Gone Fishin'


I'm not actively blogging here anymore. But if you got here because you were searching for something about bikes, you might want to check out my latest project, Vermont Goldsprints. In summer of 2014, I bought a used goldsprints racing setup and have made it a mission to get more bikes in more people's faces by putting on fun races in unexpected places. Come join me!


Merry Christmas

Our tree in 2009. I'll get a shot of the 2010 tree before it dries up and falls to dust on the carpet.

Merry Christmas, everybody.


Brewing Journal: Batch #7, Entry #3

Batch #7- fermentation has slowed although there is still a large krausen on the beer. I replaced the blow-off tube and jar of sanitizer with a sanitized airlock and immediately observed bubbles in the airlock, indicating a good seal. 


Brewing Journal: Batch #7, Entry #2

Northern Brewer Black IPA (extract kit with specialty grains. Heated 2.5 gallons of the spring water to 170 degrees and steeped specialty grains (.25 lbs dehusked Carafa III, .25 lbs Chocolate Malt, .5 lbs Briess Caramel 80) for 20 minutes. At the start of the boil, I added what was left of the three pound container of dark liquid malt (some went into the starter) and one ounce of Summit hop pellets, per instructions. At 45 minutes in, the 6 pounds of dark malt syrup and one ounce of Simcoe hops went in.  Then an ounce of Centennial hop pellets at 10 minutes, one ounce of Cascade pellets at 5 minutes, one ounce of Amarillo hop pellets and one pound of corn sugar at the completion of the boil. Chilling was accomplished in an ice water bath in my sink. Holy hop sludge! I had to clean my strainer out twice as I got the wort into the fermenter.  I measured the original gravity at 1.075 and pitched the yeast starter.  I observed active fermentation (bubbling blow-off tube) within three hours, which is a much better (shorter) lag time than I saw with the bourbon barrel porter. I'm hoping the combination of pitching a big yeast starter and the pound of corn sugar will help this dry out significantly more than the porter did. 


Brewing Journal: Batch #7, Entry #1

Batch #7, Northern Brewer Black IPA. This is a high-gravity beer, and I want to give the yeast a fighting chance to work through the projected 1.078 original gravity.  I used a cup and a half of the supplied dark liquid malt extract in 2.6 quarts of filtered water to make a yeast starter.  I boiled the water and malt for a full 20 minutes and cooled the pot in a sinkful of ice water.  I pitched the fully-inflated Wyeast 1422 American Ale II yeast "smack pack" into the starter.  I arrived at the malt and water amounts by using mrmalty.com, an online yeast propagation calculator. 


A Better IKEA Bike

One of the pieces of information that has come to light as the IKEA bike giveaway story (other than this lovely video footage of proud Cincinnati store managers riding the giveaway bikes out on to the floor, forks proudly and prominently installed backwards!)  has spun out is that this isn't the first time they have done this. In 2006, they gave all 9,000 of their UK employees a folding bike:

That bike makes about a million percent more sense than this years' giveaway bike. Especially if the intent is to get people riding to work:
  • It has a chain guard, which keeps grease off your pants.
  • Fenders- so riding on wet streets won't result in the dreaded "stripe."
  • Logical frame configuration- unlike this years' bike, there are no extraneous frame members, no faux suspension, etc. 
  • Rear rack- kind of a nice thing when you actually want to take stuff with you on your commute.
  • Finally, it's a folder, which makes getting it on to a bus or train or what have you much easier. 

Oh yeah, and the fork is on the right way, as opposed to the Ikea bikes in the video I posted above, and in this screengrab:


Something about the Teeth on this Gift Horse

Bike Portland is reporting that IKEA has given every one of its US employees a bike for Christmas this year. Pretty cool. The bike commuter in me would be psyched if 5-10% of these bikes ended up turning their new owners into dedicated bike commuters. Hey, maybe even more, right?

As much as I talk about all of the other barriers to bike commuting that exist once one has dragged oneself out the door in bike clothing and chosen to ride instead of drive, it is true that "lack of a bike to ride" might be the very first barrier a new commuter faces. So, here's hoping the gift of 12,400 bikes gets at least some of their recipients riding regularly.

Still, why did they have to go with the ugliest, weirdest frame I've ever seen in my life? Is this some sort of lesson in Scandinavian humility?
There is absolutely no reason to interrupt a perfectly good seat tube on a non-suspension frame. 

Seriously, this looks like they went to one of the mega factories in China, picked out a Wal-Mart suspension frame, removed the suspension components, and had a frame member welded in to stabilize the resulting franken-frame.

Still, if the components last long enough for somebody to catch the bike bug, more power to 'em.


