Thursday, October 27, 2011

I still drink beer and I still run...

...but I haven't written lately. I need to resume writing to clear my head/hash out ideas/not lose the ability. However, since I feel no strong desire to write about the stated foci of the blog, I'll most likely keep those written thoughts private. Hence, I'm making this blog's unofficial hiatus official.

Should my musings stray back to Ales and Trails, though, I'll post them here. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Too Early to Plan Ahead for 2012?

I have visions of a train ride, multiple deep dish outings, a return sampling of Goose Island favorites, and a nice little run around the city as an element in my year-long celebration of my 40th birthday. I'm still a long way from being able to run anything like 26.2 miles again yet, but I've always found concrete goals to be great motivators.

We'll see.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Frozen Hat

If I had no responsibilities to myself or others, I'd do all of my summer running early in the morning, during the coolest part of the day. Since sleeping at my desk is not an option, though, it's better that I get that extra hour or two of sleep before going into work. Running, therefore, is relegated to immediately after work, during the hot part of the day.

One of my heat-beating schemes is shown above. It works great for the first 10 minutes or so, which is a lot better than not at all.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

One and One and One is Three

Labonte-Twombly is now Labonte-Twombly-Harlow. Our buddy Keith joined the crew for our first all-grain brew Monday evening.

Going all grain meant, first of all, that we had to replace our balky mash tun that had failed during partial mashes. Seeing the wobbly false bottom as the culprit behind our clogged mashes, we opted for a stainless steel mesh filter. Billy, who is much more mechanically inclined than I am, fashioned Mash Tun 2.0.

"No leaks!"

The second great innovation for our brew team was the addition of a propane burner that would provide the oomph needed to boil 7+ gallons of liquid. Enter Keith, who already owned one for the purposes of outdoor cooking (ps: something at which he's really, really good):

The beer itself is an oatmeal stout. The moment of truth--transferring the wort from the mash tun to the brew pot--revealed the success of Billy's construction work:

 Wort, conveniently not stuck in the mash tun this time!

Spent grains

Other than the spilling of a little bit of boiling water (from the brew-pot priming) onto my big toe, the night was a complete success. We'll transfer to secondary next week, rack to bottles two weeks later, and start enjoying this batch for real sometime in October.


Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Gettin' Down With the Brown

Hair of the Dog India Brown Ale, the first beer brewed start to finish at the new Labonte-Twombly Brew Works (ie, Billy and Marjo's new house), is now conditioning in bottles and is a mere six weeks away from being enjoyed.

Start of the (patrtial) mash. Everything looks fine here, but the end result was a clogged spigot and our realizing that we needed to redesign our mash tun. We were glad that we had a large strainer standing by as Plan B! 

The problems with the mash tun were forgotten, though, as we commenced the boil.

After the wort spent a week in primary fermentation and two weeks in secondary, we racked it to the bottling bucket and bottled the batch. The racking and bottling marked our first use of the main brewery space--Billy's basement.

  Joseph, overseeing the proceedings, gave his smile of approval.

We think this will be the best beer we've ever brewed--that is, we like it better than the first one so far; we like the taste so much, in fact, that we deemed it worth drinking even in its not-yet-carbonated state. And it's a doozy...given the objective measure of hydrometer readings and the subjective measure of post-beer wobbliness, I'm pretty sure we hit our target ABV of 7.2%.

In one of my other avocations as a musician, I like to play solo shows (just me, guitar, and harmonica), and I also sometimes like to "hide in the back" as a drummer in a band. But my favorite gigs are the two-man partnerships that I occasionally have with my cousin David, in which we work as equals in singing and songwriting even as we bring different colors to the instrumental palatte--skilled guitar playing from him, percussion and harmonica playing from me. That partnership makes me try harder and open my mind to ideas I might not come up with by myself. I'm confident in David's playing, singing, and overall musical instincts, and I trust him enough to let go of the control over songs that I have written for his reshaping; I think the converse is the same for him.

