Home brew

One of my Christmas gifts (thanks to my father-in-law) was a home-brew kit for making beer. I’ve always wanted to learn how to home-brew but have been afraid to venture down this path since there’s a bit of a learning curve involved. Fortunately, my neighbor, Matt, who converted his garage into a bit of a brewery, took me to the home-brew supply store and showed me what I needed to purchase to get into the game. Then we spent the next 4 hours in my kitchen, going through the process of cooking up a batch of what will become porter.

Matt used to be the science teacher at the middle-school my kids attended. Kait, home for the holidays, thought it was pretty cool that her former science teacher was brewing in our kitchen, putting all that scientific chemistry knowledge to work.

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The end result: 6.5 gallons of what will be beer.
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Of warmth and snow

Yesterday, the temps reached into the 40s, a welcome reprieve from weeks of cold. A warm breeze from the southwest provided an opportunity to ride the road bike, snow melting on the shoulder of the bike path.

Today, it’s cold again. The roads are mostly dry, but the occasional patch of ice places the road bike back into the garage, waiting for another warm winter day.

Through the woods

My family went up to Watersmeet, Michigan for the week before Christmas. We had a great time renting a cabin, making food, cross-country skiing and canoeing. We also went for a hike around Clark Lake in a snow storm. It was tough going, simply because we had to hike through deep snow. The trees did keep most of the snow off the trail; yet it was still difficult to figure out where the trail was.

Fortunately, the trail was marked with blue rectangles painted on the trees. One would appear about every thirty feet or so. When we couldn’t figure out where the trail was heading, due to the snow fall, we’d look for the next patch of blue bark.

I thought about how the blue markings are a good metaphor for finding one’s way in one’s life. Sometimes, you can’t make out where the trail is, so you have to look for other indicators to determine which direction you’re heading. Sometimes my mountain bike rides provide such markers for me; at other times, it’s found in the poetry of Wang Wei. We all have different ways of navigating our lives. It’s good to know what they are, so we don’t get lost when the snow storms.

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My son, Evan, following the path.

Office coffee

It’s -9 degrees outside in downtown Milwaukee, where the university I teach at is located. Because it’s a downtown campus, I walk from building to building to teach different classes. To stay warm, I have my fluffy down jacket, several hats, cycling lobster gloves, big boots, and a good thermos of hot coffee.

I was 4 years old when I had my first cup of coffee. My Grandma made it for me; when she gave me the mug (which was probably full of hot milk with just a touch of coffee), she told me that coffee’s good for you–she said It puts hair on your chest.

I consumed coffee through my adolescence, growing up in Seattle, maturing as the coffee culture developed. When we moved to Milwaukee, we found Colectivo, my favorite local coffee roaster. They have a Blue Heeler roast that is out of this world, a combination of “…regular and dark-roasted Sumatra Highlands – Organic Fair Trade to create a blend worthy of Mina’s namesake. It features a floral, earthy aroma with a full body and a spicy, smoky flavor.

When I get to my office, I use an AeroPress to make a cup of brew. If you’re looking for a last-minute Christmas gift for that special someone, consider an AeroPress. They are amaaaaazing.

So, if it’s below freezing cold, and you have to walk outside to teach another class, I suggest you have some AeroPressed Blue Heeler with you. It will keep you warm, and, it will perk you up for your next class discussion.

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My favorite portable thermos.

The knee and the needles

One of the reasons why I love my wife so much is that she’s a learner. Sometimes it’s her culinary talents that get expanded, when she finds a new recipe to attempt. Other times it’s her explorations into a balanced and centered mindset. But she’s also a learner when it comes to her career–veterinary medicine. You have to be a learner when it comes to being a veterinarian, because so much of the science of her discipline changes in real-time.

She’s currently getting certified in acupuncture at The Chi Institute of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine. Just last weekend, she flew to Florida and passed her practical and written exams! I’m very proud of her, because studying for these exams was difficult. I mean, who wants to take an exam? That’s no fun, but the test did enable her to prove her mastery of veterinary acupuncture.

There is a side benefit. She can practice on me as well as on our pets. My knee was sore this morning from all the fat bike riding I’ve been up to lately. I want to ride the fat bike into work today, so Sue did some acupuncture to help reduce the inflammation. It’s ‘non-traditional” medicine for those of us reared in the west, but boy does it ever work.

Time to go ride my bike.

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My cat, Moe Moe, is wondering what that thing is sticking out of my knee.

A jar of happiness

My wife makes bone broth. She puts a bunch of bones and vegetables in the slow-cooker and lets it brew for a couple of days. The broth ends up serving as the base for some rather tasty meals such as french onion soup or steak stew.

