The Phantom Tollbooth

Lethargy, the Doldrums. I was 10 years old and clueless as to what these words meant let alone how to pronounce, “lethargy.” So I went to the dictionary and began my love affair with The Phantom Tollbooth.

It was also the book that helped me fall in love with words and literature.

It is a book of wonder and I have read it at each decade of my life.

I love this book so much that I have “To Lands Beyond” tattooed on my arm in an open book.

There is something so magical about this book and I am disappointed I did not write down how I felt when I read it all those times. I had no idea that I would be doing a reading experiment with myself every decade so this read through I will pay particular attention to my emotions.

What sparked my rereading of this book in my 20s was getting it as a gift from a very good friend of mine. It was the 35th Anniversary issue and she wrote a lovely note inside. I was in a very unhealthy relationship and stuck in my life. We talked about how to unstick ourselves and must have mentioned this book and here it was, my journey was about to begin again. Where would this next step, page, door take me? It took me home to find myself again and never doubt my strength and resolve. That was the 26 year old version of this book.

The 36 year old version was the acting version. When I was in undergrad I used this book as my theater book, meaning that we had to act out scenes from it and be filmed so we could see and hear how we projected, emoted and paced with words. I had so much fun using this book because it was so familiar and getting to act out the opening scene was a highlight of my 30s. I was building on the strength from 26 to 36.

Who knew a child’s book could be the impetus for such success?

I read it again at 42 for fun as my life was in quite the upheaval. My late wife was sick off and on and we tried to tap into the things that made us feel happy or good. So I went to my trusty paperback still in pristine condition and read once more about Milo and his adventures. I had many years of memories from this book and my late wife knew how much I loved this book she got me the annotated volume as a wedding gift. It came with pictures of the author and illustrator being silly as they autographed this book!! I was beyond the lands beyond. I was floating in pure joy and happiness. It was the perfect gift and we were about to go on the perfect trip to Thailand and get married.

We had another 5 years of good and bad and I struggled to find my happy again after her passing. It took a whole lot of help from friends to get through that dark period and I am very glad to be on this side of the blackness. I have found love again and I couldn’t be happier. We packed up and moved to a quieter life to write and be creative and find new adventures together.

Now at 50 I am about to embark on a very different, but familiar journey with Milo and Tock as we all head into strange lands together. I am very excited to see and feel this book again after having been through so much at each decade.

To Lands Beyond indeed; lead the way Milo.

Writer’s Corner Tab is Up

Hello lovelies!!

I have something very special for you today.

There is a new section on the CoffeeFitnessUnicorn page.

Today I am introducing you to Gavin Gardiner in the Writer’s Corner.

Gavin’s debut novel comes out this Friday, April 9, 2021 and this is release week!!

Welcome to a new horror.


Writer’s Corner

Meet Gavin Gardiner. Scottish gentleman, cat lover, and horror writer.

For Rye is Gavin’s first published novel being released April 9, 2021

If You Could Describe For Rye in three words, what would they be?

Two of the most crucial elements in fiction are conflict and character change. I’d been particularly fascinated by the concept of character change for a long time, revelling in everything from Matthew Gregory Lewis’s The Monk to Breaking Bad. There’s something that truly resonates with us when a character undergoes a tangible transformation, and I’d began wondering whether I might be capable of writing a character that undergoes some radical psychological change in the context of a horror novel, and just how radical I might be able to make that transformation.

So yes, I’m tempted to be awkward and answer your question with: transformation, transformation, transformation.

Another word that might fit the bill would be ‘rebirth’. One of the main themes of the book is actually hidden in plain sight, in the main character’s name, no less. ‘Renata’ comes from the Latin ‘Renatus’, which itself means ‘born again’. My understanding is that it refers to spiritual rebirth, specifically baptism, the name being prevalent in ancient Rome where baptisms played an important social role.

Anyway, fire and water are both recurring motifs throughout For Rye, and without giving too much away to your readers, Renata goes through two figurative baptisms: one in a very significant (and grisly) scene in a graveyard under torrential rain, and the other in another crucial scene involving fire. The two baptisms Renata goes through – which are both pivotal moments in her transformation – are via the polar opposite elements of fire and water, which is meant to represent the moral complexity of her transformation: if a traditional water baptism is ‘good’, then a fire baptism may be seen as ‘bad’, therefore we already have a hint that Renata’s transformation isn’t going to be entirely wholesome, and most likely steeped in both ‘bad’ and ‘good’; fire and water.

To summarise, I guess the three words I would choose to describe For Rye would be: ‘transformation’, ‘rebirth’, and ‘fucking gruesome’.

