It’s Not Breakfast Without Them

Casey Barber

by Casey Barber on January 14, 2013

We were very lucky with Hurricane Sandy. Very, very lucky. I don’t know what piece of wood I knocked on or what four leaf clover is growing in our yard, but our basement never flooded, our backyard trees stayed upright, and we never lost power. My in-laws, however, didn’t make out quite as well, so we were more than happy to host sleepover parties at our house while waiting for their power to return down the Shore. Hey, we’ve got beds, blankets, tons of popcorn, and even more beer and wine. It’s a party every night here!

But when Dan and I went away for the weekend after the hurricane, leaving my mom-in-law to watch and lavish affection on the cats, I realized this would be the first time I left my kitchen completely unattended with a guest in the home. You know I have specific rules about what happens in my kitchen, but never before had I not been around to keep an eye on the goings-on. So I did what every careful homeowner would do: I hid my favorite cereal bowl and coffee mug.

cereal bowl and coffee mug
Come on, are you telling me there isn’t a bowl, a plate, or a cup to which you have some odd but stubborn sentimental attachment? It could be a childhood relic or a random Target find; it could be a treasured heirloom or something that snuck up on you after years of use. For me, it’s a cereal bowl I made at one of those paint-your-own-pottery stores, decorated with clumsy versions of Matisse goldfish (the same ones I have tattooed on my wrist), and a mug featuring a caricature of Jack Kerouac and his quote, “But it ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.”

The mug has been my companion since college, when it got me through many early-morning writing sessions—and continues to do so fifteen years later. Heck, it was just pressed into service yet again at 7:00 this morning. The cereal bowl was added to the dinnerware cabinet a few years later, but what entered my life as a pass-the-time project on an autumn Saturday has become indispensable, being exactly the right depth and width for a single serving of Frosted Mini Wheats, Honeycomb, or Corn Chex. The bowl has a tiny white chip on its rim; the mug’s suffered a few scrapes and is probably due for another date with Bar Keepers Friend to remove yet another round of coffee stains.

mug and bowl 2
My husband doesn’t have any special, only-for-him dishes—he uses a few vintage Coca-Cola and baseball-themed glasses we picked up at our favorite Maine junk barn, but otherwise sticks to our regular, everyday dinnerware that came right off the registry in 2005. Fact is, he’s not allowed to use my personal bowl and mug, and knows exactly where to place them in the cabinets so they don’t tumble out and shatter into a million pieces. (If the dishes ever do break, I want to be the one to take sole responsibility for them, if only so I’m not placing blame and guilt on someone else for their demise.)

I know I’m a little crazy for forming such an emotional bond with these inanimate ceramic blobs. I sort of feel like a kindergartener who can’t get ready for school without her best pair of velcro-closure sneakers or dingy pink backpack. But these two pieces of fine china (I kid, I kid) are a touchstone for my bleary-eyed mornings. They’re the first things pulled out of the dishwasher to be used again, and the first things I see in the cabinet when I’m on autopilot. If I had time to only grab one in a fire, it would probably be the Kerouac mug, because it’s become something of a writing talisman to me—sometimes I don’t think I could write a sentence without it next to me, filled with the sweet caffeinated elixir of life. But let’s hope I never have to make that terrible decision.

So, a word of caution to all future houseguests and sleepover participants: you know you’re always welcome here. We’ll watch anything you want, from Dirty Dancing to Party Down, and cook anything you want, from Meyer lemon donuts to homemade pappardelle. And you can use any of the breakfast dishes in the house, from Alice in Wonderland-themed disappearing Cheshire cat mugs to lime green retro flared-rim bowls—except these two. Hands off, they’re mine.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies January 14, 2013 at 10:00 am

James and I have a pair of mugs we got on our first trip to Disney World together. They’re matching in size and shape, but his is blue, and has Stitch on it. Mine is purple and has Tinker Bell on it. Those mugs went from Florida to England, then back from England to here in NJ, and they’ve been around since before we were married. If we ever lose either of them, I will cry for days. I completely understand your attachment.

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Vera Marie Badertscher January 14, 2013 at 11:55 am

I love this! Ken and I are both very possessive about our tea mugs. But he broke mine from the Louvre Starbucks in Paris, and so far hasn’t taken me back to buy another one. (pout).

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Allison January 14, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Hmm. I’ve got nothing. I wish I did. My kids, however, have a real attachment to their specific cups and bowls they love and they take their attachment very seriously. ha! I think I just haven’t found the perfect cup yet – when I do, who knows!

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joan January 15, 2013 at 9:19 am

Whew..as the mom-in-law mentioned herein, I am SO glad you stashed your favorite things! The responsibility of keeping the cats happy was enough!!! Thanks for sharing….your home, your boys, your stories!!!!

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Tracy January 15, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Ha! I don’t have any kitchen attachments yet – but I giggled reading about yours!

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Aimee @ Simple Bites January 16, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Cute. I like it. I brought a bright yellow mug from home when I loved here to Quebec some 14 years ago. I finally just let it go because it was just too gross to drink from the chipped spots and it was chipped all ’round!

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celia January 20, 2013 at 9:20 am

My morning java doesn’t taste right unless sipped from a battered and well-insulated coffee cup. Comfort foods in comfortable containers!

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Vicky January 28, 2013 at 2:32 am

My wife and I drink our coffee from 2 large odd-shaped camirec mugs that were originally used for beer My wife took them as souvenirs when she was bartending at a Mexican restaurant in Boston 35 years ago. Most other souvenir mugs are usually too small; they generally only hold 6-8 oz. After returning from Italy last winter, I went on a quest to make really good Italian-style coffee without spending $1,000 on a fancy machine. We experimented with a French press(my favorite) and and old fashioned Italian Espresso maker(my wife’s favorite). Now I usually make coffee in both every morning.

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