Brewing Journal: Batch #6, Entry #3

Tasted batch #6, Hard Cider.  Well, actually, I have been tasting some of this all along. I made a 6 gallon batch and drank the first gallon over the last month from growlers- the part that did not get any carbonating sugar, lactose, or maple syrup. The stuff in the growlers wasn't very good. Very young, very, very dry and sour on the finish. 

Now for the stuff from the keg. I chilled it down to 40 degrees and tapped in. It is not overly sweet, but the "take your breath away" dryness has subsided and there is a little bit of mouth feel there. Big, big apple flavor, just like biting into a Mac at Boyers. Then, bubbles on the tongue, almost like champagne. Dry finish, no aftertaste at all.  I would be proud to serve this to anyone.  No vinegar at all, so I must have kept the acetobacter at bay. 

Notes for next year: My only quibble here is that I should have given it a nice long secondary. It is pouring golden yellow now with very little haze, but occasionally the keg pulls a few particles of brown sediment that kind of float around. It's merely aesthetics, though.  I'd consider bottling this next time to give out as presents, also might consider a double batch if a lot is going to be given away. 


Off the Bike

I would love to be the type of bike-commuting evangelist who could go around telling everybody how easy it is to give up the car and start riding to work.  I would love it if it was that easy for me. The truth, of course, is another thing. If it was easy, more people would do it. 

For me, the summers are very easy. Throw work clothes and lunch in a bag, put on shorts and a t-shirt, ride to the office, shower, reverse direction 8 hours later to come home. There's some traffic to contend with, and sometimes it rains a little, but that's about it. If I didn't have the shower and lockers available at work, that would be a significant barrier, but I'd probably still ride.  

Now, it's nearly winter. The clothing equation is much more complicated. It takes longer to get dressed in the morning, and all of that stuff needs to be hung up to dry for the day once I get to the office.  It is completely dark out when I get on the bike to ride home, but it is still rush hour, so the traffic is the same as in the summer, only drivers are less aware of their surroundings. Lit up as I am, I sometimes still feel invisible, sometimes still wonder where else I might need to add another light. Riding in darkness also means you trip the common sense threshold for another population of drivers: those who can see why someone might ride a bike to and from work in the daytime- but at night? That's crazy. I'd also call this the "deserves to get hit" threshold.  So you've got to be on your guard. 

Despite all of those things, I have had a couple great weeks of riding.  But I've had a cough the last couple of days, and the thought of gulping down cold morning air makes my throat close up.  Which puts me in the car, which makes me cranky, stiff, and itchy. I miss being on the bike, I hope to be back on it soon. 

But that brings me back to my point:  Getting to work by bike is at best a partial solution. We'd all love to be like Copenhagen, but when people point to Copenhagen's amazing bike infrastructure and imply that if we just did that, we could be Copenhagen, I have to disagree. Copenhagen is flat, the climate is mild, and the city is dense.  People can ride comfortable dutch-style bikes in their street clothes.  The bike lanes and other infrastructure make it even more pleasant, and if you ever don't feel like biking, there's an incredible bus and train system you can take advantage of.   Here in the Burlington area, we have good-size hills everywhere that simply cannot be ascended without sweating. 40 pound dutch bikes, with all of their glamor and comfortable riding positions, would be boat anchors on those hills.  We also have a climate that is hotter in the summer and colder in the winter than Copenhagen's.  Real snow, and the fact that it is often plowed into the minimal road shoulders we have available to ride on, makes winter commuting a dicey proposition, especially as you are trying to get up and down one of those aforementioned hills. 

So, when bike commuting is not an option, what's the backup? Public transit? Hmm. Maybe. Transit in Burlington is available, but ridership is low and schedules are a challenge. I could make it work, but I'd have to adjust my schedule at the office and I'd end up spending significantly more time in transit than when I'm biking or driving. The reason transit is an incomplete solution is that you need the ridership to justify mailing the buses run more often and to more places.   Ridership is not going to increase unless there is greater residential density in the areas the bus services, and that seems to be where the real bugaboo is. 

People are afraid of density. Vermonters don't come here for city life, and by and large when they have enough resources to do so, they move out into the country, where a car for every working adult becomes a necessity. The old neighborhoods, for all of their locational advantage, wither. 

Or not. People seem like they might be starting to get it. Planner that I am, I watch my neighborhood with great interest. We're on a bus line, close to lots of stuff (heck, downtown Burlington is within easy biking distance, its the hill and miserable I-89-US2 cloverleaf meat grinder that makes it such a challenge), in a relatively dense neighborhood (small single-family homes on lots smaller than a quarter of an acre). Along with Kate and I, two of the three houses adjacent to us are two-adult, one car households. One neighbor is able to walk to work, another takes the bus. In our case, I ride my bike a lot and Kate does too, in the summer.  Our small houses, with their single bathrooms and utter lack of "bonus rooms" or garages, seem to be holding their value, and in the short time we have been in the neighborhood, we've seen people invest in things like new siding, new windows, new landscaping. Nobody has just checked out of the neighborhood, leaving behind an ill-maintained rental property. (It's not the "renters" who ruin a neighborhood, by the way, it's the landlords.)

