January 31, 2008
My brother Jeff is about 11 years older than I am. Growing up, between the age difference and the fact that he’s my father’s son from a previous marriage, we never really spent time together back in those days. He went off to college when I was still extremely young, and then really didn’t know each other until I got into college and beyond.
It’s somewhat of a shame, as we both have very similar outlooks on life (in beliefs/values, in politics, and in what we think is wrong with California), and we’ve grown to get along like, well, brothers. Then, we’ve both gotten married, and our wives are thick as thieves! He’s got a son nearly two years old, and we’ve got Wyatt, and yet because we live in SoCal and they live in Texas, we nearly never see each other.
But all that’s about to change. Jeff is in the Marines, and he knew his potential next station would put him in either Hawaii or San Diego (with Okinawa as a third choice). We found out last night that they’re moving to San Diego!
So we’re pretty excited. Since we live in the very south end of Orange County, it’s likely that we’ll only be about an hour or so from each other, regardless of where in the San Diego area they settle. I can see our wives really getting together quite a bit, and for Wyatt to have little Jack around to play with will be a lot of fun. We even got Jeff a homebrewing kit for Christmas, and maybe he’ll join in some of our brewing operation here locally.
All in all, for someone who absolutely hated the idea of moving back to California from Georgia, it’s turning out well. I’m in a great job, have a wonderful baby, have a great wife (and having her family close by is extremely helpful), and now some of my own family is making their way out here. All I need now is to wait for the housing market to tank sufficiently enough to buy a condo, and I think it’ll come together.
Parenting, I’ve found, is not easy. Especially when it comes to getting an infant to sleep. The wife and I had Wyatt sleeping in our bed with us, but he was constantly keeping my wife awake at night, every hour on the hour, for feeding. It wasn’t impacting me all that much, but my wife was starting to go nuts.
Well, we’ve changed two things. First, we started feeding Wyatt real food (applesauce, pears, bananas) at night, and giving him a full belly goes a long way to helping him sleep. Second, we decided to go for the “tough love” approach, and decided he’s old enough to put him in his crib at night regardless of the crying. Well, it’s worked. We started this just a few days ago, and he now sleeps almost the entire night (with maybe one feeding about 4-5 AM if he gets hungry). The wife is still paranoid about him, so she hasn’t quite started sleeping well, but she’s getting there.
So we’ve got a happy, healthy baby, and now he even sleeps well! I get to feed him, which is a way to bond that I didn’t have when he was exclusively on the milk. And now that we’re getting a little bit more time each evening for my wife and I to reconnect, we can finally be a married couple again.
The wife and I had our 2-week weigh-ins with Weight Watchers. She’s lost nearly 10 pounds, and I’ve lost 10.6 pounds. I’d say that’s a pretty successful two week!
So I’m well on my way to meeting my goal: to lose weight so quickly that people think I’ve got a disease!
For me, it hasn’t been as hard as I thought. To get as many points a day as I do, I usually finish the day with points left over. If I avoid cheese and mayo, I can power down a footlong Subway roast beef sub and it’s less than 30% of my points for the day. That’s pretty filling.
I think I might have even done a little better over those first two weeks, but I did some business traveling in the middle there, which always finds me eating crappy airport food and drinking beer in airport bars, which is not the easiest way to get through this. But to lose more than 10 pounds in two weeks, I’m pretty proud of that.
January 27, 2008
Years ago, as I was well into the obsession of motorcycling, I read this long story about one man’s motorcycle trip from northern California through Alaska and some of the northern reaches of Canada. I fell in love with the adventure that Alaska represents. While the motorcycle obsession has grown somewhat dormant, the call of Alaska has only grown.
I find myself watching whatever I can get recorded on the DVR about Alaska. I watched a special this morning about a guy who was taking a driving tour up the Dalton highway to a tiny oil town on the Arctic Ocean called Deadhorse, AK. The town has barely a hotel, a place that makes a tent look appetizing. Yet I found myself thinking about just how much fun it would be to go there.
