mokie: Red-haired punk Vyvyan makes rude gestures at the viewer (snotty)
An odd trend popped up and caught my eye over the last decade: failing businesses requesting donations to keep from going under. I mean donations literally: not an exchange of goods and services, but outright requests for money to pay off outstanding rent and utility bills. They were usually from bookshops under three years old, crossing my path because I am bookish and frequented bookish sites and forums where the requests appeared.

What the requests suggested to me, depending on the details:
- The owner did not have a viable business plan and knew diddly-squat about running a business.
- The owner confused their daydreams about what they'd do with 'the keys to the candy shop' with having a business plan.
- The owner confused being a business in the business of [whatever] with being a church in the service of [whatever].
- The owner confused being a business in a community with being a community center.
- The owner should have started a club instead, as it seemed they wanted a place to hang out with fellow [whatever] lovers rather than a business.
- The business was already beyond saving.

Bookshops aren't really the point here, but they do illustrate it well.

First, more than half of all new businesses fail by their fourth year, simply because new business owners are inexperienced. Successful business owners usually have a few failed businesses under their belt; their failures taught them the pitfalls of business, how to mess up and pick themselves up and eventually succeed. Bookish people who've long daydreamed of having their own bookshop look from a customer's point of view, seeing a lack of bookshops as a need for bookshops, but missing the obvious counterpoint: shops with decades of experience in successful operation were put out of business by Amazon and the chains, and those that survived did so because they had advantages others didn't (like a great walkable urban location) or because they made changes that brought in a wider range of people (like bric-a-brac hunters).

Second, these small business owners overestimated the importance of their interests to the local community, and their role within the community. To bookish folks, a refrigerator is just an appliance, a bath towel just a flop of cloth. They're just things. Books are different, sacred vessels to which we entrust ideas, containers for other worlds and lives. Opening a bookshop isn't just like having the keys to the candy shop - it's like being entrusted with your own church. A church of candy, even. That lends itself to unhealthy expectations, because to the rest of the community, a book is just a thing, and even dedicated bibliophiles are going to have to pay their own rent first.

That's why new and troubled bookshops take to their blogs and Facebook pages, asking for $15,000 in a month to cover their outstanding debts so they can stay in business. They do a little interview with the local paper about how they'll have to shut their doors if the community doesn't come through and show it values its bookshops, and keep Twitter abuzz with updates. They'll certainly get a few more customers, mostly looking for really good going-out-of-business sales, but I haven't seen a single bookshop yet saved by begging the community to keep their dreams afloat.

For some, as the deadline looms, the bitterness creeps in. If all the people offering supportive comments were regular customers... If they were real book lovers, they'd have been there all along, and the shop wouldn't be in trouble. They get huffy at what they see as invasive questions, because who do you think you are, asking them about their business plan and how you can be sure they wouldn't be asking for donations again in a few months? How dare you want to make sure your money wouldn't be wasted? They forget that they run a business, not a charity or a church or a fucking community rec center, and that nobody owes them a goddamn thing - certainly not to be rewarded with free money for their incompetence, no questions asked. "Show us you value our business" is the customer's line.

The community sees a business begging, and a business begging for donations is a business that's bad at businessing. Why throw good money after bad? That hardly gives them any confidence in the business owner's competence.

The community wants to see the business taking steps to fix its own problems, and telling them how they can help - not that it's dead in the water unless its customers come up with a load of cash. People will happily help someone raise money to start a business (and I will, because St. Louis needs Dr. Dan's Pancake Van). People will gladly patronize a business if they like it and it fulfills a need or want for them. People don't want to be blamed for a business they've never heard of going under, however, or shamed for not taking up the flag in someone's personal cause, be it books, raw dog food or organic produce.

To be clear: the point is not bookshops, failing bookshops, how many bookshops turn to donations/crowdfunding, that small businesses should not ask for help, that small businesses should not be given help, or that one should write off troubled businesses as, "Oh well, do-over." It's that the community loves to give businesses support, but asking for charity makes a business look non-viable.

