Dark Roast Mugs

I often try to get mugged while traveling.


Mug Parade

Colorado (1997)

Since most of my mugs remind me of somewhere I’ve been, I often ask myself where I want to go as I reach for one while coffee is brewing. And I feel like the pairs or sets of mugs here lend themselves to the weekends, allowing me to travel back somewhere together with my wife. This set from Colorado falls into that category.

Before kids, we used to visit national parks on many of our vacations. In 1997, it was Rocky Mountain National Park. After heading west from the Chicago area on I-80, we angled into Colorado on I-76 and picked up U.S. 34 to head over to Estes Park, which sits just outside RMNP. (The same U.S. 34 runs through the Chicago area as Ogden Ave.)

West of Loveland, Colorado, U.S. 34 shared a narrow canyon floor with a river. Signs along the route urged people to seek higher ground in case of flooding. Looking left and right, the only higher ground I could see was at the TOP OF THE CANYON WALLS. We made the trek safely and soon were spending our nights camping in Estes Park and our days in Rocky Mountain, hiking, taking pictures and driving Trail Ridge Road.

Exploring Colorado Springs was next. There we visited the Olympic training complex, the Air Force Academy, Focus on the Family and the old mining town of Cripple Creek. While exploring the Old Colorado City area of Colorado Springs, we happened upon the finishing line and last day of a 10-day solar car race among teams of college students, called the Sunrayce. We also discovered a wonderful little French bakery and a shop that was selling these mugs by local pottery artist Anne Shimek. We bought four mugs, one of which has long since lost its handle getting dropped while being removed from the microwave.

After Colorado Springs was a visit with my sister and her family in the Denver area. And for good measure, a visit with my wife’s parents as they attended a convention in Kansas City and then a Pirates vs. Cardinals game in St. Louis. It was on this trip that my wife introduced me to the work of author Tony Hillerman — and reintroduced me to the rich notion that books can be entertaining and not merely information sources.


PNC Park (circa 2000)

This was a do-it-yourself model. In April of 1999, ground was broken for a new baseball stadium for the Pittsburgh Pirates. After years of team and government officials wrangling about a new stadium, one was finally going to be built.

As I’ve chronicled, my affinity for the Bucs goes back to when my family moved to Pittsburgh when I was 10 years old, and it remains to this day. I’ve been to PNC Park — along with my wife and kids — and there’s no finer stadium anywhere in baseball. Built along the north shore of the Allegheny River, directly across from Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle, it boasts an absolutely stunning skyline backdrop as one looks toward the outfield from the seats behind home plate and on the third-base side.

As the construction of the project moved along, I found myself following its progress and fascinated with its details. It was during some rudimentary online research that I came across some elevation renderings. I printed a few and then cut and sized them to fit in this clear mug shell I purchased at Hobby Lobby. Picking up the mug now and holding it up to see its base, I can observe that there are additional art options inside it. I don’t think I’ve ever swapped the one now showing with any of those.

The ballpark opened in 2001. After hosting two exhibition games before the season began, the first official game was played on April 9 — the same day that Hall of Famer and Pirates great Willie Stargell passed away. There’s a statue of Stargell outside the ballpark along Federal Street.

Incidentally, the baseball in the picture above was autographed by a former Bucco pitcher. My son and I first met Ian Snell (then Ian Oquendo) in the summer of 2001 when we dropped by Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. At that time, Snell was a young prospect. Eight years later, he had established himself as a regular with the club and my son and I were visiting spring training. Though we didn’t get to meet with Snell personally that day — he was sick — we were able to leave for him a picture from 2001 of him with my then-toddler son. In return, he had this autographed ball given to us.

R.R. Donnelley (circa 2012)

From my Employer Series. I started working for R.R. Donnelley at the end of 2004, and the company helped me keep food on our table and a roof over our heads for 10½ years — until mid-2015. While I was there I wrote for a number of accounts, including True Value, Walgreens, Harry & David, Sears and Best Buy.

The Donnelley building in downtown Elgin, Illinois, used to house Ackemann’s Department Store, and the Creative Services department of which I was a part actually lived in the storefront next door, a former shoe store — I think it was a Thom McAn. That was a cool, understated old space with wood floors and brick and stone walls. We connected to the main building via a stairway at the back. My team had about a dozen members at its largest, and we stood at about six when they dissolved us in 2014. I managed to stick around for another year in a different department until that, too, had a reduction. RRD did production work in Elgin for a number of catalogs and circulars, and there were photo studios on both the third floor and the basement level.

