Catherine’s Christmas Gift Guide 2012: Jet-Setters

It’s my favorite time of the year, when I happily start to fill my schedule with all sorts of present-hunting, gift-wrapping and cupcake-baking goodness and run a military-style operation to decorate the tree (ensuring there’s equal numbers of each color bauble, that they’re all evenly distributed across the tree and that there isn’t a trace of tinsel within a thirty-foot radius of our house). Which also means that it’s time for my Christmas Gifts I Discovered While Procrastinating Online Guide! 

On Friday I shared my top prezzie picks for writers, Monday was caffeine fiends, and still to come we have book lovers and, um, me, i.e. my favorite things. But today we have Gifts for Jet-Setters, be they the people in your life who are always filling your Facebook feed with jealous-making photo albums, or the ones who dream of a 2013 filled with travel and adventure…

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  1. It pains me to say this, but jet-setters should have e-readers for the road. If you’re still on the fence, as I was until very recently, just think of it this way: taking an e-reader instead of books in your bag means you can buy more print books when you get there. Take a Kindle Paperwhite and a Personalized Erin Condren Kindle Folio to protect it.
  2. One of my most prized possessions is the Blurb hardcover coffee-table book I made of the blog posts I wrote and photos I took during my backpacking trip in Central America—and some of the most fun I had was watching my friend and traveling partner’s Sheelagh reaction when she first saw her copy. A Blurb Gift Card is perfect for the traveler who just got back.
  3. Travel-themed gifts usually come with the pressure to be a professional international jet-setter—but not this fabulous Not That I Ever Go Anywhere passport cover by Waldo Pancake that’s already bemoaning a potential lack of use.
  4. Whenever I’m headed to a new city I pick up its DK Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide because I find they’re the best to use while you’re there: they’re pocket-sized, have color photos and instead of pages and pages of dense text (and a history lesson you don’t really have time for while you’re actually there), they supply you with snappy Top 10 lists for all that’s worth doing in the city. Therefore DK’s Top 10 World is definitely going on my Christmas wish list.
  5. Prolong your vacation by spending the week you get back carefully preserving your memories of it. I love this Pass Stamps Self-Adhesive Album from Paperchase (which I actually own, full of Madrid and Valencia pics!) because it’s perfect for mixing photos and paper souvenirs such as tickets and maps.
  6. And finally, if you’re always on the move, then you’ll something suitably travel chic to protect your laptop. I love this Paper Plane Parcel Design Laptop Sleeve available from Campus Gifts. 

Click here to see all my Christmas Gift Guides 2012.

Catherine’s Christmas Gift Guide 2012: Caffeine Fiends

It’s my favorite time of the year, when I happily start to fill my schedule with all sorts of present-hunting, gift-wrapping and cupcake-baking goodness and run a military-style operation to decorate the tree (ensuring there’s equal numbers of each color bauble, that they’re all evenly distributed across the tree and that there isn’t a trace of tinsel within a thirty-foot radius of our house). Which also means that it’s time for my Christmas Gifts I Discovered While Procrastinating Online Guide! 

On Friday I shared my top prezzie picks for writers and still to come are world travelers (or aspiring world travelers…), book lovers and my own personal favorite things. But today it’s Gifts for Caffeine Fiends!

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  1. The treasure trove that is Not On The High Street has this pretty and useful print of a Coffee Lovers Menu Infographic. (A flat white is my new favorite drink, while we’re on the subject.) I also love their Coffee: The Other Vitamin C print.
  2. Presuming that the coffee-lover in your life has already discovered the magical wonder that is the Nespresso system, why not treat them to something fancy from the Nespresso accessories store. I want it all, but my favorite has to be this Aluminum Sleeve Table-Top Dispenser from the PIXIE range. But really, I WANT IT ALL.
  3. Being Irish, I drink as much tea in the afternoon and evening as I do coffee between wakey-wakey time and noon. Twinings Tea have a lovely—and inexpensive—gift idea this Christmas: a Personalised Twinings Tea Caddy.
  4. I love Coffee Joulies, which are magic (stainless steel) coffee beans that Kickstarter built, that you drop into your coffee. First, they absorb heat, taking your coffee from Tongue Burning to Just Right, and then they slowly release the heat back into the coffee, keeping it at optimum temperature for longer. Their Coffee Joulie Perfection Pack, containing a set of 5 joulies and a travel tumbler, would make a perfect present for a coffee-lover who’s always sipping on the go.
  5. This time of year, in Ireland and the UK, at least, festive Starbucks gift sets start to appear in stores like Debenhams and Boots. Bit odd considering there are more places here in Cork to buy Starbucks gift sets than there are to buy actual Starbucks, but anyway. I like this Starbucks Mug and Syrup Hamper Set from Debenhams.
  6. What do coffee-lovers love more than anything else? Coffee! Robert Roberts offers coffee lovers membership of their Coffee Connoisseur Club which sends a different blend direct to your door every six weeks. Great coffee, new blends and you don’t even have to leave the house: perfect!
  7. Okay, so hot chocolate isn’t strictly a caffeinated beverage, but Christmas is the time to drink it and you can only have so many cafetieres. Stock up on the marshmallows and order the Bodum Chocolatiere whose blending action mixes your chocolate powder and hot milk, and froths the milk too. Yum!

