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Why We Celebrate Sobriety Anniversaries in Alcoholics Anonymous

Avatar Of Rajesh Khanna

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Sometime in the Spring of, 1991, I was at a meeting. Now mind you, I’d been to a lot meeting by this time, but this particular meeting brought on a new meaning for me. You see by this time I started to understand what people were reading, at the beginning of the meeting. How It Works, The Serenity Prayer, The Promises and so on, started to make sense, in terms of just simple English alone. Before then I just would hear echos of words, that didn’t make sense to me. The many years of booze and drugs, my brain was damaged beyond repair I thought. People would say at times, ” Chuck, maybe this is as good as you get. ” The fear of getting worse and winding up like one of those street guys, was enough to motivate me to not drink. However, there were times when I thought what’s the use and would want to give up, but I never did. No matter how bad I felt or hard life seemed to be, I never gave in. I knew deep down inside this was my last and only shot a life without booze. I couldn’t see myself not drinking, but at the same time I knew that alcohol would send me to a death worse then dying. You see my last drunk I wanted to die, my wife left with our son. Life as I had come to know it, because a living hell. I came to the next morning. even after drinking enough to put the average guy into a coma or even killing him. I knew drinking would never end the pain. It was made things worse. Somehow, some way I needed to keep on. I’ve got to get better than I am now. If I only I could see something that would show me, there’s something good about not drinking other than not drinking. Yes I felt better in the morning. Yes, I didn’t have come up with an alibi for my whereabouts the night before. No tickets or accidents either.I wanted to feel wanted, and useful. I wanted to be liked. I wanted friends, but most of all I wanted someone to tell me if I am better and doing better, because quite frankly, I just didn’t know!

Meanwhile, as I was thinking all this, the meeting started and was going on. It was time for the announcements. Oh boy here we go the same boring blah blah, about Open Talks, and social events I was too scared to go to. This old guy stands up and walks to the front of the hall, by the podium, and takes a huge deep breath. Seems like he’s trying to stifle his emotions, as if he’s announcing the death of his mother or another close relative. No instead, he gets all starry eyed, this big grin goes across his face and says, ” I remember when this young man first came into the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, he was broken. He was scared and angry,he felt hopeless and he asked me to help him. We worked together through the Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, and he’s a changed man. So it gives me great pleasure, and would you all help me congratulate Steve P., who is celebrating One Year of Sobriety! ” My jaw dropped,and my eyes wide open and tearing up. I felt something in that hall, I’d never felt before. I never saw anything like this in my life ever. Steve was grinning like the old guy, his sponsor, and tears were streaming down his face. He was holding this bronze token in his hand as if it were a gold medal from the Olympics. Everyone was shaking his hand and hugging him. I heard Steve tell his story at meetings before and to me he had gotten much worse than me. The first thing that came to mind was, if Steve can do it, so can I. He said that not only did his sponsor guide him through the Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, but he made coffee and helped set up for his home group meeting. His sponsor added that he also was Chairman for the group too. Well the gears started turning in my head. If I want to get what Steve got, I’m going to have to do what Steve did.

The following Sunday I got to my home group early and asked Ray and another guy if I could help set up. They said sure! I felt alittle on the important side, because I thought only certain people were allowed to be coffee makers and set up for the meetings. Besides it seemed anyone willing to help clean up could. Thursday at the same meeting hall, Ray and a different guy were making coffee, and I asked if I could help again. Ray showed me how to make the coffee and set up the area where we put the coffee, cream and sugar. This went on for a few weeks and finally I was given the key to the hall, Ray and Bob said I was ready to handle a big responsibility. I could handle the responsibility myself. I just looked at the keys and got scared and proud at the same time. They told me to pray and ask for GOD’s help and I’ll do just fine. Before my first meeting as the coffee maker and set up guy, I did what they said and everything turned out great. Ray was chairing the meeting by then, and I watched how he did it, because I had hopes of being chairman one day. Banging the gavel, asking for a moment of silence for those suffering, choosing people to read ” How It Works”, The Promises, and so on. You know that’s a lot of responsibility.

A couple of months went by, and Ray came to me and said he’s going to go out of town to visit his mother, and would I fill in as chairman until he gets back. I was beaming with pride and as scared as I was accepted the responsibility. I did just as Ray did. Handed out the readings, called the meeting to order, that meant I asked for a moment of silence for all those out there suffering and started the Serenity Prayer. I just stood there scared and proud, thinking to myself ” I’m finally feeling like somebody.” The following week Ray called and said he couldn’t make it to the meeting, because he was still visiting his mother and that he needed me to do a special favor. I’m thinking to myself, here I am, the coffee maker, set up guy, what’s next he’s now secretary and treasurer and now he wants me to do to what? I know I’m a hyper guy with endless energy, but come on now, enough is enough! Ray’s voice was different though this time. He said, Chuck this is a very important task and a great honor. I want you to give Danny his 9 year token. Danny, was a guy who’s wife had died because she had gone back to drinking and came close to drinking himself, but somehow managed to stay sober. Danny, said things a meetings the helped me, and I just thought it would be weird that I was to be the one to give him his sobriety anniversary token, after all, I hadn’t even got one year sober. What about Gary B., I said? Chuck, it was Gary’s idea you give Danny his token. You’ll do just fine

Sunday, I made the coffee. Set up everything for the AA meeting, all the while rehearsing my speech. I wanted this to be as perfect as I can, and I was sounding pretty darn good too.

The meeting went as it always gone. Asked for a moment of silence, and had to holler to the guys in the back to be quiet, that we have a meeting starting. Got through the readings, I’m still rehearsing my speech, in my head for the umpteenth time. Finally it came time, for me to make the announcement. I held the token in my hand and rubbing all the sweat off it, on my shirt. I said, starting to choke up, ” It gives me great pleasure to give Danny F. his nine year token.” People stood up and applauded. Heck I didn’t think I was that good. Danny came up to me. I gave him the token. He hugged me! Oh my GOD! Why do men have to hug? Yeck. Someone yelled out, ” How’d you do it? He let me go. Thank GOD. He said, by the Grace of GOD, the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, my Sponsor Ray, and you people. I stood there tears running down my face and I didn’t care. Giving someone, an Anniversary token is like, letting them know you’re there for them, and giving that pat on the back that so many of us need from time to time, congratulations and thanks, all at the same time.

Another month or so went by, it was now March 3rd, next week will be my One Year Anniversary, providing I don’t drink. Every meeting I went to, people asked me how I was doing. They must have known, I was scared I wouldn’t make it. During the last year, I was going through a divorce, and hadn’t seen my son, who was now 3 years old, all while trying to stay sober. I was really hurting from all that. I kept making coffee, setting up the meetings at my home group, and chaired them too. Ray, was treasurer and secretary. Funny, how that worked out that way. I was sure there was some sort of conspiracy going on. I thought of Danny. He never gave in and never gave up. I thought of Steve P. He never gave up and never gave in. I thought of how I was able to give my youngest brother has 5 year token. Finally, March 10th came and what a long day it was before the meeting would start. All I did that day was think and look at the clock. Finally it was 6pm and I got to the meeting hall earlier than normal, because I couldn’t stand waiting anymore, doing my AA home group duties would help kill some time and I felt safe there. I made the coffee, set up the coffee area, laid out the meeting books, before I knew it, I was up at the front of the meeting and I asked, ” are there any announcements for the good of AA? My Sponsor Gene, a big famous, just ask him attorney, stood up with a big giant grin on his face, stood up and starting talking while making his way towards me, ” It gives me the greatest of pleasures, to give this little guy, who’s grown in this program and fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, his One Years Token.” People stood up, cheered, yelled ” How’d you do it? ” He hugged me. Why do these guys keep hugging me? I just said,” Thanks. I didn’t do it, we did! “

I’ll never, forget that day as long as live. It’s been over twenty years since that day, and I have not found it necessary to take a drink since coming into Alcoholics Anonymous, and if I had, it certainly would not have been necessary.

