Sunday, December 30, 2007

THE CALL OF THE SEA



Wanderings in Ocean Shores, Washington, clockwise from upper left:
*Amazing Grace beach house (46° 56.884N, 124° 08.211W)
*Dead seagull (46° 56.744N, 124° 08.493W)
*Broken float 41056 (46° 56.798N, 124° 08.409W)
*Well-weathered whale bone (46° 56.739N, 124° 08.503W)

The legend of the Traveler appears in every civilization,
perpetually assuming new forms, afflictions, powers,
and symbols. Through every age he walks in utter solitude
toward penance and redemption.

—pages 61-62,
Notes from a Bottle Found on the Beach at Carmel by Evan S. Connell

Thursday, December 27, 2007

WHITE CHRISTMAS


'Twas a white Christmas in Bremerton!

Friday, December 21, 2007

LONGEST NIGHT


This is the longest night. This is the longest night of the year. Of this year. Of each year. Although I find it difficult to remember prior years. Therefore, this could very well be the longest night. The night is cold and haunted with the call of train whistles as locomotives haul their cargo between Seattle and Tacoma, as well as to points beyond.

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He must increase, but I must decrease.
—John 3:30

John the Baptist is speaking of his cousin, Jesus of Nazareth, but he could easily be speaking of generations. The grandfather is dying and the father cares for him. I worry about the father, trying to support him. All too soon, even though years from now, the father will die and I will care for him and my children will try to support me, albeit awkwardly. Then, assuming the world hasn't swallowed itself in melted ice caps or choked on its own poisoned breath or gone fallow due to acidic oceans and dust bowl prairies, I too will die and children and grandchildren will play their roles. Or, perhaps not. Perhaps I will die in a bed, alone, without those I love nearby.

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My paternal grandfather has asked me to deliver his eulogy. I am honored. I am saddened. I am scared. I wrote and delivered the eulogies of both of my grandmothers, but it was at the request of their children—my parents and aunts and uncles—after they had died. This is different. In this case, he has asked.

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I felt like Icarus, near death in the snow, with melting skis instead of wings.
—page 17, Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott

As my grandmother died, removed from the machines that were helping her breathe, I had plenty of time to both observe her in detail and to think and reflect. Her long, lithe hands were mine, or, rather, my hands resembled hers.

Now I flounder. I try to remember those hands. Her hands were so soft, even though the rest of her body seemed so much older than it was. She was an alcoholic and a smoker and her body reflected her vices. Except for her hands.

In her final hours in ICU, my grandmother slept beneath a large heater that regulated her skin temperature, to keep her comfortable as she died. Her skin was warm to the touch, but her hands were especially warm. Warm and soft. At times, they felt as though they were too warm, too soft, too full of life for her to die. Yet, we all must fly too close to the sun at some point. The wax of our wings must melt away and we must plummet into the waiting loam below. Until we hit the bedrock and our bones settle there in eternal sleep.

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There are deaths I've not gotten over yet; but somehow, over time, the acute helplessness of death has become merely painful.
—page 30, Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott

I received a card from my church yesterday. It is written by an anonymous hand. It reads...

John 14:18
I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you.

Dear Troy:

Please know that you are in our prayers as you prepare your hearts and homes for this first Advent and Christmas without your grandmother. May the words of the text and music of this Advent season assure you of God's continual presence and promised future as your hope in the midst of your grief and your comfort in the reality of [maternal grandmother's first name]'s absence.

God's peace, love, and hope,

Your [name of congregation] church family.

Amen. There is healing in community, in burdens shared. Grace comes in many times and places and faces, and most of those unannounced. God is enfleshed, at times, in the people of my church. I know this. I have seen it too many times. I believe it.

---


Some etymologists give the Greek "to see for oneself" as the source for the English word "autopsy." An alternative, "seeing into oneself," is hard to overlook when one studies the work of the sixteenth-century Belgian anatomist Vesalius.
—from "The Fabric: A Poet's Vesalius" by Heather McHugh, Poetry, December 2007

Is sleep a simulation of death? A dress rehearsal? Perhaps this is why I seem to fight it. I have so many things that I want to do, so many books I want to read, so many moments where I want to drink a beer and watch the sun set or have a cup of hot vanilla tea as the wind and rain bluster outside. Yet sleep feels so good. It is refreshing to awake from a good nap or a long night of slumber.