Similarly, working in partnership with Billy has increased my enjoyment of the brewing process exponentially. His general handiness far exceeds mine, and I think that the two of us click in not only our love of beer but also our willingness to push ourselves to try styles and techniques that might initially be out of our comfort zone and experience. And, frankly, since much of brewing is sitting around waiting for water to boil or for grains to soak, I find it much more fun to do all of that sitting around with a good friend over beers than by myself.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Independence Day

I received medical clearance to jog--slowly, for short distances on flat surfaces--starting July 4.

It's been awhile.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Stick or Snake?

Cindy, our dog, Bubba (Mr. B), and I spent a rejuvenating two days at Natchez Trace State Park this past weekend. This was actually our second full-family trip to Natchez Trace, the first when Cindy and I were dating and Bubba had not yet acquired either that nickname or the white fur around his nose and eyes. On that trip, the three of us hiked for much of a cloudy February afternoon as much of the rest of the nation watched the Steelers steal a Super Bowl from the Seahawks.

These days, though, Bubba's hikes are limited to short walks, but since he so enjoys long car rides, and since Natchez Trace has a number of pet-friendly cabins, we've been looking for a chance to return there with him, even though he would not end up being a participant on our longer hike.

Our Bubba-friendly cabin

Hence, after making the short drive up I-40, checking into our cabin, and enjoying a mild Saturday evening of grilling burgers (me) and making homemade fries (Cindy)--

and listening to the Grizzlies game outside the car--

Two grey-haired Grizz fans

Cindy and I left Bubba in the cabin around noon on Sunday (we tried to keep him in the bedroom to prevent him from accessing the refrigerator, which he knows how to open) and made our way down a long series of steps and across two small bridges to the Cub Creek Lake trail head. We packed two bottles of water and a couple of NutriGrain bars, remembering that the 3.5-mile trail took us just under two hours to hike the last time. It was much warmer in May than it had been that February, but once we were beneath the trail's tree canopy, the temperature dropped several degrees. We settled in for a relaxing stroll.

A long stroll.

A not-so-relaxing-after-all long stroll.

An adventure-filled stroll, to be sure. But definitely a not-so-relaxing-after-all long stroll.

Given the strong storms that have pounded the region over the past month, we should have figured that trail conditions might've been less than stellar. The first mile or so was pleasantly uneventful, but the closer the trail angled toward the lake, the muddier it became. Eventually, we came across the first of many trees that had been knocked clear over during the recent thunderstorms.

The root of the problem

Downed trees on the trail equal improvised detours, and we used a bit of trial and error in deciding whether to go over or around several large trunks and branches (around usually won out). Detours through brush and weeds equal tick havens, as we learned the hard way.

About two thirds of the way down the trail, we came across a stream that did not offer a realistic detour (we assumed it was the namesake of the Cub Creek Lake trail). Fortunately for us, a couple of resourceful rangers had erected an ad hoc "bridge" of two strong steel cables that spanned the stream.

Our "ropes course"

Unfortunately, as we prepared to ascend this makeshift "ropes course," we realized that we were not alone: in the stream, parked just beneath the lower cable, was a Park Native:

Stick or snake? Not a stick...

Cindy, the more confident of the two of us (and the one with two non-gimpy feet), decided to brave this Gladiator-style challenge first. Sliding one small step at a time, she eased past the snake (which lifted its head toward her just as she passed it) and made it safely to the other side. I followed soon afterward, though not before wondering if my physical therapists would approve of this particular exercise. I made it just fine, of course, and we high-fived each other on our Amazing Courage and Dexterity and congratulated ourselves for reaching what we assumed was the last stretch of our hike.

Which it would have been had we only followed the signs back to the cabin.

But we thought we made the correct turn onto the fire road.

And then we assumed we'd walked too far down the fire road to make it worth returning to the trail.

And then we thought it might be a good idea to traipse across the clearing cut for the petroleum line as a short-cut back to the actual road. 

