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ANOTHER CUP OF COFFEE

October 3, 2020

Note to readers: During these difficult days for many people Clare and I have been considering what we might do to help those who are in need. We have decided to continue our support to the charitable nonprofit organizations that are serving our community. Each week in this space, I will ask you to consider helping one charity. This week please volunteer or donate, as you are able, to TOTAL Ministries, 976 S Pine St, Spartanburg, SC 29302 – (864) 585-9167.

The outbreak of the coronavirus and the subsequent stay-at-home order have given us more unscheduled time. When we have a leisurely day, Clare and I enjoy the early morning pleasure of sipping a cup of coffee on our back porch. My wife is a coffee connoisseur.

Elaine Anderson Sarratt and other Facebook friends recently invited me to join a group named Mug o’the Morning to You! It is a bunch of folks who share a virtual cup of coffee each morning sipped from a favorite mug. It is a safe way to deal with the isolation and social distancing we all are living with.

I recently discovered an online article featuring surprising facts about coffee.

Coffee is an ancient beverage. First brewed eleven centuries ago, the drink originated in the geographical area of modern-day Ethiopia. It has spread around the globe, becoming one of the most popular elixirs in the world. Because the beverage has such a rich and long-standing history, it’s hardly surprising that we’ve collected a trove of fascinating facts about coffee.  Even the most knowledgeable aficionados are not aware of some of this information.

1. There’s no difference in caffeine content between dark and light coffee roasts.

There is a popular myth that dark roasted coffee is richer in caffeine than light roasted varieties, but experts point out that roasting will not affect the caffeine content of coffee. The difference in caffeine may be more prominent between different kinds than it is between roasts. There are varieties cultivated specifically to maximize caffeine content.

2. The aroma of coffee is often enough to wake us up in the morning.

We associate certain smells with feelings and memories, both good and bad. The fragrance of coffee triggers feelings of wakefulness in humans, a finding confirmed by science. Research has shown that the smell of coffee sends signals of anticipation in the brain that provide stimulation.

3. Coffee beans are not actually beans, they’re cherry seeds!

 Coffee is a cherry-like fruit called either coffee cherries or coffee berries. They are picked from the coffee tree, then dried or washed to get rid of the pulp and exposing the pit. These seeds are then roasted and ground.

4. Cappuccinos are named after Capuchin monks.

The cappuccino is an Italian concoction, prepared by mixing espresso with frothed milk that yields a delicious coffee beverage. The golden color of the drink reminded Italian baristas of the robes of Capuchin friars, a large Franciscan order of monks founded in 16th-century Italy.

5. Much of the world’s coffee comes from Brazil.

The best coffee grows at high altitudes in warm and humid climates with no dramatic changes in temperatures throughout the day. Quality coffee is grown in Brazil, where mountain ranges reach nine thousand feet above sea level. About forty percent of the world’s coffee comes from Brazil.

6. Before it was consumed as a drink, coffee was eaten

Once upon a time, coffee cherries were picked, mixed with animal fat, and consumed as an energizing food by east African tribes. Eventually, they learned that caffeine can be extracted from coffee beans. Africa still has one of the most interesting, diverse, and ancient coffee cultures in the world, as some of our family members discovered when they traveled to Tanzania last summer.

7. Decaf coffee is never completely free of caffeine.

During the decaffeination process, the coffee beans are usually stripped of 94-98% of their caffeine content. Research points out that even decaf has some caffeine – 9.4ml caffeine in 16 oz of decaf coffee, compared to 188 ml of caffeine in the same quantity of average coffee.

8. Adding milk to coffee will keep it warmer for longer.

Simply add a splash of milk or cream to your coffee, and it will cool off 20% slower than a cup of black coffee. It will increase the calorie content of the cup (1 cup of black coffee only has 1 calorie), but it will also make it a lot creamier and warmer.

9. Before coffee became popular, the most common breakfast drink was beer.

Until the 18th century when coffee became increasingly popular, most people drank ale or beer for breakfast, simply because it was the most affordable drink.

10. Coffee drinkers have a longer life expectancy.

According to research from Harvard, those who drink coffee live longer than those who don’t. Moderate consumption, 3-4 cups a day, was associated with a longer life span. Keep in mind, however, that the study was talking about coffee without sugar and other sweeteners

Coffee isn’t for everyone, however. It can cause insomnia, anxiety, and an irregular heartbeat. Specialty coffee drinks can be high in calories.

