It is early morning (5 a.m.), and I hope I never have to give up coffee as I age. I suppose coffee is like so many other sins I have had to relinquish because they affect my blood pressure, breathing, and weight. (I am still savoring the thought of the death-by-chocolate piece of cake I had at the IATE conference this past weekend, an indulgence that will cost me another fifteen minutes on the treadmill for at least a week.)
          As I considered which coffee mug to use this morning, I noticed that my possible choices reflected various periods and interests in my life. In fact, I realized that my life is laid out in coffee mugs. Check your cupboard and I’ll bet you will find the same evidence.

          Take this mug. It simply breathes optimism. When each of my three children turned fifteen, we went out on harrowing expeditions to give them practice driving our car. Usually we went to the cemetery where we couldn’t kill anyone…again. Then, when my freshman sons had 6 a.m. basketball practice in high school, I trained them to flip on the coffee, fill this mug, and have it–and the car keys–ready at the back door as my alarm went off. I threw on sweat pants and shirt to ferry them, coffee mug in hand and eyes half-opened, to the school. Do I miss those silent, 5:30 a.m. drives to the gym? Let me think about that one and get back to you.

          One of my favorite mugs, used over decades, is this one that reflects how I feel about the 44-year profession I chose. Though I recently retired, I still miss working with high school or college students, doing what I always wanted to do with great passion: teach. I have no idea how people get up in the morning, day after day, and go to a job they hate. Teaching didn’t make my bank account rich, but it sure filled my life with treasure.

          A wonderful mug from Mary represents another wealth in my life: loyal friends. When I broke several bones in my wrist and elbow a year ago, my friends of many decades (and even acquaintances in our small town) came to my rescue with food and help until I could manage on my own again. This particular mug is very lightweight so I used it a great deal since my right wrist was broken. Every time I fill it with coffee today I count my blessings. Thanks, Mary, and everyone who helped. 

          These mugs represent a reminder to support independent book stores. The white one came from a book store in Champaign, Illinois, called “Pages for All Ages.” A marvelous store, Pages was in the small town of Savoy and I spent many an hour reading on its premises and buying books, particularly when I was a grad student at the age of fifty. Alas, it has gone out of business like so many other small book stores. The other mug is from The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Arizona, a mystery/thriller store I often visit to buy books and to listen to authors speak about writing. Supporting independent stores is so important in any economy. 

          I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Warren County Public Library [see previous blog post on 4.20.2012.] We are so fortunate to have one of the oldest libraries in the state of Illinois in our midst. Anything I need I can find at this library and–if I need something rare–the librarians can always find and request my item. I have done a great deal of research for my books at this institution and the librarians have allowed me to sell my first book through the library and speak about writing on several occasions to local audiences. My children grew up loving to read at this library and taking part in its summer reading programs. Now my grandchildren always make a stop here when they are back to visit from Arizona.

          And when I visit them, I always take a drive to the Queen Creek Olive Mill. It is also a favorite destination of visiting friends. The only olive grower in Arizona, it has expanded more than once to accommodate traffic. The mill also supports local businesses that produce products such as wine and baked goods. The story of its founding and expansion is an entrepreneur’s dream. I may set a future murder mystery here. I could see some poor, unsuspecting victim dying in the olive press. But even so, it remains a pleasant place to go with tours of the facilities and explanations of how they grow and process olives and olive oil.

          Banned Books Week just ended for this year [see previous blog post], and I would be remiss if I didn’t show this mug which reminds me that every day of our lives we must be vigilant to ensure the freedom to read. Reading is so powerful that it is one of the first freedoms taken away when dictatorial governments rise to power. Think Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I love this mug which lists only a small percentage of books that have been banned in various times and places. It is reassuring to know that people from all walks of life join librarians and teachers in defending this right.

          And finally, here are two of the latest mugs to grace my cabinet. I never would have guessed that I’d have nine grandchildren. My own mother didn’t get to live to see her grandchildren, so these mugs represent a celebration of her memory and a reminder of the many hours she read to me and my brothers. Today I love to read Dr. Seuss to my little people. One of their favorites is The Lorax and one of mine is And to Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street. Next year I will once again make the trek to Arizona to spend time with the nine little munchkins. These mugs remind me of them throughout the rest of the year.
         There. Now go check your kitchen cabinet and see how much someone could learn about the history of the people in your house. It’s an education in mugs.