Confessions of an Anti-coffee Snob (and almost no mention of Covid 19)

You’ve heard of coffee snobs, right? Those one who sniff their noses at grocery house brands, or Tim Hortons, or try not to gasp if you tell them the only coffee you have in your house is Nabob instant freeze dried?

I think I must admit to being an ‘anti-coffee snob’.

I grew up in an instant coffee house, made with milk, (café au lait my parents called it) When mom and dad had ‘real’ company, mom would ‘perk’ a pot of coffee using the percolator, and fresh ground coffee beans. We had an only fashioned grinder mounted on the kitchen wall by the sink, and my job was often to climb up on the counter and grind the coffee beans into the tiny glass holder underneath that would slide out. To this day, my favorite part of coffee is actually the smell!

But I don’t’ remember ever being offered coffee to drink as a child, and if I was, it did not particularly agree with me. Then, as an aspiring teen volleyball player, I heard the adage  ‘coffee stunts your growth’, so I refrained, wishing to maximize my height at the net.  I learned about the addictive nature of coffee, watching my university colleagues unable to function without, it, and eschewed the brew all the way thru my undergraduate degree. ( I did pull thru more than a few late winter nights on hot chocolate/sugar serum, but somehow never was addicted to that- although my family will tell you that I do have some serious chocolate cravings) I also recognize now that I think I have (had?) a higher than average number of bitter taste buds, so perhaps the bitter aspect of coffee made it an acquired taste that I had little motivation to acquire.

At a certain point, not drinking coffee became an official, almost principled, position of mine. The principal at my first teaching position was fueled by strong Danish coffee, and I flat-out laughed at him when he reported that my students told him he had terrible coffee breath. I like to tease my Baptist brothers and sisters (especially my sisters) about the coffee dependency in church functions. As the pastor’s wife, often early at church, I resisted being asked to make coffee at Elim (until they got a Bunn-o-matic, which I was willing to tackle on occasion).  I occasionally would jokingly ‘complain’ about discrimination when only coffee is offered at functions, or when tea was made in a coffee carafe, creating an undrinkable brew that is neither tea nor coffee.   I prided myself on the reduction of coffee and the increased offering of teas and other hot drinks, especially at our ladies’ function, long before coffee bars with a myriad of drink options became popular in big churches.

However, I do still love the smell of coffee, and coffee and mocha flavored items have always been very enjoyable to me. Asa parent, long cold days and early mornings at the rink, when the boys were in hockey, gave rise to drinking a ‘mocha’, which is hot chocolate with some coffee added. My own version is still only about 10-20% coffee, but unless specified, the rink canteen made it 50/50, which is still too much for me.   A little instant coffee would sneak into my hot chocolate at home as well if I was heading out early with a Contigo mug.

Then a number of years ago, someone- I think my son John- introduced me to Tim Horton’s French Vanilla cappuccino, which I would treat myself to occasionally. Coffee snobs will, of course, argue that neither of this nor a hockey rink mocha are really coffee, but nevertheless my gradual slide had begun.  When I discovered a slightly more economical version at the Bulk Barn, this insidious coffee product made its way into my house. Made with additional milk, I used it to jump start Cari thru her last years of high school (when she was not taking breakfast), and therefore began to imbibe it more frequently myself.   And then I moved to Africa.

In all  the regions we have lived in here in Cameroon and Nigeria, mornings ARE cool, and making time to have a cup of something hot while reading my Bible early in the day has become an important routine I try to adhere to.  I successfully located in Yaounde enjoyable varieties of teas, have modified the local hot chocolate product with additional whole milk powder and sugar to make it something ‘more like home’, and have successfully created a chai tea latte mixture somewhat reminicient of the Starbucks version (although that one is far too complicated for regular consumption). Here in Africa, of course, the French vanilla concoction is not available in a recognizable form, so I would ration the precious amounts I would bring from home, or which my friend Dori would add to a White Cross shipment coming our way.  Not naturally being a morning person, and trying to function in a culture which is running full speed for about two hours before I would naturally want to open my eyes, I began to appreciate the caffeine.  Suddenly, as my last ‘stash’ was dwindling, I realized that it must be possible to create a reasonable facsimile of this dry powdered mixture, because the magic ingredient needed might be vanilla sugar, which is reasonably easily available in Cameroon (but not my region of Nigeria).