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How to Design and Layout a Coffee Shop Or Espresso Bar

Avatar Of Rajesh Khanna

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If you are planning to open an espresso bar/coffee shop, then developing an efficient store design and layout will be one of the most important factors in positioning your business for success.

Speed of service is critical to the profitability of a coffee business. An efficient ergonomic store design will allow you to maximize your sales by serving as many customers as possible during peak business periods. Even though your business may be open 12 to 16 hours a day, in reality, 80% of your sales will probably occur during 20% of those hours. Coffee is primarily a morning beverage, so your busy times of day (those times when you are most likely to have a line of waiting customers), may be from 6:30AM to 8:30AM, and then again around lunchtime. If you have a poor store layout, that does not provide a logical and efficient flow for customers and employees, then the speed of customer service and product preparation will be impaired.

Think of it like this; if someone pulls open the front door of your store, and they see 5 people are waiting in line to order, there’s a good chance they’ll come in, wait in line, and make a purchase. But, if they see that 20 people are waiting in line, there is a high probability that they may determine that the wait will be too long, and they will simply get coffee somewhere else. This is money that just escaped your cash register! And, if they come to your store multiple times, and frequently find a long line of waiting customers, they may decide you are not a viable option for coffee, and will probably never return. Poor design slows down the entire service process, resulting in a longer line of waiting customers, and lost sales. So in reality, your daily business income will be dependent upon how many customers you can serve during peak business periods, and good store design will be essential to achieving that objective!

The financial impact of a poor store design can be significant. For the sake of this example, let’s say the average customer transaction for your coffee business will be $3.75. If you have a line of waiting customers each morning between 7:00 AM and 8:30 AM, this means you have 90 minutes of crunch time, in which you must drive through as many customers as possible. If you can service a customer every 45 seconds, you will serve 120 customers during this 90 minutes. But, if it takes you 1 minute 15 seconds to service each customer, then you will only be able to serve 72 customers. 120 customers x $3.75 = $450.00 x 30 business days per month = $13,500. 72 customers x $3.75 = $270.00 x 30 business days per month = $8,100. This represents a difference of $5,400 in sales per month ($64,800 per year), coming from just 90-minutes of business activity each day!

So how should you go about designing your coffee bar? First, understand that putting together a good design is like assembling a puzzle. You have to fit all the pieces in the proper relationship to each other to end up with the desired picture. This may require some trial and error to get things right. I’ve designed hundreds of coffee bar over the past 15 years, and I can truthfully tell you from experience, it still usually takes me a couple of attempts to produce an optimal design.

The design process begins by determining your menu and other desired store features. If you plan to do in-store baking, then obviously you’ll need to include in your plan an oven, exhaust hood, sheet pan rack, a large prep table, and perhaps a mixer. If you plan to have a private meeting room for large groups, then an extra 200 sq. ft. or more will need to be designed-in, in addition to the square footage you are already allocating for normal customer seating.

Your intended menu and other business features should also drive decisions about the size of location you select. How many square feet will be required to fit in all the necessary equipment, fixtures, and other features, along with your desired seating capacity?

Typically, just the space required for the front of the house service area, (cash register, brewing & espresso equipment, pastry case, blenders, etc.), back of the house (storage, prep, dishwashing and office areas), and 2-ADA restrooms, will consume about 800 sq. ft. If space for extensive food prep, baking, coffee roasting, or cooking will be required, this square footage may increase to 1,000 to 1,200, or more. What ever is left over within your space after that, will become your seating area.

So, a typical 1,000 sq. ft coffee bar, serving beverages and simple pastries only, will probably allow for the seating of 15 to 20 customers – max! Increase that square footage to 1,200 sq. ft., and seating should increase to 30, or 35. If you plan to prepare sandwiches, salads, and some other food items on site, 1,400 to 1,600 sq. ft. should provide enough space to seat 35 to 50, respectively.

Next, you will have to determine the tasks that will be performed by each employee position, so that the equipment and fixtures necessary to accomplish those tasks can be located in the appropriate places.

Normally, your cashier will operate the cash register, brew and serve drip coffee, and serve pastries and desserts. Your barista will make all your espresso-based beverages, tea, chai, hot chocolate, Italian sodas, as well as all the blender beverages. If you’ll be preparing sandwiches, panini, wraps, salads, snacks and appetizers, or will be baking on-site, then a person dedicated to food prep will be necessary. And, if you anticipate high volume, and will be serving in or on ceramics, a bus-person/dishwasher may be a necessity.

After you have determined what you will be serving, the space you will be leasing, and what each employee will be responsible for, you will then be ready to begin your design process. I usually start my design work from the back door of the space and work my way forward. You’ll need to design in all of the features that will be necessary to satisfy your bureaucracies and facilitate your menu, before you make plans for the customer seating area.

Your back door will most likely have to serve as an emergency fire exit, so you’ll need a hallway connecting it with your dining room. Locating your 2-ADA restrooms off of this hallway would make good sense. And, because delivery of products will also probably occur through your back door, having access to your back of the house storage area would also be convenient.

In the back of the house, at minimum, you will need to include a water heater, water purification system, dry storage area, back-up refrigerator and freezer storage, ice maker, an office, 3-compartment ware washing sink, rack for washed wares, mop bucket sink, and a hand washing sink. Do any food prep, and the addition of a food prep sink and prep table will be necessary. If doing baking, gelato making, full cooking, or coffee roasting, all the equipment necessary for those functions will also need to be added.

After all the features have been designed into the back of the house, you will then be ready to start your design work on the front of the house service and beverage preparation area. This area will probably include a pastry case, cash register(s), drip coffee brewer and grinder(s), espresso machine and grinders, a dipper well, possibly a granita machine, blenders, ice holding bin, blender rinse sink, hand washing sink, under counter refrigeration (under espresso machine and blenders), and a microwave oven.

If serving food beyond simple pastries and desserts, you may need to add a panini toaster grill, a refrigerated sandwich/salad preparation table, soup cooker/warmer, a bread toaster, etc. If you plan to serve pre made, ready to serve sandwiches, wraps, and salads, along with a selection of bottled beverages, an open-front, reach-in merchandising refrigerator should be considered. Serving ice cream or gelato? If the answer is yes, then an ice cream or gelato dipping cabinet will be necessary along with an additional dipper well.

Finally, when all the working areas of the bar have been designed, the customer seating area can be laid out. This will, of course, include your cafe tables and chairs, couches and comfortable upholstered chairs, coffee tables, and perhaps a window or stand-up bar with bar stools. Impulse-buy and retail merchandise shelves should be established, and a condiment bar should be located close to where customers will pick-up their beverages.

A quick word about couches, large upholstered chairs, and coffee tables. Living room type furniture takes up a lot of space. If you plan to be opening evenings, and will perhaps serve beer and wine, and having comfortable seating will be important for creating a relaxing ambiance, then by all means do it. But if you have limited seating space, and are not trying to encourage people to relax and stay for long periods of time, then stick with cafe tables and chairs. The more people you can seat, the greater your income potential!