I'm hoping for a trend. I'm hoping that people begin to see the real value of living in close, and that infrastructure continues to improve so more households can go "car-lite" even if "car free" isn't an option. I hope allowable densities and lot coverages are increased in neighborhoods like mine, so more people can live in closer, so more people will park on my street, making it effectively narrower and thus slowing traffic. I hope  that increase in people will increase demand for bus service, demand for the urban environment to be a livable one instead of an unpleasant one that we pass through each day on our way to something better. And yes, I hope all of that makes building some bike infrastructure more palatable, especially to connect downtown Burlington with South Burlington and to make Williston Road a pleasant place to be whether you are in a car, on a bike, or on foot. 

As for me, I just want this stupid cough to go away so I can get back on my bike. I can wait for the bike lanes  and the better bus system and all of that, I can wait for the higher-density neighborhood and the neighborhood coffee shops and the vibrant street scape that ought to be within a 10-minute walk of this place.  I can continue to ride my bike to work because it is what I like to do and I can continue to be part of a one-car household because it is financially necessary right now (we are about to own a second car called "day care.") But I can't do any of that if it makes me sicker. 


We Did Not Plan This

The trip to the Cape for Thanksgiving was planned (contingent on weather and health of all involved cooperating). When we go to the Cape, we almost always end up at Nauset Beach- it's one of my favorite places in the whole world. So I'm sitting there with Kate and she says "Do you want to take Austen to Nauset today?"

And I think for a minute, and I write it out:


We named our son an anagram of our favorite beach, completely unintentionally.
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Maybe the is the obligatory "what I am thankful for" blog post.

I recently spent some time going back over the five years' worth of entries that have accumulated here, adding tags to some of them in an attempt to get things a little more organized. There was a lot to reflect on in there, and many, many things came to mind that could be used to end the sentence "I am thankful for..."

So here are a few of them:

Great friends and family. As I look over the last few years of entries, I am amazed at the generosity of the people I am surrounded by. These people have helped me pack, move, unpack, remodel, relocate buildings, ride bike races, and so much more.

Our cat, Ishmael, who came into our lives not long after I started this blog.  He adds a randomness to our home life that nobody could replace, and how can you argue with unconditional love from something so soft and warm?

All of the bicycles in my life, and all of the things they've taught me and places they've taken me. Coming back to cycling over the last few years has been revelation.

Most of all, my wife and our new son.  Every day that I come home to them is a great day, no matter what else happened. Austen and Kate are my whole life, and I don't know what I did to deserve them.

I've left some more things out- the amazing places I've been to over the last five years, the food I've cooked and eaten, the new pastime I have found in homebrewing, the continued opportunity to write, a rewarding career that makes a difference in the world...  I spend way too much time waiting for the next thing to happen, even while I'm doing the thing I'm doing.  Thanksgiving is a great time to remember that all these things I was doing, all of these people in my lives, that life at its fullest demands that I be present for them when they are there, not just waiting, or worrying, or planning ahead.

Thanks, everybody.


Brewing Journal: Batch#4, Entry #6: Further Tasting Notes

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Batch # 4 (Bourbon Barrel Porter), further tasting notes. Storage at temperature with gas attached (44 degrees, 12psi) has added a little carbonation and that, combined with age, has really mitigated the molasses component of this beer that I wasn't as happy with. Now, it drinks a little thinner, a little spicier (maybe the oak).  Others say they can taste the bourbon, and this thing certainly packs a punch I can feel after a pint. Very nice to serve at 40 degrees, then let it warm up, finishing the last quarter of the glass at a little more like 60.  This is a favorite, and I can see spending the waning weeks of summer brewing a big dark beer like this for late fall and holiday consumption in the future.   


Belly Shirt

No wonder so much baby clothing is one-piece.
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The Indignity of Commuting by Bicycle: Flats

Yup, that's a staple right though my tire, the Mr. Tuffy strip inside the tire, and the tube, of course. Happened halfway though my morning commute today. I pulled off to the side of the road and replaced the tube with the brand new spare I had in my bag, and was on my way and at work with time to shower as usual, but still.

Nothing looks sillier than a person in bike clothes (black tights and a neon green windbreaker) when that person is no longer on the bike.

Anyway, darkness has fallen on my evening commute, which makes things all the more interesting. I'm lit up like you wouldn't believe; front blinky light, front headlight, rear tail light, rear light on my back, reflective stuff all over...