---

I never used to nap. Now, I find that I definitely need a nap on Sunday afternoons. And, on occasion, I sneak one in once or twice some other day of the week. In the early afternoon or the early evening.

The paternal grandfather sleeps and naps all of the time now that he is closer to death. I joked with him that he was like a cat. He chuckled and agreed. He stared off into space as though he was thinking about his feline self.

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Dreams: are they our way of fighting off death as we sleep? I tend not to remember my dreams. The ones that I do remember are infrequent and typically brief. What does this say about me?

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I am counted among those who go down to the Pit; I am like those who have no help, like those forsaken among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand.
—Psalm 88:4-5

If a boy cries aloud in the Pit, but there is no one there to hear him, to remember him, does he make a sound? Does he have a voice?

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Despite my parents' desperate attempts to stir up a blaze, our house didn't get any warmer. My brother and I clung to each other, watching as frost flowers bloomed on the walls. Then my mother screamed. At that same moment my brother and I saw the fire die.
—page 5, Tonguecat by Peter Verhelst

Cold and dark, both enemies mine: thief of warmth and thief of light. Without them, there is only death and cold and dark. The breadline means nothing to a full belly.

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Tonight I will retire to the loving arms of my savior. And we will walk through his gates to the skies of heaven. No more tears will I cry. All my sins, are they forgiven?
—from “Tonight I Will Retire” by Damien Jurado, as found on the album Ghost of David

This is the longest night. This is the longest night of the year. The house is quiet. The wife is sleeping. The child is sleeping. Elsewhere, the grandfather is sleeping, preparing for death. The father is sleeping in a nearby room because the grandfather is afraid. He doesn't want to be alone.

The cat is wandering about, pacing. The cat is waiting for me to settle upon the couch to read. The cat wants to steal the warmth of my lap. The cat wants to sleep in the presence and company of another.

This will happen, soon. Then, I will open my book. I will begin to read.

I will read. Alone.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

STOREFRONT CHRISTMAS DISPLAYS



Clockwise from upper left: (1) Shinstine & Associates, (2) Puyallup Chiropractic, (3) Meridian Avenue, (4) Indulge Cupcakes


(5) J.C.'s Music



Clockwise from upper left: (6) Dog Daze, (7) Goldenrod Jewelers, (8) Pioneer Bakery, (9) Pioneer Bakery



Clockwise from upper left: (10) Jewell's Premier Consignment, (11) Victoria Sells Antiques, (12) Birds of a Feather Gift Shoppe, (13) Galleria Henley



Clockwise from upper left: (14) Kristy's Boutiques, (15) Baskets & Things, (16) Linda's Custom Flowers, (17) Community Resource Center

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Early morning wanderings in Downtown Puyallup on Stewart, Meridian, and Meeker Avenues.

Monday, December 17, 2007

LITERARY ADVENTURES WITH D.

Two literary adventures with my friend D.

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On Saturday 08 December, D., his friend M., and I watched the more than seven hours that is the 1968 Russian language film version of War and Peace. It was shown in two parts. The first part was just over four hours, with one ten-minute intermission at the two-and-one-half hour mark. Then there was an one-and-one-half hour break for dinner. The second part was just around three hours in length, with one ten-minute intermission. D. had a luxury that M. and I did not: having read Tolstoy's novel.

Dinner at Peso's was spent discussing what we had just seen, as well as D. asking M. and I to speculate on what we thought would happen. Unfortunately, this tasked my brain with having to try to remember details surrounding the War of 1812. I rediscovered that I am not well-versed in the history of the Napoleonic era.

It was a great film, with enormously staged and choreographed set pieces. It was worth admission alone for the dancing scene in the ballroom and the battles in the Russian countryside. It was also nice to see hundreds of extras and no that they were actual people rather than computer graphics. However, it is also a film that you probably only see once in your life, even if you have another opportunity.