Wisconsin Ski Club (1990)

The young adult group at my church had a regular volleyball night on Mondays. Then one February Saturday in 1990, we ventured out to go skiing at Alpine Valley Resort in Wisconsin. I hadn’t been skiing since fifth or sixth grade, but I fared pretty well (meaning I didn’t break anything). On the return trip to the Chicago suburbs, our carload stopped in the city of Lake Geneva. It was there that I walked into one of the downtown shops and found what seemed an appropriate souvenir.

On a down note, it was later the same year that guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan was among five people killed when their helicopter left Alpine Valley’s concert venue and crashed into the ski slope.

Tadich Grill (2016)

Tadich Grill is an old-school restaurant on California Street in San Francisco. Really old-school. 1849 old-school.

We made a point of having lunch there before heading to the airport on our way home after my niece’s wedding and several extra days spent with family and exploring northern California. My kids, my wife and I sat in an alcove near the back on the left.

Toward the end of the meal, I somewhat impulsively asked our waiter to add a souvenir coffee mug to our bill when he brought the check. He did so, and when we got back to our rental car, I slipped the brown bag with the mug into my carry-on for the flight.

Unfortunately, when I hurriedly grabbed the carry-on to clear the car for the rental company attendant checking us back in, the bag with the mug fell to the parking garage floor and a disheartening sound pierced the air. I picked up the brown bag and looked inside. There was nothing left to salvage, and I dropped it into a nearby garbage can.

The mug had lasted all of half an hour in my possession.

Fast-forward six and a half months. When I opened a present from my kids that Christmas morning, there it was again! They and my wife had enlisted my Californian sister-in-law to get a replacement, and here it was in my hands. It was a family effort entirely on my behalf, and it brought a tear to my eye.

Footnote: We saw another Tadich Grill location when we visited Washington, D.C. in the summer of 2018. Unfortunately, it had a short life there and was permanently closed.

Christmas #8 (1990s)

Another gift from my brother and his wife, I think. Take a look at the mug posted as Christmas #2. It has a different look but the same shape, and it seems to have been made of the same lighter-weight material. But while the other mug has raised letters that say “Waechtersbach Germany” on the bottom, this one says “Waechtersbach Spain.” The company is German from what I can find online.

Fröhliche Weihnachten!

Christmas #7 (1990s)

Two draft horses are harnessed to a sleigh that carries a freshly cut evergreen tree. And it’s snowing! Classic.

Neither my wife nor I can remember how or when we came to have this one. There’s a ©1993 on the bottom, so I think I’m safe in assuming it came to us sometime in the ’90s.

Christmas #6 (1990s or 2000s)

Like some of the others in our Christmas collection, this was a table gift from my parents on a Christmas day after my wife and I were married.

The theme of the four-mug set to which this belongs is The Nutcracker Suite. Over a two-year span, my wife and I received the whole set.

Edison & Ford Winter Estates (2013)

The Caloosahatchee River. I like attempting to say that. Did you know that Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were such close friends that they bought winter homes near each other? Actually, Edison bought his place first, and a couple years after visiting him, Ford bought the place literally next door. The properties are on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers, Florida, and they’re now a museum/historic site.

During one of our winter visits to see my wife’s snow-birding parents in Marco Island, they suggested a trip to see the estates. The houses were there for peeking into, as was Edison’s lab, something I find a little fascinating even in concept. After all, this was where one of the world’s greatest inventors carried on some of his work. And that thought may be part of why I find this sentence from the facility’s website so amusing: Edison once boasted that the best tarpon fishing in the world was available “right in front of my house in Florida.”

Why I find that surprising and enlightening, I don’t know. Obviously the man had to have a life outside his work, but I swear that in every picture I’ve ever seen of the man, he was wearing a suit coat and a bow tie. Then again, I suppose that wouldn’t keep you from fishing or inventing things.

The Bay Area (2016)

We traveled to the San Francisco Bay Area for the redwood wedding of my niece (Kristen Miglore, author of Food52 Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook, © 2015, Ten Speed Press, and Food52 Genius Desserts: 100 Recipes That Will Change the Way You Bake, © 2018, Ten Speed Press — did I mention that she’s my niece and we’re related? You should buy her books and read her column.). After spending a few days based in Santa Cruz (during which a Google Maps Street View car caught the kids and me outside the arcade at the Beach Boardwalk), we headed into San Francisco for an overnight. We woke up there on our daughter’s birthday, spent most of the day, and then headed up the coast to spend time with my brother and his wife. And watch The Birds in the town where much of it was filmed.