All of which brings us to the inspiration for this ramble!

A local organic grocer's expansion fell through, and now the business is in debt and at risk. Though only five years old, they are pretty well established on the local food scene, and increasing their business steadily. On social media, they're sending a business message that suggests confidence and capability: we're responsible and well-run, not asking for donations but having a sale to raise funds to fix an identified issue. Not a hand-out, just a hand-up - that sort of thing.

It's perfect! It should appeal not just to the organic church and choir, but also to the community. Except, in local print media...
Horine says it would defy the Local Harvest ethos of building a stronger local-food community to close without first turning to that community for help.

"We've always stuck with it," he says. "We believe in what we're doing. It sounds cliché, but we feel like it's bigger than us. So we're going to give the community a chance to try to save it." (Ian Froeb, "Local Harvest Grocery and restaurants face imminent closure, seek help", St. Louis Post-Dispatch 27 January 2014)
Give the community a chance to... Gah!
The Scoop talked with Earnest about her fund raising plans. “What we built the [Local Harvest] model on was building a local food community,” Earnest said. “People will have the chance to say…whether it’s important that we continue to exist. Whether it’s worth it. Whether it’s right for them. Obviously we think so, but do they?” (Ligaya Figueras, "The Scoop: Local Harvest launches community fund raising campaign to avoid closure", Sauce Magazine 27 January 2014)
Whether it's worth.... Gah! 'Cause' wording undermines any sense of confidence and capability. By shifting all action to the consumer, it doesn't tell us how (or if) the business is trying to fix its problem, if there's a plan besides "beg for donations help", if the problem has even been identified or if this is just rescheduling a crisis. It's all just "Support my church of candy! Don't you love candy? Prove it!"

Besides, who says something like that when they're asking you for money? "I need $1000 to pay my rent and heating bill and buy food. You have the chance to say whether it's important to you that I don't freeze to death homeless and starving on the street." And why am I hearing Sarah McLachlan?

To the owners, local and organic is its own little church of candy. To the 'church and choir' customers, it's local, it's organic, but it's also asking for a lot of money, while using language that puts responsibility for its success or failure on the people it's borrowing from. To the community that might have been persuaded to help a local business out, it's a goddamn business, and they do not need to prove any goddamn thing to a goddamn business. The community does not have to prove its love, prove that it cares, prove that it values a certain kind of business. The business has to prove that it's not going to tank and leave people high and dry with worthless gift certificates. Because it's a business, not a cause.

SPACEBALLS: THE CLARIFICATION! (and update): Yes, this entry was edited to clarify the intent (I hope), eliminate some repetition, and address my lack of caffeination when it was written. But more importantly, on February 1st, LHC met their funding goal, and the villagers rejoiced!
mokie: Cartoon Calvin sneezes and checks his tissue (lurgy)
I recently discovered I might not be allergic to coconut after all.

When is an allergy not an allergy? When it's Oral Allergy Syndrome, also called Pollen-Food Allergy Syndrome (along with several other names, because everybody wants to be the one whose name gets used on House M.D.), in which regular nose-based allergies masquerade as food allergies, due to certain fruit and veggie proteins vaguely resembling problematic pollen proteins.

Basically, it's like your body mistaking a dust-bunny for a spider and wigging out inappropriately.

Outside of allergy season the problem food isn't a problem, because your body hasn't been primed by pollen and pushed into kill it with sneezing! mode. The heat involved in cooking and canning can also denature the troublesome proteins, which is how some folks can be allergic to a raw fruit or veggie but able to eat the same item cooked--because they're not allergic to the food itself, even though they are having an allergic reaction to it. Either of these could explain why I've been able to eat coconut just fine until recently, mostly baked in cookies or simmered in soups, but also just noshing on raw flakes without any ill effect. I just happened to do it at the wrong time of year this time.

