State Fare, the new-ish restaurant downtown that has swallowed most of Main Street, released a themed beer with Jailbreak Brewing Company called Game of Chairs. This is in honor of the 4th of July parade and Catonsville’s tradition of setting out lawn furniture along the parade route in June. The restaurant sucks but Jailbreak makes good beer. They sold out of all of their sixpacks the day it was released, but I might wander down and see if they’ve got any keg beer left they’ll sell in growlers.

Date posted: July 3, 2019 | Filed under brewing, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

Even though beer is off my menu for another month, I brewed my first batch since October at a friends’ house yesterday. He’s the guy I walked through brewing last fall, and since then he’s made a couple more batches. He’s also the father of one of Finn’s friends, so we wrapped an entire day around the opportunity.

First, we picked up Finn’s friend and made our first visit to the neighborhood pool as new members, picking up our passes and staking out a spot under an umbrella. The girls jumped in the water immediately, while we sat back and got some sun. This pool is one of several in town and feels less clique-ish than the others, and we know a bunch of families who already belong, so there should be some built-in opportunities for Finn to find people to play with. The weather was just right and the sun felt wonderful on my skin.

From there we headed home to rinse off, I loaded the truck up with brewing gear, and we headed over to brew beer and hang out. I had an IPA kit I’ve never tried before and my friend had brewed five gallons of butter toffee-flavored coffee for a stout recipe. We set up and got our boils started while the ladies sat under the umbrella on the patio, and we killed the afternoon talking and laughing while the girls had fun together. It was hard to stay away from actually drinking beer, given that we were brewing it and there were two taps open in the kitchen.

I think that beer will taste better at the end of this diet than it has in a long time.

My batch went together really easily; I used one of my Dad’s aluminum pots to boil in, and I found that a good temperature was difficult to dial in at first. (Aluminum heats up faster than stainless steel). Once I sorted that out it was smooth sailing, and I was able to chill it to 70˚ perfectly. I may try the other pot (a shorter, wider one) next time but I’m happy to have a dedicated brew kettle now, and I’m glad it was my Dad’s.

We stayed out on the patio and talked until 10PM, which was lovely.

Sunday I fired up the chainsaw in anger for the first time and started working my way through the rounds next to the woodpile. Most of the smaller pieces are now split by saw and by maul. I’m working my way up to the biggest ones which will take some time to work through, but once they are slivered into shorter pieces they should split with the maul quickly. I also did some maintenance in the greenhouse, sprayed the roof of the garage with moss killer (just in time for an overnight thunderstorm).

What alarmed me was how tired I was at the end of the day, up until I got some dinner in my stomach. For someone who carb-loads as a standard method of operation, I found myself grabbing fistfuls of nuts—we got cashews back on Sunday—but I guess I was burning through those pretty quick.  I’m trying to tell myself it’s due to diet and not to low blood count (I’d only had some hash browns, a smoothie, some nuts, and a minimal lunch) but I’m not feeling able to do my normal amount of labor, and that bothers me.

Date posted: June 3, 2019 | Filed under brewing, general, house | Leave a Comment »

As of Monday night, the word is that I’m not teaching in the fall. I’d been offered a nighttime class way back in February via email but hadn’t heard anything from the department since then, and two chaser emails went unanswered. Annoyed, I asked the woman in charge yesterday before class and she noncommittally told me their enrollment was full and things looked liked they were locked in. Thanks for the update.

Class has been pretty good the last couple of weeks, so it’s a bittersweet feeling. I still enjoy helping the students grow and learn, and I enjoy the challenge of art direction without telling them exactly what to do, but all of the administrative BS that’s been happening leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth. Oh, and there’s that pile of grading I’ve got to get through too.

* * *

The whole family is on an elimination diet for the next two months in search of any foods that we might be allergic to. For me, it’s more about seeing what my body reacts better to without a gall bladder. This involves going cold turkey on pretty much everything we’re used to eating and (for the adults) doing two days of a “detox” meal plan. What this means is basic homemade smoothies and soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then we go to a limited diet where we can eat some stuff like wild rice, chicken, and some fish. No wheat, processed sugars, caffeine, alcohol, meat, citrus or dairy. Over the next two months, we slowly introduce these things back into our diets every three or four days, checking to see how they affect us.

