Coffee Guy Gets Tea-ed Up

Almost exactly one year ago, I spent six long weeks denying myself coffee. I did it as part of a dietary change, and as a substitute for coffee, I was allowed to drink green tea. That’s sort of like replacing 100 pounds of the world’s finest Swiss chocolate with a pair of damp sweat socks. After six weeks, the first thing I did was drink three pots of coffee. I have not turned back since then and couldn’t be happier or more jittery.

The effect that this period of coffee abstinence has had on my appetite for tea is brutal. That’s why, approaching my recent planned outing for afternoon tea at the Pfister I had one anticipatory feeling.

Meh.

Oh, what a silly fool I was. “Meh” was simply the wrong feeling to be hanging onto as I got ready to have the full Pfister tea experience. “Meh-gnificent” would have been a more apt expression of brewed awakening, for I now know that the Pfister tea ceremony has the power to wash any taste of indifference out of the mouth of even the hardest core java Joe or Jane.

Ever since I have taken on the role of Pfister Narrator I have imagined what a sweet experience it would be for my daughters and wife to enjoy afternoon tea. It’s just the sort of thing they like. They actually really enjoy tea. I’ve seen them drink it many times, always with smiles on their pretty faces. I also have it on good authority that they like desserts that you can pick up with your fingers and pop easily into a mouth. Basically, afternoon tea is firmly in their wheelhouse, so I knew even though tea wasn’t my thing, it would be a rare and wonderful treat for them to enjoy.

The day in question of our recent tea experience was something of an occasion for gluttony for me. In fact, I had chosen this day to have afternoon tea with my family expressly because I was intentionally keeping things on the light side in terms of caloric consumption during the day. In my mind I was warmly planning to back off the tea service so my wife and daughters could really lean into it. My calendar was booked with an annual dinner with friends later in the evening, the sort of thing that you prepare for by not eating for about fourteen days prior. I would leave afternoon tea with my family and order a 72 oz. steak covered with buttered mushrooms. So, attending tea with my girls, something that I wasn’t particularly on the edge of my seat to drink or nosh upon, seemed like the perfect diversion where I would easily back off on sating myself.

Believing full well that I would demure from more than a nibble and sip at tea, I ordered an appropriate amount of sweet and savory treats for the four of us. I remember actually saying to my family, “I’m sure that I won’t actually eat anything…you know, I have to eat all that beef later.”

That statement set me up to prove one very important fact about my culinary leanings. When I am presented with food that is glorious to gaze upon and seeping pots of delicately and colorfully flavored aromatic beverages, I have absolutely, positively no restraint. Those tea sandwiches, scones, and last drops of hot tea never knew what hit them.

I now understand from first hand knowledge that there is nothing more genteel than enjoying afternoon tea at the Pfister. My family and I arrived at the 23rd floor and were escorted to the sofas arranged in front of the fireplace in Blu. I looked around at a roomful of graceful, happy people with arched pinkies sipping piping hot cups of tea. A pair of ladies sat behind us lingering over a long conversation.

“You ladies look like you’re having a wonderful afternoon,” I said, noting that there was the air of celebration about their mid afternoon clatch.

“It’s her 70th Birthday,” said one of the women, as she slipped some leftover treats into a carry out container that the attentive staff has provided her. “We get to take some of these treats home to keep the memory of a perfect afternoon going.”

My family wished these two charming women well as they gathered their belongings and made their way out into the afternoon sunshine. I thought it sweet that the women had taken a tea-time doggy bag home, but as we launched into tea, I also felt safe knowing that there would be plenty of treats for my ladies, perhaps even a skosh too much since I had plans to keep my hands to home and my lips pursed.

Then Juan showed up. If you have the chance to enjoy tea service at the Pfister, you have a great opportunity to be guided to the tea bar by an expert. Juan is the resident tea butler, and as he presented 15 different choices for tea to my family and me, I felt all tea inhibitions melting away. If Juan had told me to drink tea out of my elbow, I’m sure I would have done it, because his description of the body, fragrance and luxurious notes of every flavor of tea presented was better than the next.

I chose to have a pot of Earl Grey tea because I came to understand it had the most caffeine, therefore I took the leap to translating this fact into, “It’s the most like coffee.” My wife and daughters, true warm-blooded tea drinkers chose adventurous and fruity herbal varieties. They weren’t trying to cover anything. It was tea they had come for, and it was tea they were getting.

When the tea came in stunning sterling silver pots, I felt my knees weaken. This tea looked pretty good. What would it hurt to try a cup, right?

