Validation

I write every day—for this blog, for my day job, to help a friend with a letter. In my professional career I’ve always held positions that not only required writing proficiency, but excellence.

I’ve been paid to “write stuff”—everything from campaign speeches to marketing collateral to strategic messaging.

The information age makes reading and writing proficiency paramount. And with technology and social media everyone can be a writer, photographer and an expert source of content.

The various forms of self-publishing make for overwhelming amounts of information and dilute journalistic integrity. But being able to put your content out there and acquire followers is very freaking cool.

I have a college degree in communications, but you don’t necessarily have to be a formally-educated person to write well. For at least half of my career, I’ve been paid as a professional to write stuff for other people. None of it is creative in the sense of a fiction novelist, but it takes focused energy and logic to work through a complicated explanation of a piece of technology as described by an engineer.

What I love about writing, especially technical writing is the problem solving and translation of complicated information into easily digestible sentences. Each sentence builds on to the next one, adding greater depth to the information presented. Then it crescendos into an “ah-ha” section, followed by a conclusion and it’s finished in a tidy bow. In that sense, writing is solving problems not dealing with them.

In the last 7-10 years I’ve always had to produce written communications, but my day job has been much more than just writing; it included business management, HR, operations and finance. Right now I’m in a transition in my professional career and about to take a hard left turn, starting next week, and the writing part of my career is going further down the shelf.

Before turning the corner, I signed up for a couple of short-engagement tech writing projects for former colleagues. I’ve been out of the tech game for 6-7 years. But today I was validated professionally as someone with tech writer chops. I know it sounds like a very nerdy thing to brag about, but sometimes it’s nice to know you still got it.

Some Days …

I write nightly about my life in the world of “our Arcadia.” These threads of life are what weave the fabric that is the backdrop for The Arcadian Experience. But the sad truth is that some days you hit a snag, that there are holes in the fabric that no patch can mend.

The choice we’ve made to be here, in this place, living an authentic life, is hard. Our little paradise isn’t always full of sunshine and roses. Some days it feels like we’re being forced to eat a turd sandwich, and it’s hard to swallow.

Some days it’s hard to overcome the unintended consequences and obstacles that accompany living here. We are here freely; it was a conscious decision. But some days I have to fight like hell to remind myself that I picked this life; we
chose it on purpose.

Some days I have to question if it isn’t this life, then which one would I trade for, and the answer is none of them. This is the life I have.

I have to believe that the Almighty has his hand on the compass and that we are being pointed in directions that will make sense later. I have to believe that things happen for reasons I can’t possibly fathom.

Some days it is hard to find meaning in despair and you wonder what you did to “deserve” this. Then I know, even before I am fully reconciled with the notion, that “deserve” has nothing to do with it. And things just happen, the way that they happen.

The great American poet, Robert Frost wrote, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” There are no truer words than that.

But some days words are hopelessly inadequate. And today is one of those days.

Murphy Monday

Murphy’s Law ruled today … Sometimes you just have one of those days … and today, Murphy showed up. Every fool thing, one after another, went haywire. (Although you rarely see hay with “wire” anymore.)

At 3:30 I stepped in steaming pile of dog poop and said “That’s It!” (really I said something much more foul, but for my  saintly mother’s sake we’ll just go with aforementioned quote.)

Let’s recap… on second thought … let’s not.

Translation= 400 words into my diatribe, I hit the delete button.

I’m going to take my horsepill of sinus-infection killing antibiotic, then off to bed to hit the restart button.

875 Mg of Gastrointestinal un-awsomeness.

I will say … the day ended up OK … with my lovely husband giving me flowers – thanks babes!

My sweet husband continues to put up with me. God bless him for it too. I'd be lost without my man.

Sweet Baby Calf: Jingle

One of the sad parts of raising cattle is that occasionally a baby calf is orphaned. But God made ranchers who take those baby calves and feed them by a bottle. Then it becomes something sweet you can share with a little kid.

I remember caring for many orphaned calves throughout my childhood. One year my dad and I found a 2- or 3-day old calf sitting next to his expired momma in the snow. We were so surprised that the coyotes hadn’t gotten the calf. He was later named “Milk Dud,” and became a fixture in the barn long after he was weaned.