Jen and I started on Friday and made it through the detox by Sunday; after two days of constant headaches and debilitating joint pain, our bodies had gotten used to the new diet and in my case aren’t missing coffee as much. During chemo and both surgeries I had gone to decaf until early winter, and then I was back on the horse.

We’re now able to eat simple chicken and fish meals until we start introducing other stuff. For me, morning coffee has been the hardest thing to give up, followed by baked products of any kind. I’m a carb fiend so when I need quick energy I go for bread or pastry. Smoothies are pretty good in the morning but they don’t fuel me like a bagel or yogurt & granola do. I also tend to graze during the day, which makes hunger that much harder to ignore; my go-to snacks are things like nuts, which give me a protein boost.

* * *

I was invited to brew some beer this coming weekend, which sounds great, but half of the fun brewing beer is drinking beer while you’re brewing your beer. Jen convinced me to go anyway, so I ordered an IPA kit from Northern Brewer on Sunday. I’ve also got two new (used) pots from Dad’s basement that I brought home with me which could be excellent replacements for the oversized Blichmann I bought used a couple of years ago. These are professional kitchen-grade aluminum, which apparently conducts heat much faster than stainless, but they’re both in good shape. I picked the taller and skinnier of the two and scrubbed it out this weekend. I also came home with a leave-in turkey frying thermometer which will come in handy, and Dad’s turkey burner, which looks similar to the one I’ve got. I figure by the time the 4th of July rolls around I should be able to have this new batch kegged and ready to drink, which is good because the grapefruit IPA is just about kicked.

Date posted: May 1, 2019 | Filed under brewing, teaching | Leave a Comment »

That’s the shower tile as it stands today. Brian is coming back to finish the area down to the floor and around the bench, and then he’s going to grout the walls. Then he’ll lay the floor in and grout that. We have a rough quote on the glass door, which is not cheap, but it will highlight the interior of the shower perfectly as you walk in the door.

* * *

Jen and I spent another weekend almost completely consumed by grading student work. We did get out here and there but it wasn’t at all what I hoped we’d be doing, for the second week in a row. We’ve been trying to line up things for Finn to do while we’re busy but it’s hard to stay focused when there are kids running around—who inevitably come to us to help them find something to do.

I’m at the point where I’m doing twice as much work to teach than I did my first semester; as we’ve gotten more involved in refining the rubric and syllabus and have striven to offer constructive, helpful feedback (going so far as to add a third project into my syllabus to give students an earlier idea of how they’re doing) the workload has quadrupled. Jen and I are conscientious about how we grade our work, so we double-check each other’s grading and notes, which adds more time to the process. And Finn sits idly by, bored out of her mind. Saturday was a mixture of rain and sunshine, and even though it was cold and damp we should have been outside hiking somewhere, not stuck inside.

I turned to Jen Sunday night and told her I’m thinking about quitting teaching. Finn’s life is flashing past me, and I’m not spending enough time with her right now. It’s breaking my heart.

* * *

One thing we did do as a family is go to see a matinee of How to Train Your Dragon 3. The three of us have been hooked on the series since Finn was old enough to appreciate it, and it was one of the many things we shared with the Morrises (I can’t hear the phrase “DEPLOY THE YAK” and not think of Rob and Zachary). The final movie in the series was good. It hit all of the main plot points and character beats as a good movie should; there were callbacks to the original movie that old-school fans appreciated, it definitely hit us in the emotional core (my family is pretty heavily invested in these characters, after two movies and three TV series) and it wrapped things up in a solid way that felt right.

Deploy the yak!

But it was lacking the careful pace of the first movie, which took time to slowly show us the wonder of the relationship between a boy and his dragon, and how that in turn affected his relationships, as an outsider, with his community and his father. The first movie (I rewatched a bit of it last night as I cleaned up my desk) moved slower, took time to develop the stakes, and also let us breathe. It showed us how wonderful the world it created was, asked us to notice the details, and gave us time to appreciate them. I felt like the new movie was following a producer’s note that simply read, “MORE DRAGONS”. There was so much going on in every frame that it felt hard to keep up with what was happening. The only time I really felt like it was slow enough to let me appreciate the story was at the very end, and if I hadn’t been so familiar with the characters from my previous experience I wouldn’t have cared half as much.