You’ll understand this if you have the beautiful chance to enjoy afternoon tea at the hands of the Pfister’s masterful staff, but after the first sip of perfectly brewed tea you are presented, your taste buds open and you immediately desire some delectable snack. There is no problem in this regard, of course, because at afternoon tea service on the 23rd floor of the Pfister, treats appear before your eyes and they are as pretty as jewels and as scrumptious as anything you’ve ever put in your mouth.

DSC03665
My tower of gut busting destruction.

How I know this, me, the one who had such heavy resolve going into this event to not partake of too much that was put in front of me so I could save room for all the steak in the world later on in my day, has to do with the fact that I have what you can call a true lust for life. In other words, I’m a pig of the highest degree.

The gateway food to my ultimate demise on the tower of treats presented to us was a beautiful little crab salad finger sandwich. My family does not like crab, so they suggested I take those for a little snack. I obliged, wanting to be polite, but half an hour later I lost all sense of time and space as I was lathering mascarpone cheese on my third scone and my daughters were realizing that there would be no carry out containers to take home like the lovely women we had met earlier in the day.

My youngest daughter, Carmela, had been watching me lap up my tea and recognized something in each sip I took. She said, “You look just like you do when you drink coffee, Daddy. Like an old man with a scrunched up face.”

DSC03670
Carmela mirrors my tea face, but much more cute, of course.

The little tea hugger was right, of course. Because of my trip down the tea road at the Pfister, I now see no difference in the pleasures of a good cuppa, be it coffee or tea. And, oh, if you’re wondering, no fears–I ate all my steak later that evening, and washed it down with a nice hot cup of black coffee.

Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.

My New Favorite Perfect

I have considered coloring the following story about Anu and Cindy with grandiose flourishes, unhealthy exaggerated “aw shucks” sort of exhortations, and adjective rich descriptions of two ladies reeking of the delectable charms of deeply realized kin and kithness.

But, instead, I’m going to just tell this lovely tale of friendship the way it should be told. Simply. Because it has become my favorite sort of perfect.

(And, yes, feel free to erase my first overblown paragraph from your memory…I promise it’s my last ounce of hyperbole for at least 400 words.)

Anu and Cindy were seated in the Pfister Lobby sharing a bag of potato chips. Each woman was focused on writing a postcard. They looked unrushed, calm, and serene. I admired the great smiles they each had on their faces.

The ladies were resting in the lobby on day two of a friendship retreat. Both women told me that they were 50-years-old, though that was hard to believe looking at faces radiating with health and warmth. They had come to the Pfister to celebrate this special shared birth year because of the bonds of their important and lifelong friendship.

The ladies explained that 40 of their 50 years had been shared as the best of friends. Seeing the light of love surrounding them as they sat together enjoying the afternoon, I imagined that they had to have been adorable when their bond was sealed at the tender age of 10.

Anu told me the past year had been a difficult one, and this time with her friend was a significant acknowledgement of looking forward. The outing had been arranged by Anu’s husband and children, and I understood that affairs of the heart must hold a special place within her family as I noticed the greeting she had written on a postcard that was headed back home. It read, “I love you infinitely.”

IMG_0294

Friends of 40 years tend to finish one another’s thoughts. Anu and Cindy filled in all the empty spaces that remained in the story that I found myself leaning in to hear. For 25 years, the friends had been separated by great distance. Their friendship didn’t miss a beat when they found themselves both living back in the same state a few years ago. They told me with moist eyes that for the past 24 hours, through moments of great pampering at the hands of the Pfister staff, every one of their thoughts had been fiercely connected to each other. And even after 40 years, they discovered that they were able to learn new things about the person sitting across the table. Friends forever, for sure. Forever discovering each other, a sure bonus.

I wanted to honor this great pair of friends by doing something remarkably against my nature—to leave them alone. As a writer I constantly want to know more about a subject, hoping to draw out intimate stories and surprising admissions. But my awe over the real and profound affection I witnessed in the simple and loving regard each woman had for the other made me thank them for their time and step away. Anu and Cindy deserved their space.

A bag of chips, two postcards, and friends for life. In a year of seeing and writing about all kinds of extraordinary at the Pfister, this could be the perfect I adore the most.

Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.

Things Are Looking Up for Love

Long ago, decease when dinosaurs and rotary dial phones roamed the Earth and I had a thick head of hair and longed for a girlfriend, a buddy gave me some good advice about how to be more successful with the ladies.

“Chin up,” said my happily dating friend. “Nobody likes a whiner.”