I could easily have ended up with a half dozen souvenir mugs on this vacation, but I decided to cover the trip with this one I bought in Monterrey. (Well, this one plus the one I bought somewhat impulsively shortly before we left, only to break it less than an hour later. With some thoughtful and unexpected help, I received a replacement — a story for another post.)

Trip highlights/memories, in addition to the wedding: Shadowbrook Restaurant (thank you to my brother and his wife), Cliff House, Ghirardelli Square, Chinatown, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street, Castle Inn, Happy Donut, Royal Ground Coffee, Tadich Grill, Golden Gate Bridge, Bodega Bay and sleeping a few hundred feet from the fault line.

If you’re an old-style roller coaster fan and have the opportunity to ride it, don’t miss the Giant Dipper on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Spent the morning of the wedding there with my daughter and the coaster totally surprised me — didn’t expect to find a ride that good there.

Mizzou Dad (2018)

We just dropped off our son for his freshman year at University of Missouri. Though his head would suit him well in engineering or any number of pursuits, his heart has always been about sports. He’ll be part of the School of Journalism, with the goal of entering the field of Sports Broadcasting. That’s perfect, because sharing his passion and opinions about sports — particular plays and players, strategies, stats, games, teams and their chemistry, leagues and rivalries — has always come naturally for him. I’ve told him for years that if I owned a team, he’d be my General Manager. It wouldn’t matter what sport.

He’s been reading the sports section of our Sunday paper since he could read, a skill he mastered very early in life. In addition to the game stories, he showed a keen interest in the scoreboard page near the back of the section, where standings (often of lesser known sports and leagues), transactions and various other minutia were detailed.

While soccer is his favorite, there doesn’t seem to be a single sport that escapes his interest and study. He’s competed in soccer, football, and track & field at various levels, but wasn’t able to continue in them as a player. I think pursuing them this way — with the opportunity to convey information and share his take with other people — will suit him better than playing ever would have.

As a Steelers fan, it has pained me to see him adopt not my favorite team — nor the hometown Chicago Bears — as his preferred NFL team, but the Dallas Cowboys. However, we do share a fandom of the Pittsburgh Pirates, which I cherish.

While I anticipate great things in his professional future, I’ll be proud of him if he’s simply a good and faithful man — and husband and father if God blesses him with a wife and children.

Actually, in regard to him being a good and faithful man — and in so many other ways — I’m already incredibly proud of him.

Declaration of Independence (1976)

This Thermo-Serv mug most likely started the collection, though at the time I didn’t set out to gather and keep coffee cups. I could be completely off on this, but here’s what I remember: My grandfather sent one of these to me and one to my cousin during the year of the nation’s bicentennial. We were kids and they were perfect for hot cocoa. (By the way, “bicentennial” was at one time a commonly used word for those of us of a certain age.)

Here’s a little more history: The image under the plastic on this mug is a copy of the 1818 oil-on-canvas “Declaration of Independence” by John Trumbull, and the painting was placed in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol in 1826. It depicts the presentation of the first draft of the Declaration of Independence to the Second Continental Congress in June, 1776.

Personal note: If I ever knew all that about the painting, I had long since forgotten it until earlier this month. That’s when my family was in Washington, D.C. and on a tour of the Capitol. There in the Rotunda was the painting, and all I could think of when I saw it was, “There’s the picture on the mug!”

Hawaii (1992, 2012)

Purchased as gifts for my parents while we were on our honeymoon, these came back to us nearly 20 years later as Mom and Dad were downsizing. It never occured to me when we bought them that these coconut-textured mugs would eventually become must-use on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in our own home.

Caribou Coffee (2013)

When Caribou Coffee opened its location in our town, it was the first time my wife and I had heard of the chain that was moving into the Chicago area. We visited and enjoyed both the coffee and the North Woods decor, complete with a fireplace. Later, we would stop there on date nights and as we prepared for the birth of our son. In the time that followed, we would visit there as a family, frequently venturing to the far end of the shop where there was a kids area with a low-mounted chalkboard, Duplos-style building blocks and a fuzzy stuffed-animal storage ottoman. And we repeated all those stages later with our daughter.

