Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy New Beer!

So after years of hemming and hawing, I finally decided to make some beer. I am a brewer! But this, like most things, is easier said than done. I’m sure my first batch will leave much to be desired, but at least it is a start. Some things to do next time: 1. Get a bigger kettle so the beer doesn’t boil over. Our little nine-quart stock pot was filled to the brim before we even added heat. Fortunately, we had plenty of room after we had about half a gallon of delicious wort boil over. 2. Wait for the beer to cool before adding yeast. After three hours, including two outside in the snow, the beer was still 79 degrees. I got impatient and pitched the yeast anyways. I’m not sure how this will work out. 3. Don’t go on vacation in the middle of the process. We left Saturday morning and had to transfer the beer into a glass fermenter a day early. I’m not sure how this will affect the beer but it can’t be good.
4. Tip the bucket. I wound up wasting a lot of beer because I didn’t do this when transferring my malty goodness to the glass fermenter. This also left an awful lot of air at the top of the fermenter. Not good. Please forgive me! 5. Clean-up. Sanitation is a big mystery to me. Since you can’t see bacteria that might damage the beer, you never really know if you got rid of them or not. We should bottle shortly after New Years. We’ll do another update then.
Prost!

A Blue Christmas

The three snow days we had let me take care of a lot of things. Besides editing the company year book, I made beer, finished writing Christmas cards and shopping, skied on the golf course, and painted the bathroom. Our home had a fresh coat of paint in every room when we moved in. However, flat latex doesn’t do well in bathrooms, especially when the fan isn’t venting properly. So, we had to kill the mildew with bleach and repaint with a more durable coating. Though home improvement can be a pain, this gave us a fresh start. We could paint the bathroom any of 10,000 colors! Having only had to paint and not pick the paint, this was a bit overwhelming. Thankfully, Kristin helped to narrow the choices down to something manageable. After initially planning on something neutral, like tan or gray, we chose blue at the last minute. It was at this point that Kristin realized her secret calling in life is to name paint colors. One snow day later, we had a brand new bathroom!
Before we left on Saturday, Kristin asked me how much of all this we could have accomplished without snow days. Well, none of it.
Merry Christmas!

Fruitcake

Take a gander at this fruitcake. We "won" this at our family white elephant gift exchange Dec. 13. The giver of the two pounds of holiday cheer had received it the previous night as 3/4 of a fruitcake, took a few bites, and then re-gifted it. Kristin was so excited she (accidentally?) dropped the cake on the floor. Take a good look. This may or may not turn up at next year's gift exchange. Mmm!

Surprise, Part II

Even though I had to spend the majority of my birthday with a sundry group of high school juniors, it was quite a good day. A plethora of well wishes awaited me via phone and Internet, and Jon and I went out to dinner at an Argentinean steak house. I was totally satisfied with my birthday (aka, the “best day of the year”) and was okay with the fact that I didn’t really have a “birthday weekend” this year. December 3rd fell on a Wednesday and we already had a variety of plans for the weekend, including celebrating Jon’s mother’s birthday. So, when we set off on the following Friday for the retirement party of one of Jon’s co-workers, I actually thought that’s where we were going. However, Jon had something else in mind. When we arrived at the restaurant, I quickly scanned the room and didn’t see anyone that worked with Jon. Closer scrutiny revealed our dear friends seated at a table in the corner. It took me a moment to realize that there was no retirement party, that Jon had arranged this little birthday party for me. And I was so excited that I immediately slugged him in the arm. Ecstatic that Jon had pulled one over on me, we changed gears the following day and prepared to surprise Jon’s mom for her birthday. There were actually two events planned, so rather than drive the two hours back home, we decided to stay with Jon’s good friend (ironically the same friend I used in his birthday surprise excuse) that Saturday night. Since Jon is literally a human compass, I didn’t think twice when he exited the highway to “cut through” a quaint little town on the Snohomish River. I wasn’t even suspicious when we made a number of turns through the town as Jon pretended to look for a shortcut to our destination. It wasn’t until he stopped the car in front of a bed and breakfast that I realized that he had planned the ultimate surprise. When we checked in at the front desk, the proprietor alluded to the fact that there was more to the surprise upstairs. A dozen red roses were sitting on the dresser next to a chilling bottle of apple cider, and balloons were tied to the door handle. Flower petals and chocolates were scattered on the bed. I was so moved that I almost cried; instead, I slugged Jon in the arm. Like the proprietor said, I really do have the most thoughtful husband. Barf.