His no nonsense advice worked. There is nary a reasonable explanation for why my wife, generic a woman of great intellect, charm and beauty really ever should have accepted my invitation to lunch, dating, marriage, and having a couple of kids other than the fact that I tend to smile a lot. As lives go, I’ve got absolutely nothing to complain about. I remember my good fortune by sporting an upturned mouth as much as I possibly can.

A “chin up” attitude to life has profoundly affected my relationship with all the people I come across in the course of a regular day. A smile and upturned eyes go a long way towards quickly letting someone know, “Hey, I think you’re great. Let’s get to know each other a little better.” For certain and for sure, I’m a big advocate of the chin up posture.

I have applied this head-in-the sky attitude to the full physical world around me. I like to remind friends and family that when visiting a new city or entering a building, it is always best to take a moment to look up. You will very often be surprised at gifts of whimsy that architects leave for great visual explorers in the world’s upper altitudes. I’ve caught goofy giggling fools’ heads cast in stone, soaring ornamental birds of prey, and ribald frescos gracing a ceiling just because I took a moment to arch my head towards the heavens.

It’s with that joyful upturned eye that I made a recent and most gratifying discovery in the already lustrous Pfister lobby. One of the ceiling cherubs bouncing on puffy clouds and celebrating our Salve motto is, and has been for several days, clutching a bright red balloon.

There are plenty of plausible reasons why a crimson colored Mylar balloon is stuck on the Pfister ceiling. We’ve just come off a busy Valentine’s weekend at the hotel, where lovers aplenty shared roses, glasses of champagne, snugs, and a happy helium balloon or 47. I can imagine that as some dreamy eyed sap reached out to take the soft hand of his or her beloved in a tender embrace, that love balloon floated from a once clutched paw now open for hand holding business. You know what they say, “A hand in hand is better than a balloon in the bush.” Or something like that.

Let’s put practical thinking aside for a moment, though, and just fixate on the fanciful. That’s what happens when you move your gaze from a lower perch to an elevated pose. You start to dream bigger. Everything looks riper and more full of possibility. You are suddenly able to imagine that its certainly possible that one of the cherubs in the Pfister lobby ceiling scene was gifted that balloon by some other dancing spirit with a mad crush.

Could happen, right? If you believe it, than anything is possible. Me? I’m just happy to look up and watch that balloon gently float above the crowds of happy visitors as the days go by. That balloon will probably have to come down to earth someday soon, but for now its opened the heavens and my heart in ways that make me believe there’s a little more love to go around an already glorious hotel.

Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.

When Thinking of Being Sued, Consider These Two Legal Eagles

They have smiles. Neither or them are buttoned up in dour looking suits. There’s not a briefcase to be seen at their cozy table. They are conducting themselves with civility and class, pharm responsibly lingering over an afternoon glass of wine as they chat about big ideas and wise notions.

I for one can’t imagine a better pair of lawyers to sue me.

Alec and Melissa are partners in a successful law firm near the Pfister. Alec works out of Milwaukee, remedy and Melissa is based in Madison. Today is a catch up day. The lobby lounge is neutral territory. It also has a better selection of Cabernet than either of their offices.

It occurs to me that getting a few tips on the law might be handy. You never know when the Feds are going to swoop in and get you in some raid, patient right? It seems like a fine idea to seek out some basic law tips from these two mighty legal types. They have a cool and casual look that makes me think that I won’t be bored by torts and evidentiary motions…whatever that means. As I siddle up to Alec and Melissa, I feel like I’m stepping into an episode of THE GOOD WIFE, without all the sex and lies, of course.

Instead of jumping into some sort of barroom barrister lesson, Alec and Melissa open the kimono (or the judge’s robe if you will) and give me a glimpse into the inner working of snap legal minds.

Alec’s legal mind is apparently underscored by an ever-changing musical soundtrack. Alec has just seen the Broadway musical HAMILTON, and he is happy to share every detail of the hottest ticket in New York with me as the self-described musical theatre super fan he is. It’s not every partner in a Milwaukee law firm that decorates his office walls with Broadway show posters. Alec may be the only guy in the history of local attorneys to hold that title.

Melissa kind of shrugs her shoulders about the whole HAMILTON thing. She doesn’t need kick lines and 11th hour numbers. She’s a sports girl. She has name full of z’s and y’s. She’s good solid people and is able to dissect the most recent Superbowl with the best of them. She does admit, however, that she likes to call upon Alec to do a lot of their dirty work, like hounding clients to pay overdue bills. That’s smart armchair quarterbacking, if you ask me.