So the experiments began, and by the time I went to Canada last year, and stopped in Croatia for a holiday with John, I was proud to present to him my home made version. It’s actually relatively difficult to produce the same way in the west, because here I use full fat powdered milk, which is actually super creamy compared to the low fat, or the ‘non-dairy powdered creamer’ versions you might see on the labels.  So I regularly stock up on sachets of vanilla sugar, learning some versions are better than other.

Additionally, since we are stuck in Nigeria now with the COVID-19 situation, I have to make it without the vanilla sugar, so it’s powdered milk, sugar and instant coffee, bringing it basically back to the café au lait (powdered) of my childhood- heavy on the milk and sugar, of course.  (Next idea…figure out how to make my own vanilla sugar?)

O how the mighty have fallen! -or at least come full circle!!  Since I now regularly purchase instant coffee, my husband recently pointed out that it is now a bit hypocritical for me to say I don’t drink coffee, when I have gone to such lengths to create this.  I argue that I am still not ‘really’ a coffee drinker, but his point is well taken.  However, if you are ever able come to visit me in Cameroon, I should warn you that all coffee served will be instant version, although in both my ‘houses’ in Cameroon, (neither of which I cannot get to at the moment)  I can possibly help you with the use of a French press if you bring your own ‘real’ coffee.

Meanwhile I hope you all have a good supply of your favorite beverages as you ‘lock-down’ , ‘self isolate’, maintain essential services, or, if you are a health care worker- work around the clock for the rest of us.


The (Attempted) Making of a (Sort-of) Morning Person

IMG_6443It’s 10 am on a Wednesday morning. So far, I have …..
-cooked breakfast (shaking it out of a box is not an option here)
-baked gingersnaps, roasted ground nuts, made a pan of granola and baked some left over tortillas into corn chips
– did laundry- a batch of clothes, and much more difficult, our comforter
-swept and washed most of the bedroom floor (wasn’t up to the whole move-the-furniture routine this morning)
-swept and washed the screen porch floors and the outside veranda -using the water from my laundry
-turned my compost pile (more correctly- added to it, and cleaned up the mess the chickens had made of the top layers)
-watered my flower beds with left over kitchen water
-searched for some different recipes for my white beans that soaked over night.
-am working on this blog

If this does not seem impressive to you, you either…

  1. Are a horribly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed morning person
  2. Don’t know me at all
  3. Have small children at home who have you up at the crack of dawn all the time

Generally, for my whole adult life, I have not been a morning person. I managed thru university, but arranged some strange schedules to minimize the 8 am classes. I have never developed a taste for coffee, so rarely looked to caffeine for assistance. In my first two years teaching, I was very glad that I did not drive often for our car pool arrangement, because the early hours of our departure combined with the late arrival of the sun during Alberta winters made it questionable whether I would have the cognative abilities to make the split second decisions required behind the wheel on Hwy 2. I could function by the time I got to school 45 minutes later.

During my child-bearing years, my late-night energy cycle meant I was able to get a lot of housework done that was impossible with small children underfoot, and then stumbled around comatose during the wee hour baby feedings. (I was pretty much sleep-deprived for the 8 years that I was pregnant or had children under 2 years of age, so I don’t think being a morning person would have made a difference anyhow.)   I managed to get my four children dressed and off to school on time for 16 years, but if you showed up at my house around then (or even an hour or two later), you would almost certainly meet me in my bathrobe.

