flwyd: (tell tale heart)
As is often the case, when exciting things are happening they take up most of my time, so I don't blog about them. So what better use of a New Year's Eve at home than a recap of the annum.

My primary foci for 2015 were my wife, my job, and my esophagus.

Wedding

As you may recall, I proposed to Kelly at the Temple at Burning Man 2014. Planning and executing a wedding celebration took about a year, culminating in a wonderful gathering of 150 of our best friends on September 19th. Knowing that we wouldn't be able to pay attention to everyone at a single wedding day event, we created several opportunities to spend time with people: bridal shower, game day, a hike, a storytelling evening, a union ceremony, a reception full of dinner and dance, and a Sunday brunch to recover and say farewell.

Most of the decisions we made turned out really well, in some cases being more key than we'd realized.
  • Planning and conducting the ritual ourselves
  • The yin-yang and I Ching theme and the eight friends and family that played trigram roles
  • The grand-right-and-left movement across the circle that brought guests face-to-smiling-face
  • Foothills Community Park in Boulder as a venue, even though nobody told us there would be six soccer games in the field where we wanted to set up
  • My Mom's Pie in Niwot who made 20 pies to boost everyone's blood sugar after the ceremony; much better than cake
  • The Dickens Opera House in Longmont which were very accommodating, served a great dinner, and had a great space for dancing
  • Double helix rings from Zander's Creations; I didn't expect to enjoy wearing a ring every day, but it's been really nice
  • Reusable wedding outfits; we looked fabulous for a wedding, but we can also wear them on anniversaries and other party occasions
  • Not having an expectation for wedding night sex because we might be exhausted, but being sufficiently energized that we could have fantastic sex anyway
  • A Google Sheets gift suggestion list rather than a specific store's registry; we got a wide variety of gifts that can't all be found in one place (except, now, our house :-)
  • Tracking invites, RSVPs, food restriction, chair requests, and everything else with Google Sheets


I think it's a very good idea to plan a wedding before getting married. You learn a lot about your partner and have an opportunity to get a lot of significant arguments out of the way. If you can get through all the stress and conflict of wedding planning and still want to get married, I think it's a good sign you'll stick together. Along the way, we stressed about
  • What sort of wedding to have
  • When it should be
  • Where it should be
  • How many days it should last
  • How many people should be involved
  • How the ritual should be structured
  • How the reception should run
  • Timelines for invitations
  • Making homebrew in time for the big week
  • Construction of flagpoles
  • How to move humans in lines and circles
  • Who was going to attend, even though they hadn't RSVP'd
  • Where guests would stay
  • What car to take
  • Folding chairs
  • The position of celestial bodies
  • … and probably more I've forgotten

That's all a lot of chaos for a couple of introverts, so we had a separate private commitment ceremony in advance: just Kelly and Trevor and Joan the cat and a marriage license under the blue moon. This was the yin side of the wedding: inward looking and nurturing at night, establishing fortitude before the yang energy of crowds and movement in the sun.

Rest and Recovery

The traditional follow-up to a wedding is a honeymoon. But planning a wedding is a lot of work; planning a long vacation immediately afterwards would add undue stress. Instead, we set the intention of doing little but sleep, eat, and screw for the next month. Around our mensiversary we took a four-day agave moon to Valley View Hot Springs for further relaxation and a side trip to the Colorado Gator Farm and the sand dunes.

Moon of Honey

We'd been talking for some time about a honeymoon in Iceland. Winter isn't our ideal time for adventures near the Arctic Circle, so we figured we'd plan something for the summer time. Fortunately, we got an opportunity for an early summer. I've got a business meeting in Sydney in mid-January, which sounded like a great starting point for a month of adventure in the Southern Hemisphere. Wondering if there were any interesting Burner events in Oz, we discovered that Kiwiburn is the week after my meeting. It turns out that New Zealand has a more compact set of adventure opportunities, fewer things that will kill you, and less intense summers. We're still working out the time balance between former British colonies, but it looks like we'll spend more time near the flightless birds than pouched mammals.

Home

In 2014 we moved in with some friends in Ranger Outpost Cherryvale. Despite good intentions, the arrangement didn't work out. We got a great opportunity on a place we call Lucky Gin, with ample gardening, a nice kitchen, and plenty of space to host friends and family in case a wedding should break out. Providing a safe home was one of my key wedding commitments to Kelly, and we hope to stay here until we have the opportunity to buy a house.

