Monday, January 21, 2019

Underclocked?

One of the most interesting byproducts of living in the computer age is that it has given us new ways to discuss the human brain and its functions. Both are built around around a complex system of binary switches, both are electrically based, and both are amazing computational engines in their own fashion - some computers can do millions of mathematical processes in under a second, but a human can calculate the precise path of a ballistic object in order to, say, strike a moving target with a throwing stick. Most importantly though, both of them have their limits, and the discovery that I may have reached peak capacity with my own bio-comp has been both sobering and enlightening.

I've always been prone the to the kinds of gaffes you might associate with the absent-minded professor trope, but I've also considered myself a fairly conscientious individual. So a few weeks ago, when my boss asked me where a certain project was at, and I realized I had completely spaced on it, I was completely aghast. He was upset, obviously and understandably, but I think he also registered my shock and concern, and thankfully didn't attribute my oversight to laziness or disinterest.

In fact, the incident not only left me completely dumbfounded, but also concerned that maybe I had damaged my brain somewhere along the way. I had cracked my head pretty good against the side of a pool while on holiday last year, but hadn't noticed any lasting effects or symptoms. Likewise, my alcohol intake was not insignificant, but nowhere near what I would consider dangerous levels, but still...

I made an appointment with my family doctor and told him my concerns, and asked if there were any tests that could be done to detect any impairments in my cognition. He said that there aren't really any diagnostic tools that are precise enough to detect the kind of impairment I was talking about, and instead, he asked me about the kinds of things I dealt with on a day-to-day basis. I started listing them, and between a challenging position in a ridiculously dynamic workplace, two daughters at home facing their own challenges, a wife whose job can take an emotional toll and who I want to support, the committees I work with at my church, and a fairly tight circle of non-demanding friends whom I refuse to take for granted, it got to be a fairly comprehensive list.

The doctor looked at me and said, "I see this a lot in patients that are your - and my - age, especially with people who lead engaged lives. You are significantly involved in a lot of things and with a lot of people, and all those connections and interactions take up some of your available bandwidth. If you think of your brain like the central processor on a computer, there are only so many operations or applications it can handle at one time, right?" I nodded, seeing where he was going.

"Well, when that threshold gets exceeded, programs stop working or operations get skipped. And on top of that, as we get older, our processing capacity reaches a plateau and then eventually starts to diminish. And in my opinion, that's what you are up against."

I sat back in my chair. "Just gettin' older," I said.

He nodded. "Just gettin' older."

Instead of prescribing a battery of tests,. he suggested I dial back on some of my commitments, and readjust to the new limits I am discovering. Combined with some new organizational tools at work, getting a bit more sleep most nights and some limited attempts at mindfulness exercises, it seems to be helping.


It turns out that I am also very much a creature of habit. This morning for instance, I felt a stab of anxiety when I put my hand where my wallet should be and found an empty pocket instead. I couldn't imagine it falling out, and supposed it must be at home, but all day long, the possibility that I had absentmindedly dropped it someplace filled me with dread. By the end of the day I was exhausted, but Audrey emailed me to say that it was on my jewelry box at home, right where I had left it.

A small change in my morning routine due to Audrey leaving earlier than me to take her sister to the bus station had discombobulated me just enough that I didn't finish loading my pockets.

And as far as the exhaustion goes, I got to thinking about the time I noticed the battery levels in my phone dropping precipitously. When I examined it more closely, I found an application running in the background that I was unaware of, which apparently was taxing my processor and battery to its limit, and increasing my phone's temperature to boot.

All day long, despite my efforts to focus on the tasks at hand, my thoughts had kept returning to the possibility that my wallet had been lost, and with it, the bulk of my i.d. and means of accessing currency. What kind of hassle would it be to replace it in its entirety? Thank goodness it was never lost.