I read an article entitled “Health Secrets of Coffee,” written several years ago by Dan Fields. If you are an avid coffee drinker, you will be pleased to hear these numerous health benefits.

  • People who drink three cups of coffee a day are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
  • The antioxidant in coffee may help prevent several types of cancer, including colon cancer, liver cancer, kidney cancer, and oral cancers.
  • Coffee lowers the possibility of developing type-2 diabetes. Antioxidants, minerals, and caffeine improve glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity.
  • Coffee drinkers have lower odds of dying from heart disease. The antioxidants in coffee have heart-healthy benefits, including improving blood vessel flow and reducing inflammation.
  • Coffee helps to keep memory sharp. Folks who drink more than three cups of coffee a day experienced fewer declines over time on memory tests than those who drink one cup or less a day.
  • Coffee lowers the risk of Parkinson’s disease. The caffeine may help defend against Parkinson’s by boosting levels of the brain chemical dopamine.
  • Caffeine discourages gallstone formation by triggering gallbladder contractions and increasing the flow of bile.
  • Coffee reduces the risk of kidney stones by increasing urine output.
  • Folks who drink four or more cups of coffee a day have a lower risk of stroke. Antioxidants in coffee may offer protection by improving blood vessel function.

My grandfather, who I called Pappy, enjoyed coffee with every meal. When Pappy traveled, he always carried a jar of instant coffee with him. In every restaurant, he ordered coffee with his meal. When the dark brew was served, Pappy took his own personal jar of instant coffee from his pocket and heaped two teaspoons full into the steaming liquid. 

As Pappy stirred the mixture, the waitress would often ask, “Honey, you don’t like my coffee?”

He responded, “I just don’t want to have to drink all that water to get a real good strong cup of coffee.”

Pappy had another ritual connected with his coffee drinking.  He poured coffee from the cup into the saucer, blew on it a little to cool the drink, and then sipped it noisily from the saucer. My grandmother thought this was not proper etiquette, certainly not in polite society. Pappy didn’t care about proper etiquette. He saucered his coffee at home, or in a restaurant, if Mammy was not with him.

I recall a poem about drinking from the saucer written by John Paul Moore. I am not sure who Mr. Moore was, but this sounds like it could have been written by Pappy.

My Cup Has Overflowed

I’ve never made a fortune, and it’s probably too late now.

But I don’t worry about that much. I’m happy anyhow

And as I go along life’s way,

I’m reaping better than I sowed.

I’m drinking from my saucer,

‘Cause my cup has overflowed.

Haven’t got a lot of riches,

and sometimes the going’s tough

But I’ve got loving ones all around me,

and that makes me rich enough.

I thank God for his blessings,

and the mercies He’s bestowed.

I’m drinking from my saucer,

‘Cause my cup has overflowed.

I remember times when things went wrong,

My faith wore somewhat thin.

But all at once, the dark clouds broke,

and the sun peeped through again.

So Lord, help me not to gripe,

about the tough rows, I have hoed.

I’m drinking from my saucer,

‘Cause my cup has overflowed.

If God gives me strength and courage,

When the way grows steep and rough.

I’ll not ask for other blessings,

I’m already blessed enough.

And may I never be too busy,

to help others bear their loads.

Then I’ll keep drinking from my saucer,

‘Cause my cup has overflowed.

I have many fond memories of enjoying of a cup of coffee. Even as I write these words, Clare has placed a fresh mug of the soothing elixir at my left hand.

Whether sitting in a big oak rocking chair watching the sun rise over the Atlantic, perched on the tailgate of my pickup taking in a sunset over the Blue Ridge, or working at my computer, a mug of coffee doubles the pleasure. 

A pleasant cup of coffee is good for the body and soul. It is one of life’s tender mercies. I have made the prayer of the Psalmist my own. “My cup runneth over.”

________________________________________________

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor. His new book and first novel, December Light 1916, is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.He can be reached at kirkhneely44@gmail.com.

THE BEAUTY OF AUTUMN

September 26, 2020

Note to readers: During these difficult days for many people Clare and I have been considering what we might do to help those who are in need. We have decided to continue our support to the charitable nonprofit organizations that are serving our community. Each week in this space, I will ask you to consider helping one charity. This week please volunteer or donate, as you are able, to Spartanburg Interfaith Hospitality Network, 899 S Pine St, Spartanburg, SC 29302 – (864) 597-0699.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sally, I sat on our screened porch, an eyewitness as the back edge of summer was yielding to the front side of fall. Our back porch is a sanctuary. I prayed for the many people sick and bereaved by the COVID-19 virus, those living in fear and uncertainty from the wildfires in the western United States, for those affected by the many tropical storms this year, and for those suffering from oppression and injustice around the globe.