Damn, that’s four.

How Did This Refreshing Book Come About?

Well, as I mentioned before, my fascination with character change played a pretty big role in the decision to write this book. But there was another factor, without which my musings of transformation would never have been enough for this novel to come into existence.

My friend and film analyst Ewan Rayner has spent countless evenings with me discussing and dissecting story, character, plot, and everything else that goes into a compelling movie or novel. He’s repeatedly put me to shame with his encyclopaedic knowledge and insights, but he also coaxed the flames of my obsession with story until a book just had to be written. I can’t put into words how much I’ve learnt from him, but I’m confident that For Rye would never have happened had those endless evenings of discussion never taken place.

I’d encourage budding writers of all genres to grab every opportunity they can to discuss their craft with someone equally as passionate as they are. You can read all the books in the world, watch all the films, gorge upon every textbook on structure and technique, but if you don’t apply all that information by way of stimulating conversations and debates about all things writing, then you’ll never truly understand the information. As Bruce Lee said: “Knowing is not enough, we must apply.”

So this book came about from exactly these kinds of stimulating conversations and debates, and I have Ewan to thank for that. I’m glad you found For Rye so refreshing, and I have to believe that this freshness was also a result of everything I learnt from him. So yeah, cheers to Ewan!

What Is The One Thing You Want Us To Be Left With From For Rye?

Having read the novel, you yourself know that this ain’t a happy story. It was never my intention to give readers a morally fulfilling experience, or to make them feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I’ve had enough of that. I knew the patterns and tropes and structure into which most of the horrors I’ve read slot, and although I’m probably a fool for going against the grain, I wanted above all else to shake my readers. 

Personally, I find For Rye disturbing. I’ve read books that are more explicit and graphic, but I still find my little nightmare extremely hard going. I want this novel to disturb you as much as it disturbs me, if only by its abandonment of certain established patterns of modern fiction. Maybe what shakes me most about For Rye is its moral uncertainty; the fact that throughout the book ‘goodies’, in the traditional sense, have the capacity to turn into ‘baddies’, and baddies into goodies. It is my hope that you’re pulled out of your comfort zone and reminded that the spectrum of good and evil is a slippery one.

If reading For Rye shakes you as much as writing the thing shook me, then I’ll sleep easy.


Follow Gavin on his social media pages and sign up for his newsletter on his website:

https://gavingardinerhorror.com

https://www.instagram.com/ggardinerhorror/

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCS9lVOrizVkuHbOzX2OFQCg


I had the pleasure of beta reading “For Rye” and was blown away by the freshness of the prose, the originality of the story, and the classic gothic and horror elements. I was hooked instantly by Gavin’s words. 


In a few months we will do another IG Live to discuss All Things For Rye.

Joins us again as we deep dive into Gavin’s “little nightmare.”

Coffee-Flavored Everything!

I will buy and try coffee-flavored anything.

Sometimes the item is delicious, sometimes the items is gross. The goal is not if the coffee-flavored item is good, the goal is to eat and/or drink coffee-flavored everything.

Many years ago it was not easy to find coffee-flavored food or drinks, now there is an abundance of coffee-flavored items.

One of my favorite coffee-flavored things is Pocket Coffee from Italy. It seriously is the one of the best things on the planet! I bought five boxes when I left Rome for fear that I wouldn’t be able to get it back home. If you haven’t tried it, please do. It is so freaking delicious.

Pocket Coffee is the perfect chocolate and coffee treat. The chocolate is smooth, creamy and not sugary; it melts in your mouth perfectly and the espresso flavor is rounded out by the chocolate. A truly delightful coffee-flavored treat.

Another item I got in Rome was Vigorsol coffee gum. It was fun to try, but it had a very interesting taste and texture. The flavor was okay; I’m glad I tried it but won’t ever get it again.

We recently bought Java Chip Oreos and Mocha + Chocolate KitKat.

The Oreos are very sweet and have a mild coffee flavor; I can only have one every so often.

KitKat is one of my favorite candy items so I am already a fan, but now they upped the flavor game by adding a little coffee.

It is now a new favorite. They have upgraded a classic and I hope they keep this one around. It has a mild coffee taste and the crunchy wafer and chocolate are well balanced.

So far I have been pleased with the coffee-flavored treats I’ve tried.


My love of coffee and coffee-flavored treats goes back to childhood.

The very first coffee candy I ever had was when I was 10. My step-mom is Dutch-Indonesian and introduced me to Hopjes hard coffee candies. It was love at first taste; I thought it was the best hard candy I ever had. My family wasn’t worried about me getting jittery because there is no actual caffeine in the Hopjes.