* * *

The IPWhatever is kegged and carbed, and I tapped it on Saturday afternoon. In terms of taste, it’s pretty nondescript. Even after I’d dry-hopped it for much longer than I’d intended, the flavor is still pretty bland. But it’s got a hell of a kick–I never did a final gravity reading on it (because, after I’d fucked it up, what’s the point?) but it definitely hits me when I finish a pint of it. And that’s good timing, too, because the grapefruit IPA is just about kicked.

* * *

Our neighbors on the right side, who have been in the house as long as we’ve lived here, recently moved to an assisted living community and put their house up on the market. We were in New York when they held the open house, so we didn’t get to walk through it, but we told a bunch of friends and our brother and sister to check it out. Having walked through the downstairs a few times I didn’t see any huge problems, but everybody we know said it was more work than they were willing to take on. As it turned out there was a bidding war on the first day and it’s going to settlement this Friday. Apparently the buyers have kids a little younger than Finley, and they’ve had several people come by to look at the place, who we can only guess are contractors. I hope they’re normal and we can get along with them.

Date posted: February 26, 2019 | Filed under bathroom, brewing, entertainment, family, friends, house | Leave a Comment »

Here’s where we are with the shower as of today. Brian was in yesterday and made huge progress on the north wall (left side) and begun the back wall up to where the niche starts. It’s really beginning to come together.

We’re getting somewhere between 4-6″ inches of snow right now, so I’m working from home. Jen made some eggnog pancakes and bacon and we all noshed on that for breakfast, and a little after lunchtime we went over to the Elementary School for some sledding. As of 2PM it had stopped snowing, and tomorrow’s forecast is for 50˚ so I doubt there will be anything left when I get home after  work.

I finally kegged the IPWhatever I’ve had sitting in the fermenter for four months; I dry hopped it at least a month ago but never pulled it out into a secondary to filter so I have no idea what to expect in terms of flavor. It could taste like shit or it could be the best beer I’ve ever produced; I’ll never be able to recreate it in any case. It’s currently carbing in the cooler, and should be ready to pour by the weekend.

Date posted: February 20, 2019 | Filed under bathroom, brewing | Leave a Comment »

I’m on the couch sipping a cup of coffee while Finn, who has off from school today, sleeps in upstairs. I have off from work today myself, but it’s only most of the day, as I still have to teach tonight. Last week was canceled due to the ice storm so the class is sort of a week behind (I assigned the second project via email so we’ll see how this whole thing shakes out today). Overall it’s going OK this semester, even though they’ve packed my class with 18 students, the absolute maximum–and frankly, about 4 students too many. They did contact me last week about teaching the branding class again in the fall, which would be ideal; I’m tired of this syllabus and would like to mix things up again.

I did sell the other two radios on Saturday morning, which made me a little sad. I had plans at one time to fix and refinish the Philco tombstone, but the reality of the situation is that we just don’t have anyplace to put it. The buyer apparently got the Telefunken set working and mentioned that he specializes in repairing the electrical bits, so I might get in touch with him later in the spring to fix one of the sets I’ve got here. File that under future nonessential plans.

I’ve been learning a lot about my sleep habits with the Fitbit. Namely, even though I lay my head down on the pillow at 11PM and get up at 6:40, I’m only averaging about six and a half hours of sleep every day. Analyzing the data, it looks like I’m going down easy at first, and then bouncing up and down out of restful sleep starting at about 4AM or so. I’ve always worked better at night: my peak concentration hours start at about 8PM and go to 1AM, but I can’t follow that schedule anymore. I’m going to have to train myself to close my eyes at 10:30 religiously to make up for the loss.

Today’s plan is to get some stuff around the house done. I have wood ready for the refrigerator surround ready and want to put that in place first thing. I’ve got to keg the beer that’s been sitting in the basement for the last four months; god only knows what that will taste like at this point. Then I want to measure the greenhouse for new footers and new plastic, and make a plan to refurbish it for a fresh crop of tomatoes in the spring.

Date posted: February 18, 2019 | Filed under brewing, geek, projects, radios | Leave a Comment »

I got a little bummer news at work this week; one of my long-time employees is leaving us at the end of November for a great opportunity elsewhere in D.C. She’s been with us for three and a half years, and while I always am aware that no job lasts forever, I’m sad to see her go. She was nervous about telling me, but I assured her I was happy for her, and I wanted only the best for her and her career. At the same time, I was able to get another of my designers switched over from contractual to open-ended employment after over a year with our organization (long story), so we had an upbeat Friday after I gave her the good news. We’re planning a farewell sendoff/celebratory dinner the week after Thanksgiving, and hopefully she’ll keep in touch after she gets settled in the new gig.