And still there are people who "don't see" me.  Oh wait, yeah, they do. They just like to drive up real nice and close and let out a big diesel rev to make sure I know they could crush me if they wanted to.  Picture a four-lane road, with no shoulder, but never enough traffic around to fill both lanes. I'm all the way over to the right, the steady "blink, blink, pow!" of the Planet Bike Superflash taillight warning everybody behind me for a mile that I'm there.  I can hear cars approaching me from behind, and every one of them moves to the outside lane to pass- the decent, courteous thing to do, the way most of us treat each other and would like to be treated.  Then, I hear something big, really close to me, and before I know it there's about four inches between me and the side door of a monster pick-up of some sort. Here's the thing- he matches my speed, and slowly, steadily starts to squeeze me closer and closer to the curb. A big rev of the motor, a black cloud, and he finally passes.

The message could not have been clearer. "You don't belong here. You're in my way. I'm bigger. I don't care if you die."

I hope the price of gas goes through the roof soon.


Sometimes You Just Let Them Sleep...

...Where they land. Especially when they have been up all night pooping and eating and generally carying on. Sorry Austen, I'm sure this will all be embarassing someday, but the moments of extreme cuteness make up for the sleep deprivation.

Otherwise, life is good. I'm in the market for a better headlight for my bike, something I can truly use to "see," and not just "be seen." The mystery creak is back in my headset, too. Also, I bought rollers for indoor training this winter, so expect some battle scar photos soon.
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Brewing Journal: Batch #4, Entry #5

Tasted batch #4, Bourbon Barrel Porter. It's nice, but the molasses sweetness still really dominates.  Not something you'd have more than a pint of at a time. Part of me wants to capitalize on the sweetness by adding a little chocolate extract, part of me just wants to leave well enough alone and move on. There will be lots of cold nights when this will be the perfect thing. The beer pours with a big stormy-looking head that resolves with those Guinness- type descending bubbles. The oak and bourbon are a nice touch as well. 


Photo Dump: Sticky Buns and Scotch Ale

Yesterday, in addition to smoking the hot peppers and going down to the orchard to pick the last of the fall apples, I made sticky buns out of the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion. This is a phenomenal tome, one to have on the shelf next to Julia Child, James Beard, and Irma Rombauer. Kate asked if I would make these sticky buns at about 8 in the morning, and off I went. So what if the recipe called for getting a starter going overnight, or if it needed dough relaxer, potato flour, and dried milk? I had none of these in the pantry. I had no time for a starter.  I gave it a whirl with the rest of the ingredients, and they rose up admirably:

Then, with the insane pecan/brown sugar/golden syrup topping, they browned beautifully:

I also already put up some tasting notes about the Scottish 80 Shilling Ale I have on tap right now, but here's a picture for color:



Hot Peppers

We had a good hot pepper harvest this year, way more than I could ever use in the short season between when they are ripe and when the frost kills the plants. So, I'm smoking them today on the grill with charcoal and mesquite. Dried, they'll keep for a long time and find their way into chili, tom khai gai, and who knows what else. Left to right: Cherry Bomb, Cayenne (ripe red), Long Hot, Pepperoncini, Cayenne (green, not as ripe).
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Brewing Journal, Batch #5 Tasting Notes

Tasted Batch #5, Scottish 80 shilling. Nice, deep almost ruby copper color, lots of malt without being too cloyingly sweet, just a little Fuggles hops bitter at the end as the light carbonation tickles your tongue. Little bit of butterscotch in the aftertaste. Served at 44 degrees. If it would go fast enough, it would be fun to serve as a cask ale, letting it oxidize a little bit over a few days, but it doesn't get consumed that fast here and will remain on the gas at 12 psi and in the fridge. 


Austen, Meet Chris.

Chris, Austen.  Thanks for the eggplant parm and the wine, Chris!


Austen's Arrival: Part Two

We navigate the hospital, Kate in the bed, Austen on the bed, me walking behind. The ceilings get shorter, the floors, dingier and the halls narrower. We go to our room. A curtain divides us from our roommates, their car seat is visible, and they leave in the still early morning. The door clicks every few minutes and the parade of interlopers begin. Nurse, Lactation Consultant, Janitor, Resident, Doctor, Surgeon, Food Service. The room was made to fit everything in it, then reduced in size by 10%. This is the last place I'd want to heal, except that the concentration of professionals here make it necessary.  In the mid evening, I go home to check on things and to take a nap. I go back to the hospital in the early morning hours on Tuesday.