That’s what made the decision by Caribou’s new holding company to leave the Chicago market a little more personal than the usual coming-and-going of a chain. We made it a point to spend part of an evening there on the weekend the store was closing. Between family card games, I approached the counter when there were no other customers waiting for service, and I asked the employee if I might be able to buy one of the coffee mugs that they used to serve customers who weren’t getting their drinks to go. She shook her head and apologized, saying that the whole store had been inventoried for the closure. I said I understood, and we each began recounting some of our own reminiscences of the store. At one point as we did so, she reached for a small paper bag, placed this mug into it and handed it to me, telling me that it had just broken and would be reported on the final inventory. What a sweet gesture.

On the underside of this mug, I’ve written:

Caribou Coffee
Last night
before the
last morning.

Cedar Point (2013)

We drove from our home near Chicago, headed for the first destination on the road trip that I had dubbed “Coasters, Falls and Halls.” After our evening arrival at the KOA in Sandusky, Ohio, we pitched a tent and headed out for dinner. Upon returning to the “kampground,” it was discovered that the bag which I had so carefully packed in advance of our trip had never made it into the van. I had the clothes I was wearing, and not even a toothbrush more. A quick trip to the Sandusky Meijer yielded a tee, underwear and a toiletry kit. The next morning, before Cedar Point opened, the local Goodwill was the source of several souvenir tees, one of which conveniently promoted our upcoming destination of Cooperstown. And that evening, I found a sale on shorts at Old Navy. All was good. (Well, all except for these three words: carpet of mayflies.)

Cedar Point had been a road-trip destination several times in high school and as an adult. One of my great memories of the place is being there late with my high school youth group — when the park had mostly cleared out — and my friend and I riding the Gemini about 10 times in a row. We’d get off the ride, exit the platform and run right back around to get on again. On this 2013 visit with my family, though, I discovered that age and derring-do had at some point crossed each other in my life. No longer could I look at a coaster like Millennium Force and scream, “Yeeaahhh!!!” Instead what I found myself saying was, “Why in the world would I want to ride that?”

The Pfister Hotel (2017)

They may look grey, but they’re really matte silver. I say that because my wife and I picked these up at the Milwaukee hotel where we spent a getaway weekend to celebrate our 25th anniversary.

The luxury Pfister Hotel is in Milwaukee’s East Town section, and we ventured out into the nearby Historic Third Ward and Westown neighborhoods, as well. While we were waiting for our brunch table at Café Benelux, groups of red-clad bicyclists — participants from that day’s Santa Cycle Rampage — were seen across the street. Soon some of them would be one table away from us in the restaurant.

This was the first time we’d been away from our high-schoolers for as long as we were, and we greatly enjoyed the hotel and the city. Before heading home, we headed north along Lake Michigan to stop by North Point Lighthouse, snap a couple pictures and enjoy a stroll.

Twenty-five years. It’s a good start.

B. Kliban®Cats (1980s or 1990s?)

It reminds me of a long-ago t-shirt of mine. The shirt’s waistline area was completely encircled by these round-eyed cats.

I can’t say for sure when the B. Kliban cat thing started for me. And I cannot say with any certainty where this mug came from or when I got it. But I know that when I was young, I was given a number of B. Kliban cat t-shirts — the red sneakers and triCAThalon are a couple that come to mind — by my brother and his wife, a gifting tradition that may have started when they were dating. I say that last part because I think I was wearing the shirts at least as early as middle school, and they got married the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school.

Those t-shirts also introduced me to the Crazy Shirts brand, which became even more personal when my wife and I picked up honeymoon t-shirts at one of their stores in Hawaii, and when I ordered sweatshirts for our first anniversary. (Though neither the honeymoon tees nor the sweatshirts were cat-themed.)

And just for good measure, there’s a B. Kliban cat jigsaw puzzle in the closet even now.

Door County, Wisconsin (2009)

If Maine represents my favorite area in the country, then Door County in Wisconsin is my favorite part of the Midwest. The pointy thumb that divides Green Bay from the rest of Lake Michigan has hundreds of miles of shoreline, five state parks and a whole bunch of lighthouses.

My wife and I made our first trip together there in 1998. Ten years later, we returned with our children and began what could be termed our traditional family vacation. Thus far, we’ve visited in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2017, always camping in Peninsula State Park in one of the Nicolet Bay campground loops, and always on a site that has access to the water. Our stays have ranged from three nights to a week. Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, where I picked up this mug during our 2009 visit, is in the park.

Cell service is spotty in Door County, and that’s one of the things I love about it. This is where I try to unplug and have no agenda or schedule, goals which have grown more challenging with growing children of a connected, digital generation.