* * *

As reported here, the Scout meetup went well. What didn’t meet with success was my visit to the alignment shop to install caster correctors; after waiting across the street at a Starbucks for three hours I walked back over and was told the mechanic tried for two hours to get the spindles off my steering knuckles with no success. Rather than break my truck, he backed off and told me he wasn’t charging me anything, which was solid of him. At the meetup I talked to another friend who had the same work done, and he referred me to a older mechanic in Dundalk who loves Internationals and may be able to help me with the situation. I’d much rather drive to Dundalk and work with a greybeard than a 22-year old tweaker at a 4×4 shop, which is what I was faced with before.

* * *

On Saturday evening Jen and I met up with a cancer buddy, a real nice lady who we met in during  radiation treatment at Hopkins. She was in for radiation on her larynx and our schedule overlapped for the whole time I was in treatment, so we got to be waiting room buddies. We’ve all connected on Instagram and she’s recovered stronger than I have. We met up at the Guinness brewery and she gave us big hugs and we sat at the bar and caught up. So far we’re both one year clear and we celebrated with some dinner and laughs. It’s inspiring to see other people kick cancer’s ass and keep moving forward.

* * *

The shelf project is going well; I’ve got fronts and sides glued and tacked on to the MDF. Now I’m sorting out how to hang the hangers on the wall with the most support possible; what I’ve got are T-shaped brackets with two holes on either side, about 4″ apart. That’s enough to anchor one screw into a wall stud, but the other screw–4″ away–will be going into plaster and lathe. I don’t feel comfortable with that yet. I did buy a cheapo Harbor Freight drill press so that I can drill the holes in the shelves straight and level, but the bracket question still needs to be solved. [Sips beer and thinks…]

Speaking of beer, I tapped my session grapefruit IPA on Sunday evening, and…it’s not bad! The hops are definitely stronger than the real recipe but balanced out with the grapefruit, this isn’t a bad beer at all. And it’s great to have something on tap again.

Date posted: November 18, 2018 | Filed under brewing, cancer, house, WRI | Leave a Comment »

Jen is always a tricky woman to buy Christmas presents for. She really doesn’t want for much, at least, not in the way of stuff, so it’s hard to find just the right thing for her every year. I’ve taken to writing down gift ideas in February so that I don’t forget them in November. Two years ago I was super-romantic and bought her a 40 gallon fish tank to replace the yard-sale sourced starter tank she was working with. She was surprised and it went over well, I think. Last year sucked ass but I was conscious enough through pain meds to buy her a couple of items from Emily McDowell, including a tote bag emblazoned with the words “Groceries and Shit” in beautiful hand lettering.

This year she’s asked for several house-related things, including some shelves for the living room. We’ve had a blank wall in there for years, waiting for some mystery artwork to appear, but she’s sick our shrine to emptiness and asked me to make something to mount to the wall to put stuff on. I looked around Amazon and found some invisible hangers for shelving, and Sunday Finn and I hit the Home Depot for supplies. We got a sheet of 1″ MDF and cut it down to 4′ x 4.5″, then glued and double-stacked four sheets for two shelves. Next I’ll be cutting down a 3″ furring strip and mounting it to the front for a slipguard. When the mounts come in I’ll drill holes and set them up staggered on the wall so that there’s some space on the end for something tall.

Another thing she’s asked for is if we can finally finish the woodwork in the office and den. Sometime between the installation of the front porch windows and the big side window, Lowe’s/Home Depot stopped carrying the equivalent cap molding to our windowframes in stock. This is somewhat short-sighted, because I’d wager EVERY HOUSE IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD uses this same cap molding. I’ve looked into setting up a router jig and making it myself, but I’d probably spend several thousand dollars on the jig and I’d honestly much rather have a finished bathroom. I found a woodworking shop over in Glen Burnie who I’ve been told can make this molding for me, and hopefully it won’t be too expensive, because I need 65+ linear feet of it.