Googling and Alpha Bets

One of my big work accomplishments this year was the full launch of the new Google Drive web UI. I led the handoff of production management and oncall duties to our great site reliability team. I then turned my attention to migrating the invisible and lesser-seen parts of our old and crufty server to smaller, easier to maintain homes. This led to a project of introducing an internal framework suite to our organization, evangelizing its use where appropriate, and coordinating things to make the transition feasible.

After six years on the team and my natural inclination to absorb information, my brain has become a repository for a lot of disparate parts of our system. My day to day work often involves answering lots of questions by email and reviewing lots of design documents. This means I don't spend as much time writing code as I would like, but it does mean that I'm demonstrating impact and scope, so several people have told me I should go for promotion. I declined to spend energy on that process this year because the performance review cycle was the same month as the wedding and I was busy working on my promotion from fiancé to husband. The next performance review cycle starts when we get back from our honeymoon, so it may end up feeling like an unproductive quarter.

The Esophagus is Connected to the Stomach

The least fun part of this year has been my gastrointestinal experience. Around the beginning of the year I had several sudden onrushes of an acid feeling, often expressed as tightness in the chest or pain in the jaw. They would often happen at night, waking me up and making me worry that I had heart trouble. I would also experience sudden trouble eating, finding it difficult to swallow. This was often on the third or fourth bite of a meal, but would also happen if I had a bready snack. Sugars like dark chocolate and dried papaya seemed to keep the issue somewhat at bay, and could provide relief after a sudden acid attack. At first I thought the feeling might be a side effect of wisdom teeth removal, but it became fairly clearly gastrointestinal.

Western medicine didn't do a great job on this one. I saw my primary care physician early in the year. After a suite of tests ruling out heart trouble and a variety of other issues, he prescribed omeprazole (brand name Prilosec), a proton pump inhibitor that helps reduce acid reflux. A course of that takes a while and didn't seem to solve the problem, so a few months later I saw an enterologist. That led to an endoscopy a few weeks later, in late April. That turned up partially elevated levels of an inflammation sign, but was otherwise unremarkable. So they prescribed a stronger dose of omeprazole, tapering over two months. That seemed to help a bit, but not a huge amount. In August I returned to the enterologists, who prescribed a modified barium swallow, which is basically a video X-ray of me eating. Of course the condition didn't end up triggering while the speech pathologist was working with me in the lab, but we determined that there didn't seem to be a structural problem in the throat. As the omeprazole course ended and I still had no better idea of the problem than eight months before, I returned to the entorologists. The next prescription was an inhaled steroid, with the goal of reducing the acid in the throat so it could recover on its own (IIRC). I picked up the prescription, but was wary of taking it, so I paid a visit to the naturopath who diagnosed me with a milk allergy over 20 years ago. As I described my symptoms she immediately inferred the problem: the top of my stomach stuck in my esophagus, likely from a night of intense vomiting last December (one of two likely proximate causes I mentioned on every doctor's visit). Her attempts to pull my stomach out of my esophagus were unsuccessful, though. Finally, I paid a visit to a massage therapist who's worked with my family for years. He was similarly very familiar with this condition and with half an hour of body work got my GI system in the best shape it's been all year. The problem isn't fixed entirely–I still often have trouble swallowing and occasionally get awoken in the middle of the night by an acid shock–but it's a case where a holistic approach was able to both diagnose and mostly solve the problem way faster than the western approach focused on data, hypotheses, and attacking symptoms.

Zymurgy

Aside from marriage, work, food consumption, moving, and gardening, my time has been occupied some this year by brewing. It's a hobby I'd wanted to get into, but had put it off until owning a house so that I didn't have to worry about moving a fermenting 5-gallon carboy. My cider foray in 2014 got me started with equipment and I took the opportunity of a more convenient kitchen at Lucky Gin to get into beer brewing. In the late spring I made a by-the-recipe Belgian wit that's been well received; even some non-beer-drinkers have said they enjoyed it. In the summer I took advantage of the juniper tree and mint patch in our back yard and made a batch of ginger juniper saison. (Intended to be ginger-mint-juniper, the mint is basically undetectable.) This brew has been a hit with homebrewers who've called out the juniper aroma without it being an overpowering taste and the complex flavor profile from the ginger. Finally, Kelly and I started a batch of honeymoon mead this week. We hope to rack it before leaving so the yeast can be cheering us on from the secondary fermentation while we enjoy a more figurative honey.

In the kitchen, I also made at least four good rhubarb pies with our bumper garden crop as well as a couple rounds of banana and zucchini bread. Maybe one of these years I'll master pie crust.