Our family’s must-visit places, in addition to the aforementioned Peninsula State Park, include Fred & Fuzzy’s, where shoreline dining comes with an incredible sunset, and Wild Tomato Pizza, where a wood-fired oven cooks gourmet pie to perfection. (Okay, we don’t exactly rough it. During our last trip, we chose a coffee shop theme and all enjoyed sipping java or a smoothie while we played cards — in five different venues.)

At this point, I’m not sure when we’ll get back, or if it’ll be more than just the two of us who make the trip, but I do look forward to it.

Christmas #5 (1990s or 2000s)

A table gift from my parents on a Christmas day after my wife and I were married.

This is part of a boxed set of four mugs, all the same size and shape but with differing Christmas-themed illustrations. That’s a wreath peeking out from the inside, a nice little extra that’s visible to users drinking right-handed.

Two of the set’s mugs have a red stripe on the outside of the handle; two have green. Over a two-year span, my wife and I received the whole set — each year one of us receiving one with a green-striped handle, the other getting red. (Wish I could remember the years.) Makes me smile to think of how my folks had their table gifts planned out at least a year in advance.

Christmas #4 (2014)

A teacher gift for my wife, but she shares with me.

Does it seem somehow dishonest to show a snowman hovering just above hot coffee?

Pro Football Hall of Fame (2013)

One of the stops on our family’s Great American Road Trip of 2013 was Canton, Ohio. I grew up a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, and many of the players I idolized as a kid are now enshrined in the Hall of Fame there.

Think for a minute that year after year, one measure of an NFL team’s greatness is the number of Pro Bowl players on its roster. Then realize what it says about the Steelers of the 1970s that there are nine players and the head coach from that team in the Hall of Fame.

So it should go without saying that when I was choosing a souvenir mug, I had to pick one that was black and gold. This came with a gold, ceramic spoon that slips into those holes in the handle. It’s not broken, but it’s also not something a drinker of black coffee ever needs to use.

Christmas #3 (1990s)

My parents kept a tradition of giving table favors to their Christmas guests. Each place at the table had a gift, usually wrapped in tissue paper. While all the gifts over the years were thoughtful and nice, the ones that my wife and I still use the most are the coffee mugs.

This was part of a set that included various designs, and as a brass player, I’m quite fond of it. Note the shaped handle. Looks neat but it makes holding the mug a bit of a challenge.

Hilo Hattie (1992)

We discovered on our honeymoon in Hawaii that many businesses targeting tourists like us printed ads for discounted goods and services. And Hilo Hattie, a store with multiple locations across the islands, drew us in with an offer of free coffee mugs.

Yes, we got t-shirts and other merchandise during the store visit — they made their money — but the souvenirs that remain are these free mugs.

The Al Bryan Mug (early 1980s)

It was a gift from my brother or sister, probably at Christmas while I was still in high school and they were out of college. If I recall correctly, they used the same occasion to present our parents with a pair of purple mugs that had round bowls — and legs with sneakers.

I’ve always liked this mug, but have found drinking from it to be a little disconcerting because the face on it bears an uncanny resemblance to Rev. Al Bryan, an associate pastor at our church when I was in high school. (If you’re out there, Al, I still remember you fondly. Thank you for investing in my friends and me during a challenging season of your own life.)

San Antonio (2005)

It was the 10th anniversary trip that happened almost two and a half years late.

Our daughter was just under six months old, our son just over three years, when we marked our 10th anniversary in 2002, so we decided to hold off on taking a celebration getaway. Then a few months later, in 2003, my employer filed for bankruptcy, and I subsequently learned during the reorganization that I would only have my job for five more months. We already were scheduled to take a trip to my sister’s place in Denver to celebrate my father turning 75, so the 10th anniversary trip shifted further and further down on our priority list.

Well, I started a new job at the end of 2004, and in spring of 2005 my wife’s parents asked if they could spend their spring break with both of our kids, at the time five-and-a-half and almost three.

The answer was (somewhat reluctantly) yes. But what would the two of us do without the kids that week?

We’d finally take that anniversary trip, and we settled on San Antonio’s Riverwalk area. We stayed at La Mansion del Rio, right on the Riverwalk. Loved it. We had no car, so we walked or took public transit almost everywhere we wanted to go. We didn’t follow our usual m.o., instead eating out for all meals rather than picking up some groceries to save money. And we knew the kids were in good hands with Grandma and Grandpa. Wonderful trip, and well worth the wait.