 

 

These little bottle babies can become pets. One thing I’ve always noticed is that they just never do as well as the calves that have mommas, even if momma isn’t that good. Today was Jdubs first time to bottle feed a baby calf.

It was precious and Jdubs decided to name him “Jingle.” On the way out of the barn today, Jdubs said, “don’t worry Jingle, you’ll be big someday.”

 

Jdubs bottle feeding baby calf, Jingle, for the first time.

Spring: It’s Coming

I started cleaning up and getting my greenhouse ready to start seeds. Today is February 11, but our last average frost date is about March 20. That means it’s time to start thinking about the spring garden. Even as we have a harsh cold snap, I was making way for planting tender annuals from seed so we can transplant after the danger of killing frost.

As for most gardeners, my ultimate prize is a crop of beautiful, tasty tomatoes. Next week we’re taking Jdubs for a checkup at the ENT in Cowtown, so we will have to stop in Poolville on the way home to visit Wilhite Seed. Many sellers of seeds only produce a few of their own (if at all), the rest they resell from other specialized plant breeders/dealers. Wilhite’s domain is melon seeds, especially watermelon seeds. All the seeds I bought from them were exceptional quality, with near 100% germination rates.

Even my county extension agent was surprised. I have no idea what was so extra special about last year’s seed starting exercise – but everything I started from seed did really well, until the heat set in. I knew we were in for it last year when we had a 100-degree day on April 8, 2011. That just set the tone for the rest of the summer.

Last year’s weather was horrible. We had a record-setting hot, dry summer. Nothing would grow. There was no rain. It was abysmal, even the okra was eaten by the grasshoppers. Needless to say, I’m looking very forward to a better year, for growing vegetables and herbs.

 

Nothing says spring like the return of the birds.

That’s the beauty of spring … it’s the time for beginnings … starting seeds, nurturing and caring for them, watching them grow, then harvest. Nothing is better than eating something wonderful that you grew.

The greenhouse.
Left side.
Right side.
My seed box: organizing, sorting, planning.

More gardening posts to come …

There was another squirrel in the backyard. Jdubs helped his daddy aim.

Homebrewing Beer 101: Tire Biter Golden Bitter Ale Part 1

I am a serial hobbyist. Admittedly. One of the things I love to do is learn how something works and/or take an interest in something that most people talk about but never do. In my lifetime, I’ve:

-had saltwater aquariums

-owned beehives for extracting honey

-collected sports cards, mainly hockey

-had a substantial MAD Magazine collection

-played in an acoustic guitar duo in bars

-own a full set of Callaway golf clubs in a leather tour bag

-have the best damn greenhouse in town

Those are just a few off the top of my head. At one point, I owned my own bowling ball and even have a Lionel trainset in my garage. They are all fun hobbies that there are tons of individuals out there in the world who devote their entire lives to. Now, I’ve never gone that far…most of my hobbies will either go on the back burner after a couple years or I’ll just lose interest. HOWEVER…the one thing that I love to do and have done for the better part of 20 years is:

Drink beer.

Oh, man. I’m the best beer drinker I know. I love different types of beers, from the heavy stuff that tastes like thick soy sauce to cheap Texas O.P. beer. The one hobby that I’ve often thought about but never got into was homebrewing. I have friends who have done it and have even tried homebrews. One or two were passable but the rest were downright awful. Terrible.

One night recently, I was watching Alton Brown’s Good Eats on tv, and his homebrew episode came on. Ever fascinated, I watched the whole thing and then turned to my wife and said, “I could totally do that.”

Now, normally when I come up with a new hobby, she just rolls her eyes because she knows it will either be something I forget about or it’s going to end up being something I spent time/money on. This was different. When I said it, she lit up and said, “We can totally do that.”

Bingo.

My next call was to Runnin’ Buddy. I told him my wacky idea, and he told me that he grew up with his dad homebrewing, and it just so happened that his father- in-law was a homebrewer years ago and gave him an entire set of gear to homebrew including carboy, cooker, bottles…everything. All we needed to do was clean it up, buy the ingredients, and get going.