Alec is the chattier of the two, a charmer with plenty of good stories. He mentions the time he sang a song at a fundraiser dressed in a chicken suit. Melissa makes a mental note to remember that for the law firm’s next company Christmas party. I bet Alec will kill in that chicken suit. And something tells me that if Alec sued me while dressed like a clucker with Melissa as his second chair checking the box scores, that wouldn’t be a half bad day in court.

Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.

My Lips Will Never Tell…Nah, I’m Just Kidding

I would like to begin this Valentine flecked story with a public declaration that my lips are promised to one lady, viagra and one lady alone-my wife Paula, the hardest working lady in show biz.

It’s important for me to stress that so there is absolutely no confusion about how I came to land a really good smooch on the cheek of Val, the Pfister’s daytime lobby lounge bartender.

JonathanluvsValerie

Val is a looker, purchase no doubt, but my heart belongs to another lady.

The kiss in question had a global purpose. Val and I understood that my lips on her face meant nothing more than the two of us being captured for all time so we could add our images to a constantly growing art project that is a heart lifter of the highest degree. I’m not very good at downplaying things when I find myself kissing women other than my wife in public, sovaldi as you can probably tell.

If you were in the lobby of the Pfister yesterday you would have noticed that pink and red signs were beckoning you to spend a moment or two with a smiley woman named Bonnie helping her with something called The Smooch! Project. She and her charming volunteer Patti were on hand to make you feel comfortable right before Bonnie pushed the shutter button on her camera as you and someone (or something) you have great affection for were drawn together for a sweet lip smacker. I dare you to discover a more dreamy way to spend a moment or two during your day.

The Smooch! Project is Bonnie’s baby, one that she has cared for with tenderness and joy for over a decade. The easiest way to describe it is as an online archive of kissing fools. But it’s better to think of The Smooch! Project as a movement, an artistic expression of love, joy and healing.

“The whole thing came about as an accident,” explained Bonnie. Twelve years ago Bonnie was taking a look at a picture that had been snapped of she and her sister caught in a sweet smooch moment.

“That picture lifted my heart, it just made me so happy looking at it.” Bonnie decided that if this one picture gave her so much joy, other people needed the chance to feel what she was feeling. From there, The Smooch! Project was born.

Bonnie takes a mobile back drop, lights and camera to art fairs, shopping malls and other public places and has captured thousands of photos since the project began ten years ago this coming April. Her goal is to have an archive of 10,000 smooch photos, with the hope being that all 50 United States will ultimately be represented.

“I’ve got a lot of pictures of Minnesotans kissing. They’re my people!”

Bonnie has curated the project through her website The Smooch! Project. Before you start clicking around the site, a warning…you should be prepared to smile, cry and just feel good about being a part of what makes this planet tick. The set up for each Smooch! Project shot is basically the same. The smooch receiver stares straight ahead into the camera while the smoocher is caught in profile landing one on the receiver’s cheek. Though the composition is similar from shot to shot, each image tells a different story of discovery, wonder, love, and great joy. The subjects include gents, ladies, adorable kids, pets, and even some treasured items that people adore.

“Guys like kissing their guitars,” said Bonnie. “It’s a thing. Who knew?”

You can check out The Smooch! Project at thesmoochproject.com and look at a schedule of upcoming events so that you can add your smooch to the archive. I’m proud that Val and I made it in as representatives of the Pfister, but I hope the love of my life Paula and I make it into the archive someday soon. We’re world-class smoochers who know that practice makes perfect, and we’ll keep trying over and over until we get it just right.

Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.

No Rest for the Wicked Show Tune Lover

“PHANTOM OF THE OPERA! Play THE PHANTOM!”

I knew two important things about the lady next to me in the lobby bar. First, there she loved her some Andrew Lloyd Weber, for sure. Second, her love of THE PHANTOM was only slightly stronger than her love of chardonnay.

When someone is literally screaming about THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in the Pfister’s Lobby Bar you could say that my interest is slightly piqued. Full disclosure…I’ve never seen the entire musical. I’ve seen half of it. About seven times. I have that notch in my belt because I’m a guy who went to college in New York City and, search with few resources but lots of love for the theatre, successfully “second acted” a lot of Broadway shows. Second acting for those of you who are honest, forthright and true, the type of people who would never tangle with the natural order of buying tickets for a play, is when you wait outside a theatre during intermission and wander back in with the real audience, ailment plopping yourself in an open seat or standing-room position. In my case, wearing a suit helped me blend in nicely with the throngs of theatregoers out on the town. Other friends I knew who were successful in second act circles could get by with no more than a clean pair of jeans.