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This past Saturday, 15 December, D. read from one of his four unpublished Christmas novellas. Three of the novellas are tied together by theme, atmosphere, and subject matter—Christmas tales of medieval England—and are usually read, one at a time, on three successive Saturday evenings in December. On "off" years, the fourth Christmas novella—a modern telling of Hansel and Gretel—is read. This year was the latter. It is my favorite of the four, what D. likes to call the "homicidal Christmas novella."

He wrote it in 1988 and I have had the pleasure of hearing it read aloud four times in the past thirteen years of our friendship. I always remember the frame of the story, if not the details. During this reading, I was especially struck by other books that it reminded me of or echoed.

The first association for me is "Hansel and Gretel" from Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales, which seems appropriate, especially since this is the inspiration for D.'s novella. The dysfunction of the family, the journey of (self) discovery, and the selfishness of the witch are easily translated into "our" world. But, I really like how D. uses other elements of the story in subtler ways. My favorite example is the portrayal of the house "built of bread, and roofed with cakes, and the window was of transparent sugar." D. has the modern-day witch mouth sweet nothings to the equivalent of Gretel—"sweetie," "sugar," "honey."

The second book that I am reminded of is Stephen King's Misery. The relationship of D.'s "witch" and children is reminiscent of King's Annie Wilkes and Paul Sheldon. The violence of both tales is swift and without seeming cause.

The third association was that of Peter Verhelst's Tonguecat. In fact, I read the opening pages again to make sure that this one was genuine, and I believe it is. D.'s novella and Tonguecat have little in common as far as subject matter or character, but they share a reliance upon myths and archetypes to nourish their plots.

The evening was also filled with good food and drink for the thirteen of us gathered in D.'s studio apartment. Mulled wine, lemoncello, and beer accompanied finger foods both savory and sweet. The wife made the tiniest sandwiches—cheddar and chive biscuits with either roast beef and gingered ketchup or smoked ham and pineapple mustard—that were quite a hit. Christmas music was listened to and conversations were had, before we had to drive back from Seattle and enter our real lives again and hunker down in our warm bed.

Friday, December 14, 2007

HOME BREWING - PART TWO


-1- CLEANING
Ten days after the first part of home brewing, part two begins. The first order of business is to find some used bottles to wash and dry.


-2- SANITIZING
Step two consists of sanitizing the bottles to ensure good conditioning that is free of "outside" agents, namely undesirable bacteria or debris.


-3- TASTING
Step three consists of tasting the fermented beer to check its flavor. It is supposed to be yeasty and flat. Sweet indicates not enough fermentation, which means back into the dark and warm. Skunky, tart, or acidic indicates "foreign" agents, which means termination. This batch seems fine.


-4- PRIMING
Priming sugar is added to each bottle to help continue fermentation. Too little sugar means too little carbonation and flat beer. Too much sugar means too much carbonation and exploding bottles. I hope for good beer in intact bottles.


-5- FILLING
Step five consists of filling the bottles with beer from the fermentation keg.


-6- CAPPING
Step six consists of putting Black Beauty to work. This capper was purchased at Beer Essentials in Lakewood. Thanks, Ivan!


-7- ADMIRING
This step really just consists of admiring a newly capped bottle. It is not really a step at all, just a time to enjoy the product of one's labor.


-8- CELLARING
Bottles are placed into six packs for the journey down into the beer cellar. They are then transferred into a cardboard case box. They will spend seven days minimum in a state known as bottle conditioning. Hopefully, there will be no exploding bottles, and a fine Pale Ale emerges.


-9- REWARDING
Troy's Work Table rewards itself with a pint of Samuel Adams Cream Stout for a job well done, while Saint Nicholas watches.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

THE FISHBOWL BREWPUB



I am blessed to be in an area of the country that has so many wonderful craft breweries and brewpubs. Today, I was in Olympia for work and stopped in at Fish Tale Brewing's Fishbowl Brewpub for lunch. I am glad that I did.