Ensenada, Mexico (2006)

As a gift to my parents to celebrate their 50th anniversary, my brother, sister and I (and spouses and four of the six grandchildren) took them on a cruise that went from Los Angeles to San Diego, to Catalina Island, to Ensenada, Mexico, then back to L.A.

At the Ensenada stop, while many on the cruise were taking part in various shore excursions, my family of four wandered the port town with the giant Mexico flag. People were hawking jewelry and other items on the sidewalk, and we popped into a few storefronts. Among the things that caught our attention were, of course, coffee mugs. “ENSENADA” was written near the top of each of these, to the left of the handle, but the word had apparently been added there with a Sharpie, because it disappeared after a few washings.

These mugs were nice for my wife and me in that the pair were distinct from each other — the woman is holding a child’s hand and being a responsible, loving parent; the man appears to be taking a siesta. My own interpretation of the resting man is a bit different — he’s not lazy and avoiding work, but rather he has completed a long, hard day of laboring to support his family, and this mug captures a moment after this has happened, when he is ever so briefly resting his head.

New York City (2011)

New York wasn’t new to me — I was born upstate and spent my early life there — but it took me decades to ever make it to New York City. As part of an RR Donnelley creative team based outside Chicago, I traveled to Manhattan and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where my coworkers and I began the work of building the 2011 MetKids catalog.

On the day we flew to New York, my alarm sounded at 3:15 a.m. I got up and drove to pick up my Creative Director, then got the Account Manager, and we headed to O’Hare, where we met another coworker. Flew to LaGuardia, took a cab to the Met Museum, had our meeting and got a tour. The team wandered a little of Central Park before determining that we didn’t have time for dinner prior to needing to head to the airport for our return flight. We ate at the airport and learned our flight was delayed by storms. Then delayed some more. And then some more.

And it was while waiting out those delays that I spotted this mug and felt compelled to get it. (Note: after several uses and washings, the print started to run, so I don’t use it for drinking anymore.)

We finally departed four hours late. After taking off and getting back to Chicago, I dropped off my coworkers, got home and climbed into bed — at 3:15 a.m.

Maine Antique Digest (late 1990s)

In another post, I acknowledged my obsession with the state of Maine. My ownership of this mug was born out of that obsession.

The internet was still catching on in the late ’90s, and I was using lunch time at work to walk, eat, and look up Maine-y things on the web. I came across Maine Antique Digest’s site and discovered that they had come up with a giveaway to encourage site traffic. Find their whatchamacallit on one of their pages, tell them where you found it and be entered in a monthly drawing for a mug.

I did. I won.

I still smile and shake my head when I look at the URL printed on the mug, because it’s the entire URL, right down to the final slash. Like I said, the internet was still catching on.

Pittsburgh Pirates (circa 2000)

I’ve been a Pirates fan since my family moved to Pittsburgh when I was 10. I used to go to sleep listening to games on a transistor radio I had placed under my pillow. (Thank goodness for the Free Battery Club at Radio Shack.) My high school marching band was on the turf at Three Rivers Stadium before some games, trying to perform a football halftime show with no yard markers and then playing the national anthem. And if you asked me right now, I could still name most of the roster of the 1979 World Series champions.

As many fans recall, the Bucs went through what could politely be called a long dry spell. After losing to the stinkin’ Braves in the National League Championship Series in 1992, the team didn’t have a winning season until 2013. For many years, this mug would optimistically be pulled out of the cabinet or drawer when spring training rolled around in February, only to be retired for the year in July or August as the team had their annual free fall in the standings.

Knott’s Berry Farm (1978, or maybe 1989)

My grandmother lived in California my entire life until she passed away in 1991, and my brother had moved to southern California in 1978. That was the same year that Knott’s Berry Farm opened a ride called Montezuma’s Revenge. We went to the park, but the ride scared me and I didn’t go on it. (My big brother was braver than me.) I do remember, however, taking pride in riding the Corkscrew, which also went upside-down.

Did I get this mug in 1978? Maybe, but I’m not positive. How many 12-year-olds intentionally collect coffee cups before they start drinking coffee? I may — may — have gone back to Knott’s in 1989 when I spent a couple months in the area working on a project for my brother.

Mt. Rushmore (2010)


You know what I really like about this mug? There’s a picture of Mt. Rushmore on the inside. As I drink my coffee, more and more is revealed, and it makes me feel like a superhero.

“Remember that time when the Black Hills were flooded with coffee?”