Kopikos, however, do have caffeine, according to the label it takes “4-5 sweets” to equal a cup of coffee. Good thing I discovered Kopikos as an adult. It could have been scary if I ate the Kopikos as a kid.

I discovered Kopikos while traveling in Indonesia. Kopiko hard coffee candies were everywhere and I had to buy bags of them, once again fearing that I couldn’t get them once I was back home. Thank you Internet for closing the gap on foreign treats. I still have few of these in my writing desk drawer.

So far the coffee-flavored treats have been successful. There was one, however, that was not.

I was excited to see something similar to Pocket Coffee that was an American item because that meant I would not have to order online. Pocket Latte was not what I was hoping it would be.

Pocket Latte was disappointing to me. I wanted to like it but, the texture and flavor were off-putting so this is one coffee-flavored item that I am glad to have tried, as that is the goal, but was bummed that it wasn’t a flavor success.

Pocket Latte markets itself as a coffee energy bar, however, I prefer Clif Bar Coffee series energy bars.

I have only tried the Espresso flavor, but look forward to trying the whole series.

The next coffee-flavored review will be a bottle of coffee-flavored Kombucha. Stay tuned for that.

There are so many more coffee-flavored treats for me to try.

And I look forward to sharing them with you. If there is a coffee-flavored item that you recommend, please let me know and I give it a go.

You Smell Like Coffee

These words are music to my ears and nose.

Let me take you through a few scenes when these words were uttered.


Brandi and I had our fateful meeting at her coffeeshop and then a few days later we were meeting again to have our first date. I was nervous because I wasn’t sure if we were going to hug or kiss or do neither of the two.

So I waited at the meeting spot in front of her shop while she walked up the little hill towards me. With every step she took my heart beat a little faster. Watching her approach me gave me butterflies in my very hungry belly. A cheesy smile was forming on my face and I could feel the anticipation coming to a climax.

She was in front of me now and she smiled at me and her face lit up, I was smitten. Then we hugged. She smelled like coffee. I took a deep breath in and thought oh my, she smells divine. This is my perfect human.

We had the perfect first date and began our long distance relationship that weekend.

Since we both worked full time we could only see each other on the weekends. I would drive down, check in at the hotel, drop my gear off at the room, freshen up a little and begin my two block walk to see her at the shop.

I would text her I was on my way and the butterflies would start flittering about in my stomach as I made my way to her.

Then I would walk in and we would have the biggest, cheesiest smiles and hug. Mmmmmm you smell like coffee. My favorite human smells like my favorite thing.

Every weekend it was just like that. The butterflies and the coffee fragrance.


Fast forward to us living together a few months later. I would make her coffee and take it upstairs so she could have coffee in bed. I would surprise her with a tray and sometimes a little note. I would go to wake her up, she would stir a bit and say, “you smell like coffee.” Music to my ears and her nose.

I wake up before she does most days so I usually have my coffee and read or write in this case. Then I go check on her and see if she is ready to get up. If she had a rough night of sleep, I’ll wake her back up a little later so she can sleep a little longer.

I forget that I have been drinking coffee and I go to kiss her head, then she says my favorite words again: you smell like coffee.

I smile and kiss her again.

Those Coffee Humans Podcast

Have you heard we have a podcast? Have you listened to the podcast?

If you have listened, thank you very much, we appreciate it and if you haven’t yet, we hope you tune is soon because we would love your feedback.

The podcast made a few transformations in the short time it started and that’s because the podcast started out as part of my blog. Basically, I was going to read my blogs on the podcast and share backstories or behind the scenes of that blog. That was the very first episode. I talked about my blog and was a bit flummoxed and wasn’t sure what I was doing. Then I asked my beautiful and intelligent wife to join me on the next episode.

The podcast morphed when I asked my first, very special guest to become a permanent member of the show. The CoffeeFitnessUnicorn podcast is now a joint/team/collaboration of Heartsleeves Coffee and CoffeeFitnessUnicorn and in the process the podcast had a name change: Those Coffee Humans.

We have a hashtag #thosecoffeehumans; we also have a Youtube page: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCK7dbwzpa0L3pp-Hsu6Txw

We have a TikTok as well: https://www.tiktok.com/@thosecoffeehumans?lang=en

As of right now you can hear us on Anchor, Spotify, Breakers, RadioPublic, PocketCasts, and Google Podcasts. Apple Podcasts/iTunes is coming soon.

You can sip with us at the links below:

Stay tuned for more episodes and special guests.