Features from the front door to the condiment bar should be arranged in a logical, sequential order. As your customers enter the front door, their travel path should take them past your impulse-buy merchandise display, and the pastry case, before they arrive at the point of order (where your cashier, cash register, and menu-board will be located). Exposing customers to your impulse items and pastries, before they order, will greatly increase their sales. Then, after the order and payment has been taken, they should proceed down-line away from the cash register to pick-up their beverage, and finally, the condiment bar should be located beyond that point. Be sure to separate your point of order from the point of product pick-up by at least six feet, otherwise customers waiting for their beverage may begin to intrude into the space of those ordering.

Don’t make the mistakes that many inexperienced designers commonly make. They arrange these features in a haphazard way, so that customers have to change direction, and cut back through the line of awaiting customers to proceed to their next destination in the service sequence. Or, wanting to make their espresso machine a focal point to those entering the store, they place it before the cashier along the customer’s path of travel. Customers inevitably end up trying to order from the barista before they are informed that they need to proceed to the cashier first. If this happens dozens of times each day, confusion and slowed beverage production will be the result.

On the employee’s side of the counter, work and product flow are even more important. Any unnecessary steps or wasted movements that result from a less than optimal design will slow down employee production. All products should flow seamlesly in one direction towards the ultimate point of pick-up. For example, if preparing a particular item is a 3-step process, then placement of equipment should allow for the 3 steps to occur in order, in one linear direction, with the final step occurring closest to the point where customers will be served.

Equipment should be grouped together so that it is in the immediate proximity of the employee(s) who will be using it. Beyond the actual equipment, empty spaces must be left on the counter top to store ingredients and small wares (tools) used in product preparation. Counter top space will also be needed where menu items will actually be assembled. Think of the grouping of equipment for different job functions as stations. Try to keep different stations compact and in close working proximity to each other, but make sure that there is enough space between each so that employee working-paths don’t cross, which could contribute to employee collisions.

Creating defined work stations will allow you to put multiple employees behind the counter when needed. When it is busy, you may need to have 2 cashiers, another person just bagging pastries and brewing coffee, 2 baristas behind the espresso machine, a maybe even a dedicated person working the blenders. If you’re preparing sandwiches and salads to order, then another person may need to be added to handle that task. Keeping your stations in close proximity to each other will allow one employee to easily access all equipment during very slow periods of business, thus saving you valuable labor dollars.

When you arrange equipment in relationship to each other, keep in mind that most people are right handed. Stepping to the right of the espresso machine to access the espresso grinder will feel more comfortable than having to move to the left. Likewise, place your ice storage bin to the right of your blenders, so when you scoop ice, you can hold the cup or blender pitcher in your left hand, and scoop with your right.

As you create your store layout, the equipment you select should fit your space and the needs of your anticipated business volume. A busy location will most likely require a dual or twin, air pot, drip coffee brewer (one that can brew 2 pots at the same time), as opposed to a single brewer. If you anticipate selling a lot of blended and ice drinks, then an under counter ice maker, one that can only produce 100 pounds of ice or less per day, will not be sufficient. You should instead locate a high-capacity ice maker (one that can make 400 or 500 lbs. per day) in the back of the house, and transport ice to an ice holding bin up front. Plan to bring in frozen desserts and ice cream? Then a 1 door reach-in freezer in the back of he house will probably be inadequate for you storage needs, so you’ll need to consider a 2 or 3 door. I always recommend a 3-group espresso machine for any location that may generate 150 drinks per day or more. And, I can tell you from experience, you can never have too much dry or refrigerated storage space!

Make sure that any equipment you select will be acceptable with your local bureaucracy before your purchase and take delivery of it. All equipment will typically need to be NSF & UL approved, or have a similar, acceptable, foreign certification equivalent. Your bureaucracy will most likely want to see manufacturer specification sheets on all equipment to verify this fact, before they’ll approve your plans.

ADA (American’s with Disabilities Act) compliance will also come into play when you are designing your coffee bar. In some areas of the country, this will only apply to those areas of your store that will be used by customers. However, other bureaucracies may require your entire store to be ADA compliant. Following are some of the basic requirements of compliance with the code:

• All hallways and isle ways must be 5 feet wide (minimum).

• All countertop working heights must be 34 inches high (instead of normal 36 inch height).

• 18 inches of free wall space must be provided on the strike-side of all doors (the side with the door knob).

• All hand-washing sinks must be ADA friendly.

• All bathrooms must be ADA compliant (5 foot space for wheelchair turnaround, handrails at toilet, acceptable clearance around toilet and hand washing sink, etc.).

• No steps allowed, ramps are OK with the proper slope.

• If your space has multiple levels, then no feature may exist on a level where handicapped access has not been provided, if that same feature does not exist on a level where it will be accessible.

You can find the complete regulations for ADA compliance at the following website:

http://www.access-board.gov/adaag/html/adaag.htm

Beyond the basic Equipment Floor Plan, showing new partitions, cabinets, equipment, fixtures, and furnishings, you’ll need to produce some additional drawings to guide your contractors and satisfy the bureaucracies.

Electrical Plan

An electrical plan will be necessary to show the location of all outlets needed to operate equipment. Information such as voltage, amperage, phase, hertz, special instructions (like, “requires a dedicated circuit”), and the horizontal and vertical location of each outlet, should all be specified.

A small, basic coffee shop might get away with a 200 amp service, but typically 400 amps will be required if your equipment package will include items like an electric water heater, high-temperature dishwasher, or cooking equipment (ovens, panini grill, etc.).

In addition to the electrical work required for your coffee business-specific equipment, you may need to adjust existing electrical for additional or reconfigured lighting, HVAC, general-purpose convenience outlets, and exterior signs. Also, have your electrician run any needed speaker wires, TV/internet cables, and cash register remote receipt printer cables at the same time they are installing electrical wires. Finally, make sure your electrician makes provisions for lighted exit signs, and a battery-powered emergency evacuation lighting system, if needed.

Plumbing Plan

A plan showing all plumbing features will be necessary. At minimum, this should show stub-in locations for all needed water sources (hot & cold), drains, your water heater, water purifications system, grease interceptor (if required), bathroom fixtures, etc.

While a typical P-trap drain should be acceptable for most fixtures and equipment, some will require an air-gap drain. An air gap drain does not go through the “S”-shaped twists of the P-trap. Instead, the drain line comes straight down from the piece of equipment or fixture, and terminates 2 inches above the rim of a porcelain floor sink drain. This porcelain drain basin is usually installed directly into the floor. The air gap between the drain line from your equipment or fixture, and the bottom of the basin, prevents any bacteria in the sewer pipe from migrating into the equipment or fixture. I drain the following pieces of equipment to a floor sink drain when creating a plumbing plan:

• espresso machine

• dipper wells

• ice maker

• ice holding bin

• food prep sink

• soft drink dispensing equipment

To save on the life of your water filtration system, only your espresso machine and coffee brewer should be supplied by with treated water. Coffee is 98% to 99% water, so good water quality is essential. Your ice maker should only require a simple particle filter on the incoming line (unless your water quality is terrible). There is no need to filter water that will be used for hand and dish washing, cleaning mops, flushing toilets, and washing floors!

Be aware that many bureaucracies are now requiring a grease interceptor on the drain line from your 3-compartment ware washing sinks and automatic dishwasher. A grease interceptor is basically a box containing baffles that traps the grease before it can enter the public sewer system.