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The Fishbowl Brewpub sits across the street from the small warehouse where the Fish Tale beers are brewed. The pub itself is divided into a few distinct seating areas within its quaint well-lit space. There are tables with chairs near the front window and against a nearby wall. There are tall tables with bar stools in another section. There are bar stools at a U-shaped bar. There are tables back in a small alcove room. There are tables in a somewhat separate upstairs "loft." And, then, there are two or three upholstered chairs, a couch, and a coffee table that surround a small wood stove in another "alcove" room.


The "living room" also contains modified wall-mounted bookcases that hold over 200 mugs of Fish Tale beer club members. Each mug is engraved with the name of a member and the year that he or she joined. For a one-time fee, the member has a place to store his or her mug. Use of the mug on a visit gets him or her a discount of $1 per pint. It also allows members access to special events for members only. On my lunch visit, there were about fifteen of us eating and drinking, three of whom were drinking from their member mugs. If I lived in Olympia, then I would definitely be a member, simply because it is such a great idea.

The service was impeccable. My server knew her beer and her food. At her recommendation, I tried their as-yet-unnamed beer. It was a great match to their special of the day: emu tacos. Each taco consisted of spicy emu, cabbage, tomato, onion, cilantro and the pub's own jalapeño cilantro sauce, all wrapped in double white corn tortillas. The tacos came with a generous salad of wild mixed greens in a vinaigrette dressing.

For the reasonable price of $10 for the food and $3.50 for the pint of excellent beer, I had a great pub meal.

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Name That Beer, an undetermined style of beer (by me at least) that was reminiscent of both an India Pale Ale and a Pilsener, by Fish Tale Brewing Company

On tap.

To begin, I will show my ignorance about beer. I was unable to determine what style of beer Name That Beer was. If it was an ale, then it most closely resembled an IPA. If it was a lager, then it most closely resembled a Pilsener. Since I am most familiar with ales, I am going to refer to it as such.

This was a beautiful ale. The server brought me a pint of beer that was the color of honey and sported a half-inch head of persistent frothy white foam. As I quaffed it, intricate patterns of lace were left behind.

The aroma was floral, resinous, and spicy. The flavor was likewise, although it expanded upon this base. Along with a start that was both hoppy bitter and honey sweet, there was a sustained honey sweetness and an infusion of cloves and cinnamon, followed by a piney finish. It reminded me of an IPA that somehow transforms on each drink into a winter warmer. This familiarity with more than one style, while being well-balanced and exhibiting complex flavors, is what made this one of my favorite beer experiences to date.

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In the RateBeer system, which this ale is not part of yet, I would rate it as follows:
Appearance—5 of 5
Aroma—8 of 10
Flavor—9 of 10
Mouthfeel—4 of 5
Overall—18 of 20
Which gives it a RateBeer score of 4.4 out of 5 possible points.

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I know that Fish Tale tries to name their beers after aquatic creatures, primarily fish, but I submitted two names to them that they most likely will not use. I thought that Slumbering Bee Winter Ale or Hibernating Bee Winter Ale would help to promote the floral, honey, spice, and pine essences that help to make this beer what it is.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

BURN MY SHADOW

"I have burned my tomorrows
and I stand inside today
at the edge of the future
and my dreams all fade away..."
from "Burn My Shadow" by Unkle, featuring Ian Astbury, as found on the album War Stories

This is The Cult song that you have been waiting for. This is the song from the band fronted by Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melniboné, where the sword Stormbringer has become microphone. This is the song that Loki sings as he crosses the Bifrost Rainbow Bridge from Asgard into our backyard. Perhaps it is none of these, but it easily could be.

The production duo of Unkle (James Lavelle and Richard File) and their producer Chris Goss have given Ian Astbury, the frontman of The Cult, the vehicle that he needs to finally channel Jim Morrison of The Doors in a proper fashion. Present in the mix are jangly guitar, driving percussion, and a strangely forceful synthesizer "bass" line. Astbury's lyrics are first delivered over silence broken only by tinkling bells, reminiscent of the keys used to great effect in "Good Vibrations" by The Beach Boys. These lyrics are repeated, followed by another verse, and then by the repeated chorus of "burn my shadow, burn my shadow away." The music quiets to classical piano, a low keyboard hum, and then silence.