The world is a room
too small for what's in it
and brightly lit.
The two of them sleep.
I listen to the rattle of
unwanted dry air. The
rain outside softens the line
between day + night,
The door latch clacks.
They come to take a pulse, the
trash, to leave
food, advice, supplies.
Every quarter hour a jolt.
I go out of town, to the house
and it's strange. This place
we left in Labor
will not be our home.
It will be here and some other thing.
The house demands quiet now.
The house demands darkness now.
Closing the door, it inhales waiting
for our return.


Brewing Journal: Batch #4, Entry #4; Batch #6, Entry #2

Batch #4 racked to keg. Gravity was down to 1.024, not what I was hoping for but better than nothing. Natural carbonation via 1/2 cup of cane sugar. The sample tasted good, different from a week ago and thinner, less sweet, so it's headed in the right direction.  I have been following a thread on homebrewtalk.com discussing this recipe (Northern Brewer bourbon Barrel Porter) and many have had similar stuck fermentations. Certainly its a lesson in the necessity of yeast starters for big beers. 1.065-1.024 X 135 = 5.5% ABV. 

Batch #6 also racked to a keg, added 1/2 cup cane sugar and 1/4 cup maple syrup as well as a pound of lactose for back sweetening. Batch #6 at 1.000 gravity, very dry. I had enough in the fermenter to rack off almost a gallon into growlers that would not fit int he keg. The cider has nice apple flavors, a little bit of a hot alcohol bite, and a very dry finish with a little bit of sourness.  I'm not sure I'd be happy to serve it at this point but I have heard the ciders benefit greatly from age. Hopefully keeping it in the keg and with a blanket of carbon dioxide there will not be any acetobacter activity, otherwise it'll be a lifetime supply of apple cider vinegar. 1.051-1.000 X 135 = 6.8% ABV. 

Cleaned carboys that had soaked in oxy-clean solution since last weekend. Both were emptied and double-rinsed with clean tap water.  They should get another rinse and then Star-San before their next use. 


Brewing Journal: Batch #6, Entry #1

Batch #6 "Brew Day"  In quotes because this a a batch of hard apple cider.  I pitched Wyeast Cider, Sake and Distilling Yeast into 5.5 gallons of fresh unpasteurized apple cider from Boyer's Orchard in Monkton, Vermont.  I had purchased Campden Tablets to kill any wild nasties in the cider, but I have never had an infection problem with wild-fermented cider from Boyer's before and was scared off by the reports of bitterness from the tablets that can take a year to age out.  When I purchased the cider, I noticed absolutely no flies (fruit or otherwise) in the cider house or around the press, which is a good sign that they are being meticulous about keeping things clean.  Fermentation was noticeable within 12 hours. 


Brewing Journal: Batch #4, Entry #3, Batch #5, Entry #1

Batch #4- tested gravity again and added bourbon-soaked oak chips and the bourbon they were soaking in.  Gravity has not budged from 1.028 as tested on 9/13/10- this leads to a big hit of molasses on the front end followed by smoke and then the hops near the end- surprising sweetness, but not unpleasant in the end.  I detect licorice in there somewhere, but Kate says she doesn't taste it. With that final gravity, 1.065 G - 1.028 FG = .037 X 135 = 4.995% ABV. It will sit for another week to condition before racking to a keg for carbonation. 

Batch #5- Brewday.  Scottish 80 shilling kit from Northern Brewer. Purchased 5 gallons of spring water and one gallon of distilled water.  Brought 3 gallons to 170 degrees and steeped specialty grains for 20 minutes, then brought the wort to a boil and added 3.15 lbs golden liquid malt extract and 1 oz USA Fuggles hop pellets.  Boiled for 45 minutes and added another 3.15 lbs of the same malt, boiled for 15 minutes more and chilled, strained wort into my 6-gallon Better Bottle and added spring and distilled water to make 5 gallons. 


Poetry: A Scrap, Anyway

I was working on unsticking typewriter keys the day Kate went into labor and banged this out on the back of a gas bill- just found it and remembered. It feels like it was a year ago.

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Austen's Arrival: Part One

(Note to the reader: this blog isn't about to become a total baby blog, but the birth of my first son and his first week in the world and the existence that comes with it have brought a strong urge to write some stuff down.  You'll still see beer, bike, poetry and other entries here as well.). 

Saturday evening. Dinner with the parents- delays as we go to the garden to pick the Brussels sprouts.  Fillet mignon on the grill, done rare, potatoes dug from the garden. Everything is good. Kate's bright pink, then not. It's hot in here, isn't it? Parents head home after dessert. Yes, that was a contraction. I've been having them on and off all day she said. Didn't want to worry you. I think of the places we went today the dump, the store. Should we have gone somewhere else? Slips of paper come out. Where's the stopwatch? How do we note these things? Wasn't there a form to fill out. A call to the doctor and she says come on in and we'll have a look. The hospital is huge in the midnight quite of Burlington..  