What do you think? Which ones would you like to receive? If you’re a caffeine fiend, what’s the best coffee-theme gift you’ve ever received? 

Click here for all Christmas Gift Guide 2012 posts.

Coffee Break: I Want to Have an Idea THIS Good

I don’t normally dine in McDonald’s because the one item on their menu I like – the Sausage and Egg McMuffin – stops getting served way too early for me. But there is a shopping centre (mall, American friends) in Cork that has the most horrendously inadequate offering of coffee-drinking options of any place in the civilized world and so after seeing Jurassic Park a couple of weeks back we were forced to get some McDonald’s coffee in the food court.

Which is how I discovered that someone at McDonald’s has had a brilliant idea.

(Or, potentially, stolen it from someone else. But someone has had a brilliant idea.)

In theory, a coffee (or other hot beverage) loyalty card is a great idea. You’re buying coffees from the same place on a regular basis, so why wouldn’t you want to get a free coffee after every five or ten purchases? And of course it benefits the store, because on that morning you almost hit another cafe for a bit of a change, you remember your loyalty card and make like you’re loyal.

But in practice, loyalty cards are a pain in the arse. The company has to get them designed, produced and then kept in stock, and the staff have to remember to keep them to hand by the register and/or offer to hand them out. When a coffee is ordered, they also have to remember to ask if the customer has a loyalty card, and then they have to stamp the card, if the little stamp-thingy hasn’t been lost since its last use, or dried out by that weirdo who works Friday nights and spends his time tattooing his arms with it. The customer has to remember to bring the loyalty card with them, which is where I always fell down. I’d leave the office with cash in my hand, leaving the card in my wallet back at my desk. The cashier would give me a new loyalty card so the purchase wasn’t “wasted”, a practice that eventually filled with wallet with single-stamp loyalty cards. So, no free coffee for me.

I couldn’t find a single suitable image of the loyalty card-embedded coffee cup, and I didn’t have the foresight to take one. So you’ll just have to use your imagination.

McDonald’s have, in one move, removed all these problems. The sleeve of the cup has a loyalty card within it that you can easily peel off, along with a sticker to get your loyalty card started. If you already have one of the cards, you just peel off the sticker to add to it. With you having that cup in front of you for at least as long as it takes you to drink the coffee, you won’t forget to peel off the sticker. Even if your card is back in the office, you’re probably taking your coffee back there anyway. At no point does the staff have to get involved in the operation and as the card is part of the sleeve, if it’s unwanted there’s no additional waste.

It’s just all kinds of great, isn’t it? I’m an avid watcher of shows like Dragon’s Den and I can’t recall anybody coming in with an idea as simple as this that solves as many problems. Sure, those problems aren’t world hunger or global warming or anything, but it’s still good stuff.

I hope I can have an idea as good as this someday. Of course I hope mine is more along the lines of “How to sell a gazillion books a minute” or something, but still. I live in hope.

The Results Not Typical blog tour continues! Imagine your surprise. Yesterday I was on Writer’s Rest, the lovely blog home of Cel and Anna author Lindsay Edmunds, answering questions about creating fiction versus writing non-fiction, writing snacks and the benefits of drinking gallons of water mixed with lemon juice and pepper. (Spoiler alert: there are none.) Today I’m over on the lovely Mel’s High Heels and Book Deals, with an ode to flip-flops. Yes, I know they’re not technically high heels, but I love than more because I can actually work in them. Find out more about the RNT blog tour here

Catherine’s Coffee Breaks: Trying Taiwanese Coffee

I love trying new and different types of coffee and so was delighted when Laura, one of my loveliest blog readers, sent me some Taiwanese coffee to try. Not only was the coffee all types of delicious but its delivery system was ingenious.