The guitar, drums, and synthesizer return after five seconds of quiet to pummel the listener, accompanied by the frantic clanging of a cowbell. After this, some weird chanting ensues, followed by the return of Astbury's voice. The chorus is repeated every few seconds—"burn my shadow, burn my shadow away"—while the music builds into a pulsing crescendo for one final assault before ceasing.

The closest sibling of "Burn My Shadow" is The Cult's own "King Contrary Man" from the Electric album. They are different musically, but share an insistence on being heard. "Burn My Shadow" presents us stop-and-start musical craziness, whereas "King Country Man" provides straightforward honky-tonk stomp-rock, but both songs deliver their dark lyrics with a fervor that is infectious.

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If "Burn My Shadow" is the car chase, money-shot explosion, action sequence of the film soundtrack that War Stories could have been, then the album's closer "When Things Explode" is the music to accompany the closing credits. It neatly reprises some of the atmosphere and some of the words of the lyrics from "Burn My Shadow" while playing in a quieter, more subdued musical environ. Softly strummed guitar, strings, piano, and soft drumming lift up the vocals of Ian Astbury, who once again takes center stage on the song. His voice repeats the phrase "watched it burn" for the last couple of minutes, which is appropriate. "Burn My Shadow" and "When Things Explode" together consume the energy of War Stories—and devour the other songs—such that they really become the two focal points of the album. I find it difficult to even listen to the other twelve tracks any longer, simply because Astbury and Unkle have created two tracks that work so well together that their eleven minutes of perfection are almost an album unto themselves.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

MASKS



Bronze mask sculptures outside of Pantages Theatre, Tacoma. Clockwise from upper left: Greek theatrical mask; Eagle; Liberian helmet mask and Cambodian dance mask; Quetzalcoatl.

Friday, December 07, 2007

on THE TAPHANDLE

Hibernation Ale, an American Strong Ale by Great Divide Brewing Company

12 ounce bottle. Hibernation Ale easily makes it onto my list of favorite ales. First, it is beautiful to look at. It has a rich, ruby color. It has a frothy, off-white head that stays around for quite some time and leaves intricate lacing in its wake. The body is clear and sparkles with excellent carbonation. Drinking it in the Trappist glass suggested by RateBeer.com seems to greatly highlight its visual attributes.

The aroma is of heavy malts, with molasses at the forefront. Dark fruits of plum, prune, and a hint of cherry are also present, as well as a spiciness. The flavor follows suit. It is a well-balanced blend of malts and hops, sweet and bitter, although there is a presence of slightly too much alcohol and a slight burnt wood flavor that are the only faults. But, the spices, which I cannot quite place help to alleviate some of that harshness. The body is good in the mouth and on the tongue. A nice warming quality is bolstered by the vibrant carbonation. I would have to agree with others that this would be a good candidate for the beer cellar. Another year or two would diminish some of the minor alcohol and burnt wood imperfections and make the rest of the great flavors really shine.

I had this with the wife's Turkey Tortilla Soup, which was a little too spicy for this ale. It would have been better matched to a nice slice of roast beef, but I am not complaining!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

HOME BREWING - PART ONE


-1- BASE
The first attempt at home brewing is happening at Troy's Work Table, courtesy of the parental units and their birthday gift of a Mr. Beer Home Brew Kit. I figure it is a good way to start since it allows me to take baby steps while I figure out some of the basics. I can always get crazier if I want, and it appears that I may already be headed in that direction. Step one consists of dissolving in a quart of water, and then bringing to a boil, the Mr. Beer Booster. This is a "pre-measured amount of additional fermentable materials," essentially corn syrup powder.


-2- WORT
Step two consists of adding the Mr. Beer Beer Mix to the hot liquid. The Beer Mix is "pre-hopped malt extracts," in this case for West Coast Pale Ale.


-3- YEAST
Step three consists of adding the wort to four quarts of water already in the plastic keg. Then more water is added to bring the keg total to 8.5 quarts of unfermented beer. Yeast is then added, the keg is allowed to sit for five minutes, and then the beer is stirred vigorously.


-4- FERMENTATION
Step four consists of the keg being stored away in a dark, warm place to allow it to ferment for at least seven days. We will see how things go...