Also understand that a typical retail space will not come equipped with a water heater with enough capacity to handle your needs. Unless your space was previously some type of a food service operation, you will probably need to replace it with a larger one.

If cutting trenches in the floor will be necessary to install porcelain floor sinks, a grease interceptor, and run drain lines, then establishing a few general purpose floor drains at this same time behind the counter, and in the back of the house, will prove useful. Floor drains will allow you to squeegee liquids away when spills occur, and when washing floors.

Finally, if you added some new walls during your remodel, you may need to have the fire sprinkler system for your space adjusted or reconfigured.

Cabinet Elevations

Drawing cabinet elevations, (the view you would have if you were standing in front of your cabinets), will be necessary for your cabinet maker to understand all the features they will need to incorporate into your cabinet designs.

These elevations are not meant to be shop fabrication drawings for your cabinetmaker, but merely serve a reference, showing needed features and desired configuration. Where do you want drawers, and under counter storage space; and, where do you want cabinet doors on that under counter storage? Where should open space be left for the placement of under counter refrigeration and trashcans? Will cup dispensers be installed in the cabinet face under the counter top? These elevations will provide your cabinetmaker with a clear understanding of all these features.

While your kitchen base cabinets at home are typically 24 inches deep, for commercial applications they should be 30 inches deep, and 33 inches if an under counter refrigerator is to be inserted. Also, when specifying the size of an open bay to accommodate under counter refrigeration, be sure to allow a couple of inches more than the physical dimensions of the equipment, so that it can be easily inserted and removed for daily cleaning.

Dimensions Plan

You will need to create a floor plan showing all the critical dimensions for new partitions, doors, cabinets, and fixtures. This will, of course, help make sure that everything ends up where it is suppose to be, and will be the right size.

A final thought about design; unless the space you will be designing is a clean vanilla shell (meaning, nothing currently exists in the space, except perhaps one ADA restroom), you will have to make sure that all the features that you are considering keeping, will be acceptable with your local bureaucracy. Many older buildings were not designed to present codes. If the business type remains the same (your space was occupied by a food service establishment before you), then some times any non compliant features will be grandfathered-in, meaning you don’t have to bring them up to current requirements. But don’t count on this! You need to check with your bureaucracies to make sure. More and more I see bureaucracies requiring new business owners to remodel, so that all features are compliant with codes. This means you may have to rip-out bathrooms and hallways, add fire sprinkler systems, and provide ramps where there are steps. Better you know all these things before you begin your store design!

I always tell my consulting clients, that if I produce a perfect design and layout for them, they will never notice… because everything will be exactly where you would expect it to be. Unfortunately, if you create a less than optimal design for your coffee bar, you probably won’t realize it until you start working in it. Changing design mistakes or inadequacies after the fact, can be extremely expensive. Not correcting those mistakes may even cost you more in lost potential sales. For this reason, I strongly suggest using an experienced coffee business space designer to create your layout for you, or at very least, to review the design you have created. Doing so will payoff with dividends.

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The History of American Trans Air

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Indianapolis-based American Trans Air, once an emerging carrier, continually searched for an identity.

Established in 1973 as an aircraft provider for the Ambassadair Travel Club, it inaugurated service with a single Boeing 720 dubbed “Miss Indy,” doubling its fleet five years later with a second, “Spirit of Indiana.” But its March 1981 issuance of common-carrier certification enabled it to operate in its own right.

Retaining its Indianapolis roots, it acquired ever larger aircraft, including eight 707s; its first widebody, a former Laker Airways DC-10-10 registered N183AT in 1983; and an ex-Northwest Orient DC-10-40, itself bearing registration N184AT. The quad-engine 707s were eventually replaced by more fuel efficient 727-100 tri-jets.

Annual passenger totals climbed: 96,426 in 1981, 269,086 in 1982, and 618,532 in 1983.

Relying upon Northwest for additional DC-10 acquisitions, but forced to substitute the comparable TriStar when it elected to retain its aircraft, American Trans Air purchased its first in 1985, ultimately operating 15 L-1011-1s, one -100, and four -500s.

It assumed a new operational profile when it inaugurated limited scheduled service on the JFK-Belfast-Riga (Latvia), Indianapolis-Fort Myers, Indianapolis-Las Vegas, and San Francisco-Kahului (Maui)-Honolulu routes, billing itself both as “American’s vacation airline” and “The nation’s largest charter airline.”

“We create the comfort. You create the excitement,” it advertised. “At American Trans Air, we know the only excitement you want on a vacation is the excitement you create. That’s why you can count on American Trans Air’s courteous, professional staff, top flight aircraft, consumer conscious prices, and all the little extras that have become characteristic of our growing company.”

Growing it was. Seeking to avoid scheduled airline competition, it had become the United States’ largest charter operator, attributing up to 90 percent of its revenue to both the civil and military divisions of this sector, with the remainder from scheduled operations, wet leasing, third party pilot training, and contract maintenance.

Operating a 23-strong fleet by 1992-including seven 727-100s, 12 L-1011-1s, and four 757-200s-it was profitable for 18 of its 19-year history, posting a $2 million loss the previous year for the first time because of the recession and the travel trepidation created by the Gulf War. It transported 2.4 million passengers that year.

It was that very Gulf War, however, which served as the cornerstone of its military operations, since its aircraft counted as part of the Civil Air Patrol fleet. Carrying 108,000 troops on 494 missions in support of Operation Desert Storm, it was also instrumental in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, and provided 727-100 shuttle flights between Nellis Air Force Base and the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada.

Stretched -200s replaced the -100s in 1993.

American Trans Air once again adopted a new image when it devoted a significant portion of its aircraft resources to scheduled operations from a Chicago-Midway hub, in addition to continuing its military and government contract flights.

To facilitate its intended growth and modernize its fleet, it ordered 39 737-800s and 12 757-200s in 2000, taking delivery of the first of the former (N301TZ) in June of the following year and the first of the latter (N550TZ) two months later, introducing a livery change in the process to emphasize its new scheduled-airline, business-oriented route system, now branded “ATA Airlines.”

Equally seeking feed from small and secondary cities with more suitable turboprop regional equipment, it purchased existing Chicago Express for $1.9 million in 1999 and operated it as a separate “ATA Connection” subsidiary.

Its latest, elevated-image strategy, however, proved unprofitable, forcing it to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection five years later, on October 26, 2004. The best method of keeping it alive, it decided, was to employ its assets for the benefit of a healthy carrier, which, in this case, was deregulation-synonymous Southwest Airlines.

Transferring six of its Midway Airport gates and 27 percent of its nonvoting stock to Southwest in exchange for a life-injecting cash infusion and continued operation under a code share agreement in December of 2004, ATA reduced its number of Indianapolis-served destinations to three and redeployed aircraft to Chicago, now assuming a business airline profile by flying to cities that Southwest did not, including New York-La Guardia, Dallas/Fort Worth, and San Francisco. Midway-bypassing services also enabled it to link Southwest focus cities, such as Orlando, Phoenix, and Las Vegas, with other voids in its route system, Denver and Honolulu among them.

The strategy resulted in a 20-percent revenue increase for Southwest, but did not necessarily suture ATA’s financial bleed.

To further reduce costs, it significantly pruned its fleet, selling 20 737-800s and eight 757-300s and only marginally plugging its capacity gap with the two-year lease, between November of 2005 and November of 2007, of three former United Airlines 737-300s. Even the lease rates, in the event, proved too high.