Coffee Problems and Work Ethics

Originally published 06/04/2016 

“You don’t drink coffee; you heat up coffee.” 

These words were said to me by my mother and upon hearing her words I had a revelation: my love of coffee and my work ethics clashed. 

I was in undergrad living at home with my parents and while I studied, I drank coffee (or so I thought), apparently my mother would watch me walk down the hallway, put my coffee mug in the microwave, set the timer and wait for my study-juice to heat up. 

“Ding!” Ah the sweet elixir of the study gods was revived once more. I retrieved the cup, took a sniff of the earthy aroma and headed back to hit the books. 

An hour or two later I would walk back to the kitchen, heat up my coffee and walk back to the room. This was my study cycle. The only time I got up from my desk was to heat up my cup of coffee. 

When my mother saw me in the kitchen again she asked, “Is that the same cup you heated up earlier?” “Yes,” I replied.
She shook his head and said, “You don’t drink coffee; you heat it up.” 

That was when it hit me: my love of coffee and my work ethics clashed. I was so focused when I studied that I would forget my coffee and have to continuously heat it up. I immediately went on Amazon and bought a coffee cup warmer. Yeah problem solved! Sort of. 

Fast forward to present day: 2016, I am 46 and it has been 10 years since my revelation. I’m at work, walking down the hallway to heat up my coffee or get a fresh cup because the one at my desk is old and cold. 

Why don’t I have a coffee cup warmer at my desk you ask? Oh I do, but I’m afraid to accidentally burn down the building so I don’t use it. 

My fear is that in my haste of packing up for the night, I will forget to turn off the warmer and destroy my place of employment. Once again, the coffee/work ethic dilemma is upon me. 

I guess I should just accept the fact that my strong work ethic prevails over my much loved coffee, but heated breaks will always be welcome. 

Or I could drink my coffee first like a normal or sane person and not have to worry about fire or having The Great Coffee Spill of 2020 upon me: https://coffeefitnessunicorn.com/2021/03/01/the-great-coffee-spill-of-2020/.

The Great Coffee Spill of 2020

Has this ever happened to you?

I try really hard not to make a mess in the microwave and I especially don’t like to waste my coffee, so when this happened I was particularly sad.

Being this was a silly and sad situation, I decided to send the image to Scott Gordon Patterson, aka, Luke Danes of Gilmore Girls.

I had no idea he would see the message, let alone write me back and ask me a question.

He totally made my day and, of course, I took screenshots!! How could I not?!

Drinking coffee from my Luke’s mug brings me a lot of joy. And having “Luke” talk to me about coffee was definitely a cool memory.

I even made my first snow coffee video with the Luke’s mug, (https://coffeefitnessunicorn.com/2020/01/22/snowcoffee-its-really-a-thing/), and yes, I sent the video to him too. He didn’t share or respond to the story/video which is fine. He did, however, respond when I entered his Dress Like Luke Halloween Costume Contest. I didn’t win and that’s okay too.

Someday, I’ll get around to trying his coffee and I’ll use the Luke’s mug when I do, and yes, I will send a picture to him. Hopefully, he responds.

Until then, I’ll just keeping making happy memories with coffee and my Luke’s mug all the while trying not to repeat the great coffee spill of 2020.

Tasseography: Coffee Reading

The first time I learned about coffee reading was at my parents’ favorite Greek restaurant; I was about 13. I thought it was the coolest thing–I was a kid and I got to drink coffee and have my fortune told! What could be better than that?!

Little did I know there is a whole ritual that goes into Tasseography.

[Tasseography (also known as tasseomancy or tassology) is a divination or fortune-telling method that interprets patterns in tea leaves, coffee grounds, or wine sediments…Divination attempts to gain insight into the natural world through intuitive interpretation of synchronistic events. -Wikipedia] (Don’t judge that I used Wikipedia.)

Anytime I find myself at a restaurant or coffee shop where I can “chew my coffee,” I go for it. Here’s the thing about chewy coffee. It reminds me of the time when I lived in Turkey: the smells, the sounds, the culture, the scenery, everything about living in Turkey was magical and exotic. Even on the days that it was 116 mother f*cking degrees Fahrenheit or even when it was 27 freezing damn degrees. And yes, even hearing call to prayer at 5am when I was still drunk, I consider those times magical. I lived a life that was so different and unique from my regular life and chewy coffee is a way to connect to that former experience. (And yes, I do like the taste of chewy coffee.)

