, because it's the best thing ever, especially in the winter time. 

6. This is the same as above, but in a tiny mug that turned out to be one of the owner's flower pots. Oops. It was on the mug rack, and it didn't have a hole in the bottom. We cleaned it well, don't worry. 

Those are all the pictures I have for now. 


I somehow became a barista?

I've always thought that drinking coffee, especially drinking coffee without milk, was a hardcore sophisticated grown-up thing. Like it was a competition to see how little milk or sugar you can take in your coffee. I would see grown-ups walking around with their paper cups of coffee, and it was like they passed some kind of test in my head. It was a status symbol of adulthood. 

When I started working for my dad the summer after eighth grade, he and I went down to the cafeteria in his office building to get our "morning drink" to get us going. His was coffee. Mine was usually some variation of bottled ice tea or flavored water. 

Sometimes it was chocolate milk, especially if I was in need of comfort. Chocolate milk does nothing but comfort me. I always have a lot of chocolate milk after any kind of extremely stressful event, such as an audition. I never have and never will have any shame in having chocolate milk. I order it in restaurants and public settings all the time, and oftentimes there is a bit of hesitation on the other end. I look old enough to order alcohol if it's an option, and even if it isn't, I guess they expect me to have a soda, or even just the usual "just water for me, thanks." 

Surprise surprise, one morning, I decided to take the plunge and try coffee for the very first time. My first steps into mature-working-black-coffee-drinking-adulthood. We came back upstairs to his cozy office, with his desk in the back, two desks for his other two employees Mike and Mary, and then a couch and comfy chairs at the front for client meetings and me. 

From what I recall, it was Green Mountain medium roast with a splash of skim milk. I took a sip of it, acknowledging the strange taste in my mouth, trying to think of something witty to say, but I had nothing. 

I hated it. No amount of milk would cover up the awful taste, never mind the strange bitter aftertaste it left behind. How could millions of people drink this every day? How could so many people crave this, and grow even mildly dependent on this? I thought to myself. My biggest question was, how can anyone possibly enjoy this without any milk?! 

"You'll like it when you get older, it's an acquired taste." Every adult ever has told me that. That's what they tell me about coffee, as well as alcohol. All I could do was shrug my shoulders, and return to my beloved chocolate milk and flavored waters and wait for time to pass. 

A few months later, my freshman year of high school began. My dad would drive my brother and I to school when we lived at his place, and if we left the house early enough, sometimes we would stop by Dunkin' Donuts on the way to school. 

The only thing I knew about coffee at that point was: 
a) It's gross with no milk, wow 
b) If it has chocolate in it, it's a mocha, right? 

So I would always order a small iced mocha. It came to me with lots of chocolate on the bottom, full of ice, lots and lots of milk, and a hint of coffee. At the time, I had no idea what espresso was, or even that a mocha was an espresso-based drink. It still counts as coffee, and I can hardly taste a thing. Perfect! 

I felt like the most badass freshman ever, walking around with my iced mocha, making it last for three class periods (about three hours). Walking around thinking, that's right. We went to Dunkin' Donuts and I'm so awake with this cup of icey milky chocolate drink that still somehow counts as coffee. I'm just sipping it, no big deal. It's 10:00 in the morning, and you think I went off campus to get this? I didn't but wow I totally would because it's so good and I love coffee now. 

So intense. I know. 

I started getting-- stand back, everyone-- a medium iced mocha. Lord. 

My girlfriend Sarah and I were "techies" for the winter musical, and we worked backstage. I would get her coffee some days, she would get me coffee some days, we acted like we couldn't live without it, as if we were actually dependent on the caffeine, when I suspect we really just craved the sugar. Either way, it was cute and it worked. 

When I turned sixteen a little over a year ago, I was searching everywhere for a job, mostly because I wanted to spend the following summer doing art programs at colleges, and it was pricey. Of course, now, I'm spending my entire summer training Brazilian jiu-jitsu, taking care of some chickens and getting my act together in a lot of different ways.

Phase one of the job hunt:

I would email places in hopes of getting a response, but I quickly learned that emails can easily be ignored and trashed, and that the best thing to do, at least in my situation, is to put on an outfit I feel confident in and walk right in the store and ask if they need help. The worst they could do is say, "no, sorry." I got lots of rejections in person, but every now and then they told me to come back in August, or gave me an application and they said "we'll keep it on file and contact you if we end up having an opening."

Keep in mind that back then, my people skills weren't the best. Walking in and pretending to be confident and asking for a job over and over again wasn't easy. But hey, fake it 'til you make it, right? 

Phase two of the job hunt:

One day, my dad and I drove down a long stretch of road in town, and I vowed to stop at every store that seemed mildly interesting to work at. At my age, I couldn't afford to be too picky about where I worked. 

I took notes on the feedback of each one. I tried the mediocre pancake house, a chocolate store, the coffee house, a couple of gift shops, the pet store, and I saw the local doctor's office was looking for a high school student to work after schools as a receptionist-type person. I applied, and even got an interview. During the interview, I wore my purple "erase hate" shirt, and I was almost sweaty because it was hot out and I had walked there. Excellent first impression. Pretty sure I bombed the interview, too, because they never got back to me and I was too nervous to email them. Oh well. It smells weird in there anyway.