Part of me wants to make a trip– as the author of my linked story does– on a motorcycle. I’ve often suggested to my wife that when Wyatt is in college, I’m going to buy a couple of bikes to ride up there with him for a month or two. But part of me doesn’t want to wait. I was looking at airfare this evening for this summer: my 30th birthday. I’m again watching TV, “1,000 Places To See Before You Die”, and thinking that there are 1,000 places in Alaska I want to see before I pass on.
But something about me doesn’t understand the obsession. Why do I love Alaska, a place that I’ve never even been, and why do I find it calling me? It’s more than simply a desire to go see a new place; I’ve got several places I’d love to see. But Alaska is the only place I can think of that I feel drawn to. There’s something about a true “frontier” that just tugs at my heartstrings.
So, dear readers, I’m asking for your psychoanalysis for a moment. Do any of you harbor this desire? Do any of you understand what it means? We all have dreams for ourselves in life. I want to write a book, I want to open a brewery, and I want to raise a wonderful son who is capable of being happy and fulfilling all his own dreams. Those dreams seem rational and useful, the sort of things that make a person feel like they’ve accomplished something. Why, then, is a tremendous natural sight like Alaska calling me to do nothing more than experience its wonder?
January 17, 2008
So, the wife and I decided to join Weight Watchers, as we’re both far beyond our ideals. I’d like to lose 35-45 pounds (I’m at 265 now), and I’m not sure how much she wants to lose (I’ve never asked her what she weighs– I’m not an idiot, after all!) But we both need to make some improvements in eating habits and lifestyle, and weight watchers seems like a good way to keep ahead of the curve here.
But I saw the “target” that they’ve defined for me, and I think it’s a bunch of bullshit. I’m 6′5″ and I come from a long line of Eastern European descent… A land where the men are men and the women are too. Yet they want to see me shrink down to the 190-210 lb range.
I’ve posted before about how BMI is a crock for people of my body type, and I think this is no exception. I’d love to be under 220 lbs at my current level of muscle mass, and if I were to actually exercise regularly, my body could easily carry more weight than that and still be quite healthy and within optimal weight. But under 210? I don’t think I could even get there at this point.
I think back to where I was at the age of 18, getting out of high school. At the time, I had been studying martial arts for 6 years, training several days a week. I was in the best shape of my life, and even then, an 18-year-old does not have the muscle development of a real “adult”, that usually comes over the next 3-6 years. I was at my leanest and strongest I’ve probably ever been, and at 18 years old I weighed 225 lbs.
I actually bucked the trend of the “freshman 15″ in college. I lost weight throughout college, despite eating quite a bit and drinking a lot of beer, because I was losing muscle mass. When I left college, I was also very skinny, and yet hovered in the 210-215 lb range. I can’t imagine living under 210 lbs at this point. I’m overweight, but I’m not a fat man, and I’m not sure I could drop to under 210 lbs at my current muscle mass level without being at an absurdly low body fat percentage.
So I’m going to see how I can do with this whole Weight Watchers thing. My soft goal is to get under 230, and when I make it there, I’ll try to push for the 220 mark. But I don’t intend to attempt to get under 210. Once I hit 220, I’d like to start rebuilding that muscle mass and get to a proper weight on my frame.
I did begin a new post category though, and I’ll be periodically tracking my progress.
January 16, 2008
My wife, despite past experience, drives a European automobile. It’s nearing the end of its warranty, so it’s getting about time to sell it. In fact, the check-engine light went on a few days ago, so we were planning on taking it in for service.
Well, I was at a homebrew club meeting last night, and my wife was on her way back home from her parents’ house. She called me to inform me that the temperature gauge was going up!
Not a good thing. We had her last POS Euro car overheat on us driving from Vegas to LA one year (strangely, just after the warranty expired), and it cost us a horrendous amount of money. So when I heard the car was overheating, I was a bit concerned.
Then she told me it had stabilized, and it only went up while she was accelerating. Given that it was stable, I told her to keep an eye on it, and if she saw it rise, to open the windows and crank the heat. It was a bit chilly, so she could probably have gotten away with that without getting too uncomfortable.