Coincident service reductions, not surprisingly, were extensive, as the lights dimmed on numerous destinations over a short interval: Boston, Newark, and Minneapolis in October of 2005, Indianapolis and Denver in November, and Orlando, Fort Myers, and San Francisco the following April, leaving little more than the skeleton of its once fully fleshed body. Indeed, 18 daily departures were dispatched form a single gate at Midway Airport and only 52 were offered system wide. A previous court approval had enabled it to sell its Ambassadair Travel Club division to Grueninger Cruises and Tours.

Although a $100 million financial package form the MatlinPatterson investment firm and pre-bankruptcy creditors enabled the now-privatized carrier to briefly emerge from bankruptcy and establish service to New York-La Guardia, Houston-Hobby, Ontario, Oakland, and Hilo (Hawaii), rising fuel prices, the rapid resignation of a shortly-serving CEO, the poorly executed replacement plan of its L-1011s with DC-10s, and the loss of a major military contract caused it to spiral back into bankruptcy, leaving Flight 4586 from Honolulu to Phoenix to mark its last landing at 0846 on August 2, 2008.

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The Top 10 Ways to Reduce Expenses When You’re Between a Rock and a Hard Spot

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If you’re in a career transition with limited financial reserves or up to your neck in alligators from overspending, run to, not from the problem. The longer you carry this issue around the heavier it will get. Choose to implement all of the action items below to immediately reduce your spending. Better yet, make it a game to see how low you can get your expenses…you just might find that less is more.

1. Phones

Eliminate your cell phone and shop around for a long distance carrier with a low rate per minute and no monthly fee.

2. Subscriptions

Cancel newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals. Everything you need is free at the library, accessible via the internet, or on television.

3. Utilities

Turn down the thermostat, use energy efficient lamps in fixtures, turn off the lights when you leave a room, ask your local utility companies about budget billing, and review the many other energy and money saving tips listed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s website.

4. Taxes

If you’re employed, ask if your employer offers a Section 125 Plan or Flexible Spending Program. If so, enroll in the plan as soon as possible to pay your health premium, health expenses and dependent care expenses (if applicable) with pre-tax dollars.

5. Medical

Purchase generic prescriptions when possible and obtain the best price by calling and comparing prices at local pharmacies, increase your medical coverage deductible, and read and understand your medical plan to be a smart consumer of health care services and save dollars.

6. Stuff in your home

Clean up, organize, and simplify your home environment. Hold a garage sale and fill it with the things you don’t use, don’t have room to display, or can’t access easily. You might also consider selling items on eBay. Another option is donating your items to a charitable organization as your gift may be deductible. Your stuff is someone else’s treasure.

7. Meals

If you’re working – take your lunch, shop at a discount grocery store and buy in bulk, cut out the junk food, avoid purchasing prepackaged meals, and avoid eating dinner out. Have you stopped to think that your daily latte may be costing you $600 per year?

8. Fitness

Terminate your gym membership. Try walking, running, hiking, or biking. It’s easier and more convenient to step through your front door and start exercising, plus the fresh air is invigorating.

9. Recreation and fun

Stay home with a good book or rent a video or DVD instead of going to the movie theater. Pop your own popcorn, snuggle up in your favorite chair, and have a fun night at home. As painful as it might be, you could also drop your cable TV.

10. Lifestyle

Money problems are seldom about money but rather emanate from your lifestyle choices. For example, I recently spoke with a small business owner who told me he was in financial trouble and was looking for ideas to save his business. He then mentioned that he was taking his family on vacation next month. He must have felt it necessary to justify his vacation plans because he proceeded to tell me he was taking the vacation in spite of his dire financial situation as it was important to create a positive memory and good time for his kids. I wonder how much he’ll enjoy the vacation when his business is about to tank.

If you’re in financial trouble or see it looming on the horizon, please don’t try to justify spending any more money, cut every expense today and when you’re out of debt start saving and building at least a years worth of financial reserve. It can be done! Good luck.

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What Type of Property Can Be Repossessed by Creditors and How?

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Okay so, what type of property can you have repossessed? Well, let’s consider the word “Repossession” for a second. The word does suggest re-possession which means that the creditor taking back the property to ‘repossess’ it must have once possessed it in the first-place. Sure, that makes sense, right?

Now then, if you buy a car on credit, you don’t really own it until it’s paid for, the bank does. See that point. Now, while it is true that you are in possession of the car, you don’t own it, rather you have promised to pay for it over time, and once it is fully paid for, then you will own it, when the bank sends you the pink slip and removes their lien on the car.

If you fail to continue to make the payments you promised, the bank will want to get the car back from you. This is called repossession. Then, they will sell the car to someone else or auction it off.

What Type of Property Can Be Repossessed?

Anything you buy on a payment plan will come with a contract, one which you sign promising to make payments and pay interest. If you fail to pay the creditor or bank, they have the right to have that item back or repossess it. After all, they own it, not you. People buy stuff all the time where they promise to make timely payments and sign a contract to do so. Think of the things you may have bought or are currently paying on?

Maybe you financed some furniture, a smart phone, or a car? Maybe you bought a recreational vehicle, a boat, jet ski, or some other toy? All of these things can be repossessed.

If you had a built-in swimming pool installed, and bought it on credit, it obviously cannot be dug up and repossessed, but the creditor could put a lien on the property and with a court order force you to pay.

If you fail to pay on your home the bank can’t repossess it, but they can foreclose on it and with the help of the court force you to leave. Foreclosures may seem like repossessions, as it amounts to the same thing in your eyes, but both have different legal definition and different sets of rules.

Do I Have Protections Under the Law During Repossession?

Yes, you do have protections under the law during a repossession. A repo man cannot touch you, except in self-defense. If they threaten you with jail or prison, it’s an idle threat and it is actually against the law for them to make such threats.

A repo man cannot force you from your car, or reach into your pocket to take back property. A repo man cannot go into your backyard through your gate, open it and cut the lock to take your car back, nor can they break into your garage to repossess the car. They can take it from a public parking lot or take it if it is parked in your driveway or on the street.

A furniture company cannot come into your house without your permission and take their furniture back if you fail to pay, but they can report you to the credit bureaus and ruin your credit.

The repo company must first report to the police that they are going to go repossess your car. This way the police know it isn’t being stolen in case you call up and report it missing. A repo company can ask for a police escort to protect them while they retrieve the property they are after, but you can deny them entry, as it is a civil matter. The police are only there to keep the peace between parties. The police cannot get involved, unless the company has a judgement and a court order.

Can I Get My Car Back if It is Repossessed?

The law does provide you with a remedy to get your car back, if you pay the bank that is financing it all the money due, plus penalties, plus the repo fees. You may also be able to negotiate with them for a more favorable deal. It’s recommended that you have an attorney go to bat for you in this case.

There are consumer credit laws on your side, but remember the bank owns the car until it is paid for and the furniture credit company owns that furniture until you make that last payment like you promised when signing the contract to finance it.

Law Firms Are There to Help

Law firms know that people can get entangled in complex financial hardships, often it’s a series of problems that bring about such situations. They can help you sort it all out. Many offer a free 30-minute consultation. They can explain the law and your potential options.

If they can help, they will tell you upfront, if not, they’ll also let you know. Being informed will help you make the best decision for the most favorable financial outcome.