My newest hobby was born:

Off to the big city to a local homebrew store, and we got not only the ingredients, but also some expert advice and recipes to make beer. We chose two different brews…one that should take about a month and another that will take nearly 7 months to completely age. The ingredient list:

-2lbs of milled grains

-a bucket of malt syrup

-0.5oz of Fuggles hops

-0.5oz of Hallterau hops (that’s one of the noble hops…more on that later)

-a packet of dry ale yeast (ale yeast ferments from the top down vs. lager yeast that ferments from the bottom up, so we don’t have to stir it in)

-corn sugar…looks like powdered sugar but tastes different. It’s a disaccharide, which means that we can add it directly to the wort after the primary fermentation)

-bottled drinking water (cheap stuff..not distilled)

-cheesecloth socks for the hops

-whirlflac tablets

Immediately, you are going to be overwhelmed because we are talking about ingredients and stuff that you’ve never heard of (probably). I know I was. Stick with it, though…it’s not as bad as you think. Your homebrew store will be able to provide all of this for you and explain what it all is. If not, then go find another homebrew store.

The gear:

-4-gallon, stainless steel stock pot with a glass lid

-7-gallon plastic bucket with a spigot and a sealable lid

-digital probe thermometer

-assorted other stuff. What? Yeah, keep trusting me on this and read the whole thing before you start.

The very first thing you do after inventory assessment is to sterilize everything. Even if you’ve washed and cleaned everything with hot water and soap, there still may be some bacteria floating around, and even the smallest amount of bacteria can turn the beer bad fast. We mixed 2 tablespoons of regular bleach with hot water in the primary fermenting bucket and shoved everything in there that we could…corks, burper, probe thermometer, metal whisk…anything we thought we might use at any point after the boil phase, we sterilized.

From up above:

While all that sat for 30 minutes, we started up our “brew tea”, which is a gallon of water with the milled grains seeping.

That has to simmer at 153 degrees F for 20 minutes. Why so precise? The whole grains have a lot of sugars and resins deep inside their kernels that will be really bitter if they are extracted, so if you keep the heat down they will not seep out. In addition, you CANNOT squeeze the bag they are in AT ALL or you’ll squeeze them out.

The mesh grain bag with the grains inside:

Do this over the sink our you’ll have this to clean up:

While the brew tea is making, I boiled another pot of water, then put a towel in the bottom so that the malt syrup could get hot and be easier to pour out. I’ll explain more in a bit, but the malt syrup is an extracted blend of grain sugars already pre-made by the brew store. Serious homebrewers will extract their own, but since this is our first time and since it takes about a day to extract them, we are going to just use the premade stuff. I don’t expect that to change.

Shangri-La Dog is there to help lick up anything that hits the floor.

After the water boils, turn it off and put the uncovered syrup bucket in, making sure you don’t overflow the water.

The malt is so sugary sweet, you can barely stand it. It looks like super thick honey and kinda tastes like honey a little bit, but the aftertaste is really potent. Not bad, but definitely a shock to the system when you taste it. It’s beautiful, though.

In goes the bag of milled grains.

We kept the water boiling at 153® for five minutes to make sure we could maintain the heat. As well, we gently stirred the tea from time to time to equalize the temp and make sure there wasn’t a build up of heat in one spot under the bag.

After 5 minutes, you can see the wort begin to take shape as the water turns a pretty blonde color.

Meanwhile, we took 1.5 quarts of water and heated it up to 170 degrees. We’ll use that to pour thru the tea to make sure we get all the goodies out when we are draining it.

After 20 minutes, we pulled the bag and drained it. Then, we poured the extra hot water thru it.

Top off to 3 gallons of water for the boil. We’ll bring this up to a boil…

The pour in the malt syrup. It’s so thick that you have to immediately start stirring it up or it will stick to the bottom of the pot. Why do I know this? you might inquire? Later.