Go home they say. Not yet. We return to be up all night. Sleep says Kate I'm fine. Four hours til daylight I spend on the couch, heart racing, listening to low moans from the room next door. She wants me to sleep.

Daylight and another slip of paper and an attempt to time the pains. We call the doctor again. Not yet. By noon she says come in and we do. The room has a view of the college campus, Kate can see the sky from the bed and the tub. Look, a "V" she says. The geese practice formations you know, she says. We walk, slow to the common room on the floor, where Lake Champlain is bright tourmaline, steam rising off the bays in a sunset that is happening somewhere, but obscured from us by heavy clouds. Rain's coming.

All night she labors. There is progress, but it is slow. It's Sunday night, it's Monday morning.  This place is the passage from the life at that dinner table to another life in the same place. It's Sunday night, it's Monday morning. You have a private room but there is somebody at the door every few minutes. They watch the child's heart, the mother's heart. Sometimes they move the instrument and it only picks up every other beat, and when the number changes, which I can see and Kate cannot, I gasp, silently. Then, a nudge, all is well. I stop looking at numbers and sleep to the locomotive whooshing of my son's heart.

It's still dark and we make the call. Caesarian Section. We talk a little. Different doctors are in the room now, then gone. I pack our bags, knowing we will be in recovery soon, not knowing anything else or what to do. I clean the room, throw away the Saltine packets. They come and take her, the bed she's on, the monitors. I am given blue pajamas, a shower cap, shoe covers. I put them on. I wait.

The room that was so small feels a mile long, empty. I sit at the end facing the door, head in my hands and tired, waiting to be fetched. I think somebody at the door could make a good photograph of me right now, dramatic.

They come and get me. The operating room is the brightest place I have ever been. I sit at her head, I can see her face, her shoulders, her arms outstretched as if on the cross. She smiles and I hold her hand. Both arms and hands shake as if she will soon fly from this bed.  There is jargon, so many people in the room. All of these people helping us, i think, that is so nice.

Then. Something is said and her head and shoulders tip back from me and I know they are lifting him from her. I hear his cry, I see them bring him to be weighed, and they clean him.  I am asked over to see. I am given scissors to cut a symbolic inch from his umbilical cord. I look sideways, and I can see all that is happening behind the curtain from before. They are stitching, counting materials and placing them on a blue tarp on the floor.  There's blood, there's a plastic bag I assume with the placenta inside, and the rest of the umbilical cord laid out long like a hunter's prize.

My son is in my arms. It is 5:48 in the morning on Monday, September 27th, and my son is in my arms.  I bring him to Kate's head. hoping she can see. She's feeling nauseous, she tells the anesthesiologist. His name is Abel. We like him. He makes an adjustment and all is well. Kate on her back can see that I am holding him, can she see him? I move closer.

The operating room is done and we wheel to recovery, back to our darkened room where she labored so long. There's a dim light in the sky, and then we move again, this time the bed, the baby on the bed with his mother, me walking by their side through endless hallways with our bags. The building is an amalgamation of buildings, the windowed halls twist and turn, and I can observe, sun and fog to the north, clouds and rain south over Mount Abraham and Lincoln Peak. North again, the sun over the Winooski river valley lighting the first bright yellow leaves of fall.


Austen Nugent Boulanger

Austen Nugent Boulanger
7 pounds, 5 ounces
20 inches long
Mom, Dad , and Son all resting comfortably.


Brewing Journal: Batch #4, Entry #2

Batch #4 racked to secondary.  Gravity at 1.028. I would like to see it ferment out a little more completely but after several tastings of the wort sample have decided that oak, bourbon, and carbonation will all mitigate the malt sweetness in a positive way.  Molasses and smoke forward with hop bitterness followed by hop aroma finish. Very happy with this but I may have to brew something else next that goes quickly so I can keep my hands off of this one long enough!


The Indignity of Driving a Car: Road Ragers Out of the Cage

As much of a cyclist as I am, I have been known to drive a car from time to time. Recently, I found myself doing exactly that as my wife and I traveled home from a long labor Day weekend to see her parents on Cape Cod. As we passed through New Hampshire, we decided to pull off a familiar exit to use the facilities and grab a cup of coffee. There's a gas station right there, so while my wife went inside, I decided to top up the car.

The pumps were pretty busy.  I drove to the end of the row, and finding no empty pumps, got in line for the last pump, behind two other cars.  I had barely come to a rest when I realized the pump to my left was likely a better choice, since there was only one person there and I was no in a position to pull up behind them without making a strange turning movement.  The only problem was that a steady stream of cars was driving toward me, along the path I had just taken, and I could not find a gap that would allow me to move over.