The upside of this, apart from that OAS usually doesn't cause anaphylactic shock, is that it would also explain why my late winter/early spring allergies have been so bad since moving to this neighborhood: birch.

I used to live next to Tower Grove Park and the Missouri Botanical Garden, two big green spaces dedicated to growing a large variety of greenery, pretty much all of which I tested allergic to back in middle school. Apart from swollen hands when walking past a bushy area on Magnolia Avenue, though, my allergies just translated to a runny nose and some occasional sneeziness--and good luck narrowing down which bit of all that greenery was responsible for which sneeze. (Especially since the allergy scratch test throws a lot of false positives, as dracunculusdracunculus pointed out.)

What the old neighborhood didn't have, and this neighborhood does, was a lot of birch trees. Specifically, a cluster of them half a block down from my current apartment.
In springtime, two of the biggest cross-reaction offenders are birch and alder trees. Depending on where you live, anywhere from 20 to 70 per cent of people who are allergic to birch and alder pollens will also have oral allergy syndrome. (Janet French, "Oral Allergy Syndrome: Why do Pollens and Foods Cross-React?" Allergic Living 2 July 2010)
The doctor interviewed in that article pointed out that OAS is more common than the legitimately scary food allergies like peanut, which might explain why so very many people believe they have food allergies even after a smug host points out that they just ate something they're supposed to be allergic to. (And fuck you if you do that to people. Seriously.) The article also mentions a point I regularly make, that chamomile and echinacea cause cross-reactions to ragweed because they're in the same family, which makes it really annoying when every suggested cure for your allergy woes is a nice cup of chamomile and echinacea tea.

The author does lose points for bad editing when she inadvertently (I hope) suggests that honey is somehow a plant related to ragweed, rather than that honey could contain ragweed (or related) pollen. That in itself sidesteps the point that many allergy sufferers intentionally eat honey hoping there's allergy-causing pollen in it, due to the old wives' tale that this will desensitize them. It doesn't work, though, because most of the honey on store shelves is (a) filtered, microfiltered, and then filtered some more to remove all possible pollen; (b) heated and treated till it's thoroughly dead so that it won't crystallize on store shelves; and (c) from China, and thus unlikely to contain any pollens you're familiar with. You could try raw local honey, but as someone who gave it a go, just go take a Claritin and save yourself the disappointment. (And the awfulness that is clover honey. Ugh.)

Back to the point! How vile is birch?

Here is the Wikipedia checklist of foods that are cross-reactive with birch: almonds, apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, carrots, celery, cherries, chicory, coriander, fennel, figs, hazelnuts, kiwis, nectarines, parsley, parsnips, peaches, pears, peppers, plums, potatoes, prunes, soy, strawberries, walnuts and wheat. That's not even a definitive list--other lists add all the tree nuts, and coconuts, and peanuts, and tomatoes, and turnips...

If you Google "oral allergy syndrome" and a food, Google will say, "Birch. It's the fucking birch, man."

Birch will take from you everything that you love.

Apart from a visit to an allergist, the only way to know for certain if my coconut allergy is a real allergy or a birch cross-reaction is to wait till the birch stops its arboreal spooging around June or July, and then nibble a little raw coconut while someone stands by with a heavy dose of Benedryl. A preemptive strike on the trees is out, as they wisely chose to be planted in front of a cop's house.

Sneaky, bastardly birch.

Update: TESTED AND CONFIRMED. The same coconut that made me miserable in April and May caused no reaction at all in June. Of course, now my grass allergies are in full effect, so I couldn't taste the coconut, but still...
mokie: Cartoon of an angry tea pot raging (drink tea)
What's the secret to green tea, mokie?

Time and temperature, mokie. Mostly time.