And then we thought it might be a good idea to sit on the edge of that road and feel a little sorry for ourselves and wish we'd brought a lot more water.

And then Cindy saw the sign that read, "Cabins, next left."

And then, about three and a half hours after we stared, we reached our little cabin home, in which Bubba had not remained in the bedroom (how does he open doors like that?) but, mercifully, had not opened the refrigerator. After a very welcome lunch of scrambled egg sandwiches (with bacon, turkey, and lettuce), we settled into what we felt was a well-earned nap.

(After I enjoyed a tasty beer, of course.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Everyday Busted Stuff Crashing Under the Table

They appear year after year, consistent and more than competent, although it's sometimes difficult to distinguish the latest from the previous. They're definitely not my favorite, and they usually aren't my go-to, but they generally are enjoyable when I do pop one open.

And despite all of those disclaimers, they almost always leave me feeling like I'm a little bit high.

Dave Matthews Band CDs.

And/or Saranac beers.

I first tried Saranac brews at last spring's Wild World of Wine and Beer at the Memphis Zoo, enjoying several varieties, especially the Black Forest Ale. I picked up the Saranac "Trail Mix" variety pack soon thereafter, and while that mix was pretty enjoyable, it suffered from a samey-ness (for example, I can't recall how the "Pale Ale" and the "India Pale Ale" actually differed or which one I liked better). I was therefore a little slow to pull the trigger on the "12 Beers of Winter" mixer; but then Schnucks had a sale and I decided, eh, what the heck.

I have yet to try all 6 beers (2 each of 6 = 12). Two that I have tasted--the Big Moose Ale and the India Copper Ale--were both pleasant, the latter especially so. Both fall somewhere under the broad "pale ale" umbrella and have a pleasant, if not overpowering hop aroma and flavor. A third, the Rye IPA, was not so enjoyable to me (honestly, it tasted more like a Budweiser than anything else, and in hindsight I think I would've preferred the Budweiser), so I'm slightly apprehensive though mostly optimistic about the final three: Lake Effect Lager, Bohemian Pilsner, and Vanilla Stout; I'm especially intrigued by the Vanilla Stout, since I tend to prefer sweeter to drier stouts. If that one doesn't wet my whistle, though, it looks like I'll have literally dozens of other variations on the Saranac theme to choose from sooner or later.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Recalled to Life

It was the best of times (we celebrated my nephew Eliot's second birthday today)

It was the worst of times (my beloved Tiger basketball team suffered their worst lost since, well, heck, I don't know)

It was the age of wisdom (Eliot loved our gift to him--an Elmo Ball Zone)

It was the age of foolishness (Cindy and I completely overate at El Porton--darn those chips)

And it was a day in which I recalled to life forty-something "dead soldiers" (ie, used, empty beer bottles); well, at least I removed their labels...I'll still need to sanitize them before bottling my first batch of beer in a couple of weeks.  Some labels were easier to remove (those of Sierra Nevada and New Belgium products) than others (Saranac was difficult, McSorleys was impossible), and some bottles with the "labeling" applied by paint are just going to have to stay that way. But I did feel a sense of accomplishment after removing that last label, knowing that I was one step closer to having my own beer ready to drink and share.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Baby Steps, part II

They gave me the boot. No more casts!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Friday, February 11, 2011

I Haven't Been There

Tomorrow, I'm planning to redeem my Groupon coupon for a beginner beer brewing kit from Mid-South Malts. I've promised my wife that I'll refrain from actually trying out the kit until I'm out of the cast and able to walk sans crutches. After nearly a year of talking the talk, I'll finally be walking the walk. 

I think at least part of my procrastination stems from the fact that it's quite humbling to walk into an environment knowing you'll know less about the goings on than pretty much anyone else there. "Act like you've been there," I often tell myself in such situations, even though I know in my gut that feigning expertise or knowledge is the surest defense against actually learning something new. When I was a Confirmation candidate in the Episcopal Church many years ago, I spent more time trying to show others in my class how much I already knew (not much, actually) than sitting quietly or asking questions about things I really didn't know (a whole lot). Running stores, music stores, bookstores--all of these have been the scene of my putting on the airs of being an expert of some sort only to walk out with less than I came for (and with my ego either puffed or deflated, depending on how the interaction went).