Occasionally I have tried to force myself into the proverbial world of the “early to bed, early to rise”, usually without long-term success.  Instead, when jobs required early mornings, I learned to function with less sleep. And, since I am now past menopause, it has, in fact, become worse.  (Anyone who tries to tell a menopausal woman that she just needs to ‘stick to a schedule’ in order to change her sleep schedule, is tempting fate, especially if that same women has not slept well for the last 2 weeks)

Moving to Cameroon, I was determined to try it again. SInce the sun goes down at 6 and comes up at 6 for pretty much the whole year, and we didn’t have power at night for much of the first 4 months, I was convinced my circadian rhythm would adjust and I could move seamlessly into the cycle of those all around me, including my husband.

Anecdotally speaking, I think I must have been doing better, because I was able to be at class in Ndu at 7:30am, actually awake and ready to teach. But, while I love the skylight in our bedroom there, especially during the gloomier rainy season, if I have not been able to sleep til 1 or 2 am, having the sun streaming into my face from overhead at 5:45 does not launch me out of bed in a merry mood.

However, while I was in Nigeria recently, with no power in the house, and limited life to my solar powered lamp, I successfully went to bed before 9 pm, woke up usually only briefly once or twice, and got up regularly at 5:30 am for devotions. I think another factor in this achievement was the high level of physical activity I was doing, since I was walking back and forth across the village sometimes 4-5 times in a day, and working with the contractor at the renovation site, and physical exhaustion is a great sleep aid.

Since they say you can create a new habit if you do something for 29 days, or something like that, I was optimistic on my return to Cameroon that this cycle could continue. Alas, it was not to be. And although I have experimented with melatonin, physical activity and exercise, camomile tea and less screen time before bed, I am rarely able to sleep before 10 pm again (or 11 or 12 or 1am) , or, I wake up after a couple of hours and stay awake for 3 or more hours.

So, I am just grateful right now that I don’t have a schedule that requires me to stick to a routine. Instead, I try to make a list (physical or mental) of what I need to do in the morning. If I have to go to market, the list is ready, the shopping bags are in place, etc.  If I have a good sleep, I attack the morning with vigor. If I have almost no sleep, such as a couple of days ago, I do the bare minimum and stumble around in a fog for a day. If I have had a half decent sleep, such as this morning, then the list means I don’t have to think about what needs to be done. I just get up and get started, remembering that doing all these things early is WAY better than during the 31 degree heat of the afternoon.

So, after finishing this blog, which was interrupted by numerous visits, trips to the kitchen for another ginger snap, and a short meeting with my language helper, I am going to check if my laundry outside is dry, make lunch, and work on my language learning stuff until I get tired. Oh – and decide on how to cook the beans and get them started  And then…..I plan to take a nap -when it’s 30 degrees outside and too hot to do anything inside.   And I continue to be glad that I don’t have a 9-5 job.

The Lights of a Packrat

OK, so I know that I’ve always been a bit of a packrack (My children are rolling their eyes as they read this and saying, “A bit?!?!?”)  But as I packed up for moving to Cameroon, I had to limit what we brought, what we put into our limited storage, and REALLY tried not to foist a bunch of junk onto my kids.  And I thought that living in Africa might continue promote a more minimalistic lifestyle.  HAHAHAHA! Well, it does in its own way, I guess. But in what I consider emergency preparedness, I can’t seem to help myself.


So here is just the light collection saga.  When I was camping and out-tripping in Canada, for numerous weeks per year, I had one Petzel headlamp (second from the left). It served me for about 10 years of trips, plus roadside car repairs and at-home power outtages, with about 2 sets of good batteries for that whole time.  It DID occur to me to go to Cameroon with just that, but I decided….NOT!!  Frequent use walking the house and campus in Ndu seems to have strained it and on this last trip, I thought it had died. New batteries worked briefly (after a three week search for AAA’s that lasted more than 20 minutes), but then it failed again.  But I couldn’t very well throw it out, so I dragged it all around Nigeria (not working) in the bottom of my bag, and it made it back to Banyo with me.  Frustrated to not have a hands-free light for over a month, I tackled it this morning with the help of some internet advice. I cleaned the contacts with VINEGAR! And it works!! Still a bit touchy to operate, so I haven’t solved the problem completely, but I am optimistic.  Test use tonight has proved it so far – packrats score again!