* * *

I spent a little time kegging beer last night. My intention was to get the grapefruit IPA in the cooler, but for some inexplicable reason I transferred the session IPA and added grapefruit extract to that instead. So it’s going to be an intense batch of beer. I doubt it’s ruined but now I’ve got to figure out what to do with the base beer for the original grapefruit batch–it’s probably a lot milder than the session, so it won’t be as good on its own. Looks like I might wind up with two grapefruit batches instead of one, unless I decide to dry-hop this batch for flavor.

I spent a good chunk of the weekend grading my first class project. Friday night I reviewed work, looked over their files, and filled out a checklist for each project. Saturday morning I fed that into a spreadsheet which averages the score from the checklist and converts that to a letter grade, and from there I adjusted up or down based on attendance. Saturday evening I filled out most of the comments at the bottom of each grading sheet (because what are grades without feedback?) I built this system after realizing how time-intensive grading is during my first semester, and it’s paid off really well.

Date posted: November 12, 2018 | Filed under brewing, house, porch, teaching | Leave a Comment »

My brewing neighbor texted me from the homebrew store over the weekend. I had him pick up a kit for me and goaded him into setting a date, Tuesday after work, to finally get together and brew. As soon as I made it home I had the Scout packed with my gear and began setting up under the pavilion in his backyard at 7:30; by 10 I was pouring wort into my carboy and cleaning equipment. This batch is a Session IPA, which I’ve done before and enjoyed very much. I was hoping for a saison or maybe a bock for my second keg, but they didn’t have much selection in the premade kit inventory.

Meanwhile, over the weekend I racked the grapefruit IPA into a new carboy and dry-hopped it according to the recipe. I’m going to go a little easier on the grapefruit this time, as it was a tad strong the first time around, but otherwise the recipe is the same.

It will be a shock to have not one, but two beers on tap after a drought of over a year.

Date posted: October 11, 2018 | Filed under brewing | Leave a Comment »

The week after I replaced the hood on the CR-V, it decided to show its appreciation by stranding Jen in Baltimore City, on the way to pick up a friend for dinner. She said the clutch locked up, and she was unable to shift into or out of 2nd gear. She was able to pilot it safely to a side street and call me; I arranged for a tow truck through USAA and they picked it up a little over an hour later. Our mechanic can’t seem to find the problem but did find that the gear oil was very low. There’s no noise coming from the box and two short trips I’ve taken since then have been painless; this could mean nothing or it could mean the clutch is about to shit itself. Only time will tell, I guess. The mechanic hinted that it would be wiser to buy a new car instead of fixing this one, but we have a large amount of loyalty for this car and I’d much rather keep it on the road than absorb a new car payment.

* * *

I’ve had a Flickr Pro account since 2005, when I decided I’d use it for my image hosting CDN. It’s been very useful over the years, even as it’s been bought and sold, and as they’ve added useful features and then taken them away. I’ve found, however, that I’m not using it all that much anymore. The last photos I uploaded there were from the camping trip in June, and everything after that I’ve uploaded directly into WordPress. I’d guess there are a couple thousand photos I’ve linked to over the course of 4,672 posts, and for now that’s fine. I am thinking about the future, however, and at some point I’m going to have to go through each post and update the photo with a local version (as well as fix a bunch where the links have broken). Not today, though.

* * *

My IPA stopped fermenting on Thursday evening, so I have to rack it into a secondary fermenter as well as dry hop it. My neighbor picked up another kit for me yesterday and hopefully we will be brewing this evening, but he hasn’t nailed down a time yet. It feels good to have a batch in the works, and it would be even better to have two in the kegerator by Thanksgiving. It also got me thinking about some of the gear I’d like to update next year–a better burner, a slightly bigger kettle with a temperature gauge, and maybe some upgrades to the kegerator itself. But for now, what I’ve got is working well and I’m just happy to be brewing again.

Meanwhile, the crops in the greenhouse are winding down. There are still many black and red cherry tomatoes on the vines, and there’s a second wave of Indian Stripe and Paul Robesons growing slowly, but the whiteflies have really damaged the plants. There aren’t a lot of green leaves left on anything so I don’t know if any of the remaining fruit will ripen at this point late in the season. I’m going to replace the back wall in an effort to keep the heat inside and start winterizing things.

Date posted: October 7, 2018 | Filed under brewing, cars, garden, greenhouse, honda, photo | Leave a Comment »