Purple finches, blackcap chickadees, gray titmice, and bright red cardinals took turns feasting on the black oil sunflower seeds in the feeder suspended over the barn door. A procession of butterflies, including two orange monarchs, fluttered above pink begonias, pausing to sip nectar from the blue flower spikes of yellow and crimson coleus plants. Across the yard, a large yellow tiger swallowtail feasted on late-blooming purple hyssop. A few pale yellow and pink roses were putting on their final display. The Japanese maple was cloaked in deep red while the redbud trees dropped their first golden leaves in a gentle breeze. So much color! And may I remind you, I am color blind!

Fall is one of my four favorite times of the year. Sitting on the porch, I feel peacefully energized. My soul is best restored in quiet solitude.  

This is the time when Clare and I often traveled up the Saluda Grade for a brief retreat. Fall is one of our favorite seasons for these one-day forays into the Blue Ridge. We usually purchase a few pumpkins and several varieties of apples along the way. After a picnic lunch, we sometimes pause to enjoy a Carolina blue sky with only a few high clouds drifting above. The southern Appalachian highlands are all the more exhilarating if there is a nip in the air, and the vast forest is ablaze with color. Perched on the tailgate of my pickup truck at an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway is better than having a seat on the fifty-yard line at any football game.

The Southern Appalachian Mountains and surrounding foothills will soon be decked out for their annual autumn display. Peak fall colors in our area usually occur from mid-October through early November. Though the mountains are home to more than one hundred species of trees, the most colorful foliage comes courtesy of sugar maples, scarlet oaks, sweet gums, red maples, and hickory trees.

Before settling down into winter’s deep sleep, Mother Nature has one last fling, an amazing fashion show, when mountain foliage turns radiant shades of crimson, orange, and purple.

The English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, celebrated autumn with a rhyme.

The one red leaf, the last of its clan,

That dances as often as dance it can.

The Cherokee Indians have a legend that explains why the leaves change color. It is the tale of a mighty bear that roamed the countryside wreaking havoc. The beast would charge into their villages, eat all their food, destroy their homes, chase away their animals, and frighten the women and children.

Tribal elders held a council and selected the bravest hunters to put an end to the bear. The warriors set out with their dogs and weapons to stalk the marauder. The beast fled; the Indians gave chase. One hunter came close enough to shoot, and an arrow nicked the bear. The injury was not serious, but the culprit ran so fast he escaped up into the sky. The hunters, determined in their chase, ran into the heavens in hot pursuit.

Use your imagination, and you can see the bear depicted in the four stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper. The three stars in the handle of the dipper represent the hunters chasing the bear. The stalkers and their prey go around and around in the northern night sky. Every autumn, the Big Dipper comes low to the horizon. It is then, according to the legend, that the bear’s wound leaks a few drops of blood. According to the legend, the blood of the bear changes the colors of the leaves on the trees.

Those of us who live in the Piedmont are fortunate to enjoy a changing climate. As days shorten and night air becomes crisp, the soothing green canvas of summer foliage is transformed into the breathtaking autumn palette of reds, oranges, yellows, and browns.

Four factors influence autumn leaf color — leaf pigments, length of daylight and darkness, rainfall, and temperatures. The timing of the color change is primarily regulated by the increasing length of night hours. As days grow shorter and nights grow longer and cooler, the chemical processes in leaves begin to paint the autumn landscape.      

During the growing season, chlorophyll makes leaves appear green. As the length of night increases in the autumn, chlorophyll production slows down and then stops. The pigments that are present in the leaf are then unmasked, and the trees show their fall colors.

The timing of the color change also varies by the kinds of trees. Sourwood and tulip poplars in southern forests can become a vivid yellow in late summer while all others are still green. Oaks put on their colors long after other species have already shed their leaves.

The brilliance of the colors that develop in any particular autumn season is related to weather conditions that occur before and during the time the chlorophyll in the leaves is dwindling. Temperature and moisture are the main influences.

Mythical Jack Frost supposedly brings reds and purples to the forest by pinching the leaves with his icy fingers. The hues of yellow, gold, and brown are mixed in his paint box and applied with quick, broad strokes of his brush as he silently moves among the trees decorating them.

