Brenda’s Bruvarian Brew

My most genius Christmas request ever was the time I asked Adam for sourdough starter for Christmas. He got the starter, read all the materials for getting it started, and stealthily started it in the fridge. He presented it to me on Christmas morning, as it was nearing time for use. I expressed my excitement and gratitude! But it needed to get used, and I showed no sign of getting up to make bread… so Adam made some sourdough bread. He kept feeding the sourdough and making delicious baked goods, periodically reminding me that hey! This was ready whenever I was! I kept nodding and saying I was thinking of doing something with it tomorrow. Or maybe the day after.

Basically, I got months of delicious sourdough baking with zero effort, before he figured me out. It was brilliant.

Beer kits – high hopes!

This year for Christmas, I asked for a beer brewing kit. The yeast arts are amazing ones to me. The similarities between bread and beer are striking. They’re the staffs upon which civilization was founded. And hey! Adam has a degree is biochemistry, so this is gonna work out great, right?

Over Christmas, I brewed the first kit. It was a teeny one gallon kit, perfect for a trial run. I read through the book. I watched a Youtube how to video. I cleaned the kitchen and read through all the various steps multiple times, lining up my tools like a surgeon.

The finished product

Over and over again, all the materials stress the dire need for excellent dishes doing. Everything has to be super clean. Very sterile. Completely squeaky clean. I assiduously did the dishes and contemplated how fun a hobby must be in order to be worth doing this many dishes for. I wrestled with the auto-siphon and stared at my destroyed kitchen and thought “This beer better taste good.” Six bottles were all that labor produced. I doled them out to my friends.

“Not bad! I hardly any of that banana taste homebrew usually has. This is actually drinkable!”

Hours of labor. Massive dishes. Incredible expense. All to create something I could buy a better version of for a fraction of the cost. Worst yet, Adam was on to me and wasn’t using his clean room technique to do all the work for me. Curses! Foiled again!

Dishes, testosterone style

Still, I had gotten a second kit – a five gallon one. A neighbor gave me their gear (missing one or two bobs and bits). It included this neato cooling kit that you hook up to your faucet, except we didn’t have that connector. Adam spent about 2 hours going to many hardware stores, coming home with about 7 connectors. None of them worked. D’oh!

Adam was sad his plumbing connectors did not connect correctly

As I brewed the gigantic pot of mash, I thought of my alewife ancestors. If brewing required this much cleanliness, how did they pull it off with pottery instead of stainless steel, creek water and dirty hands? Was ancient beer just really bad? Were there tricks I don’t know about? Did they have extra potent yeast? The mind boggled.

Ewww, gross

I managed to get the beer into the carboy without any major sanitation fails. It pretty much exploded in my closet. (I guess that yeast was really active?!) Then it was “add sugar and move to bottle” time. This apparently includes moving the beer from the carboy to a bucket with a hole in the bottom (at which step you add the sugar that creates carbonation) followed by putting it into the bottles from there.

Recreational kitchen trashing

I had elaborate schemes for moving everything, while keeping everything perfectly sanitary. But then the auto-siphon wasn’t long enough to reach all the way into the carboy and disasters occurred with the sterile environment. Worse yet, at one point the bung came out of the bottom of the bucket and the entire floor was awash in uncarbonated beer. There were many bad words spoken.

Finally, we got the beer into the bottles. It’s about a case an a half. If you take into account what my time is worth, each bottle has to cost about $20. I have no idea if it will even be drinkable.

Finished product

I do not think this is my new favorite hobby.

Dating in mid life

My husband and I have been married for 17 years. We started dating 21 years ago. Eleven years ago we added Grey to the family, and eight years ago Thane joined in. Now, this is going to come as a massive surprise to you, but it’s hard to spend great quality time with your spouse when you have two children, two full time jobs, a rather obscene number of side interests (see also: Pastor Nominating Committee, role playing games, local politics, Mom’s Groups…). But Adam and I would like to stay happily married for another 2x 20 years. (Given our ages when we got married, we have a shot of making it to 60 years of marriage!) And that means that sometimes taking a break from the tumult of life to focus on each other.