Before leaving Canada I was advised to buy a good rechargeable LED lamp. Well, technology has changed, and the new power source in North America is USB /power banks, so I got a few things. I bought a Nite Ize lamp (second from the right). It lasts quite a long time, and charges with a mini USB input. It also has an output port, so in a pinch, I can charge my phone from it too.  Disadvantage- it is REALLY bright, even at the lowest setting, and is most comfortably used when you can hang it up so the light shines in a way that doesn’t blind everyone. Because of that, it lives in its little bag for long period of time when we travel, unless there is a convenient nail, hook or twig to hang it from near the ceiling.   At home in Ndu it lives on top of the cabinet in the dining room, where it cast the best light when the power (frequently) goes out.
I also engaged in an impulse buy at MEC in Canada and bought this super-cool lid for my Nalgene (far right) that has a light, solar panel and glow-in-the-dark silicone ring around the lid.  I haven’t needed a night light with much frequency between my children’s graduations from kindergarten and my move to Cameroon, but this is now my defacto water bottle, night light and bedside lamp, as well as a great conversation piece in the villages where they love anything solar powered. Being normally used in Canadian summers where it is light til 10 or 11 pm, its one minor downside is that it doesn’t shine very well as room lighting from 6-10 pm here. That minor problem is overshadowed (pun intended) by the much worse fact that the lid doesn’t seal very well. So it’s good in my room but not great in my truck, or backpack, or knocked over on the bedroom floor. And although I still have the original Nalgene Seal with me, it’s a pain to carry around to change, so I rarely do.  But I still use the bottle-with-lid-light a ton, and live with its various disadvantages, because of its day-to-day convenience, the ‘cool’ factor and the way it saves my shins and Jeff’s sleep during my nocturnal sojourning.

I have a couple of USB power banks, two of which are gifts, that get used for charging phones, some ofthese lights, and a host of other little things I never anticipated. The third power bank is a massive 4.5 pound thing I bought for my laptop computer, and I save it for charging computers when off the power grid for a long time. ‘Cause ‘off the grid’ here doesn’t usually mean no cell network- just no electricity in the houses. So we are still expected to use phone, text, email, Messenger, Facebook, What’sApp, etc., and have phones and SIMs for multiple networks to facilitate this in multiple scenariors.  An additional power bank that was gifted to me last year with one of the others, was passed on to an evangelist friend of ours. He really wants my solar charger panel with the USB ports, since the ones here are of questionable quality, but I am drawing the line there.

Coming back thru more populated parts of Cameroon this week, I was at a Total fuel station, and my eye fell on one of the D-lights they sell across the country, and which are really quite impressive and actually come with a warranty. (Although I haven’t found anyone that’s tested that warranty.) I used one of Lisa’s in the village last month, and thought I should own at least one good solar powered lamp.  I decided against the bigger one which has a few other features I didn’t need (USB port, I think). So this one (far left), at $16 Cdn equivalent, looks a bit like my Nalgene but you CANNOT put water in it. THAT much is specific in the instructions. (What else you would want to put in the screw open top container, I have no idea! It’s low power and heat so I don’t think I can try drying anything inside- but you never know….)
Note to you all, if you’re coming to Cameroon or other African countries, see what they have  readily available before buying anything solar in North America. Some things here are really very good and reasonably priced

Oh yes, as a camp leader in Canada I spurged once and bought a miniMaglite. That one seems to be missing at the moment, but it’s probably in Ndu on the shelf by the front door.   And my smart phone (obviously) also has a flashlight app- which I’ve used 70% of the time that my Petzel wasn’t working.

Jeff has one little LED light flashlight he’s used all year so far…….I think he might be due for new batteries soon.  I just hope they are not AAAs.