“Sure do! I’m so glad Coffeeman showed up just in time and drank it all!”

“He saved Mt. Rushmore!”

dsc_0175 dsc_0176 dsc_0178

Mt. Rushmore was on our list of places we wanted to take the kids while they were still kids. We got as far as Sioux Falls on day one, then we stopped at the Corn Palace in Mitchell the next day before continuing west. We were going to grab McDonald’s on the way out of Mitchell, but the western way back onto I-90 didn’t have one. Neither did the next exit. Or the one after that. Or the one after that. Or the one after that. Or the… We ended up going all the way to Chamberlain, into the town, a couple blocks from the Missouri River to find one. And we later drove into a very intense thunderstorm as we neared Custer State Park, where we camped for a few days.

The latter part of the trip included driving through the Badlands, stopping by Wall Drug (yes, we got a bumper sticker), visiting multiple Laura Ingalls Wilder sites in South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and spending time with family in Minneapolis.

Kennywood Park (2013)


Just southwest of Pittsburgh, in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, is my favorite amusement park. Kennywood used to bill itself as “Around the corner and out of this world.” Every year when I was in high school, our marching band spent a day here at the end of our camp week — friends and I would sing the commercial on the bus as we traveled there, rattling off the names of many of the rides as we did (to the annoyance of probably more than a few people). Then we were turned loose in the park, regathered for a parade, and turned loose again. I went back to the park on other occasions, also. Among the rides are some great wooden coasters, including the teeth-rattling Thunderbolt. And Racer is unique in that it’s a racing coaster with one continuous track — you leave on one side of the station and come back on the other.

So it was a huge treat for me to head back there with my wife and kids when we were on our Great American Road Trip, 2013 edition. We spent four nights in my beloved Pittsburgh, also touring downtown on foot, getting Primanti Brothers food in the Strip, seeing the Bucs at PNC, going up Mt. Washington on the Mon Incline… And I made the family experience the awesomeness of emerging from the Fort Pitt Tunnel as downtown explodes into view. (Yes, of course they were impressed.)

Christmas #2 (1990s)


It was a gift from my brother and his wife. At least I’m pretty sure that’s how it came into our possession. It looks handpainted (and if it was, it wasn’t done by them). There’s another mug here with a different color and design, but with the exact same shape, and seemingly made of the same lighter-weight material, and with the same company name in raised letters on the bottom. Curiously, the two mugs have different countries of manufacture.

As I get ready to post this, we’ve just had a friend make a repair to the ornament tree we repurposed as a Christmas mug tree, so this cup once again has a prominent place of display this season.

Merry Christmas to all!

Christmas #1 (1990s… maybe)


I don’t remember exactly where this one came from. I may have co-opted it from the many gifts my wife has received over her years as a preschool teacher. It may have come with a packet of cocoa mix or a fake poinsettia, or both. What I do know is that I’m a sucker for classic church-in-small-town scenes, especially when the setting is winter. Add in the horse-drawn carriage and I want to paint myself into the picture.

It’s not quite Currier and Ives, but it’s close enough for me. This mug lives in a drawer at work for eleven months a year, but every December it helps make my Christmas season brighter.


Great Smoky Mountains National Park (2001)


I remember getting out of the car to take a picture at an overlook which I assume was somewhere along Newfound Gap Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The billowing clouds among the mountain ridges were striking. Then, quite quickly, those clouds became thicker and unified, filling my view with gray. I was starting to feel a mist as I turned back toward the car, where my wife and 20-month-old son were waiting. Soon I found myself sprinting because I was in a full-fledged downpour and getting soaked. It happened that quickly.

We had recently visited my mother- and father-in-law as they attended a convention in Tampa. Then my crew was staying at the Jellystone Park in Cherokee, North Carolina, with a Pack ’n Play in the tent, during a visit to the Smokies on the way home. From a distance, Yogi Bear (a costumed Jellystone employee) was my son’s greatest yearning, but up close Yogi was absolutely terrifying.

North Coast Brewing Co. (1999)


Mendocino is a picturesque town on the northern California coast. My brother and his family had a tradition of renting a home there between Christmas and New Year’s, and in 1999, we — my wife, infant son and I — had the pleasure of joining them. One of the must-visit places while there was North Coast Brewing Co., located just up the coast in Fort Bragg.

North Coast Brewing Co. holds — for me — the somewhat unusual distinction of being a place from which I had a souvenir before ever visiting. You see, my brother and his wife had given me a Red Seal Ale t-shirt from the place years earlier. We simply had to go — so I could order a Red Seal Ale and close the circle, as it were. And it was upon our actual visit that I picked up this mug, suitable for brews both cold and hot.