As the lady in question got up to stuff a handful of cash into the jar of the lobby lounge evening’s pianist, I doubted she was a second acter. She wanted her PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, and damned if she wasn’t going to pay cash money for it.

As she made her way back to her seat next to me in the bar, I stopped her. I figured someone this passionate, this in love with PHANTOM could help me out.

“Excuse me,” I said. “I’m curious about the PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and…”

Before I could finish my sentence, one in which I had planned to ask the woman to explain the first act plot to me, zeal took over and filled the lady’s mouth with a swell of musical notes on the subject.

“PHANTOM…I’ve seen it four times. One time in New York City, one time in Detroit, and two times here. It is my favorite. My favorite, you hear, my absolute favorite.”

She gushed about the grandeur of the music, the opulence of the sets and costumes, and about how it was the greatest musical of all time. And just as I opened my mouth to ask her to explain the salient plot points I had missed during all those first acts gone by, another voice pulled her attention and she leaned back into her table.

“Can I get you another?” There was no turning back for PHANTOM OF THE OPERA lady. Our conversation was over

Over the next several minutes with my unanswered question dangling in my head, I listened to the lady organize the folks at her table, reminding them despite the late hours they were keeping there was a morning gathering that they all needed to get to.

“9:30. AM. That’s when everyone needs to be down here in the lobby. Dressed. Ready to go. 9:30, and not a minute later.”

As the midnight bell tolled, the woman’s drive to schedule the lives of her friends and family punched through the synthesized baroque strains of “Music of the Night” and the “Masquerade.” It was late and that 9:30am summons seemed too near as the follow up round of drinks landed on tables next to me. Morning might be rough for everyone else, but the lady with the love of PHANTOM didn’t seem to care.

“Play it again! Oh my God, that was beautiful.” I may not know how the story begins, but bedtime be damned when THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is in the house.

Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.

At 10pm on Friday Night

I love meeting new people in my role as the Pfister Narrator, viagra but there are some times when I’d rather fade into the wallpaper and listen; watching and admiring life passing by rather than having face-to-face discoveries.

Times like 10pm on Friday night.

This last Friday I had been at the Pfister early in the evening to see the new Teachers show in the Pfister’s Pop-Up Gallery that our Artist-In-Residence Todd has curated with his usual care and attention. I then had to dash off to some other social engagements for the evening that wrapped up a few hours later. At a few minutes to 10pm on Friday night I found myself alone on the streets of Milwaukee faced with the options of going home to lay my head on my pillow or swinging by the Pfister to see if I might run into friends who I had heard were out and about for fun and games. It was one of those moments when I really didn’t want the shank of the evening to fade too quickly. I still had the itch to surround myself with the buzz of people clinking glasses and chattering away before wrapping myself in my bedcovers and calling it a day. So, viagra at 10pm on Friday night, the Pfister it was for my final stop.

I made a full swing through the hotel to see if my friends were solving all of the world’s problems fueled by glasses of gin and champagne. Alas, they seemed to be somewhere else in the universe hatching plots, but at 10pm on Friday night, I sensed that I had the rare solo viewer chance to seek out the everyday magic that seemed to be tucked in every action filled nook and cranny of the hotel that has become my home away from home.

The lobby bar was filled to the brim with twenty-somethings dressed to the nines smiling and flirting their way to the promise of a dewey eyed Saturday morning pillow talk with someone kind of sweet. And at 10pm on a Friday night, a handsome man with a perfect tight and trim haircut lit up the chilly winter night by proving that his purchase of an electric blue suit was the best charge he had ever put on his credit card.

IMG_0256

I popped into Blu on the 23rd floor and thought about staying around to listen to the melancholy songs wafting through the air, but I saw that at 10pm on Friday night there were no seats to be had and decided it was probably bad form to take a perch on someone’s lap. As I made my way to the ground floor with a group of white haired ladies cheeping at each other, I learned that Harriet, some far off friend, had taken up swing dancing, and her new hip was holding up just fine.

A pass through Mason Street Grill at 10pm on Friday night reminded me that I should absolutely consider eating more steak and listening to loads more jazz because everyone packed into the swank room brimmed with joy and the luscious perfume of Porterhouse.

At 10pm on Friday night I made my way past the Artist-In-Residence Studio to see that Todd was home and that creation was marching on with a guest humming along drawing and painting into the dark hours.

IMG_0253

I like to think that at 10pm on a Friday night there should never be a question of whether or not art is happening at the Pfister.