So when I get the opportunity to drink chewy coffee, I drink until the liquid becomes thick, I flip the cup and do not disturb it until it cools. I’ll talk and wait while the coffee and water separate to create images that then can be interpreted. The coffee has done its part for me to be in that moment. The anticipation of what the coffee will “tell” me is the fun part. It is fun to see the looks on the faces of those passing the cup around. These moments sharing stories of “what does it mean?” This is what tasseography means to me. I’m not a diviner nor do I know any, but what is important for me is the fun, the silliness, and the happy moments that ensue over coffee. 

The coffee ritual reminds me to stop, savor the flavor, enjoy my present company, and truly be in that moment. I am really bad at being in the moment, so I’ll try anything to help me slow down and be at peace. It sounds contradictory to say that coffee helps me calm down, but it’s more in the process than in the drink itself that soothes my mood. 

I learned that when I’m “taking coffee,” as they say in several countries, it means to slow down, take the time to smell your cup. Notice the rich, dark color. Feel the warmth of the cup, then when it is a drinkable temperature, taste the coffee. Savor the flavor. I learned in my travels that these moments are a great way to reflect on the day and just take in that peaceful, calm state. 

When I traveled to Sweden for business I learned about a great coffee ritual called Fika (pronounced feeka). Fika means “coffee break” and during the week I was there, Fika was my favorite time of the morning, usually from 9am to 9:15am. They also taught me about having coffee after lunch. I picked up some new coffee habits while I was there and these were some of my favorite moments from that short trip. I have never forgotten the importance of Fika: Fika brings people together to take time to take coffee. 

Coffee-loving cultures have that effect on me. They remind me to have a “five- senses moment” with coffee. Then for the cultures that have tasseography, well that just adds an element of fun. You pass the cup around and share what you see. Sometimes you see animals, sometime you see lightning, sometimes the shape of an eye. It brings people together. You laugh, you slow down and take in the moment. 

Originally published: 6/24/2017

How You Take Your Coffee is How You Like Your Sex

Or so I was told by a coworker. Let me take you back to when I learned this theory. 

I was working and going to school full time so I was reading/studying on my break. Seating was limited so people shared tables. A group found me and asked to join. We became friends over time and began sharing stories and books over lunch and coffee breaks. 

Photo credit: Brandi Kirschbaum

One day on our coffee break one of the guys asked us all how we take our coffee. Someone said black, another cream and sugar, me too: cream and sugar, then one more black. 

He then says, “how you take your coffee is how you like your sex.” 

We didn’t know what he meant. So explained. Black means straight to business, no foreplay. Sweet and creamy means you like it well–sweet. We all looked at each other and burst into an uproarious laughter. 

Photo credit: Brandi Kirschbaum

He said, “I don’t know why you’re all laughing so hard. It’s ruined me. I can’t stand in line at Starbucks without dying knowing how people take their coffee and their sex.” 

Again, boisterous laughter. Then we all looked at each other. He said, “just you wait. It’ll happen to you too.”

Then I shared the story with my friends over the years about coffee and sex and it turns out, he was right. 

It’s true, whenever I’m in a coffee line and I hear whatever drink is ordered, I go back to that day and remember being ruined by him saying: how you take your coffee is how you like your sex. 

I know what you’re thinking, now there’s cold brew, Frappuccino, pour overs. I say think about it: Coffee is still coffee no mater you dress it up. Black or sweet and creamy. 

I didn’t make this up; I’m only sharing what I heard back in 1994. 

How do you take your coffee 😉

Why I Can Never Get a Coffee Tattoo

I love coffee and I have several tattoos, but I can never get a coffee tattoo.

The reason I can never get a coffee tattoo is that means it’s the end of our relationship.

Coffee has been with me since I was 16. I’ve had many coffees around the world and connecting with people was usually done while drinking coffee.

I have thought about a coffee tattoo for years because of my love for coffee. Would it be a classic cup and saucer (kind of like the emoji), a cappuccino mug, a coffee flower/cherry? Maybe a coffee pot or a skull and skeleton hand holding a coffee cup with the words “Death before Decaf” above or below the image. Many ideas, many years of–nope–don’t do it!

You could say that is superstitious and I wouldn’t argue. You could say I am being silly, I wouldn’t disagree. All I know is that my mom was a major coffee drinker since her youth and then she had to switch to decaf for health reasons later on in life. My mom drank decaf until she passed away last year so she still had coffee, just an altered version. Now that I am older, I’ve learned from her that decaf isn’t so bad, and I am glad I never got the “Death before Decaf” tattoo.

My fear is no longer being able to consume coffee–regular or decaf.

What I do know is– I stand firm in my conviction of not getting a coffee tattoo.