For the rest of the homebrew meeting, I was a bit worried, but I didn’t hear from her again. So I called her when I left to tell her I was on my way home, and check on it.
Me: “How’s the car?”
Wife: “It’s okay, it actually wasn’t a problem.”
Me: “Really? How so?”
Wife: “I think I was looking at the wrong thing.”
Then it hit me… I know how the dash is aligned, and put two and two together (it only occurred when she was accelerating)…
Me: “You were looking at the tachometer, weren’t you?”
Wife: “Uhh, yeah… I probably shouldn’t tell you about these things, huh?”
And I laughed so hard I’m surprised I didn’t run off the side of the road…
January 12, 2008
He’s pretty popular…
And that’s just the start of it!
Yep… He’s just loving it… Can’t say I blame him!
January 8, 2008
Jonathan, in my post about my new brewing toys, asked for a review of the refractometer once we used it for the first brew session. Overall, I would say that having both toys made the brew day an unqualified success.
First, of least interest to anyone, is the scale. Given that we don’t have a grain mill, it wasn’t used for measuring grain. The recipe was generated with the intent of using even 1-lb increments of grain, so we ordered what we needed and didn’t have to measure. However, it was important for hops. The recipe for the stout called for 0.5 oz of Magnum and 1 oz of East Kent Goldings, two hops that we only had available in 2 oz bags. In addition, I realized that the alpha acid content of the Magnum was lower than what my brewing software expected, and I suddenly had to change the weight ot 0.6 oz. Also because the alpha acid was lower on the amber’s hops than expected, I added 0.5 oz of Magnum to that recipe in order to bring it into the correct range. These are things that I could only do with a scale, so it came in handy.
Even more useful, though, was the refractometer. I was able to keep tabs on my gravity during the sparge and boil, in order to ensure that I was in the range I wanted to be. Jonathan, in an email, asked if I thought it would make “better” brew. I said no, not necessarily, but it would allow me to make my brew more consistently and monitor the process while I still had a chance to change it. The amber nearly hit our targets exactly, without any special help, so I doubt the refractometer made any difference whatsoever on that batch. However, the Milk Stout started life slightly low in gravity, so I knew that it would be helpful to extend the boil, even though it might reduce my total volume of beer, in order to hit my targets. I boiled a good 40 minutes to drop volume before I started counting down the intended 1 hour of boil time. Thus, I probably got a bit of a low yield on the batch, but it was a lot closer to the intended original gravity.
As with anything, the first time using a refractometer had a few learning steps, but it is still about as easy-to-use as a hydrometer, and given that you can sample liquids at any temp, much more useful. I was able to purchase it quite cheap on eBay, so there’s really *NO* reason for an all-grain brewer not to own one.
Does a refractometer improve your beer? No, understanding brewing is what makes better beer. However, a refractometer allows you to understand where you beer is at any point in the process, and thus can allow a competent brewer to adjust to changing conditions on the fly. It’s not a substitute for having a full understanding of the process, but it’s a tool that gives you greater ability to change the process before making a mistake.
January 7, 2008
I was listening to an interview with Emo Philips, a rather bizarre comedian… He was asked if, as a comedian, he enjoyed being on the road a lot:
“I do enjoy being on the road. Of course, I don’t have a wife and kids, so I don’t get the full benefit of it.”
Given that I am on the road a fair amount in my new job, I busted right out laughing when I heard that one!
January 4, 2008
Ahh, what would a hobby be if not a money sink? Thus, it was time to pick up some new brewing toys!
The first was actually a Christmas gift from my wife. Over time, I’ve had to buy ingredients in small, even-measurement weights, and then in the cases where I must add 1/3 or 1/2 of the package at a time, could only eyeball it.
So my wife bought me a scale.
This is the first step towards buying bulk ingredients, which is an incredible money-saver. In fact, I’d already be able to purchase hops in bulk, although the current hop shortage makes that impossible. The next step, of course, will be a grain mill, so that I can buy 55-lb sacks of base malt, store and crush it myself as needed, dropping the malt price from about $1.40-$2 per pound to $0.60-$1.10.