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The Fruits Of Burma, Mango, Papaya And Co Part 1

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Writing about fruits is similar to writing about e.g. flowers and/or vegetables. I think one cannot confine oneself to describing the fruit, flower or vegetable and some of the respective botanical aspects alone but should whenever it is possible and/or makes sense also address their origins, their trees or plants, the issue of symbolism and the uses they are put to – from the kitchen to the religious shrine to the pharmacy, as it were – as otherwise not only the reading about them might become a bit boring but also because the picture will remain incomplete. If you do not agree please tell me of what use it would be to merely tell you bananas and coconuts are growing in Burma and that bananas are yellow and bend whereas the kernel of the coconut is round to oval and brown? You see what I mean? I admit this article is a bit longer than my usual ones because I am also using a lot of botanical names (for the botanists amongst you) but it will nevertheless – so I hope – make interesting reading. It will at least – that I am very certain about – be quite instructive. By the way, you will be surprised to read that many flowers and/or fruits you like very much are belonging to families you would have never expected. Would you e.g. have expected that the strawberry is a member of the family ‘Rosaceae’ the flowers of which are known to you a rose? Or did you know that the core of the banana stem and the banana blossom are not only edible but are also very delicious? These things and much more will be revealed in this article.

OK, let us jump at the opportunity and learn more about fruits, in general, while concerning ourselves with the fruits of Burma (since 1989 also called Myanmar), in particular.

Burma is like all tropical and subtropical countries benefited by a climate that allows continuous growing, cultivating and harvesting of fruits both of seasonal and year-round kind. With its abundant moisture and warm to hot temperatures in the lowlands and temperate climate in the mountains it produces the most diverse fruits in high quality and in great quantities.

When speaking of fruits of Burma we must not only classify them into seasonal and year-round kinds but also into almost globally grown and cultivated ones such as e.g. the apple and grape or the strawberry and fruits such as the mango and the papaya or banana that are native to and exclusively growing in tropical and subtropical climates and countries.

In other words, the apple, grape and strawberry are non-tropical/subtropical fruits because they cannot thrive well without longer periods with temperatures about and below 0 degree Celsius/32 degree Fahrenheit, i.e. without frost and without essential environmental conditions such as the appropriate nourishment, soil drainage, proper degree of humidity, right amount of hours of sunshine/day, average temperatures, amount of water, etc. Merely soil, water and sunshine are not sufficient enough for a tree, plant or flower to thrive well.

Trees and plants may grow in environments they are not adapted to – which to become takes without interference through e.g. grafting and/or budding, a long evolutionary process – but cannot unfold their respective qualities to the full. So, do not expect of fruits that are not native to the tropics what you are in terms of size, colour, odour, flavour, sweetness, juiciness, etc. used to in your non-tropical home country where these fruits are native to. Do you have tropical or subtropical fruits such as bananas, mangosteen or papayas growing in North Europe or the north of North America? You see what I mean?

Nevertheless, I will, without spending too much time on them, include certain non-tropic fruits in this article as far as they are cultivated in Burma and will hopefully in a combined effort of nature and men by e.g. crossing of desirable parents or beneficial mutation in standard varieties adapt to the climate here. At the end of this process of the fruits concerned may have been developed new varieties with wonderful characteristics and qualities. Who knows? We cannot force nature to do its job; we can only assist and learn from it. Therefore, do not blame Burma for the fact that these non-tropical fruits are not as good here as in the countries they are native to and do not blame me for admitting that and just telling the truth. Burma cannot help it because it is a matter of nature and I am just being objective.

As for the former (the apple, etc) they are not as good in Burma as in other countries with proper natural environment but that should not pose any problem to foreign visitors to Burma who come e.g. from Europe or North America as they have these fruits in highest quality and abundance in their own countries. After all, these people do certainly not come to Burma in order to eat here those fruits which are cultivated in their home countries, maybe in their own garden. Actually they are not coming just to eat fruits but once being here it would be a shame not to eat them. They would be missing out on something really wonderful. However, as for the latter (the mango, etc.), Burma/Burma has a lot to offer that is truly remarkable. Mind you, we are not speaking of fruits that are available in Burma when speaking of the ‘Fruits of Burma’. It is true, all kinds of fruits are available in developed countries, even the most exotic, and those fruits that are not available there do simply not exist anywhere else, but tropical and subtropical fruits such as those of Burma might be available in foreign countries but do not grow there.

When speaking of fruits of Burma we are speaking of fruits that are typical of Burma and ripen here on the tree, bush or on the stem and not artificially and at storage facilities as those fruits that are determined for consumption in foreign countries are plucked prematurely in order not to be overripe when ultimately displayed in shops of far-away countries. In other words, fruits are often transported over great distances what even nowadays with our fast means of transportation takes a long time from the tree of the fruit farmer to the shelf of the shop in which they are finally sold. They must arrive at their destination close to or on but not after the peak of their ripeness since fruits decay very rapidly. Therefore they are plucked or picked before they have almost reached this point on the tree. And that makes a great difference in colour, odour and flavour. This is a difference that makes out all that what eating of fruits actually is about: savouriness. And savour you can the fruits of Burma in Burma; they are tree-ripened.

If you have a soft spot for tropical and subtropical fruits, Burma is the place to be because here they grow. From A as in ‘Awza thee’ or custard apple, as it is called in English, to Z as in ‘Zee thee’ or plum, here you get something for every taste even when allowing for the fact that not everyone likes every fruit what may be true especially for the ‘Du win thee’ (durian) and/or ‘Pein gne thee’ (Jackfruit), which are very healthy and much loved by almost all of the locals but not necessarily so by foreigners as at least their pungent smell, if that is the word, needs very much getting used to; if that is possible at all, that is.

But that you get here something for everyone is not all. As for certain fruits that are also growing in other tropical countries, in Burma you get the very best of them.

Now if you do not mind come and accompany me on my trip into the realm of Burma’s flora. Let us take a closer look at the fruits of Burma and in doing so keep the very best, the highlights of the journey, as it were, till the end. This trip is a little bit longer but as I hope both informative and entertaining. Fasten your seatbelts; here we go. The non-tropical fruits cultivated in Burma are e.g. the apple, grape and strawberry.

Those tropical fruits that are native to Burma and those that are not originated in Burma but have over time become part of its native flora are, in the category ‘year-round fruits’, e.g. the banana, papaya, lemon, lime or sweet lime, grapefruit/pomelo, pomegranate, avocado, coconut and fig.

In the category ‘seasonal fruits’ these are in the sequence of their season e.g. the mango and jackfruit, durian and mangosteen, guava, rambutan, lychee, pineapple, custard apple, orange, and water melon.

Let us begin our journey with the apple locally called ‘Pan thee’ that as stated above – though not native to Burma – is cultivated here since British times. As the locally grown quantities were not sufficient to meet the demand in terms of quantity and quality apples were imported and according to those of my friends who ate them they were very delicious. Still, apples are imported from e.g. China but they too are not so good. They are big and look good but have in the way of flavour, sweetness and juiciness not much to offer that is worth writing home about. Besides, they are relatively expensive.

In Burma apples are mainly cultivated in the north-eastern part of the country, in the foothills of the Shan mountains where in the higher regions at about 3510 feet/1070 metres the micro-climate is European-like, thus the temperatures lower than the usually tropical temperatures. But in size, odour, flavour and colour they do not quite meet the quality of those growing in western countries as the locally grown apples are rather tasteless, quite dry and not very sweet either. As for the vitamin contents, too, the level may not be as high as in Europe so that the ‘An-apple-a-day-keeps-the-doctor-away’ method might not work out so well here.