I’ve got half a mind to…

Because running a half marathon wasn’t torment enough, we decided to do it again! This time, it was the Seattle Half Marathon Nov. 30. We made a weekend out of it with some friends, carb-loading on fish sandwiches and ravioli at the 74th St. Ale House and exploring the night scene of the University District, staying out until the ridiculous hour of 10 p.m.! (Gasp!) The run started early, and we were treated to some low hanging fog. The temperature was warm for late November and I had to take my long sleeve shirt off during the run. We got started at 7:30 a.m. on a grand tour of the city. We first ran through downtown via 5th Ave., then through the express lanes on I-90, a sight not often seen by pedestrians. At the east portal, we turned north and ran along the shoreline of Lake Washington. The lake was eerily calm, and the fog silenced the noise from the Interstate. It was an incredible sight! But the serenity of the lake was quickly left behind as we climbed the 200’ hill on Madison St. Then, it was back into the woods, as we ran through the Arboretum, then Interlaken Blvd. I had forgotten that Seattle has so much green space so close to downtown! The final stretch took us west through the Cascade neighborhood, owned in large part by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. As long as the Seahawks keep winning, we will get along, Mr. Allen.

We finished back where we started, at the Seattle Center. I beat my previous ½ marathon time by two minutes, finishing in 1:49:07. Kristin nearly matched her previous personal best, despite the challenging course. Overall, the run was a blast, but I think we will take the winter off from running. Now is time to ski!

Thanksgiving

After years of traveling to far off places for Thanksgiving, we finally got the opportunity to host this year. We invited my mother and sisters and all their husbands over to our home. It wound up being a small crowd of six total, but it was fun. We even had a drop-in. Guest number seven was one of my lieutenants, who joined us for dinner, but quickly left for another event somewhere else. This is not the first time I have hosted Thanksgiving. Years ago in a place far from here (Bamberg, Germany, 2005), I hosted Thanksgiving for 20 lieutenants and student teachers. I had some help then, with Luke (of “Bo Brothers by the Bottle” fame: http://bobrothersbythebottle.blogspot.com/ ) taking care of the turkey, Joe handling the Gl├╝hwein, and we providing the location. The dinner concluded with a rousing game of spoons, singing, and Gary spilling wine all over my hardwood floors. This Thanksgiving was far tamer. However, this was the first time Kristin and I hosted as a couple, which made us feel much more grown-up than we actually are. For the first time, we were in charge of shopping for a turkey (Kristin is still talking about the 27-cents-a-pound bargain she found), cooking said turkey, and preparing most of the fixings. Kristin even baked a pie from scratch (mostly). Despite the potential stresses, which included coating our entire countertop with a thick layer of turkey grease while making ravy, we had a blast. Our little home was just the right size for the group we had. After dinner, we filled up on apple and pumpkin pies, then collectively went into a food coma. Ahh…

Surprise, Part I

It’s a good thing that both of us like surprises…because we also like to surprise one another. And what better occasion for a surprise than a birthday?!? Jon’s birthday falls at the end of October, but plans for his birthday surprise were put into action in mid-July. In the back of my mind, I had been toying with the idea of surprising Jon with Washington Husky football tickets, figuring that when his birthday grew closer, I would look into the possibility. However, well before the season began (when there was still hope), a dear friend who lives in South Bend, Ind., called to inform me that Notre Dame was playing in Seattle on October 25th.
This is significant for two reasons: first, this friend and her husband, a graduate student at Notre Dame (and also the other teacher/Army officer couple from Bamberg days), are avid football fans. Second, the game was scheduled the day after Jon’s birthday. For that reason, I decided to not tell him that our friends were considering flying out for the game and tucked away the information as a birthday surprise. Several months went by before the planning began in earnest. Numerous surreptitious phone calls and e-mails were relayed and other friends were included in the secret. My middle-school acting career proved to be excellent training for all the lies I was telling. It’s probably not a good thing that they came so easily to me. My motives were pure, though, so I didn’t really feel guilty. I did feel nervous, however. Coming up with the idea was easy enough, but making plans in a city that Jon is a million times more familiar with proved to be much more difficult. I certainly could not have done it without the help of friends. When the day commemorating the anniversary of Jon’s birth arrived, I was ready. I told him that we were going out to dinner to meet his good friend from high school (and best man) and off we went. Jon was less than impressed with my restaurant selection, but he was a good sport about it. I knew he wouldn’t be all that excited about it, but it was crucial to the plan because it was located near the airport. As we impatiently waited for Jon’s friend (who I knew would never arrive because he was sick), our out-of-town guests sneaked up behind Jon and gave him the ultimate birthday surprise. I couldn’t contain the rest of the surprise any longer as we explained the reason for our friends’ arrival: Husky Football. If only the game was as enjoyable as the rest of the weekend. Despite the shellacking the Huskies received on behalf of the Fighting Irish (favorite chant: “Take Ty back!”), we had fun entertaining our friends as Jon effortlessly slid into “Seattle Tour Guide” mode. Hilarity ensued.

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