The second toy is something that I’ve been needing for a while, more due to my own laziness than anything else.
When brewing (specifically all-grain brewing), it is a good idea to check things like sparge outflow gravity, wort gravity, etc, at various times to make sure the process is occurring as planned. Specifically, one of the main points is to check your OG (original gravity) after the boil, to ensure that the finished wort has the expected amount of sugar. But that’s just the start. Checking sparge outflow gravity ensures you’re getting an even flow of water through the grain bed to rinse your grain, and checking gravity during the boil can ensure that you end at your target OG, even if it means a higher or lower final volume.
With conventional homebrewing tools (a hydrometer), you can only check the gravity of cooled wort/beer. Thus, you can check the original gravity after the wort is cooled and ready to go into the fermenter, and you can check the gravity of the liquid during fermentation. However, you cannot do any of the more advanced checks I mention above. And because I’m lazy, and a hydrometer is more work than my new toy, I haven’t even been doing any of the basic checks lately.
That caused a problem when I tasted the most recent IPA. I believe I had channeling in my grain bed, resulting in a low-efficiency sparge. As such, my original gravity was low, and I think the final beer might be low in alcohol content (and thus too bitter). Of course, I didn’t bother to check any of the gravities, so that’s just my assumption.
Now it’s not going to be a problem, as I purchased a refractometer.
A refractometer measures sugar in liquid, so it will be able to tell me my gravity during the sparge/boil, as well as the OG (it can get close with the gravities during fermentation, but the alcohol throws off the results a bit). It uses a small pipette to remove the sample, so it doesn’t use (potentially waste) as much liquid as taking a hydrometer reading. And its design allows you to measure the gravity of hot liquids, which a (standard) hydrometer simply cannot do, as they’re typically calibrated for 60 or 68 deg F.
The plan is to brew 5 gallons of Milk Stout (new recipe) this Sunday, and 10 gallons of an Amber Ale that we’ve already brewed once and enjoyed. It will be even more fun with these new toys
The Unrepentant Individual linked with Per Request - Equipment Test Report
January 1, 2008
First, a few days before Christmas, we finally bottled some beer! 20 gallons went into bottles – 5 gallons of Belgian Lighthouse Ale, 5 gallons of a Rye Pale Ale, and 10 gallons of IPA. I’ll have tasting notes soon, but first let me tell you how much more relieved I am to have all these beers (well, only the row of cases next to me, the other row is my brother-in-law’s) sitting in my hall closet rather than sitting in fermenters.
I’ll have tasting notes on the RyePA and IPA soon. The rye so far tastes great, but the IPA isn’t quite what I expected, and thus I’m still trying to figure out why.
After Christmas, I went on a nice little family vacation with my wife and Wyatt, and my in-laws. We went up to Napa, and I managed to convince them to make a stop at the Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa during the day that we toured Sonoma County.
This actually was a favorite stop for a few people, who have more “simple” taste in food, and weren’t huge fans of the gourmet dinners we had in the evening. The food was excellent. I had a Calzone, my father-in-law had a meatball sandwich, and I think everyone else had pizza. Everyone walked away satisfied. And I stumbled away with a nice buzz, because I finished off the below:
That’s two ounce tasters of 11 different Russian River beers. Six of these are american styles, and five are Belgian. For one of the top breweries in the USA, it did not disappoint me. I have only one nit-pick about any of their brews, and it is that their Blonde ale doesn’t seem to be anything approaching the BJCP style of an American Blonde Ale. It was over-hopped for a Blonde. In all honesty, I think there may have been a problem with a single, because they advertise the beer as 20 IBU, and it seems to be much higher than that.
Everything else, though, was amazing. I was the only person at the table who enjoyed the sour beers, but then I was the only one who had ever been exposed to such a creation. And I tried to order a growler of Perdition, their “Biere de Sonoma”, but they were out of growlers. So I picked up a couple bottles of Salvation, their Belgian Strong Dark Ale.
I’ll pass along more pictures of the vacation & Wyatt, more tasting notes of the bottled beer, and I’m going to try to increase my posting frequency, as I’ve neglected blogging since Wyatt was born.