After we bring that back to a boil we are going to had the hops. Remember up top, I mentioned we are using two different types of hops. “Hops” are the petals of a flower from a plant that is the same family as marijuana (no lie). Brewers have used the petals straight in for years, however they now concentrate them into pellets for homebrewers. I’m sure real beer makers do the same, but we for sure are going to. There are four types of “noble hops”; those are the original hops that were first used:

-Hallertau Hallertauer Mittelfruh

-Tettnanger Tettnang

Spalter Spalt

-Saaz

They are all grown in central Europe and are the standard for Bavarian style beer. Other hops varieties are grown all over, but the noble hops are considered the grandfathers of beer flavoring/finishing. Today, we are using a British hops called “fuggles” (leave it up to the Brits to come up with a goofy name) and the noble hops, Hallertau. We’ll do this in two stages: flavoring & finishing/aroma. The fuggles will boil for 75 minutes and add a big robust flowery flavor. The Halltertau will only be in for two minutes because we just need the aroma and oils to give a bitter punch that this recipe calls for.

We’ll put those into a cheesecloth sock, darned at one end and tied off at the other end. The pellets will swell up and expand pretty big as they cook, so we need to give them plenty of room to grow.

The boiling wort (which is what you call beer before it’s finished):

When the rolling boil begins, we throw in the fuggles and let them cook.

Now, I wish I could explain to you how great this smells. The malted barley and Munich grains that are in the bag smell like Grape Nuts if you’ve ever had them cooked. The hops smell so good…it’s like perfume, but with an anise kick. It’s so strong when you first open the bag that it takes you back, but you immediately get right back in for another whiff.

After 60 minutes of boiling on the flavoring fuggles hops, we need to add whirlfloc. Whirlfloc is a synthetic additive that doesn’t affect the smell, taste, or flavor of the beer at all. What it does is grab on to all the suspended particles in the beer and make them heavy enough to sink to the bottom of the primary fermenting bucket. If we were making a dark beer, then this isn’t an issue. However, with a lighter golden beer then we are probably going to see particles in the beer if we don’t filter it. Since we don’t want to filter, we use whirlfloc. Purists will use Irish Moss, but we’ll just use whirlfloc for ease of use.

After 13 more minutes, it’s time for our finishing or “aroma” hops. The first hopping gives flavor. We go with a more potent hops to add the smells of the hops only. For this, we are using the Hallertau:

Two bags of hops.

Notice the line on the inside of the pot where the original level of the wort started. We’ve reduced down considerably, concentrating the smells, sugars, and flavors of the wort.

The finishing hops stay in for two minutes, then we turn off the heat and pull the bags.

The wort will continue to churn for a bit with the carry-over heat. If you taste this now, it tastes like sweet bread that you’ve liquefied. Big flowery taste with a bit of bitterness on the back of your tongue from the hops.

We let this cool down for 15 minutes in the pot. Then, we took 8lbs of ice and put it into the sterilized primary fermenting bucket with the spigot turned off so it doesn’t run all over the floor.

For reference, by the way, we cut the hops socks open to take a look at the hops after the cook. The flavoring fuggles hops are on the bottom and are a noticeable browner color, as we’ve cooked a lot of the chlorophyll out of the flower. The aroma hops are on top and are still bright green.

The grains that we seeped for the brew tea look like cattle feed, and frankly kinda smell like cattle feed, too. We’ll set those out in the fancy greenhouse to dry and will put in the birdfeeder.

Pouring the wort into the fermenter…look how beautiful that is.

Pouring it over the ice will help melt it.

Remember what I said about having to stir the syrup well or it would stick to the bottom and burn?

Damn, I hope that doesn’t come back to bite us down the road.

Topping off with another gallon of water to make five gallons total in the fermenter (

The wort in the bucket:

We have to let this cool off to somewhere between 65-75 degrees before we “pitch” the packet of dry yeast. If it’s too hot, then the yeast will immediately die. If it’s too cold, the yeast could die or just be arrested and not bloom.

The packet of yeast

“Pitching” the yeast into the top of the bucket:

Now, we do NOT stir this up. Because we are using ale yeast, it needs to sit right on top to work. The yeast feeds on the sugars in the wort and craps out air and alcohol as a natural process. We need the air to escape in this portion of the process, but want to keep all the alcohol. We do this by sealing the top of the bucket except for a small hole with a “burper” or an “airlock”. This will slowly let air out while not letting any back in. Air has bacteria, and we don’t want that.

Alton Brown tells us to add water into the airlock to make bubbles, but the gearheads go one step further. If you use vodka in the airlock instead of water, then it keeps it extra disinfected. It just so happens that I keep vodka laying around for just such an occasion.