The coffee came in flat little pouches with handles folded into their sides (above) that when pulled out hooked onto the side of a cup. All you needed to do then was tear off the top to open the pouch and fill it with as much hot water as you wanted coffee. You had to fill it three or four times to fill a cup, but it drained really quickly. I loved the coffee and I loved the pouches.

Unfortunately Laura got them from her parents-in-law and although she thinks they might be available from certain Asian supermarkets, I haven’t managed to locate them here yet. Still looking, though.

You can buy one-cup disposable filters here but nothing as tasty (or as cool!) as this, as far as I’m aware. The best I’ve tried are Rombouts’ individual one-cup filters which I found excruciatingly slow to drain and the fact that they’re plastic kinda turns me off. They do make nice coffee though.

Special thanks to Laura for the coffee – which, in an added bonus, arrived on my birthday!

Click here to read all my coffee breaks.

A reminder: you can now order signed copies of Backpacked, along with Mousetrapped and or Self-Printed if you are so inclined. All orders ship with an exclusive preview of my debut novel, Results Not Typical. I know what you’re thinking – next I’ll be bringing out a pyramid of Ferreo Rocher…

Did You Know Coffee Caused The Enlightenment?

Let’s all learn something about coffee this morning. Thanks to Elizabeth for pointing me in the direction of this amazing video.

(If you can’t see this amazing video, click here.)

Basically coffee is awesome and at the rate I drink it, I’m going to live forever.

(And yes, today you only get a video because I have to send Backpacked to Sarah, copyeditor extraordinaire, a week from Monday. Yikes!)

Coffee Break: Coffee to Write Travel Memoirs With

I’ve told Sarah, Backpacked‘s copyeditor, that I’ll be sending her the finished manuscript at the end of this month. I have to, if I’m to have any hope of sticking to my own schedule and getting the book out in September.

Or even, sometime before Christmas.

(Joke! It is coming out in September. Don’t worry. Not too much, anyway.)

The book – surprise, surprise – isn’t finished, but I do have a whole seven days to work on it, fifteen days if I work to my actual self-imposed deadline of July 8th and not my scare-myself-into-doing-it false first deadline. But I am an ickle bit behind on my word count and so am going to have to put in a few very early mornings and a few very long days, and to do that I’m going to need a lot of coffee.

Yes – even more coffee than usual.

The coffee I normally drink is Robert Roberts’ American Blend and since I go through about a bag of it a week, I was delighted when they asked me to try their new New York Roast. It has a strength of 6 and since American is 3, I was a little bit scared of it but its flavor, while strong, was not at all bitter, had no yucky aftertaste and was actually really, really nice.

It’s my new breakfast coffee, and its lovely yellow cab reminds me to hurry up and write more books so I can go back to New York and spend an entire day in the basement of The Strand…

[Drifts off into New York daydream…]

And fun fact: it’s a cup of New York Roast that’s now immortalized forever on the cover of Backpacked.

So for the next couple of weeks while I finished Backpacked, I’m going to be alternating between the two: New York Roast in the morning, to wake me right up, and then American Blend from lunch time onwards, to keep me awake. I’ll also be throwing in the odd cup of their Guatemala Blend because, hey, Backpacked starts (and spends most of its time in) Guatemala.

In fact I can get coffee from three of the five countries Backpacked treks through, so I might just have to give a few bags away when it comes out.

If I haven’t drank them all, of course.

Click here to find out more about Robert Roberts. New York Roast is the first 6 strength coffee to be produced here in Ireland. Irish writer friends: you can find their coffee in Dunnes, Superquinn and Tescos. 

Click here to read all my coffee breaks

Coffee Break: It’s Trenta Time!

You may have heard that Starbucks recently announced plans to introduce a new cup size, the Trenta. This comes fresh on the heels of news that the company, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, is to change its famed ‘Siren’ logo into something sucky.


At a somewhat intimidating 930ml, the Trenta is 325ml more than Starbucks’ current biggest size, the Venti, and as Canada’s National Post were quick to point out with the graphic above, 30ml more than the average human stomach is designed to hold. Combine this with the fact that in all likelihood, your trenta cup will be holding something with caffeine in it (which speeds everything up, if you get my drift), you’ll be so busy running back and forth to the bathroom you won’t have time to finish it.

For now the trenta is only available in a small number of US states, and only for iced beverages. This is a good thing as first of all, I’m trying to be on a diet and, second of all, how would nearly a liter of regular coffee stay hot enough long enough for you to drink it?

I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve always done: order a venti latte but without any foam. (A “wet” latte in Starbucks lingo. Don’t get me started…) This way, you get a lot more coffee and you get to hang around long enough to drink it. And drink it hot.

Click here to read all my coffee breaks.