It also pleases me to no end that at 10pm on a Friday night a young lady is allowed to stay up way past her bedtime so she can snake her way through a crowded room in her bathing suit after a starry sky swim.

IMG_0252

The little yawn coming from my mouth told me finally that at 10pm on a Friday night there was no shame in submitting to the lure of cozy time with my lids snapped shut, so I buttoned up my coat and started to make my way to the parking garage to grab my car and head home. As I passed the Café at the Pfister I noticed that the occasion of a special Chef’s Table dinner was warmly bringing together a group of people for elevated food and inspired conversation. Peering into the darkness of the room, I looked past Dr. Hollander, the Pfister’s legend of the 88 keys, as he was taking a break from his piano set. I couldn’t tell if the shining light around his noggin full of well-tuned notions was coming from a simple light bulb or the glow of genius within his artist’s soul.

IMG_0254

You see, at 10pm on Friday night there was indeed magic in every corner on this particular hotel, and I was lucky enough to be there to see it all in its everyday glory.

Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.

Snap, Crackle…ZZZZZZZZZ

The temperatures outside the walls of the Pfister Hotel have plummeted down into the ranges that are not safe for man nor beast. If you can avoid being outside in Milwaukee right now, you should find a safe refuge where exposed skin is not a victim of the arctic blasts swirling in the frigid air. A good spot for times like this is next to a snug fire, of course. And if I have my druthers, which luckily I do because what am I after all without my druthers, I choose the warmest, coziest spot in town, the Pfister Hotel Lobby Lounge Fireplace.

I’ve always been a fan of a fireplace. As a boy, I didn’t even mind trudging out in the snow with my dad to collect chopped wood from a friend’s property out in the country. That hunting and foraging always ensured that several marvelous fires would be built in my family’s modest fireplace in my boyhood home. I seek out fireplaces in new places that I visit, and one of the great treasures in my fireplace memory scrapbook is the Pfister’s Lobby Lounge fireplace.

If there is a dreamier spot around to enjoy an afternoon tea, a warm after work toddy, or a late night cuddle with the gal or guy of your dreams, I’ve not found it. Surrounded by plush sofas in a friendly setting that has quick access to booze and snacks, it is heaven on earth. When the days are long and bitter, as they are right now here on the streets around the Pfister, there is literally no other place that I would rather be than perched in front of that fireplace doing my favorite thing in the world.

Writing.

Okay, that’s a little white lie, so let me qualify that a little.

Writing until my head drops and I start sawing some logs during one of those winter naps where I feel like I’m turning into a mighty grizzly bear in deep hibernation.

I was spending a wonderful afternoon yesterday at the Pfister working on several pieces of writing, and I perched by the fireplace still snuggled in my wool coat and scarf. I felt cozy as a bug as my fingers tapped my laptop keyboard, plenty warm under no fewer than six layers of clothing that could be classified as quilted bedding in some remote Alpine cottage. The smell of blueberry tea steeping at a table nearby was the sweetest perfume in the world as I felt a tiny yawn coming on. Classical music playing in the lobby slowly soothed my soul like my mother singing a lullaby. I pulled my head away from the screen of my computer to gaze and the fire, and before I knew it I was woozy, hypnotized by the beauty of lapping flames.

And a second later…out. I was out. Snoozing. Snoring. Maybe even a little drool just about to hit my chin. That darned fire had licked me. And I couldn’t have been happier and more refreshed when I blinked my eyes open a few minutes later, a man forged anew by the rolling flames.

I wish that each and every one of you could have the joy and peace of sitting next to this fire and drifting off into a dreamy pause in your day. I certainly welcome you to take your place by the flames, but I realize it might trickier to do for some of you out in reader land. But, don’t despair. I bring you the next best thing…your own virtual fireplace. I’ve captured a full five minutes of the Pfister fire for you, and I dare you to find a finer videotaped hearth anywhere. You’ll hear the lovely lobby lounge bartender and I bantering 25 seconds in, which I would say is probably 37 seconds before my eyes were firmly shut. I hope you enjoy the next five minutes of calm. And don’t be afraid to put your feet to the fire. Warm piggies are one of the better things in life on a chilly winter day.


Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.

So Ma, how did you get to be ninety years old?

Hello all, this intro is from your current Pfister Narrator, Jonathan West. It’s with the greatest of honors that I share with you this Guest Narrator post today from my immediate predecessor, the inimitable Anja Notanja Sieger.  While I was out of town over the holidays, Anja recently spent a lovely tea time with some special ladies who believe that celebrating a birthday is not merely a once-a-year affair, but something that you should put on your calendar at least every month.  I think you’ll enjoy Anja’s tale just as much as I did.