Experts suggest water heated to 160 - 180 °F for green tea, 190-ish °F for oolong and 212 °F for black, and argue over 140 °F or 212 °F for white, presumably debating whether to lower the temp because of the lower oxidation or raise it since herbals are given a full boil. Herbal experts, meanwhile, huff that just as you can't boil all teas, you can't boil all tisanes. (That's the proper name for an herbal tea, since they don't actually contain, you know, tea.) And yet more expert experts point out that there's a difference between Japanese and Chinese greens, and spring-plucked and summer-plucked greens. All that's before you even get into the Celsius conversions or the debate over whether greens should be steeped just 1 minute or 7 minutes...

And they wonder why green tea didn't take off in the US until Lipton started bottling it.

Let me make your life easier the Chinese granny way: 'shrimp eyes'.

For black tea, your water needs to come to a full raging boil, but when you put on the water for green tea, wait for little bubbles rising to the top, the size of--you guessed it--shrimp eyes. The next two steps up are 'crab eyes' and 'fish eyes', and they're well within the green tea range. If you think your bubbles are too big, or you've just lost track of time and hit full boil, turn the pot off and let it sit a minute or two. With a bit of practice, you'll be able to tell where your water is just by the sound of the kettle.

That said, time is the killer. Water that's too hot may leave you with a bitter green, but most greens, including those you're going to pick up from the shops, also become bitter or astringent if they're steeped too long. Most packaging on green teas is oblivious to this; people from countries that drink sugary coffee milkshakes and sugary milky black tea are told to steep their green teas up to 7 minutes, as if to confirm the healthy benefits of green tea we must first make it taste godawful. Trust me and aim for 3 minutes; if your cup is too weak/strong, you'll at least have a good reference point for adjusting the timing on the next pot.

Now that's out of the way...

What's the biggest problem with flowering teas, mokie?

Time and temperature, mokie. Mostly time.

First, let me explain (finally, halfway down the entry) that flowering teas are whole tea leaves tied together in such a way that, as they steep, they 'bloom' from a hard round ball into a floating 'flower' in the pot, often with actual flowers like jasmine at the center. It's also, according to some, a very pretty way to sell off really outdated tea stock, and I believe it, since I haven't had any yet that didn't taste stale.

Second, there's the issue of steeping time. A flowering tea starts out as a hard bound ball o' tea, but tea leaves need room to move and infuse--that's why bagged tea is chopped into tiny pieces (more surface area), and why tea balls are great for corralling herbs and herbals, but not so great for actual teas. It can take anywhere from 3 - 7 minutes for the outer leaves of a flowering tea to infuse enough that they unfold, and that means that while the outer leaves are oversteeping, the inner leaves aren't getting much room to infuse and expand at all. You can easily end up with a contrarily astringent cup of weak tea.

Which I did.

In the Bag:
Oh look, the actual review! The brand in the cup today is Primula's flowering green jasmine tea. It has several negative Amazon reviews which mention that the customers' tea arrived already several years old judging by the 'manufacture' date and/or expired. I find this perversely funny, since, again, flowering teas seem to be made exclusively from stale tea.

In the bag, this is a little knobby ball that smells a little dusty. No jasmine scent.

The Steepening:
Took forever.

The unfolding of the leaves and flowers into a little bouquet is the real point of flowering teas (more on that below), but this one underwhelmed me. The leaves are rolled and bound in such a way that it didn't gently bloom into a dainty bouquet, awaiting the oohs and aahs of onlookers, as much as it porcupined out into a delicate tea mine, awaiting passing U-boats.

The scent was also disappointing. The mark of any good jasmine tea is its ability to make you forget you're supposed to drink it, because you're too busy inhaling the aroma wafting off the pot, but jasmine barely showed up to the party in this tea.

The Verdict:
Weak, astringent, and not even particularly jasmine-ish? Blah.

I'll admit that the primary draw of flowering teas isn't the cup but the pot: they're not drinking teas, they're watching teas. If you're hosting a little girl's tea party (raiding party, whatever), and everyone's going to drink their flower tea with a heaping spoon of sugar and a handful of cookies anyway, then it's not a problem. They're also not too shabby for that relative who'll drink it and think, "Ah, so that's what a fancy tea tastes like," and then return to her Diet Coke quite pleased at having had fancy tea that one time.