That’s how I think about it, the end result being tasty meals. But Sue’s into it for its nutritional value. If you think about it, our ancestors used to eat the entire animal–from tip to toe. And as a result, our bodies rely on the nutrition offered by the entire animal. Nowadays, those of us who do eat meat typically consume select muscle groups, not the entire animal. Granted, the bones of an animal are not the entire animal, but there is a bunch of nutritional whatnot going on in bones that the vast majority of us don’t consume.

That is, unless, you consume bone broth. You can buy bone broth in the store, but like most things in life, it’s better if you make it at home.

Sue likes to put words on the jars of broth: peace, calming, happiness. Today’s jar of broth sports the happiness label. The idea is that the broth will bring you happiness if it’s intended to do so. And I must admit, a big pot of french onion soup on a cold December evening makes me happy.

Monday morning commute

For 8 years, I worked in high-tech as a project manager. Over the span of those years, I had 6 different employers. I’d work a job until I didn’t like it anymore, and I’d find another job. You would think that I’d figure it out–that it wasn’t the employer I didn’t like but the work. I couldn’t for some reason. Not until one Monday morning, when I found myself driving to work as slowly as possible because I didn’t want to arrive.

I thought about that long drive to work this Monday morning as I was riding my bike to work down the Oak Leaf Trail. The sun was just coming up, the path had been recently plowed, and my fat bike was humming right along. It was one of the best commutes to work I’ve ever experienced.

It helps that I now enjoy my job–teaching at the university. The whole way into work, all I could think about was what I was going to do today, how I was going to teach, how to best adjust the lesson plan.

I tell my students to “follow your bliss,” an idea I gleaned from Joseph Campbell. The hard part of this is figuring out what your bliss is, and once that’s determined, giving yourself permission to follow it. I found my bliss by going back to the classroom, and doing so on a fat bike.

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A few blocks from work, I stopped to watch the sun rise over Lake Michigan. 

First snow

A long time ago, I used to read and write poetry. During my undergraduate degree in English, through the M.F.A. in Creative Writing, and into the early years of the Ph.D., I would read and write poetry on a daily basis. But the pursuit of the Ph.D. changed that; my reading shifted from poetry to academic theory, and as a result my view of the world took a dramatic shift.

I’ve often thought about getting back into poetry. I’m glad that I write this blog and that I’m working on books of creative non-fiction. These mediums are enjoyable, probably because there’s an audience for them. I can look at the statistics for this blog to see how many people read it, and I can email my publisher to find out how many people are buying the book online. If I were to write poetry again, it would pretty much be for an audience of one: me. And that would probably be enough.

Those old poems were often about outdoor landscapes. There were a ton of poems about snow and how snow silences landscape. I thought of those poems this morning when I went outside and took a photo of the Christmas lights on our house. The moment was worthy of a poem.

Deactivating

I had coffee with my friend Jackie this morning. We hadn’t seen each other for a while, so it was good to catch up. I told her about how my kids are doing, the career, the pursuit of a simplified life, and she told me about her son Brawn, her new role as a CASA… just good conversation. Jackie also told me that she deactivated her Facebook account and that it was a liberating experience. Less information addiction, less fragmented data, less non-news.

I could tell that it was a good decision on her part. She looked rested, centered, ready to take on what the day had to offer, and I sensed that her break from social media was part of it. So I said “Jackie, show me how to deactivate my Facebook,” and she did, and I am now deactivated.

It will be interesting to see how this changes things. I’m in the middle of 3 books; maybe I’ll finish reading them. And maybe I’ll read the other 4 books I have sitting on my reading table. Maybe I’ll be better informed since I’ll have to look harder for data; maybe it’s good to pursue information instead of having it push to me. Maybe I’ll have more time for writing and thinking, the things I’ve always enjoyed, the activities that have had to compete with social media.

I remember what life was like before I had a Facebook account. I’m glad that I deactivated while that memory is still present.

The office Buddha

I have a friend, Jay, who lives in Hong Kong. About twenty or so years ago, Jay sent me a letter (back when sending letters was a thing), letting me know he was going to visit North America. He wanted to know if we could rendezvous; he also asked if there was anything he could bring from China as a gift. I said he could bring a Buddha statue since I didn’t have one. So that’s what Jay did, because Jay is a good friend.

I keep the Buddha statue in my office at work, right in front of a Chinese painting that my daughter, Kait, brought back with her when she studied in Shanghai. Every once in a while, I’ll stop and appreciate the Buddha, with his backdrop of Chinese landscape. He brings an element of serenity to the office, which is often needed when I get worked up about course-loads, assignments to grade, texts to read, etc.

It’s good to have serene symbols such as this statue. Good to have the Buddha in my life.