Fruity drinks with umbrellas at the Baldwin
Fruity drinks with umbrellas at the Baldwin

When we switched the kids’ afterschool option, I wasn’t sure if there would be February break coverage. But do you know what’s cheaper than $900 a month for afterschool? Airline tickets and retired parents. So last Friday I waved my children goodbye as they went down the gangplate. (No pictures because I left my phone in the car. I didn’t have it for like 2.5 boring hours! It was a sobering highlight on how dependent I am…)

Snow shoeing in warm temperatures and bright sunshine!
Snow shoeing in warm temperatures and bright sunshine!

We then had the AWESOMEST weekend. We ate out practically the whole time. That night we went to the Baldwin. The next day we went snow shoeing. That seems funny to say right now, as it’s 60+ degrees out, but it was a lot of fun! Then we went to a regional theater performance of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirits and ate a super fancy dinner. We actually got a chance to talk about something other than the upcoming week’s agenda.

Since we couldn't snuggle kids, we snuggled cats
Since we couldn’t snuggle kids, we snuggled cats

Sunday I went to church. We had lunch with a friend, went on a run, and then had dinner with other friends. We ended the night at 11, reading the Iliad aloud around the dinner table.

Then, oh bliss!!! Monday was a holiday! First we had brunch at The Ugly Mug in Salem. We wandered through a used book store (where we bought books mostly for the kids, whom we were missing…). Then we went to the Peabody Essex Museum and went to the maritime art section (which ostensibly interested neither of us, but which we were both quickly enamoured with).

This was our favorite piece
This was our favorite piece

We took as long as we wanted, and Adam spend half the time on his belly near the furniture to see how the artists had jointed it. We got home just after noon, and I initiated project “second batch of beer”. I think I did… better this time. Not amazing, but better. It’s really a lot of work for a product that has a high likelihood of inferiority, so I’m not 100% sure there will be a third batch.

On the flip side, I discovered that dude-hobbies have cleaning devices driven by power tools.

Boys and their toys
Boys and their toys

I asked Adam to get me a sink connector for the wort chiller. He ended up going to like 3 different stores and buying 5 pieces of hardware. None of it, in any configuration, actually connected our wort chiller to the sink.

Not pleased
Not pleased

We ended the weekend at another friend’s house having another delicious dinner and playing games. We got months’ worth of dating into one action packed weekend!!!

It was awesome. It’s easy to lean on him as a capable partner, hard worker and good provider. But that can risk forgetting that my husband is funny, loving, great to talk to and in sum – he’s the guy I want to spend my life with.

I got my children back on Friday night (the same day my husband hied him off to yet another gaming convention). I really missed them too. The house seemed very quiet and clean without them – unnatural, I tell you! But I’m really looking forward to spending more time with this awesome guy I’m sharing my life with!

I'd missed these boys!
I’d missed these boys!

The Wheel of Time

I often looked at the cover art and wondered what the heck they'd told the artist, who had clearly never read the books.
I often looked at the cover art and wondered what the heck they’d told the artist, who had clearly never read the books.

“The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings in the wheel of time. But it was a beginning”

The Eye of the World, Robert Jordan

I was in sixth grade – perhaps seventh. Having worn through a few copies of The Lord of the Rings, my fifth grade teacher had lovingly given me a copy of Terry Brooks’ “Sword of Shannara” for graduation, as perhaps a subtle hint that there were more fantasy authors out there than just the one. (In my defense, that particular school didn’t have a library. And fantasy novels were far rarer in the 80s than they are now.) Having made that great discovery, I began reading at a great rate, along with three companions in my literary journey. Now, if I’d had the kind of heroes journey I was reading about, the four of us would’ve become inseparable companions, filled with a respect and friendship that would warm our memories.