The last of these cars, a white 15 passenger van, finally passed by as the woman at the pump of my desire reached for her receipt. I made my move. Just as I reached the pump, I saw the white van come around the other side, aiming for the same spot I was now in. The woman waved wildly from the driver's seat, and I could not hear her but it looked like she was yelling.  She clearly wanted the spot more than me.  I pointed forward, signalling that I would drive through and get out of her way. I looked down to put my keys back in the ignition to start the car and get out of the way.

It's a good thing I looked up before moving forward, because when I did, the woman who had only an instant ago been behind the wheel of the van was standing in front of my car, against my hood and bumper, arms crossed. I leaned out of the window.

"I don't think so!" she yelled.

"Just let me drive through, I'll get out of your way." I said, trying to look sheepish and apologetic, but mostly feeling disbelief.

"No way." she said. "I have your plate number."

"I just want to drive through and get out of your way." I figured I'd try reason one more time before backing up the car.

"I'm with her." A burly man with a blond Fu- Manchu mustache yelled. "Get out of here, you Vermont asshole!"

He wanted me to respond, He wanted me to pick a fight. The woman stood fast in front of my car.

The situation was hopeless. In 30 seconds or less, I felt as if I had gone from a normal guy, somebody who works to make his community better, who loves his wife and family, who cooks dinner and gardens and waves to the kids next door when he gets home from work, to a no-good, line-cutting "Vermont asshole."  I backed up the car and parked it around the side of the building. I went in long enough to find Kate and let her know we needed to get on the road. I felt shaky and bruised, like somebody had punched me in the ribs.

I played it over and over in my head. Should I have stood my ground? Tried to explain?  I couldn't see a way that doing so would have done anything but escalate the situation further and make it more dangerous. Why were my actions so misunderstood? I'm still not sure, but I am left with an unsettling impression that the veneer that keeps us from living in a Mad Max, caveman sort of world is exceedingly thin.

I have a theory going that has to do with the broken promise of advertising.  Advertising offers us two major things: first, the proposition that our lives are incomplete and that we are inadequate as human beings. Second: advertising tells us that whatever product they are selling will resolve our inadequacy. After beer and tobacco ads, I can think of no industry more guilty of this than the automotive one. Think about the car ads you see: most involve a lone vehicle, by itself on the road, if there is a road at all.  The driver is unburdened by traffic, the cost of gas, the inconvenience of a repair bill.  The driver is elevated, faster, more agile and more entitled than those around him. The car has made his life and he himself, complete.

Contrast that with reality. Cars, and a life dependent on them, can be a real pain.  Gas is expensive, and sometimes you have to maneuver around other cars and wait in line to get it. Contrary to their advertising image, cars make you dependent, and sometimes even helpless. If you can't get the gas the gas they need to run, they become a burden, if you have to delay what you really want to do in life to tend to the care and feeding of your car, it becomes an expensive burden.

So we drag these heavy, expensive burdens with us wherever we go, constantly angered at the stark contrast between the lie we believed when we watched the advertisement and the miserable reality that a car, like most things, can't really make you a happier, more confident person. Some of us even get enraged, some of us yell at each other, some of us even shape our rage into prejudice against people from other states, threatening violence at the same time.

To the people at the gas station that day: I hope you find something that costs very little and makes you very happy. I have a beautiful, loving wife, and we both have wonderful families.  I have beer in the fermenter and tomatoes in the garden. I have a bike that I can ride to work almost every day.  I hope these angry people have those things in their lives, and remember the joy they might hold.




Brewing Journal: Batch #4, Entry #1

Batch #4 brew day.  Northern Brewer Bourbon Barrel Porter. Price Chopper store brand spring water purchased for $6.00  Steeped almost a pound of dark malt for 20 minutes at 152 degrees, then raised to 170 degrees and removed, continued with the boil. Hop additions at precribed times. Cooled 3 gallons of boiling wort in my Coleman cooler with a faucet water bath of 65 degrees. Wort cooled to 100 degrees in 20 minutes, ice would have been a help, but this was a better system than the kitchen sink. Original gravity was 1.065.  Had some trouble with the Wyeast smack pack, was unsure if I had broken the internal package of yeast nutrient. Turns out it broke just fine. Some fermentation activity observed in three hours, vigorous bubbling has continued through the morning of 8/31.  


The Indignity of Commuting by Bicycle: Distracted Drivers

My riding position often enables me to see into the car in front of me, and what I typically see disturbs me. When over half of the vehicles I observe come to a stop, the driver's right hand raises some kind of electronic device into his/her field of vision. Their world shrinks to their right thumb, their eye, and that little screen of whatever gadget has become so critical that IT must be concentrated on rather than the operation of the two ton machine that can kill people. At one particular intersection I ride through, the stop is followed by a downhill and I often end up in sync with the same cars. So I have been able to observe that when the cars start moving, the gadgets don't get stowed.