But here's the thing: I really, really don't know how to brew beer, and I want to learn how. I need instruction in even the most basic information about equipment, ingredients, and processes. I'm guessing that my chronic know-it-all-ism will attempt to shift my focus from simply brewing beer to Being Someone Who Brews Beer, even though I've not brewed a drop. 

I'm hoping I can ignore it this time.

Friday, February 04, 2011


I finally picked up my Joe's Beer Nutz beers for January: Alpha Dog Imperial IPA and The Dogfather Imperial Stout, both from Laughing Dog Brewery in Ponderay, Idaho. As I usually do when retrieving my beer club haul, I browsed the big beer section before picking up my pre-purchased brews; continuing the canine theme, I ended up deciding on a bottle of Flying Dog's Double Dog Double IPA.

Having not tried any of these three beers before (and, being dog-tired, not planning to try them tonight), I can't comment yet on the beers themselves. I can't help, though, think that each of these three bottles represents a member of my household:

Alpha Dog

The Dogfather

Double Dog

(I suppose, though, that the names and images could be juxtaposed here or there.)

Friday, January 14, 2011

After posting a rambling comment on a friend's blog entry today, I realized it'd probably be better to go ahead and spill a few words in my own blog than to continue hijacking others'.


I really don't have much to say about my ruptured achilles tendon, the surgery I had to repair it, and the 10 days' postsurgery recovery I've had. Other than some slight tightness and pressure at night, I really have not experienced any real pain yet. I'm scheduled to have my splint and bandages replaced with a cast on Monday, a thought that would've freaked me out a few weeks ago but that seems less intimidating now that I've become somewhat accustomed to having my foot and lower leg enclosed in a fairly tight space (I've not worn a cast before).


My employers have been more than generous in letting me use my company computer and telephone at home, meaning that I haven't had to bum rides to work the last couple of weeks. Having a dedicated phone line tied in to my company network has been, frankly, kind of fun: I participated in a meeting via speaker on Wednesday, and I now know that wearing pajama pants and a t-shirt allows one to relax a bit more than office meetings usually allow one to do. On the down-side, I was included in an office-wide announcement that cake and cookies were available to all in the breakroom.

Other than relax my dress code, I have tried to otherwise maintain the morning rituals involved in going to work: showering (sitting on a stool and wearing what is essentially a shrink-wrap boot over my bandaged foot), shaving, making coffee, saying brief prayers, eating a little breakfast, and starting up the computer so it's ready to go when I "clock in" at 8:00. I'm pretty sure that I just finished the most productive work week I've had in years. I really thought I'd have a harder time being mentally present in my work, but I've been able to focus fairly well. I think, though, that part of the increased ability to concentrate derives from the dearth of usual distractions (which more often than not involve planning the route for my afternoon run). I miss that, of course, but not agonizingly so for now. I'm often tempted to give my avocations more of my mind, heart, and energy than my actual vocation (of being an editor), so it's probably not spiritually unhealthy to take a break from my extracurricular amusements, even a forced one. And the upshot is that I've remembered that I really do like my job.


I should also add that my wife, Cindy, has been nothing if not kind, patient, and thoughtful during what must be a frustrating time for her as well. Moreover, she's been the calm, steady voice to counter my sometimes apprehensive and anxious, sometimes despondent and pouting one (reading account after account of others' experience with the same injury one is currently enduring can be overwhelming; I don't recommend it). I "married up," as they say. Other friends and family have been similarly considerate, giving me rides, bringing us food, just stopping by to say hello or leaving brief notes online...all of  it has meant the world to me. I'm blessed beyond measure.

Glory to God.