I raise a glass of mead and a slice of pie to my friends and wish you all a happy new year. I'll see you on the flip side, so to speak.
flwyd: (cthulhufruit citrus cephalopod)
Samhain seems like a good time to reflect on the last six months of biology hobbies. In April we moved into a house whose owner had invested a lot of time into gardening. We thus had free reign of a few raised garden beds and a modest harvest of some established plants. The mint patch had a great time, churning out stalk upon stalk of three varieties of mint. Aside from the stomach-comforting benefit of "Stroll in the back hard and nibble on the mint," we didn't take full advantage of this crop. Our first attempt at dried mint seemed a little off and the mint I added to a batch of beer was totally undetectable. We've got quite a bit drying now, we'll see how well that preserves.

The hawthorn trees produced a nice crop of berries that I've frozen with plans of a haw-mead. The pear tree produced a measly five or six pears, almost all on the branch leaning on the side of the house; perhaps it got enervated by the wacky late spring snows. I was looking forward to making something with the Oregon grapes in the front yard, but deer beat me to them. Four rhubarb plants were on overdrive, producing fodder for a couple pies, some stand-alone compote, and two gallons of chopped stalks for future use.

Of the crops we planted, tomatoes, chili peppers, and some tiny orange hot peppers did well. Our attempts at genus allium (onions, leeks, and maybe some shallots) did almost nothing. We got a few jalapeños, four small eggplants and two mystery gourdlike squashes, one of which the squirrels devoured. The tomatoes, peppers, and mint went into some excellent salsas. I'm mulling over plans for the chili peppers, maybe I'll use them for our office's annual chili contest.

Combining plants with microorganisms, I made two beers this year: a Belgian wit and a ginger juniper saison. The former involved a few mistakes, including turning down the heat when it boiled over and then forgetting to turn it back up. This led to a remarkably smooth beer without strong hop bitterness; several people who don't normally enjoy beer have expressed delight at it. The latter also came out quite well; despite my kitchen tendency to turn flavors up to eleven, the ginger isn't overpowering and the juniper is subtle. I used fresh juniper berries from the backyard tree and their flavor from the initial boil was basically undetectable. Just before bottling I added water boiled with juniper berries and mint leaves to just the right taste and aroma. The mint quickly disappeared, though.

The nice thing about homebrew and gardneing as hobbies is that non-human biological agents do most of the work. A weekend here and there of cleaning, cooking, and weeding lets the real work of converting sunlight to chlorophil and sugar to alcohol to entities which don't have to go to the office five days a week.

Active Vegitation

Sunday, May 31st, 2015 11:50 pm
flwyd: (red succulent)
Kelly and I are moved out of Outpost Cherryvale and have unpacked and organized a lot at Lucky Gin, so it looks much less like a box fort.

One of the exciting features of this house is a yard ringed with plants and a set of raised garden beds ready to grow our bidding. We hit up KGNU's annual [the frequency, not just the plant facet] plant sale this morning. We mostly got Allium, but also tomatoes, an eggplant, a jalapeño, and catnip. We turned soil and planted them, then wondered what to do with all the extra space.

Since that's not enough plant-based activity for the day, I took advantage of our gas stove, extensive counter space, and kitchen we don't have to share with roommates. I started my first batch of homebrew beer, having gone through the easier process of cider last fall. Brewing is roughly two parts cleaning and one part cooking. Since I tend to do both rather slowly, the process took on the order of eight hours. And I'm not quite done: I'm taking a break from scrubbing the malt off the bottom of the pot. It burned, I think, because I turned the heat down to avoid boiling over and forgot to turn it back up, so it spent over half an hour not at a rolling boil. Fortunately, the sage advice of my old friend Charlie Papazian comes in handy: Relax. Don't worry. Have a homebrew. I only followed the first 66% though, opting for cool water instead of homebrew to tide me over.

Now that I've made bread tea and mixed it with bread syrup, the five gallons in a bucket will quietly sit in the corner while the yeast turns it into bread soda. Which is a very different culinary output than soda bread.

We also harvested and prepared to dry a whole bunch of mint from the garden. I'm considering a mint ginger beer for my next homebrew sally.
flwyd: (cthulhufruit citrus cephalopod)
Peaches in the summer time
Apples in the fall
If I can't have the fruit I love
I still want to eat them all
[livejournal.com profile] mollybzz, private correspondence
2014 was an apple year in Boulder.
After getting a year's worth of rain in September 2013 and a fairly snowy winter, the long-thirsty soil in Boulder County swelled with moisture. The apple trees took notice and appled up a storm.