The point of all this is that from my perspective, if you are using a handheld anything while driving, there is going to be some element of distraction, and it's a risk. Whether it's an acceptable risk or not might be up for debate, but in at least one recent case, the Vermont Supreme Court found that distracted driving amounted to gross negligence when a driver who was looking at her GPS collided with a cyclist in the breakdown lane. (She hit him from behind, which is actually one of the rare car-cyclist collisions to happen, even though it is one many cyclists fear most.)

Not a picture of the actual incident. 
According to the Burlington Free Press, "the court called the case "close," but said Carlin's alleged inattention could be considered gross negligence because the bicyclist was clearly visible."

I can't find the opinion to read it just yet, but I'm guessing that the court's reliance on the bicyclist being visible means that they were not able to prove that she was looking at the GPS at the time, even though it's most likely that she was. Interestingly enough, a Google search of the distracted driver's name shows that she is working as a legal assistant in a Springfield, Massachusetts law firm, where, according to their website, she specializes in "the firm's car accidents, personal injuries and worker's compensation claims."

Anyway, distracted driving stinks. It has certainly contributed to a number of unsafe driver interactions I've had over the last couple of years, and I'm glad to court found negligence in this case. I hope it serves as a warning to others, who might think about automatically picking up that phone/iPod/Gps/Egg McMuffin the moment they get behind the wheel. 


Brewing Journal: Batch #3, Entry #3

Batch #3 tasted.  Carbonation felt spot on. Hop aroma and bitterness were both great, very similar to tasting when racked to the keg, more citrus elements present now. Best beer so far. Very, very clear after the first pint was pulled. Beer was chilled in the new (birthday present) chest freezer controlled to 40 degrees with a Johnson A419 Controller. About 25 attendees at a weekend barbecue consumed most of the keg, reviews were consistently good, hopefully people weren't just being polite!  I would make this recipe again, but probably will not for a while as I want to get more experience with different recipes and styles. 


Feeling the Love

I am. Birthday Facebook comments, emails, cards, visitors to a rousing Saturday barbecue, more food than could ever be consumed, compliments on my homebrew, help from Dad today putting new flooring in the nursery, pie and coffee served by Kate just as the day's labors had us fading. And somebody commented on my blog to call me a hero, of all things, for putting Shimano Sora hub measurements up on my blog. There's more to write, but life is good.


As If We Could All Hear

I don't remember if this was part of a poem I was writing or not, but I found it typed on the platen of my Underwood when I was putting my desk back together tonight.


Brewing Journal: Batch #3, Entry #2

Batch #3 racked into secondary. Gravity was at 1.010. Fermentation took off like a rocket on 7/16/2010 and went well. Things were a little warm in the basement at 75 degrees, but no weird esters or fusels seem present in the beer as of 7/24/2010. Hop aroma and bitterness were both present in the 7/24/2010 sample, seemed uncomplicated (no citrus, smoke or other hop flavors) Racked on to one ounce of Chinook hop pellets. Installed an airlock and observed continued, if slow fermentation activity in the airlock within an hour. 


Brewing Journal: Batch #3, Entry #1

Batch #3 Started. Northern Brewer Chinook IPA. Boil water was Price Chopper spring water, purchased for $4.50.  Steeping grains were crushed in a ziplock bag with a rolling pin as they did not appear to have been crushed by the supplier, then added to the boil water in a steeping bag and brought to 170 degrees, held there for 20 minutes, then removed. No squeezing as this is supposed to produce tannins.  The boil went well, hop additions: 1oz Chinook at 60 minutes, .5oz at 10 minutes, .5 oz at the end of the boil. First time using Dried malt extract (DME).  It goes into the wort like powdered sugar and produces more foam than the liquid stuff. I had some trouble with the "smack pack" of yeast for this batch, as the internal yeast nutrient pack did not burst when I "smacked" the package. I added the nutrient and yeast liquid to the wort, but my guess is I drastically under-pitched and will experience lag. Anyway, it's in the fermenter at 76 degrees in the basement right now, rigged with a blowoff tube. Original gravity 1.050, wort sweet and malty, good bitter flavor and hop aroma on the nose. Hope the yeast can get in gear and do its stuff.


Home improvement: Garden Report

Not many words, lots of pictures.  Kate has been putting in an awful lot of time over the last year and a half establishing perennial plantings and an awesome vegetable garden. I got rid of a chunk of our front lawn this year to put in wildflowers and irises.  Here are a bunch of recent photos of what we've been up to: