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mixing metaphors

a weekly newsletter from Milton Brasher-Cunningham 
January 24, 2023
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in the mixer

watching from the wings

One of the best gifts of friendship is it offers us the chance to bask in the presence of someone we love being their best selves. We get to play second fiddle, to sit and listen while our friend is who they are and does what they do, and offer unabashed appreciation and affirmation.

The serendipity of my trip to Durham, North Carolina last week was it coincided with the tenth anniversary of the opening of the first Cocoa Cinnamon coffee shop on Geer Street. Ginger and I had gotten to know Areli and Leon, the owners, when they had the Coffee Bike at the farmers’ market. They were also our neighbors on West Trinity. Then began the transformation of what had been a small neighborhood service station into a coffee shop that, from the start was more than a coffee shop.

As I listened to them recount those days during an Instagram Live session, I remembered standing in the room with them as they talked about how they chose colors to match the spices they used in their coffee and chocolate drinks, how they salvaged wood and metal from the old tobacco warehouses to build the counters and tables, how they commissioned a local artist to create a visual representation of a Rumi poem that she painted on the floor of the entryway, how, from the start, they saw coffee as a way to connection and community. From the start, as well, they inspired me.

The week before the café opened, I worked on creating a Cocoa Cinnamon Cookie as a gift of appreciation and congratulations. It began as a chocolate chip cookie, then I added Heath Bits o’ Brickle and espresso powder to the batter. Once I scooped the cookies, I rolled them in sugar mixed with cocoa and cinnamon. The recipe made about five dozen cookies. I boxed them up and delivered them soon after they opened for their first day and told them they could sell them, give them away, or eat them all. I just wanted them to know we were glad they were in the neighborhood. 

A couple of days later, Leon called to say people loved the cookies and would I make them so they could sell them in the shop. I did. Almost from the start, Leon labeled them as “Milton’s Famous Cookies” (they were famous in that shop, he said), and my cookie business was born s well. Though it went dormant when we moved away, our friendship, along with the coffee shops, have continued to grow. And all of that came into view as I sat in the shop and listened to them tell their story.

Whatever pleasure we might find in our own sense of accomplishment, there is an unmatchable joy in being able to say, “I’m with them”--to relish the opportunity to watch from the wings as people show their love and appreciation for those we love. We are, after all, telling the story of us.


on my desk

I had not thought of there being four different kinds of attention until this article named them, drawing from a new book, Attention Span: A Groundbreaking Way to Restore Balance, Happiness, and Productivity by Dr. Gloria Mark, who says attention has two dimensions:

“The first dimension is how challenged you are in what you’re doing. The second is how engaged you are in what you’re doing.”

The two dimensions work together to form four attention quadrants. If you’re highly engaged and challenged, you have focused attention. If you’re highly engaged but not challenged, you’re using rote attention. If you’re neither engaged nor challenged, you’re in a state of boredom. And if you’re not engaged but highly challenged, you’re in the state of frustration.

On a lighter note, I loved these basic things made from papier-mâché. When I have tried, I mostly made big globs of gooey paper. “The Size of Space” put things in perspective in a sort of overwhelming, you-little-speck-in-the-cosmos sort of way. Maggie the Pug has become friends with a pug statue in her backyard, which alone is worth the trip, but her Instagram account is worth a visit. Finally, artist Jean Oliver has given me a new appreciation for crows.


from my kitchen

Rather than a recipe, I have a story to tell. 

I was sitting outside of Cocoa Cinnamon with my friend Leon (whom I have already spoken about) when a woman came up to the table and asked if I was Milton. She had a friend with her. When I said yes, she introduced herself and told me she followed my blog and said she had recently made the Tahini, Fig, and Almond Cookies that I posted in November. I had originally made up the recipe for a Milton’s Famous pop up at Cocoa Cinnamon last summer.

When she said how great the cookies tasted, her friend said, “That’s not the whole story. I was in the middle of a family crisis and she showed up at my house with those cookies. They helped me in the middle of a difficult time.”

I have often said I wanted my cookies to tell a story. In one sense, I mean that about the way they taste--that there is a beginning, a middle, and an end. But the other sense matters even more. Sometimes, the story came first: The Cocoa Cinnamon Cookie was born when the coffee shop opened; my Old North Durham Cookie was a tribute to our neighborhood. This time, the cookie brought the story back to me.

Either way, it makes for a flavorful life.

in my ear

I was in ninth grade the first time I heard David Crosby sing, along with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash. I was learning to play guitar and was a part of a folk group (that’s what we called ourselves: The Folk Group) at Nairobi International School. “Helplessly Hoping” was one of our favorites. I learned a lot about singing harmony listening to and imitating David Crosby. 

As I looked for a song to post that was something other than “Teach Your Children” or “Almost Cut My Hair,” I came across this tender version of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” by Crosby and Joan Baez that was part of her seventy-fifth birthday celebration. “Take these broken wings and learn to fly” seems like an apt description of what Crosby did with his life and his voice.

from my heart

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