As we poked around the yard of our new house after signing a lease at the end of May I excitedly announced that the small fruits on the two trees in back were apples, not crabapples. As the summer past I impatiently picked and consumed some very bitter, small green apples, figuring this might be a natural bitter, small green apple tree. As August turned toward Burning Man the apples grew larger, turned a lovely red, and shifted to a sweet taste.

In the weekends after Burning Man, a housemate and I gathered bins and commenced to shaking trees and picking fruits. I discovered that we had four, not two, varieties of apple hanging, though distinguishing the trunks is still a trick. As I stood in the kitchen washing and slicing apples for preservation before a game day, my friends Josh and Laura came by with an offer of cider pressed fresh the day before. Remembering that they'd brought a few jars of "forgotten" cider to a game day over the winter, I was excited to taste the latest delivery. Sweet, smooth, full bodied, and deliciously unfiltered. They then hurried off to the homebrew store to prepare the cider's future.

Half a gallon of tasty cider and a couple bushels of sliced and sauced apples would've been the extent of my apply autumn, but then [livejournal.com profile] bassist posted an entry about the fun of cider pressing with the teaser that there would be another, ahem, pressing engagement on October 11th.

I got the details and eagerly packed my big camping water container and a pair of leather gloves in the car and headed to Longmont that Saturday morning. When I arrived, the operation was in full swing. Apples were dumped on a table and the gooey and wormy ones removed from the stream. They were then passed to a repurposed sugar beet washer, cleansing the fruit and blasting out any remaining pockets of goo. The mouth of the washer opened and glistening apples tumbled out for a final quality check to remove twigs, leaves, and that one bad apple. They then rolled down a chute onto a home-made rotating blade which deposited nicely diced apple chunks into a bucket. We carried buckets to another table where the apple bits were packed into cloth-covered squares on wooden pallets. The pallets with cloth and apple (and sans squares) were then placed in a home-made press which slowly pushed the juice from the pulp. The cloths were then shaken and scraped off so we could hustle and load up another batch of pallets. The sweet juice from the press was then piped to a large milk cooler which slowly stirred it until we were ready to fill our jugs.

The next day I read up on brewing cider and made my own run to the local homebrew store. Brewing is a hobby I'd considered pursuing, but had always told myself I'd wait until I owned a house so I didn't have to move with a delicate glass jar full of mead. But cider only takes a month or two, so the gear will be empty by the time I have to pack it up.

I left the wild yeast in one gallon of cider and pasteurized five gallons and added wild ale yeast, not wanting to trust my whole initial zymurgy experience to whatever yeast is ambient along highway 66. Then I did what you spend most of the time brewing doing: wait a couple weeks. The next step is the second most time-consuming brewing activity: clean and sanitize all the things. In the middle of racking from one jug to another I discovered that I only had one gallon size, the other was smaller. So we got to try half a pint or so of the wild cider. By itself it was a little hard to drink, but when we added some of the original unfermented cider to the mix it was quite delicious.

The subsequent step is to wait for about a month. But then as I was about ready to start the bottling process a month later, I got sick with a virus. Which is definitely a bad time to handle beverages you intend to give to friends. After recovering from my stomach rebelling, my body losing too many fluids, and my brain struggling with complex activity it was Christmas time, which meant lots of family and social engagements. So after pressing on October 11th and racking on November 1st, I spent Boxing Day cleaning and sanitizing all the things, racking once again (to leave the sediment behind), and then filling 27 beer bottles and 7 larger flip-top bottles. With the long delay, my hydrometer suggests that the final brew is a strong 6.5% alcohol, and after a day of measuring and tasting, we felt quite fruity.

The wild cider remains in the jug, having stopped bubbling several weeks ago. I think I'll add some of its brethren cider which my parents had been sending on the path of vinegar. We'll call that the by-the-seat-of-the-pants jug.

Of course, my autumn apple adventure didn't end with cider. We've still got several bags of apple in the fridge and freezer. Some went to a curry apple pie for Pie Nite. I'd meant to make more apple pies for the holiday season, but my folks and my brother's new girlfriend had the pie course well-covered. And then there're the amorphous plans for cinnamon spice apple sauce.

In the back yard, I think there might still be a couple very committed and stubborn apples hanging from twigs. A week or two after the first frost burst expanded the juice and broke all the cell walls, the trees still had a dozen or two brown apples hanging as poetic symbols of fall and the lack thereof. Dozens more apples started decaying on the ground before we could collect them, slowly providing nutrients for future bumper crops of apples.
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