Carefully pouring it into the airlock chamber.

Upright.

Knucks for a finished wort

Here comes the tricky part. We’ve got to let this ferment for 10-20 days in a dark cool place, no hotter than 70 degrees and preferably around 60 degrees. It just so happens that we have a coat closet that stays at 62-65 degrees at all times

That’s our first part. There are two more parts on the way, but you’ll have to wait for a couple of weeks for the wort to ferment.

To be continued…

A Shot in the Arm (or Bum)

Every year about this time I do battle with my sinuses. Cedar and juniper pollen is very high in February/March in our area. In a 20 minute drive south of my home, the landscape changes dramatically and becomes dense with cedar trees. They are highly flammable and tortuous in the early spring for seasonal allergy sufferers.

The orange part of north central Texas -- that is where I live.

I got in to see my doc today to get my annual steroid shot in the bum. It’s remarkable how much better I feel in just a few hours post shot. My teeth were hurting because of the pressure in my sinuses. I even resorted to using the neti pot, which I refer to as the evil torture device. With a good rain about two days ago, I would have probably been able to make it out sans sinus infection and resulting shot in the bum. (The rain literally washes the pollen out of the air for a few days. And without the pollen my body can catch up.)

The doc looked at my medical history and for the last four years I’ve had a sinus infection between February 5th and March 20th. Steady-Freddy results for seasonal allergies.

I told Jdubs that the doctor gave me a shot so he put a picture of himself on my bedside table. He said, “this is so you will always be able to look at me and make your shot not hurt.”

Momma loves you, Jdubs.

Homebrew: Just the Beginning

Tonight we started our first batch of homebrew beer. Actually my Husband and his Runnin’ Buddy started it. I took pictures and smelled the aromas.

It’s a complicated process that requires specialty equipment and ingredients. Fortunately Runnin’ Buddy and my Husband went on a man-date Monday to get the necessary supplies. Runnin’ Buddy’s daddy-in-law provided the equipment.

The process of making homebrew beer goes through several phases and takes about a month, for the shortest cycle and up to two years.

The smells of the ingredients and brewing process itself constantly reminded me of feeding cattle in the winter while gnawing on a cowcake cube. The malt extract and the milled grain smell remarkably like finishing feed for cattle. (it’s the same stuff).


Through the process, we all kept talking about how people figured out how to make beer. Considering all the sanitation we did in a modern kitchen, I can’t imagine how the monks did it.

I wonder how many people got sick or died from drinking bad beer? And who thought of adding hops? Back in the dark ages someone figured out that hops was a natural preservative. So it makes sense to add it to the brew, but who knew? By the way, hops are part of the cannabis plant family, a curious fact indeed.

We’ll be posting more about the steps and process to making your own homebrew. Being the foodies we are, I’m not surprised we are attempting this. But unless you have a burning desire and a good friend who will loan you the equipment, it’s not for the faint of wallet or novice in the kitchen.

I can’t wait until next month when we can uncork our own bottles of brew. More fun to come from Arcadia. But for now, we have a wort in the closet, fermenting. (I hope we can find the vacuum). The step-by-step recipe will be on Its way to a blog post soon.

Music and Theater in Arcadia

We have a wonderfully restored theater here in Arcadia … it’s grand and musicians, thespians and one-act play troupes alike comment on its greatness. (And it’s here in po-dunk, just another gem that few outside of our town know about).

Most of us who live in an arcadian utopia couldn’t go to the theater, to concerts, to plays– either the ticket cost or logistics of travel keep us from such cultured enrichment.

Every year the Graham Concert Association puts together an incredible series of performing arts that is a true service to our community because it brings the arts to us.

The quality of the performances and the variety is incredible. The concert association has hosted children’s theater, symphony orchestras, Grammy-award winning musicians, and performing artists from around the world. It’s underwritten by many donors in our community.

You have to purchase a season pass, but they have student pricing available for kids. The price of a season pass is less than a floor seat at a hot concert in Dallas. A season pass is worth every penny to be able to see and hear all the wonderful artists, experience the talent and culture right here in our home town.

Tonight we saw the Quebe Sisters Band … Wow. (more on that in another post.)