If you want a drinking tea, though, flowering teas aren't the way to go. And if you want a watching tea, you can certainly do better than Primula's.
mokie: Cartoon of an angry tea pot raging (drink tea)
Earlier this year, I imposed a tea moratorium: not another box, pouch, brick or bag would I buy until my drinking was under control. Until my stash no longer took up its own kitchen cabinet. Until I no longer had more varieties than the grocery store. Until I could look at my supply and reasonably say, "Uh-oh, better buy more tea before I run out."

It wasn't easy. I ran out of my favorite blends one by one. I used up my runners-up. I forced myself to pitch the try-it-outs that didn't work out. But finally, in November, my stash was down to one basket on the kitchen counter. Sure, it was holding about a pound of tea, but seven or eight varieties, and most of those green, and shut up, I don't have a problem, you have a problem! with cold weather coming, I decided some black teas were in order.

Long story short: I've got new sippage, so you get new tea reviews!

One of my new regular vendors is the English Tea Store, purveyors of bulk tea and snackage from the UK. One of the teas I ordered was 4 oz of blackcurrant 'naturally flavored' loose leaf black tea, to see how it stacked up to my custom currant-y blend from Adagio Teas. I love the custom blend, but Adagio botched it twice in a row and their customer service leaves one wishing for the care and attention of, say, Charter or AT&T.

I also regularly order from Baltimore Coffee & Tea Company, because they own the Eastern Shore Tea Company, seller of loose leaf tea in white paper pouches with nifty labels and reusable muslin bags. I don't remember where Eastern Shore and I first met, but after a long dry spell, they turned up again sporadically in the shop at the Missouri Botanical Garden, tucked behind items on random shelves like they'd been stocked by someone who's never worked proper retail before little surprises. Though it's been a few years since I had their blackcurrant tea, named Black Raven in honor of Poe, I purchased a pound because I remembered it fondly.

In the Bag:
- The English Tea Store's blackcurrant contains blue and yellow petals--cornflower and sunflower, probably, since they're popular fillers these days. (I guess hibiscus has been retired.) The petals aren't in the sample photo and the ingredients only list black tea and 'natural flavor' (i.e. flavoring sprayed on the tea leaves), so either the site is outdated or you only get uncut tea in larger amounts.

The bag smells like perfume with a whiff of berry behind it, and the reviewers describe it as 'smooth and fruity', much like you'd expect from people who've never tasted blackcurrant-flavored anything before. Put the two together and it doesn't bode well.

- Eastern Shore Tea Co.'s blackcurrant is just flavor-spritzed tea with no petals or mystery bits, so it's already a step ahead. It smells like malty black tea and Ribena. Taste buds puckered, I had a brief flashback and wondered what markfinnMark's up to these days. Good signs!

The Steepening:
Plain cold tap water boiled in the electric kettle and a little hot tap water in the pots to swish off any dust from the tea--a general hazard of dried plant matter rubbing against itself in packaging. Each tea steeped long enough for me to put on coffee for the non-tea drinkers, and each poured mug was sniffed and sipped hot before cream and sugar, for thorough comparisons.

- The English Tea Store's blackcurrant is ridiculously floral, almost like a berry chamomile, with a strange oily mouthfeel. Maybe the base tea is too bright--it's all perfume and no fruit, especially as it cools down. The effect is less a nice blackcurrant tea than it is sipping regular tea out of your great-grandmother's powdered cleavage.

- Eastern Shore's blackcurrant is already gone. I finished the cup before I could write anything down. Dark, malty and tart and perfect for cold mornings and long novels.

The Verdict:
Oh, Black Raven, I'll never let you go again.