During that drive down the long road, I had been making very quick judgements and decisions of lots of places all at once. When I saw the cafe, I thought, "coffee? Sure, why not. Time to ask for an application!" 

One of the sections of the application said "Knowledge of coffee; other relevant skills and interests" and below, in a big empty box, it says, "Please describe why you want to work at Acton Coffee House and what strengths you possess that would make you a valuable member of our staff." 

I swear, when I wrote about how much a know about coffee, I wrote something along the lines of, "I don't know much about coffee at all, but I'm willing to learn! :) " With the smiley face, because I'm that professional. I figured there's some room for fun. It's not like this is a doctor's office or anything.

I handed in my application to the coffee house without even thinking twice about what it means to be a barista. Honest to god, I was so focused on just getting some kind of job. 

I didn't even know my title would be "barista." I didn't think about all the different kinds of people I would meet, all the Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts vocabulary I would learn to translate into English, all the drink preparations I would memorize, and the "regular" orders I would memorize, all the pastries I would come to know in love, all the nice customers, rude customers, and everyone in between that I would come across. I didn't think about latte art, or the warm fuzzy feeling I would get when someone says the drink is gorgeous, or that it was incredibly well done. I didn't think about any of these aspects of the job as a barista. I didn't even know that my next door neighbors, the family who I had previously known as "that guy who sometimes play saxophone," were the owners. 

I practice flute a lot with the windows wide open, and now I don't think my scales will ever be windows-wide-open worthy. Oh well. 

Phase three:

Profit! (I have no idea why they hired me).

It's been a year since I started working at Acton Coffee House, and now I feel so confident and comfortable there. It's nice and cozy. I feel pretty darn lucky for winding up behind the counter there.

I'm writing a separate post, with pictures, about all the strange drinks I've made, and the latte art I've done.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

a lovely graduation disaster

The seniors of my high school graduated last Friday. Honestly, I didn't particularly want to be there, although I do have a small handful of senior friends. I'm in the band, however, so I had to be, and 
as a junior, that was the last time I played Pomp and Circumstance for twelve and a half minutes straight. Graduation is arguably the worst part about being in band. 

I've been to graduation for the past four years now. 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th grade. 8th and 10th because of an older brother graduating, and everything else for band commitments. So, frankly, I'm quite sick of the painfully traditional and nicely polished "graduation exercises," as they call it, that my school does slightly different each year. 

I have this beautiful image in my mind of a disaster graduation that I'd love to see someday, even if it was all an act. 

Here goes: 

Family, friends, faculty and students are all gathered on the football field for graduation. The ceremony has yet to begin. Everyone is nicely dressed as usual; typically the girls in the short dresses and wedges, and boys wearing slacks and shirts and ties, and the graduates have their royal blue caps and gowns on. People are taking pictures, talking, laughing. So far, so good. 

The principal walks up to the podium to start the ceremony, and the band starts to play Pomp and Circumstance as the seemingly endless line of seniors around the track starts to walk in step. 

The band is awful in every way imaginable. Everyone is horribly out of tune with each other, everyone's articulation and dynamics is varied and inconsistent, everyone's tone quality is atrocious, and the band isn't starting and stopping phrases together. Timing is completely out of control; the snare drummer isn't keeping a consistent beat and neither are the low brass playing straight quarter notes. No one is quite together; it's as if we are all playing our part with earplugs and blindfolds on, not watching for cues from the conductor or listening to those around us. 

It's a complete mess, and the seniors don't know when to step left and when to step right due to the confusing timing. The seniors in the front start franticly running to their seats, and their classmates follow behind them. Now everyone is running as if their life depended on it to find a seat in the senior section. People are tripping over each other, pushing and shoving; no one is in any kind of line or order anymore. They used to be in alphabetical order. Now, who knows how the diploma distribution will go. 

During all of this, there have been frequent on-and-off light rain. Just to annoy everyone, of course. It gets everyone damp enough to be irritated, but not damp enough to seek umbrellas or move graduation to the indoor gym. 

Congratulations, class of 2015. 


Saturday, May 09, 2015

10/10 would recommend

I recently visited with an old teacher of mine, and she asked me, "so how is everything? How's life? On a scale of 1-10?" I said ten out of ten, because I'm almost through with my junior year of high school, and life couldn't be better.

Not even kidding.

I'll write separate posts in much more detail about most of these, but here are just a few reasons why things are just A+ right now:

  • working at a local coffee house for almost ten months, and no it's not all about the money
  • training brazilian jiu-jitsu, as the clumsiest student on the mat ever, staying positive
  • playing the flute is always a nice time
  • college visits, round one, are done and my feet are plenty wet
  • deciding to take a gap year following high school graduation
  • reading this crazy good book, after finishing this other crazy good book, and I want to tell you all about both of them
  • first shot at the SATs are done, and I feel amazing about the whole thing
  • summer plans = working, training, driving, Iceland, drum corps international, and band camp
  • senior year next year is looking good so far, scheduling-wise
  • oh, and I chopped off all my hair again -- back to normal, just the way I love it
  • this street sign that we passed on the road several months ago keeps making me laugh, and then I edited it to high-contrast black and white. Now I want to write a story about it. Funny how that all works. 

That's all for now.