The way it really worked was that there were four of us who like to read fantasy in the tiny podunk logging town I was raised in. If we wanted to talk about books, it was with each other. We did play Middle Earth Role Playing together. But despite my best efforts, fondness never grew from forced interaction. In retrospect, I deeply pity the guy I had a crush on who was forced to deal with me six days a week (we went to the same church) for multiple hours a day. I saw him at reunion and he got a slightly haunted look seeing me. Sorry!

I digress.

One of the books we discovered was “The Eye of the World”. It was a good one. I had bought a copy, and we all read it in turn. The seven hundred page sequel followed, and was similarly devoured. And then, bliss! The third came out! Granted, it was crazy expensive on my $40 a month food/clothes/fun money budget (if you knew me then, this explains why I dressed the way I did), but life was too short to not buy books! It would be great to finish the trilogy and move on to the next one. I may have pondered how wonderful it was to have a living author who would keep writing! I never fully got over the betrayal of Tolkien dying without knowing how much I loved him.

But what? The series didn’t conclude? I’d read all three back to back – with labyrinthine plots and a cast that had to be in the hundreds, you couldn’t rely on your memories of the last reading a year or two ago to see you through. You had to start over.

Well, a four book series wasn’t unheard of. We’d allocated out the purchasing of these books. None was available at any library we had access to, so they must be bought. This was back when a bookstore meant Waldens – before the big box bookstores came and long before they were replaced by the great online retailers. We had a deal. I’d buy Jordan. Chad bought Terry Brooks. Jack bought Lawhead. And maybe Heidi somehow weaseled her way out of being responsible for buying any author’s books.

A year later – in high school – the fifth came out. When I graduated from high school I was still there on release day, buying the seventh volume and praying that this time he’d really wrap it up. I spent hours in my bedroom reading the books and listening to “All the Best from Scotland volume II” on repeat – they’re still inextricably combined in my head. My collection of books was getting unwieldy, my budget largely spent on Starbucks, and the time commitment required to read seven books at about a thousand pages a piece was significant. But I was there. I even got that seventh book signed.

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In college when the eight came out, I may have made time to reread it. Maybe over the summer. But then it was followed by the ninth. Rumors began of his ill health. He had a fatal diagnosis. Surely, one thought, this would encourage him to oh… I dunno… actually close a plot thread for once? Ha! Great at opening them. Lousy at closing them. He even went to write a prequel. It’s possible that I was actually angry about this.

He died and I never read his last books because I couldn’t justify weeks of rereading, and he hadn’t *finished*. It all felt very tragic.

He had, though, written down how he was planning to some day finish up the plot. That thread was pulled up by Brandon Sanderson, who had probably been buying them from Waldens in the mall just like I was. That “last book” turned into three books, ponderous as their predecessors if a little better in the “closing plot threads” department.

And finally, the last book was written and the last story told in Spring of 2013.

In the Spring of 2015, I got a new job with a new commute. A car commute. By myself. As time has gone one, my tolerance for NPR has gone down. (I like the non-political news far more, and that’s been a vanishing commodity over the last two decades.) So I needed to listen to something. I figured that this was the perfect time for me to finally catch up and hear the end of the story!

So every single commute for the last TWO YEARS I have spent two hours a day listening to the Wheel of Time on audiobook. Especially around book six or seven I would get to work irritated. The entire commute could be cut by an editor (if only!) and there would’ve been no material change to the story.

But it was entertaining. And over this vast repetition, it also became much more real and tangible to me than if I’d only read it. Last weekend, recovering from a bout of labrynthitis, I laid on a chaise and listened to about eight hours of the conclusion. I realized, staring fixedly out the window, that this was it. I’d spent two years living with Perrin the Blacksmith and his strength, and Mat the womanizing gambler, and Rand the started-every-book-less-mad-than-he-ended-the-last-one, and Nynaeve with her temper and braid and Pevara who I think might be the only real hero in the whole book and and and… well, the list of characters is long. And I know them all with the intimacy of daily contact over two years.