Be that as it may, ‘Pan thee’ is in Burma mainly eaten in the fresh state but can also be served as chief ingredients of deserts such as fruit salads, backed apples, apple pie and apple strudel. They can also be processed into dried apple slices, jelly, pasteurised juice, canned sauce, cider, vinegar and apple brandies. Apple upgrades as complement the flavour of many dishes but can also be an integral and main part of dishes, and is e.g. used as ingredient of pickled white cabbage (sauerkraut), goes very well with all kinds of game, is used as stuffing of goose roast and also makes a tasty meal when stewed and combined with either potato pancake or boiled potato topped with bacon sauce or in combination with fried sausage.

Apples are widely cultivated throughout temperate world regions such as northern Europe and North America and apple trees are best adapted to regions in which the average temperature approaches or is dropping to freezing point and below. Here the apples are best. The exact chilling requirements vary slightly from variety to variety but apple trees can withstand temperatures down to -40 degrees Celsius. Its native home is most probably the region between the Caspian and Black Sea.

The apple fruit develops from a blossom that is of rounded appearance and in its majority white with stripes or tints of rose. Some apple species do, however, bloom with white or red flowers. They wary in size from slightly bigger than a cherry to a grapefruit and have five seed pockets the number of seeds contained in them varying with the variety. Apple trees constitute the genus ‘Malus’ of the family ‘Rosaceae’. About seventy genera of the rose family are cultivated for e.g. food amongst them the apple and believe it or not the strawberry.

Strawberries though they too are not native to Burma are also cultivated here. The strawberry has no local name and is therefore here in Burma also called ‘strawberry’. This fruit that makes up the genus ‘Fragaria’ of the family ‘Rosachilaensis’ is although being smaller than the, e.g. in Europe consumed species developed from ‘Fragaria moschata’ growing galore throughout the cooler months of the year in the ‘Pyin Oo Lwin/Maymyo’ region. Maymyo is located some 68 kilometres/42.5 miles north-east of Mandalay in the foot hills of the Shan mountains.

The local variety is more like ‘Fragaria Vesca’, the forest strawberry, but very sweet when ripe.

Surely, this is good news for all those who cannot do without them for even a shorter time and happen to be here in the right period from January to March, which – by the by – is a time when in northern Europe the local strawberries are not yet on the market.

So, what most likely will immediately spring to the mind of western early post WW II generations visiting Maymyo/Pyin Oo Lwin during the strawberry season is the 1964 Beatles world-hit “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

Strawberries are rich in zinc and vitamin B9 or folic acid, which is a coenzyme needed for forming body protein and haemoglobin (an iron-protein compound in red blood cells) and quercetin that helps to alleviate allergies.

Strawberries are mainly eaten in the fresh state with sugar and cream but are also made into juice, syrup, wine, jam, used as chief ingredient of desserts such as fruit salad, ice-cream and for e.g. strawberry tart and cake.

The grape, local name ‘Tha byet thee’, is another example of a fruit not native to but cultivated in Burma since some three decades. They are cultivated in the area of Meiktila (Mandalay division) but are in size, taste and sweetness definitely inferior to, for instance, European and North American grapes. They are eaten in a fresh state, processed into raisins, and tread and made into wine, which however is more often than not on the rather sweet side. But the influx of foreign specialist during the last years has led to the production of high-quality vines mostly offered in higher class hotels and restaurants.

The banana, locally called ‘Hnget pyaw thee’, is like the papaya, guava and lime one of the year-round tropical fruits. The banana tree and the fruit are cultivated for their versatility. The local name hnget pyaw thee is a combination of ‘hnget’ (originally spelled ‘het’), which means ‘splitting’, ‘pyaw’ what means as much as ‘pulpy’ and ‘thee’, meaning ‘fruit’.

The banana belongs to the family ‘musaceae’ and makes up the genus ‘musa’ one of which is classified as ‘musa paradisiaca’, the other ‘musa textilis’ or ‘Manila hemp’, also ‘abaca’, which is native to the Philippines. The fibres of musa textilis are as its name denotes used for the production of high-quality matting.

The banana family with its two genera and about 40 species and many varieties typically occurs in the tropics and is originated in Southeast Asia. Bananas have sterile flowers and the fruit develops unfertilized so that bananas contain no seeds. The production of new plants is by vegetative means and propagation is from suckers that develop at the bases of old plants. Planted once they multiply without end. The banana tree is omnipresent in Burma although certain varieties prefer certain regions. It is almost impossible to make a step without seeing another banana tree; even in the big cities. They grow everywhere from the flatland to mountains in altitudes of 4.000 feet.

In the tropics the stems are annual. They die after perfecting the fruit and then new stems develop from the buds in the rootstock. Their growth is so rapid that their fruit is usually ripe within 10 months after the offsets are planted. The banana fruit itself ripens within about 6 months as is reflected in the local wisdom: “The bunch of bananas is ripe and fit when the babies learn to sit.”

The stems, which are actually not a stem at all but overlapping leaf bases can grow to a height of 10 to 40 feet/3 to 12 metres with crowns of large leaves of a lengths of up to 10 feet/3 metres. The flowers spring from the centre of the crown and are arranged in whorl-like clusters along the spike. The flowers on the top are male flowers and those at the base female flowers.

The banana fruit varies in lengths from about 4 to 12 inches/10 to 30 centimetres and the average weight of a bunch is about 25 lb/about 11 kg with some of them exceeding 40 lb/18 kg. The edible part of the banana fruit contains on average 75 percent water, 21 percent carbohydrate and about 1 percent each of the fat, protein, fibre and ash. Usually the banana is of yellow colour but there are also green, red and blue varieties, the latter being very rare.

After having worked ourselves through a lot of rather general stuff pertinent to the banana issue we will now come to the part with more local flavour and take a closer look at the ‘Burma banana family’ with some 12 members out of some 25 varieties that are said to exist in Burma.

Our ‘family’ however consists of those varieties that are mainly cultivated. Starting with the smallest one, the first member of this family is ‘musa cavendishii’, the small, sweet and slightly sour Chinese variety with the local name ‘Wet malut’ or ‘Pig’s limbo tree’.

Two other members locally called ‘Thee Hmwey’ or ‘fragrant fruit/banana fruit’ are the golden yellow thin-skinned it and the even when fully ripe thin-skinned green one. They are my favourite and very tasty. To my opinion not one of the European import standard brands comes close to it. The fruit pulp of both is of slightly yellowish-white colour and not too soft.

Since a family to be complete needs a mother we take for it the ‘Nanthabu’ or ‘short and perfumed’. Nanthabu makes a good mother because it is petit, fragrant, soft-skinned, well and round shaped, sweet with firm yet soft texture (like the thee hmwey) and not stringent.

Wet malut’s (the smallest family member) bigger brother is ‘Hpee gyann’ or ‘coarse hand’, a name that indicates that the fruit has here and there grainy excrescences. Unlike other varieties, which are not very tolerant to pressure this one can take a biff as it is very thick-skinned. The fruit is very thick and angular in shape. Its pulp is a bit sour and grainy and has like its brother ‘Hnget pyaw’ or ‘blue banana’ the skin of which sheens silvery-grey medicinal properties as it is conducive to digestion and bowl movement.

The father of the ‘Burma banana family’ is ‘Byat pyeih’ or ‘tray full’. Byat pyeih is huge and therefore nicknamed by locals ‘Hsin an’ what means ‘elephant tooth’. The fruit is bulky and its bunch is very heavy due to the giant size of bananas of this variety. You eat a maximum of four of them and you have definitely had your fill. The edible part of the fruit is compared to other varieties rather tasteless and has quite a coarse texture but is none the less very well edible. I like it.

