In Appreciation of Starbucks

Inevitably, on every work trip, there comes a time when anxiety starts to creep into my body. My breathing becomes more shallow, and there’s a knotted-up feeling in my chest. Depending on where I am and what’s going on, I’ll self-soothe in different ways. And if I have a bit of free time, I go to Starbucks. I used to be a snob about Starbucks. Who needs their coffee from a chain when local spots have so much character? But my feelings have changed. I’m currently sitting in a Starbucks in Hampton, Virginia. I’ve been to ones in Boston, San Diego, Dallas, Spokane… The list goes on. They all have different layouts, are situated on street corners, in strip malls, and in airports, but there’s also something about them that is always the same. There is always an earth-toned decor. It always smells like sweetened coffee. The music is always chill. There’s always a bathroom. And the drinks always taste the same, wherever I go. Starbucks is many different locations, but for me, it’s all the same place. When I’m feeling unsettled and want a taste of familiarity, to Starbucks I go. And when the idea of choosing a drink and ordering it from a stranger feels like too much, I just place the order from the Starbucks app on my phone, no pressure necessary. 

That’s what I did today; I’m flying home in a few hours, and didn’t have anywhere else to go. I ordered a mango iced tea, and settled down at a small table with my journal to calm myself, to reset my breathing, and to feel more grounded. The music hasn’t disappointed (currently “Somewhere” by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros), and I felt comfortable enough that my efforts to self-soothe actually helped make me feel better, rather than just keeping me from feeling worse. I can explore my emotions and how my body is carrying them, and be gentle with myself because even though the barista’s never seen me before, this is a place I know. So thank you, Starbucks, for giving me somewhere that feels like my home-away-from-home, no matter where I go. 

P.S. This totally sounds like an ad, but I promise it’s not! What do you do when you need a home away from home? 


Little Tokens: The Matchbox

The matchbox is solid in hand, made of metal, and cool to the touch. There are bits missing from the enamel inlay, like someone kept the matchbox in their purse, knocking around with their keys, little turquoise crumbs disappearing to mingle with the lint and crumbs. A boy gave the matchbox to my sister, and eventually, she gave it to me. Gifting was common in the economy of our sisterhood. I can’t remember how old I was, or where we were when this matchbox passed ownership. I remember feeling surprised, and lucky that I was in possession of such a beautiful object. The muted colors, the delicate metal of the cloissoné, the tea-stained paper cardboard drawer, where the matches would go. It was old, and beautiful, and special—all things I longed for as a child growing up in a place where everything felt cookie-cutter and commonplace.

There are no matches in the box anymore. Instead, there’s an old bracelet, strung with plastic beads, the leather cord severed. I often forget that this is there, and yet just seeing it tugs at me. It’s a much older relic of our sister-friendship. Ate* made it at a church summer  camp, I think, and gave it to me one afternoon when she got home. My four-year-old self’s favorite bead was the mauve butterfly that also served to tighten the bracelet around my wrist. The bracelet made me think of Ate; it made me feel safe and loved.

I never took off the bracelet—at least, not until the cord broke. As a child, I was devoted to Ate. I loved to sit in her room and look at the beautiful and fascinating things on her shelves: a wooden jewelry box, a graceful statue of Bastet, a to-scale model of an X-wing starfighter. Even better were her sketchbooks. The pages were thick and warped with ink and paint, paper scraps and tape. I think my favorite art always reminds me of those pieces.

This bracelet-in-a-matchbox is a tiny reliquary, for my sister and me.

*Pronounced “AH-tay.” A title given to older sisters in Filipino families.

About four years, I moved cross-country, only bringing with me what I could fit in half of my car (the other half was reserved for my road trip companion, but that’s a story for another time). It was difficult leaving behind things that were meaningful to me, so I compromised with myself and decided to bring a small collection of things smaller than my palm as tokens to remind me of what I was leaving behind. This series is about those tokens. 

Star Trek Sing-Along!

I love a good TV show intro. As I get more and more invested in the characters and the story, the intro becomes emotionally charged in the best way. The music, the visuals—they start to embody my anticipation, and they get me ready for the episode.

The whole thing is a ritual, really. It’s like praying before dinner, or the call to worship at church. The show’s intro prepares me for what’s next, giving me time to get into the right mindset. Continue reading

WeekendCoffeeShare: Valuing Small Talk

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you about the conversation I just had with my grandma. She lives in the midwest, and I haven’t seen her since my wedding almost two years ago. We chatted on the phone about the weather, what’s going on in her garden, and the family reunion that’s been planned for July. It was small talk, more or less. I’ve heard so many people bemoan small talk, but I’ve come to value it over the years. Continue reading

WeekendCoffeeShare: Mother’s Day…

If we were having coffee, we’d be sitting around my dinner table, morning light drifting through the window. I’d offer you some cream, and we’d munch on toast with jam, the seeds in the bread sticking to our fingers. I’d take a sip from my purple mug, and tell you that I was unsettled by Mother’s Day this year, but not for the reasons you might expect. Continue reading

Plan your heart out.

It’s been eight months since I started by far the most interesting job I’ve ever had. I never imagined that I’d get to travel to over 35 cities and towns all over the United States, flying about 30,000 miles, but that’s what I did starting in September of last year. I’ve been recruiting students for my alma mater, where I earned my master’s degree, and it’s been an experience like no other. There was a two-month period where I was on the road almost every week, with two to four days in between to recuperate at home with my husband. Looking back, I’m asking myself, how did I do that? Continue reading