The end of the series, if you’re curious, did not satisfy. All battle, no epilogue. There were major plot threads left open. (Spoiler alert – seriously, how did you not manage to explain that Olver is actually Gaidal Cane reborn, which is sooooo obvious!) We don’t see how the world does get remade, or how these overarching conflicts that I spent DAYS of my life hearing about were finally resolved. I got to the end, but I could’ve stood that last half of the book to be what came after. Alas, I didn’t get it.

But with all this – with the annoyance at the lack of editing and lack of satisfying culmination – I have done it. I have finished the series. I enjoyed it, whining aside. And it is almost certain that I will never read it again. That brings a sense of loss. I suppose I could read it, if I wanted. But those down sides are too steep to encourage me to ever climb them again. It’s just not worth the effort. And so it is that this journey, which I started twenty-seven years ago and spent endless hours on, is done. It is finished. I will never again hear of Thom Merrilin in his patched cloak or the hawk-nosed and fierce Faile.

Farewell, fictional friends. You will be remembered fondly.

It is not THE end, but it is AN end, for the wheel of time has neither beginnings nor ends.

Many, many first editions
Many, many first editions

White Mountain Hotel: historic without history

White Mountain Hotel - taking in fading light. Not in black and white.
White Mountain Hotel – taken in fading light. Not in black and white.

I will never ski again. This is not a mournful expression, but a promise to myself to ease my anxiety even looking at the slopes. Skiing, which I have only done once, and only for half a run, cost me great pain and brought me no pleasure. But I am raising New Englanders, and we love the mountains of New Hampshire, so… here I am, close to the shadow of Chocorua, in the snow.

For the second year we are staying at the
White Mountain Hotel
. It’s a grand old inn, nestled between a state park containing a truly impressive thousand foot granite cliff, and a state park containing a picturesque mountain lake. It has a gazebo, a pool heated to 90+ degrees where my children swim in the driving snow, a grand entryway with a roaring fireplace, and an elegant dining room with an unparalleled view of the mountains around Conway.

It is charming, comfortable and soothes my heart with the glimpses of mountain majesty through every window. From the warm couch in my comfortable room, I’ve all day watched a line of cold-looking people wait their turn in 17 degree weather to scale White Horse Ledge. That sounds hard enough in good weather!

This grand hotel is also just that level of worn that makes you think of ghosts. I polled through the histories of the region, to see if I could find the provenance of this grand old lady on the hill. It has the feel of history to it. One book I found (thank you Google Books!) had descriptions of hotels and I wondered if it might be this one, under a different name.

Sunset Pavilion
Sunset Pavilion
(The History of the White Mountains: From the First Settlement of Upper Coos and Pequaket by Lucy Crawford, 1883)

My favorite line there is from another ad, which speaks of “the beautiful views of weird Chocorua”. Mount Chocorua haunts me. I once tried to climb it and failed, and have been thwarted in climbing it ever since. (It’s too long and risky to go alone. My children cannot yet tackle it. And I can’t go with my husband because who would watch the children? And so I watch it and it taunts me in its loveliness. Someday!)

Chocorua is the peak to the right in this picture of White Lake
Chocorua is the peak to the right in this picture of White Lake

I began to wonder why the hotel didn’t boast of it’s history anywhere I could see. Where was the “built in 18XX”, or the faded picture on the wall to give it that great sense of gravitas that so rightly belonged to it? Although I scanned the histories and advertisements, I found nothing that boasted of this spot between cliff and lake. I pondered the scandal that might cause them to try to blot out all prior histories. A murder perhaps? Was this hotel featured in some haunting book? Like, oh, The Shining?

Finally, I looked up specifically when this hotel was built. 1990. So much for that romantic fancy! And so much for my quiet afternoon – time to pick up my skiiers!

My snow bunnies
My snow bunnies