The eldest son and pride of the family is ‘Shwe nga pyaw’ (‘Shweyni’) or the variety ‘Rubra’ of ‘Musa sapientum’. This variety is also known as golden or red banana. In its early stage it is of greenish-brown colour but as it matures it takes on a more and more shimmering red and in places reddish-golden/yellow colour. The fruit is almost as bulky and huge as byat pyeih and its pulp is slightly mealy, scented. It has a slight after-taste of a kind which may not be to everyone’s taste and is more on the yellow side yellowish-white. Shwe nga pyaw is the favourite banana for ceremonial offerings and comparatively expensive.

Two other family members are from Rakhine State on Burma’s west coast at the Gulf of Bengal. These are locally called ‘Rakhine nga pyaw’ or ‘Rakhine banana’ and ‘Nga pyaw chin’ or ‘Sour banana’. Rakhine nga pyaw is called by the Arakanese (Rakhine nationals) ‘Kalar nga pyaw’ or ‘Indian banana’. The fruit has a round body with a yellow and thin skin. The pulp is soft, yellowish-white and has a very pleasant, sweet taste what makes it much sought after. Nga pyaw gyin (sour banana) is as the name implies slightly more stringent and smaller in size than Rakhine nga pyaw yet quite tasty.

The next – also a fragrant type – is ‘Musa sapientum var. champa’, locally called ‘Htawbhat nga pyaw’ or ‘butter banana’ what gives already the information that the pulp of this variety is of creamy texture. The taste is pleasantly sweet, slightly fragrant and its skin is thin and yellow. Personally, I find the pulp a bit too soft but the taste is good.

The last member of our ‘Burma banana family’ is locally called ‘Thange zar’ or ‘Children food’. Its pulp is somewhat grainy, sweet and slightly stringent. In size the fruit is rather small and its skin is yellow.

The banana fruit is generally eaten in a fresh state either as part of a meal or in between. However, it is also served as chief ingredients of various cakes, deep fried with a coat of rice flour batter, as pancake filling or coated in a layer of chocolate on a stick. It is also preserved into crispy, dried slices (banana chips) with and without honey.

But it is not only the banana fruit that is eaten. Its flower and the core of the stem too are very delicious. The red flower petals of the bud at the apex of the spike give a very tasty salad.

Slices of the core of the banana tree stem are indispensable part of Burma’s very popular breakfast dish ‘Mohinga’, which is a thick, peppery, yellow fish soup/gravy made of fish, banana stem, ginger, garlic, lemon grass, oil, chilli powder and turmeric that is eaten with rice-noodles. It is very, very tasty.

Finally, the banana bud is also an architectural design motif, locally called ‘Hnget pyaw bu’ and plays as such an important role in Buddhist architecture. The banana bud is to be seen on tired roofs of pagodas, monasteries and in the spires of stupas.

The next year-round fruits in Burma are ‘citrus fruits’, namely the lemon, lime and the grapefruit/pomelo.

Citrus is the common name for several related evergreen trees and shrubs of the rue family and generally for the fruits they produce. This includes the citron, grapefruit, shaddock/pomelo, lemon, lime, orange, tangerine and bergamot (a pear-shaped orange). Citrus are native to Southeast Asia, belong to the family ‘Rutaceae’ and constitute the genus ‘Citrus’.

The lemon, also of the category ‘year-round’, locally called ‘Than ma yo thee’ develops from blossoms with five petals that are on the upper surface white and on the lower surface pinkish. The trees are cultivated throughout the tropical and subtropical regions and are small and thorny. They grow to about 10 to 20 feet/3 to 6 metres height and are sparsely covered by foliage.

The lemon fruit is of pale yellow colour, elliptically shaped and technically a berry. Its pulp consists of 8 to 10 segments, is of light-yellow colour and contains small, pointed, white seeds. The peel surrounding the fruit contains ‘oil of lemon’, which is used in the manufacturing of perfumes and lemon flavouring. The fruit is picked six to ten times yearly and a mature lemon tree may produce 1.000 to 2.000 fruits in this period.

Usually, the fruit is because of its stringency not eaten but cultivated for its juice that is refreshing and has medicinal properties and flavour. Lemon juice and/or syrup is used widely as a constituent of beverages, as a drink, salad dressing and as flavouring. The pulp of the lemon is used to making concentrated lemon juice that is used medicinal for its high vitamin C and ascorbic acid content.

In Burma, lemon juice is much favoured as present for elderly family members around the full moon day of Thadingyut that falls into September/October. Lemon is an antiseptic and due to its vitamin contents ant scorbutic, which are properties that are conducive to maintaining teeth and bones, the cleansing of body impurities and the prevention of diseases. Lemon is classified as ‘Citris limon’.

Lime is native to Southeast Asia and cultivated chiefly in tropical regions. Its local name is ‘Tham ya thee’ and its fruit develops from white flowers, which have five petals. It is spherical to oval in shape with a thick, yellow-greed rind. The pulpy flesh of the segments is acid, juicy and of yellowish-green colour. The lime tree grows to a height of approx. 15 feet/4.6 metres. Lime juice contains small quantities of vitamin C. Lime is classified as ‘Citrus aurantifolia’ and the Perrine lemon as ‘Citrus limon aurantifolia’.

Now we have reached the end of this leg of our long journey through the flora of Burma and I hope that you have enjoyed it (I have done my best to keep things entertaining) and on our way developed an appetite for the ‘Fruits of Burma’. They are at their best here in Burma where they grow and are waiting for you.

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Driver Safety – Mobile Phone Usage Whilst Driving

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Driving is an extremely dangerous activity and requires our full focus and attention at all times. A single driver error could potentially lead to a catastrophe and loss of lives! Whilst many motorists think they have full control of their vehicle whilst talking on a mobile phone, research suggests that using a mobile phone whilst driving significantly increases the risk of causing a road traffic accident.

Over three quarters of the UK population are mobile phone users, and subsequently there has been a dramatic increase in the number of motorists who use a mobile phone whilst driving. According to research by the Department for Transport, the reaction times for drivers using a mobile phone are 30% worse than for driving under the influence of alcohol at the legal limit. In fact, you are four times more likely to crash when using a mobile phone whilst driving.

Majority of motorists are aware that usage whilst driving is illegal and those drivers who commit this offense will be prosecuted. However, under the new legislation many motorists are unaware that they may still risk prosecution if they are involved in an accident whilst talking on the phone and using a hands-free kit, for failing to have control. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (“RoSPA”) have stated that “research shows that hands-free phones are no safer than hand-held phones. The main danger of being on the phone whilst driving is disruption of concentration”.

According to research carried out by the RoSPA, using a mobile phone whilst driving can affect your driving in many ways. Drivers tend to veer out of their lane whilst on the phone, even if there is no traffic on the road ahead. They also tend to decrease their speed which clearly illustrates that they are having problems concentrating on their driving whilst talking on the phone. Many are simply unaware of the impact this has on their judgment and drivers often tend to react slower to changes, (e.g. the car in front slowing down).

Many motorists argue that talking to a passenger is equally as dangerous as talking on a mobile phone whilst driving. This is not entirely the case, and whilst talking to passengers can be quite distracting, research suggests that a driver would stop or slow down a conversation if they are faced with a hazard in front. Any passenger would also slow down the conversation as they are in a position to appreciate what is happening on the road ahead of them.

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