Every month Margaret’s daughters take her out to celebrate her birthday, because once you turn 90 you have to celebrate your birthday every month. This month they’re having teatime in Blu.

DSCN4114Juan, the tea master wheels a cart over to the party and initiates us:

“I am going to pass thirteen tea jars to you so you’ll have a chance to smell and select the one you’re going to be drinking.” He unscrews the jars and hands each to Margaret first, “This is the 1893 Rose Melange… Chinese oolong green tea, very light on the palate… German chamomile blossoms, a very soothing and relaxing tisane… Cinnamon plum… Hibiscus with a blend of berries and mango flavors… Tangerine ginger… Earl grey with a blend of lavender flowers along with bergamot oil essentials, it has a brothy flavor to it along with an amber color… This one comes from Sri Lanka, a Ceylon, stands very well with milk.

One of Margaret’s daughters interjects, “Which one goes best with champagne?”

 

DSCN4060 DSCN4059 DSCN4055

Juan smiles and continues, “A white tea infused with peach blossoms… A green tea from the region of Pu-erh… Chocolate chai, it has cacao nibs, coconut shea beans, yerba mate, dried dandelion roots, cardamom, vanilla and long pepper… This one here is making an appearance for the season, it is called: Cocoa mint… And lastly a black tea infused with sencha vanilla bean, very aromeric and flavorful.” I’m not correcting aromeric to “aromatic” as I relish how Juan jumbled the word into something more enticing and elevated to the world of the senses than the usual phrase.

DSCN4103I am one of nine women gathered for tea, and impressively, none of us orders the same tea, and Margaret doesn’t even want tea. After sniffing hearing the described virtues of all thirteen varieties she just wants a hot chocolate. After nine decades she really seems to have a grasp on what she desires and has no trouble asking for it. Meanwhile, Margaret’s daughters ask her, “So Ma, how did you get to be ninety years old?”

DSCN4069

“I got to go to college because in the summer I would work for a restaurant in the Wisconsin Dells.” Teenaged Margaret started work on the first day of the summer and for three months she’d never have a day off as a waitress. “That was the rule,” confirms Margaret. After graduating from The Milwaukee State Teachers College, she taught first grade for thirty years until she retired. Margaret taught jillions of kids how to read, including her own grand niece who had learning disabilities. She didn’t even quit her day job once she became a mother to Art, Jane, Tom, Nancy and Barb. There was only one bathroom, no shower. On Saturday nights the children took their weekly bath before shining their shoes.DSCN4072

Margaret liked to sew. She made Halloween costumes, a Santa Claus suit, lovely dresses for her daughters and granddaughters, teddy bears and kangaroos for students to hold at rest time at school, table runners, aprons, seat cushions, and matching swim trunks for her boys. They were striped and long before long swim trunks were popular, but they were made long so that they could grow into them.

DSCN4064Sitting beside Margaret is her great-granddaughter Lauren, who just turned 13. Lauren aspires to be a surgeon and likes going deer hunting with her brother, Margaret’s only other great-grandchild. In the summertime when Lauren was little she’d come visit Grandma Margaret on Lake Winnebago, a very algae ridden lake. “I’d come swim and then rake her seaweed,” explained Lauren.

DSCN4078

Margaret has splendid health, her only ailments being mild Parkinson’s and severe gluten intolerance. It is revealed that I am united with Margaret in that we both have celiac disease. She found out she had it when she was 70, and before the diagnosis they suspected she had intestinal cancer. After the diagnosis she got a bread maker and lived. I found out I had celiac when I was 21 and before the diagnosis I took three naps a day. After the diagnosis I spent year subsisting off of avocados and zucchini until my gut healed, and I too lived.

DSCN4082DSCN4083

I admit I’ve always avoided teatimes because I assumed it would just be a sort of gluten fest, cookies, crumpets and lady finger sandwiches wagging at me in a taunting chorus, “No, you can’t have this, no, no, nyah-nyah-nyah!” So I am amazed when a tiny tiered platter of gluten free delicacies are set out just for Margaret. I am amazed again when she requests that I sit beside her and share the hors d’ouevres which were made specifically for her and none of which happen to taste even remotely gluten free. Thank goodness. Included on the platter are these pita slices with dallops of hummus, and the pita even has that powdery surface I recall from years ago when I last ate gluten. This is pure miracle.DSCN4081

Margaret goes straight for the chocolate covered strawberries, while I prefer the cucumber sandwiches and savory items. Margaret has a sweet tooth, and her favorite ice cream is white chocolate with raspberries from Kelley’s, a creamery outside the town of Eden that boasts something like 106 different flavors including chocolate covered potato chips and a thanksgiving dinner flavored concoction known as “turkey lurkey.”