Actually, frost does not bring autumn hues. It turns the leaves brown. The most spectacular color displays are brought on by a succession of warm, sunny days and cold, but not freezing, nights. During these days, sugars are produced in the leaf. The cool nights and the gradual closing of veins going into the leaf prevent these sugars from moving out. The combination of sugar and light spurs the production of brilliant pigments in the leaves.

The amount of dampness in the soil also affects autumn colors. Like the weather, soil moisture varies greatly from year to year. The countless combinations of these two highly variable factors assure that no two autumns will be exactly alike. A late spring, or a severe summer drought, can delay the onset of fall color. A warm, wet spring, favorable summer weather, and mild sunny fall days with cool nights produce the most brilliant autumn colors.

The vivid change of color starts in late September in New England and moves southward, reaching the Blue Ridge Mountains by early November. The cooler, higher elevations will change color before the valleys.

Last fall, before the pandemic, I ran into friends in the grocery store, folks who were members of the church I served as pastor for eighteen years. “We’re skipping church this Sunday. We are driving to the mountains.”

You know, I really couldn’t blame them. Clare and I have always enjoyed cruising in any season but especially at this time of year. A day on the Blue Ridge Parkway has always been a refreshing break for both of us.

George Schrieffer, a good friend, is now in heaven. George was a minister with a quick wit and a pleasant disposition. He was a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan. He couldn’t sing a lick, but, my goodness, he could whistle. George came up with a short rhyme for the fall season. He was concerned that folks would be tempted to skip church on Sunday to drive to the mountains to see the display. George’s lines of poetry may not be as eloquent as those of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, but they are dear to any pastor’s heart.

The leaves reach their peak

In the middle of the week!

I wonder. What must autumn be like in heaven? Do the leaves change colors? Do the butterflies and the birds migrate? I am not sure, but, for now, I believe the beauty of this season is a brief foretaste of the glory to be experienced on the other side.  It must be, well, just glorious.

Yes, glorious!

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor. His new book and first novel, December Light 1916, is available at all bookstores and online booksellers. He can be reached at kirkhneely44@gmail.com.

BUTTERFLIES: SYMBOLS OF HOPE

September 19, 2020

Note to readers: During these difficult days for many people Clare and I have been considering what we might do to help those who are in need. We have decided to continue our support to the charitable nonprofit organizations that are serving our community. Each week in this space, I will ask you to consider helping one charity. This week please volunteer or donate, as you are able, to St. Luke’s Free Clinic 162 N Dean St, Spartanburg, SC 29302 – (864) 542-2273.

Last summer, our daughter Betsy, her husband Jay, and their two young daughters joined us in our family home. When they moved in, Clare and I welcomed them with open arms. It is a part of a long-range plan to help us navigate life.  Clare and I are officially elderly people with diminished capabilities. We are just not as sharp and as spry as we once were.

Little did we know that our new arrangement would be as timely as it has been. The COVID-19 pandemic has limited us all more than we could have anticipated. Jay is a nurse who works on the COVID-19 unit at Spartanburg Regional Medical Center. He is our resident superhero, serving with many others on the front line of the battle with this dread disease.   

One of the joys of our arrangement is the time we have with our granddaughters. While Clare and I miss being with our other grandchildren, the two who live with us bring us great joy every day. One morning this week I was sitting on the screened back porch with the girls when we noticed a pair of large tiger swallowtail butterflies fluttering from purple cone flowers to orange zinnias to pink phlox. They seemed to be dancing as if they were performing a ballet. The bright yellow wings of the butterflies catching the sunlight added a touch of even more beauty to the flowers.

In the late summer and early fall days of September and October, something happens in our garden that is nothing short of amazing. The miracle of metamorphosis occurred yet again this year in our backyard.  It’s the season for caterpillars and for butterflies. By late summer, our garden is aflutter with butterflies of all varieties. Once they take wing, they are drawn to flowering plants that provide a feast of nectar.

Creating a butterfly garden requires a little planning and some maintenance. And it is well worth the effort. Among the favorites of butterflies are ageratum, aster, butterfly bush, bee balm, black-eyed Susan, catmint, coneflower, coreopsis, cosmos, goldenrods, honeysuckle, hyssop, lantana, marigold, phlox, salvia, sedum, verbena, yarrow, and zinnia.

Butterflies are difficult to count because they are constantly on the move.  One sunny afternoon last week, I went to the mailbox. I paused to look at the lantana that anchors our front flower bed.  There were no fewer than thirty butterflies on, above, and around the bush.  There were several varieties including majestic monarchs, deep orange fritillaries, and an American painted lady.  The lantana in full bloom, attended by a bevy of flittering guests, created quite a display.