Snook Inn (2011)


At the north end of Marco Island, a small bit of land in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida’s southwest coast, is a restaurant called Snook Inn. If you’ve got a boat, you can park it at the dock and step ashore for a table. But we always drove or walked there when we went. And there’s indoor seating, but why would you use that when you can enjoy outdoor dining right by the water?

My in-laws invited us to join them many a winter as they snowbirded in Marco. We took them up on the invitation a handful of times, and I think we made our way to Snook Inn every visit. The first couple trips, there was an overturned boat that seemed to just exist in the middle of the channel nearby, a discovery (or rediscovery) that always led to conversaton. About the food: It didn’t take long until I found it almost impossible to not order the grouper sandwich. And the chowder is pretty incredible, too.

Maine (1996)


I had a moment of déjà vu in Acadia National Park when my wife and I were there on vacation in 1996. One of the trails had an incredible familiarity to it. I knew my family had traveled there long ago, but I had always assumed it was before I was born. I asked my parents about it later and, nope, I had actually been there with them when I was a very young child.

There was so much to love about Maine: The rocky coastline. Acadia. Portland and Old Port. Hadlock Field. Gritty McDuff’s. Portland Head Light. Nubble Light. Route 1. Freeport and L.L. Bean. West Quoddy Head Light at the easternmost point in the United States. Camden. The list could go on and on. And on. And I know we barely even scratched the surface on a trip that was too short and limited to the coastal area.

I had a business trip there in 2004. Again, too short.

Baseball Hall of Fame (2013)


One of the stops on my family’s 2013 roadtrip vacation was the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. It was my second visit there, the first having been years earlier on a Thanksgiving weekend while I was in college. My aunt, uncle and cousin had lived within a couple hours at the time, and my cousin and I took the opportunity to make a day trip out of it. This time around, however, it was an early July visit with my wife and kids. I’ll tell anybody that the few hours we allowed for the Hall (we also visited friends and family in the area that day) seemed woefully insufficient. I’d like to go back someday, but — for now — I’ll settle for my fond memories of a family road trip when I pull this mug out of the cabinet and pour.

Disneyland (2006)


Their choice surprised me. As my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary approached, my brother, sister and I wanted to do something special for them. Our parents had met, gotten married and started their family in upstate New York. Being the sentimental type, I thought it would be wonderful to offer them a trip back to where it all began — and from which they had moved more than 30 years prior. After much sibling discussion, we offered them three options for an expenses-paid trip with their children and the children’s families: 1) a trip to the Lake George area in New York, where my family and relatives enjoyed times together when I was too young to now recall; 2) a trip to Crystal Beach on Lake Erie, a short distance into Canada from Buffalo, and a place where relatives had owned a beach home and we had gathered many times with extended family; and 3) a cruise from Los Angeles to San Diego, Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico. They chose the cruise, and it surprised me.

My wife and I decided to extend the California trip and take our kids to Legoland and, of course, Disneyland. This mug came with a one-pot pack of Mickey’s Disney Blend coffee, which tasted horribly stale. Loved the label, though, which looked just like the design on this mug.

Niagara Falls (1993)

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In July 1993, after attending two weddings one week and about a thousand miles apart, my wife and I routed ourselves through Niagara Falls on our way home. We had dinner at the Table Rock restaurant on the Canadian side, where I followed the counsel of one of my college professors and tried to appear Canadian by ordering a Labatt instead of a Molson. Even if the restaurant staff was fooled, the gift shop workers downstairs were undoubtedly on to me when I picked up this mug. We went back there 20 years later — with our kids this time — and, not surprisingly, they no longer stocked my old souvenir.

Los Angeles (1980s)


I’ve been an easterner or midwesterner virtually all my life, but I’ve also always had family in California. My father grew up near Los Angeles and my grandmother lived in California until she passed away. Before that event, my brother had moved into the area. I bought this mug at the Pantry in L.A. sometime in the ’80s when I was visiting my brother and his family. Note the “We Never Close” tagline. Sometime after I was there, I understand that they did indeed have to close the restaurant, if only briefly, because a health inspector told them to. Must be true because I saw it on Wikipedia.

My Day Job


Needed a way to pay for coffee beans (and housing, food, gas, etc.), so I’m a copywriter in real life. Here’s my portfolio.

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