Thursday, August 22, 2013

Charley Brewer - In the Making

I'm doing a daily clean-up on our house, wondering what a man would want for his 40th birthday. A man that has every electronic gizmo he could want, and for whom a Porsche Carrera isn't a financial feasibility. What he needs is a hobby. Something to do that fulfills that need to create—something to be energized about. This is dangerous territory for a wife, she must ensure that this hobby gift is free of any perceived strings. For example, a new power tool might suggest she expects he use it to rebuild our ailing fence, instead of the totem pole he's always wanted to see if he could create...  A gift certificate is too vague and might end up being used for something practical... I make my way in from our front room to our kitchen and start cleaning up there. I clear off one counter and wipe it down, then fish out a paper bag to load up a collection of beer bottles... Eureka!

Thrilled, yet totally in ignorant about home brewing apparatus, I started at Main Brew's website, (a store I noticed off of highway 26) and checked out their starter kits. I settled on one and stole some time to go out and look. I parked the pickup and pushed through the door framed by two hops vines climbing ropes—looks like I'm in the right spot. Although the building is huge, the store is remarkably cramped with product crammed in every nook. On the right, next to a metal setup that looks like a 14th century alchemist's setup, is a rack of books; ah yes, I know books, a good place to start. I pull a book about cider, and explore the store. I can't find anything that remotely resembles what I saw online.  I wander past large glass and plastic jugs, wine making kits, empty bottles, caps and tools of unfathomable purpose. Then past sweet smelling grains and big barrels with what looks like molasses oozing from the spigot. I slide past the barrels into what looks like a storage area, and a guy on the phone leans in and asks if I'm looking for something. "Did I wander into no-man's-land?" He nods and grins... I wind my way back to the front counter, clearly I'm not in a supermarket. I wait in line to ask help from a guy who looks like he rolled out of bed at the crack of noon and fell into some clothes.

When it was my turn, I explained that I wanted to get my husband a starter kit for brewing cider and that I'd like to add whatever he needed to also brew beer, so he'd have something play with until the Columbia Gorge apples came into season. He lit up. Here is a man who loves his job. He explained the details and options without drowning me in lingo. He swung around the counter and started pulling parts for the kits. He briefly showed me around the store and told me to show Charley the starter videos on their website and also invited him to come in for a store tour and help brewing his first batch. He explained that they like to walk new customers through their first brew before turning them loose.  Based on my experience, I felt this was an excellent idea. Grateful, I thanked him, paid for the kits, and headed home.

 On the day of his birthday, I was nervous.  He had been talking about brewing cider a lot lately and also talked quite a bit about co-workers that home brew, but still...  The girls and I brought out his cake, sang the birthday song, complete with the, "You look like a Monkey—aaand you smell like one too!" verse. Then he opened the two wrapped gifts, the cider book and the beer brewing book that came with the kit. He seemed pleased. The girls and I hauled the apparatus from the closet piece by piece. He poked through the stuff and from then on spent every spare moment he could find, reading the books, watching the videos and counting the hours until he could go in and get his first batch of ingredients. Tucked in a birthday card from his parents was a check—perfect! Off he headed to Main Brew to return light footed and laden with goods, and a recipe for Bitter.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Baseball Birthday

It is Charley’s birthday and the kids are home with Oma and Opa, as we find our seats along the third base line, a few rows up. The view is excellent, as it is with almost all the seating—one of the many benefits of a small ball park. The stadium smells pleasantly of new car.  The incredibly young looking ball players warm up. We rise for the national anthem, then we lower to our seats and raise up our beers. Go Hops! We are dressed in our Boston shirts and capped with Hillsboro Hops hats. A combination we see repeated in many of the other newly minted Hillsboro Hops fans. Play Ball! The Hops are playing the Spokane Indians tonight, and our pitcher burns in a 91 mph fastball. We cheer for the ump's signal for strike one. Single A though the league may be, we are spending a warm summer evening drinking a Bridgeport Long Ball Ale, eating a salt encrusted pretzel, cheering on our boys as they play with everything they've got. It is good.

When I heard about the city breaking ground on my softball fields to put in a baseball stadium, I felt excitement mixed with disbelief.  The city is pleading poverty as our schools are running understaffed with five "budget cut days" sprinkled throughout the school year and more to come this next year. I know there are budgeting sandboxes, but would it not seem funny if my house was in all manner of disrepair and Charley and I bought a brand new Touareg? However, later I learned that the city issued bonds to cover the 15.5 million in construction costs, which they hope to repay with revenue earned from leasing the park to the team and sales. If that doesn't happen, out of the general fund it comes...

Anyway, since there was nothing I was going to do to stop it, and because I secretly really wanted that Touareg, I followed the development of the team and field with great interest. As a brew enthusiast, I was pleased with the name, Hillsboro Hops, a nod to the agricultural roots of our community and to our prowess at growing—and brewing—hops. As for our schools, perhaps once the stadium is paid for, a generous portion of the profits could be earmarked for shoring up our crumbling school system. Imagine the community goodwill that would create! It would be my favorite fundraiser. I'd better have a second hot dog—for the kids. (By hot dog, I mean beer.)

We took the girls with us to the first game in general admission seating for seven dollars a ticket. The view was a bit far off, but being assigned to the grassy berm meant they could range a bit without stepping on someone's toes. That came in handy during the 17 trips to the restroom. (We have an enthusiastic potty trainer and the lemonade came in a milk jug with a straw.)