There are literally millions of species in the biological order Lepidoptera. Every one of them has a larval stage we know best as caterpillars. There are both Jekyll and Hyde varieties, that is to say, some are malevolent while others are benevolent.  

In my backyard, I have a volunteer sunflower, now taller than I.  It sprang up when a sunflower seed escaped a birdfeeder and landed in a flowerbed. Out of curiosity I decided to let it grow.  Recently, I have noticed that several of the leaves have been chewed to a pulp.  I have yet to see the caterpillar that is doing the damage.  I imagine his eating binge occurs after dark.

Caterpillars have been rightly called eating machines.  They can devour the foliage of plants seemingly overnight.  Some cause great destruction and do millions of dollars in damage to agricultural crops each year. 

The boll weevil has wreaked havoc in cotton crops across the South. Armyworms attack cotton and soybean crops.

Every vegetable gardener knows to be on the lookout for cabbage worms and tomato hornworms. Earlier this summer I noticed a webbed tent, the characteristic abode of tent caterpillars, on the branch of a pecan tree.

Some caterpillars are desirable. Fishermen know that the delicate purple blossoms of the catalpa tree attract Sphinx moths that lay eggs on the underside of the large green leaves.  When the eggs hatch, catalpa worms start eating the leaves of their host plant.  Bream fishermen treasure these tiny worms because bluegills and shellcrackers consider them to be such a delicacy.

Other caterpillars are raised because of their economic importance.  The silk worm is perhaps the best example.  The minute threads produced by the silk worms are used to make valuable cloth that can be fashioned into fine garments. Most of my old neckties were made from the secretion of caterpillars.

In my garden, I have planted bronze fennel.  With their lacy leaves the dark green plants make a nice backdrop.  The fragrance reminds me of licorice.   I have fennel in my garden because it is a favorite host plant for a particular kind of caterpillar, the larvae of the swallowtail butterfly, our early morning visitor. 

Near the back of our property, grows a patch of wild flowers.  There is some goldenrod, but more importantly, there is milkweed.  The orange blossoms of the milkweed plant attract monarch butterflies.  They lay their eggs on the leaves. The larvae eventually become butterflies. These orange and black beauties are migratory. The majestic insects fly 3000 miles each fall to winter in the high mountains of central Mexico. In the spring they wing their way back to North America. 

All butterflies begin life as caterpillars.  After a time of chewing on leaves, they hang upside down and enfold themselves in the silken case they spin.  In this chrysalis stage, they resemble a dead leaf until the moment comes when they emerge from their cocoon.  Spreading their newly formed wings they fly away, gloriously transformed. 

This metamorphosis has made butterflies a reminder of new life.  They are beautiful symbols of hope.  Sometimes butterflies are released at weddings, just as the bride and groom are pronounced husband and wife, to mark the beginning of their new life together.  Early Christians saw in the butterfly an apt symbol for the resurrection. This weary world needs as much hope as we can find. Butterflies are gentle blessings, tender mercies from a divine creative hand.

I’ll never forget the funeral service for a woman who loved butterflies.  She had decorated her home with a butterfly theme.  She tended a special garden in her backyard designed to attract her flying flowers. 

After her death following an extended illness, it was only natural at her memorial to emphasize her enjoyment of butterflies.  Flower arrangements sent by friends and family members included silk butterflies. 

At the cemetery on a mountainside in Western North Carolina, the crowning touch to her service came as a complete surprise.  As I finished reading the scripture, a monarch butterfly fluttered into the funeral tent and descended upon the Bible I held in my hands.  The tiny orange and black creature perched like a bookmark between the open pages.  For a few silent seconds we marveled in amazement. The choreography was beyond anything I could have planned.

Some years ago, I sat with a man who was dying of lung cancer. We were in his backyard next to his butterfly garden. The afternoon was pleasant. The air was still. The garden was alive with swallowtails, monarchs, buckeyes, two or three spicebush, and one mourning cloak.  All sipped nectar from the array of blooms.

We sat in silence for a time before he spoke.

“They’re beautiful, aren’t they?”

 “Yes,” I agreed. “You know the butterfly is a symbol of resurrection.”

  After a long pause, he said, “No wonder I enjoy them so much.”

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor. His new book and first novel, December Light 1916, is available at all bookstores and online booksellers. He can be reached at kirkhneely44@gmail.com.