Meanwhile, a quick trip to Google [turned up a now-defunct link that] confirms that it's not me: the English Tea Store's blackcurrant tea is all wrong. Not just cornflower and sunflower petals, but blackberry (not blackcurrant!) leaves, which are the special ingredient that gives Celestial Seasoning teas its gritty "How do you fuck up herbal?" astringency, and mallow flowers, which Google proclaims floral and earthy, and which is on the list of ragweed relatives (along with chamomile) for allergy sufferers to avoid--which explains why I had to suck down ibuprofen and sinus meds after breakfast.

And, again, none of these are listed as ingredients on the packaging or the website, but now I've got an inkling why their Earl Grey left me sick as a dog...

Update: The now-defunct link was to a blogger who had requested a full list of ingredients for the tea. The blog's MIA, but the English Tea Store itself now lists ingredients, so that's good.
mokie: Text, "Fuck politics, I just want to burn shit down" (politics)
The upside of getting steady work is that it means steady pay.

The downside is that, because it's writing and editing, by the end of the day I don't feel like doing more digging and sorting and taping-together of meaningful words. So I piece together a few notes for a post or a rant, and vow to come back and flesh it out the next day. A few weeks later I spot the file, when the world and I are both out of steam on the issue.

For example, the whole contraception kerfluffle. Who said anything about asking taxpayers to pay for birth control? Most people just want their own insurance, insurance that they pay for with their premiums and their co-pays, to cover their medical needs adequately. And contraception is medication: forms of contraception are used to treat a variety of medical needs of which birth control is indeed one, but only one--and not a damn one of those medical needs is anybody's business but the patient's and her doctor's. For that matter, neither is her sex life. No woman should be obliged to give her employer her medical records and full disclosure of how much dick she is or isn't getting to justify receiving medication that her doctor prescribed.

Why should anyone's employer get a say in their medical care anyway? Who made CEOs experts in health care? Would a Muslim employer get to override a heart transplant if doctors decided that I needed a baboon heart? Would a Jehovah's Witness have a say in whether I received a vital blood transfusion? Would a Scientologist get to nix my prescription for antidepressants and send me in for an 'audit' instead? Would I have to sit down in a Christian Science prayer circle and hope that fixed a cancerous mass instead of seeking actual medical attention? If it's all about not asking an employer to violate his 'morals and beliefs', will racists be able to dictate that their employees only see white doctors? My freedom of religion should include the right not to have my employer's religion dictate my health care choices.

But I'm all out of rant about it. Now it's just a sad resignation to the idea that some people don't get how contraception works or why it's necessary.

Or the whole SOPA/PIPA debacle. I saved a lovely quote from TechDirt just for the occasion, but even with Obama hinting at another round of that inanity, I can't work up the oomph to do more than nod:
"What they might not have known -- because the RIAA never wants to admit this -- is that the overall music industry is growing, not shrinking. Sure, the dollar value of music sales has shrunk, and perhaps it's because of file sharing, but the overall music industry -- including things like concerts, licensing and publishing -- has continued to rise, quite significantly. More importantly, these are the parts of the business where artists actually keep a much larger percentage of the money -- meaning that artists are significantly better off today than they were in the past, contrary to what Sherman and the RIAA will tell you."
For example: Bandcamp and Noisetrade. Go forth and support an artist on their own terms.

But I digress.

Now that work has quieted down some and I can think up words for fun and pleasure again, I've found I'm pretty much out of things to apply them to.

About dream/reading tags

y-* tags categorize dreams.

For types: beyond the obvious, there are dreamlets (very short dreams), stubs (fragment/outline of a partially-lost dream), gnatter (residual impression of a lost dream).

For characters: there are roles (characters fitting an archetype), symbols (characters as symbols), and sigils (recurring figures with a significance bigger than a single dream's role/symbolism).

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Material is categorized primarily by structure, style and setting. If searching for a particular genre, look for the defining features of that genre, e.g. x-form:nonfic:bio, x-style:horror, x-setting:dystopian.

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