We lasted about seven innings before Charley and I called the game due to excessive toddler chasing and showers of whine. All in all, it was a fun afternoon and a pretty good first attempt.  It may take a half dozen lemonades and hot dogs but we'll make baseball fans of them yet.  Meanwhile Charley and I can reclaim one of the many interests we've benched since having kids.

A cool breeze and bases loaded brings up goosebumps as the sun sets on the bottom of the ninth and Charley’s birthday. The Hops are down by two and there is one out. We chant “Yo-gey! Yo-gey!” as he goes down swinging. Roberts is up to bat. He is due. He thinks so too and strikes out swinging with everything he had at a ball that was in the dirt. Hops lose. Buy hey, that’s baseball. What a game. Happy Birthday Charley.

Pre-game dinner at Helvetia Tavern.
We arrived in time to see Boston lose to the Yankees.

Kid's Hop Dash

Hops Winning Streak Snapped at Two
Hillsboro Ballpark - Wikipedia

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Book Review - Last Child in the Woods

Powell's Books · Barnes & Noble
Richard Louv - ©2005

I Read This Book Because:
Many of the aspects of my life growing up could be considered unlucky, but where I grew up is not one of them. Growing up in a small rural town, nestled into the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, provided the exact Rx to treat the emotional wounds we all endure while growing up. While immersed in nature, either damming a small creek, or building sandcastles along the river, or blasting off into space in my rocket ship/maple tree, I was completely at ease with myself. I was alert to noises, sounds and sights—relaxed, yet fully engaged. There, my imagination ran as free as I did, and I hardly noticed the hours slipping by as the shadows grew long. I came home refreshed and unburdened, capable of handling the next days’ crises.

As I grew from an happy-go-lucky kid to an anxious teenager, I’d retreat to special places in the woods, or near the river to think. Somehow, confiding in beings infinitely more ancient than myself, my problems seemed trivial. As the tension drained away, thoughts came clear and focused. I made every important decision of my youth in these places; if not all, then most certainly the good ones.

Knowing what nature has done for me, I’m now burdened with the worry that my suburban grown children will be denied that same sanctuary I had, during their times of stress. Sure, we have lots of city parks and forest parks, but the city parks are relatively devoid of any natural landscapes for play and the forested parks are so restricted that going off the trail, picking a flower, or eating a berry is tantamount to vandalism. Neither of these places are going to provide even a fraction of the possibilities that sticks, mud, leaves, creeks, and a little freedom, provide naturally. I fear that this look-but-don’t-touch attitude is actually going to discourage them from seeking experiences in nature in the future. I can see it in the looks on their faces, we have to go hiking again mom?? But it’s so booooring. I have to say, they have a point there...

There Has to Be Something I Can Do
I was looking for hope and inspiration when I picked up this book. Instead I got a lot of what I already felt. Wild places are disappearing from city and suburban landscapes. Kids are getting fat, wired-in and antisocial. Problems like ADHD are on the rise in ridiculous curves. The book spends most of the time exploring these problems, making a case for it’s importance and sharing stories of people who have achieved a meaningful relationship with nature. I was depressed reading about the trends toward de-naturing our entire culture, such that Naturalists are almost all elderly, colleges rarely even have nature related science classes, due to lack of interest from the student body, while microbiology and technology and such are fast rising.

I kept waiting for something I could use to help my children. That part did come, in a few pages towards the end, but it was everything I was already striving to do on my own. It was then that I finally ascertained the purpose of this book. It isn't a book with creative ideas for helping parents and children bond with nature, it is meant to educate people who were unaware that something is missing, and to call them to action. We need to build public spaces and communities that are conducive to children nurturing a relationship with nature. A love that will inspire, offer panacea, respite, recreation, and spirituality. All of which would make conservation and green-living an obvious afterthought. We love it, so of course we want to preserve it. I agree, but it’s not really what I was after when I bought this book; I already have a thorough understanding of the importance of nature in our lives and would already support any moves made by our society in that direction.

Although I was a bit disappointed, this book had some truly excellent points, here are a few:

Childlife Reserves - There are so many activist creating sanctuaries for animals but what about children? Couldn't a small portion of that sensitive sand dune/stream/pond/forest be cordoned off for playing, even if it was unintentionally “destructive”?  I love this idea and was inspired to write a letter.  (I'll link to it once it's finished.)

Criminalization of Natural Play - In urban and suburban areas kids can barely step off the sidewalk without trespassing. Parents feel compelled to force kids to drop that piece of gravel lest we be accused of stealing landscaping material. Forget about climbing that really inviting low-branched tree. Same goes for any commercial spaces. Even at the city parks, I see parents pulling kids out of the trees and pointing them towards the play structures—dead metal and plastic things surrounded by shredded trees that poke through their socks. No creativity, no inspiration, no exhilaration from being up high, no thrill at the thought of a branch breaking beneath your shoes leaving you dangling by your hands... Just safe, rigid, and exceptionally boring.

Legal Bogeyman - The ‘gator were really scared of? The litigator, we are so worried about the possibility of being sued if a child injured themselves while playing on commercial or personal property that many areas are unnecessarily marked off-limits. A few well written play-at-your-own-risk laws could fix this...

Bad Guy Bogeyman - The world today isn't safe! Or is it? Statistics (in this book) show that the rates of crime to children are actually lower than when we were growing up. And when children are hurt, it’s generally perpetrated by someone they know and trust.

Biophilia - Term coined by Edward Wilson describing the innate urge to associate with other forms of life. Why we like pets and houseplants, why we react so positively to a open field or stand of trees.