DSCN4067After spending seven decades as a reading teacher and matriarch, it appears some caretaker instincts are ingrained, such as turning the platter just so that the very able bodied twenty-something kid beside her can have a slightly easier reach to the cream dalloped pastries. “Don’t burn yourself on this tea kettle, it’s hot,” Margaret warns me.DSCN4073

I am told that Margaret is having the time of her life. She plays dominoes, and is known as the “bingo queen.” She recently moved to her own condominium, and now for the first time in her life she lives alone and on her own terms.

Meet The Bloody Mary Elf

I have recently written about my encounters with innocent children at the finest Santa breakfast in the land, thumb a meal that helped remind me that Christmas is all about kids. Today I would like to slightly amend that statement because the holidays are also a particularly special time when adults are filled with the spirit.

Take the spirit vodka for instance. You can’t make a good Bloody without it.

During my visit to the breakfast to end all Santalands at the Pfister this past weekend, sovaldi sale I witnessed a delightful phenomenon occur involving the parents and guardians of many of the exuberant tikes who had come to give Santa the straight dope on their wants and needs. In the midst of the scrambled egg and pastry feeding frenzy, I noticed a solo middle aged man saunter through the crowds to his family’s breakfast table carrying precious cargo in his hands. He was not balancing a buffet plate with sausage links stacked like cord wood as you might expect of that sort of a dad type. Instead he had hunted down his own Yuletide treat – a towering Bloody Mary.

As the smartest adult in the room settled in to crunch on a celery stick slick with spicy, boozy tomato juice, the eyes of others in the room whose height is measured in feet rather than inches looked dreamily at his better alternative to grapefruit juice. Then slowly, one by one, many of the elders in the room started to disappear and then reappear minutes later with their own fully stuffed Bloody Marys. Soon the ratio of hot chocolate to vodka-based drinks in the room was balanced and both kids and adults had their own distinct reasons to call this “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Watching this silent Bloody Mary train chug along, I thought of the busy bar staff in the Lobby Lounge who I imagined were mixing and fixing these elaborate cocktails as fast as you can say “a little moderate day drinking will always jingle my bells.” It certainly was a tall order for a Saturday morning, what with the secret hotsy totsy mix needing plenty of celery, pickle and other delish garnish.

A short time after leaving Breakfast with Santa, I found myself down in the Lobby Lounge. Val was indeed busy behind the bar mixing Bloody Marys and pouring short beer backs. Two folks in red running gear had a place at the bar and were enjoying some refreshing Mimosas. The female of the pair noticed a woman across the lobby, and shouted to her.

“Did you make it upstairs in one piece with the Bloody Mary?”

The woman gave a thumbs up and waved a show of thanks. And then it hit me. A Bloody Mary train needs its own conductor, and this lady in the red tracksuit was it.

I introduced myself, shook her hand and explained the phenomenon of the sudden appearance of happy adults holding classic brunch drinks at Breakfast with Santa. I asked her if she had had something to do with that drink dance. The lady admitted that she had given a hand with the stacking of garnish and had offered an assist to the woman she had just checked in with as she had teetered across the lobby with a full drink.

Now here’s the part of the story that I would very much like you to believe is magic. When I talk to folks at the Pfister, I ask permission to tell about our encounter, and I always, without fail, write down their names in a small notebook I keep tucked in the breast pocket of my suit jacket. When I went back to that notebook to get the woman’s name so I could insert it in this story and give some attribution to this good soul who had shown herself to be a true believer in enabling a little light morning buzz, the page that had contained her name was missing from my notebook.

You might think that I lost the page after having a few pre-noon nips myself, but the only sauce that goes in my gullet is black, steamy, and java jiving all the way. I call “Christmas Miracle!” on this one (allowing of course for the possibility that maybe, just maybe, that page had been ripped from my notebook and wrapped around a piece of chewed gum that had lost its flavor).

The lady in question and her male companion had come from a morning fun run downtown and were relaxing with their champagne cocktails in true holiday decompression mode. I would like to give credit where credit is due, but I’ll simply accept the magical Christmas moment and crown this service-oriented woman as The Bloody Mary Elf. And believe me, Elf on the Shelf ain’t got anything on this sister.

Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.