But in my imagination, I can hear the sound of an overworked turbine decreasing in pitch as it slows down, the cycles getting lower and lower as I realize I have nothing to fear, and the combination of relief and weariness is going to insure an early bedtime tonight. With any luck, I will find my processor's 'sleep mode' without too much difficulty.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Made Over

Despite my near-constant proclamations that she is, in fact, gorgeous, my wife does not typically enjoy having her photo taken or her looks fussed about. As a result, we sometimes end up with additional copies of her annual staff photo laying about the house, with Audrey wanting to recycle them immediately. This year Glory offered to give Audrey a virtual makeover. "Knock yourself out," Audrey replied, and so Glory got her markers out and got to work. 

The initial results were subtle enough that the picture hung on our fridge for a while and hardly anyone mentioned the brighter lipstick, the nose ring that replaced her existing stud, the new necklaces or the significant 'make-up' work around the eyes.


I thought it was kind of a neat experiment, actually. I was also a little thrilled that Glory, a child of the digital age, would be compelled to work her artistry within a physical medium, when a similar but far less satisfying effect could have been achieved with any number of Snapchat filters or Photoshop tools.

There were two of these superfluous photos on hand, and Glory's second effort was a bit more...expressive and experimental.


The subtlety of the eye makeup (and even the new frames) are somewhat lost amongst the bedazzling, but the overall effect is still pretty cool, I think.

To be fair, the inspiration here had less to do with an artistic vision and more to do with the stickers left over from Glory's 2017 Hallowe'en get-up:


In both cases though, the crystallization makes for an intriguing look, although, perhaps not for every day.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Pulpitations: The Perfect Bond

And so it came to pass, that following the hustle and the bustle of the Christmas season, it was once again my turn to preach, on the last Sunday of 2018. The scriptures included part of Paul's letter to the Colossians (pasted in below), listing the good behaviours he expected their fledgling church to display, and the story from Luke about 12-year-old Jesus going missing after Passover and turning up int he temple three days later (both of which I have pasted in at the bottom of the post).

That story in particular got me thinking, especially in my role as a father. Mary gets all the dialogue in Luke's telling, and Jesus's reply that of course he would be in his father's house, carried with it the challenging echo of the blended family; you can almost hear, "you're not my real Dad," in there.

That got me to thinking about the different shapes and sizes and forms that families can take, including my own, and the connections that make us a family. Somehow it ended up with me trying to tie together my favourite crime novelist, an advice letter written in a Roman prison cell, The Godfather, a missing child story from the New Testament with a happy ending, and Krazy Glue. I dunno if it worked, but it was fun to do, and seemed to be pretty well received last Sunday.

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I hope you haven’t come here today for exceptional insight or wisdom, I have been privileged with both of these things on some rare occasions, but not while I was preparing for today’s reflection. What I took away from pondering the scriptures that we heard today is the simplest message in the world, and it did not come as a revelation or a bolt from blue, but a slow realization. One that comes inevitably, like the dawn, so that when it arrives in full you can’t say for certain when it arrived. But that’s not how it began.

It began with thoughts of Krazy Glue.

Krazy Glue, with a ‘k’, for trademarking purposes, is a type of cyanoacrylate, or CA, adhesive. CA glues have been around since the first world war. Krazy Glue wasn’t even the first to market; Superglue beat it to the punch years earlier. But if you watched TV in 1980, you almost certainly saw the commercial that showed a construction worker affixing his hardhat to a steel beam and suspending himself from it using only a single drop of this miraculous substance. And it’s true! In their purest form, these glues can support 2000 pounds per square inch, and that image of the fellow in the hardhat dangling from that beam is almost indelible in my memory, and is still featured in their packaging to this day. But Krazy Glue’s strength is not as remarkable as its origins.

What does CA glue stick to better than anything? That’s right: fingers. And not just fingers either. I happen to know for a cold, hard natural fact that it works jim-dandy on teeth too. (Long story.) One of the original proposed applications for cyanoacrylates was as a liquid bandage. In theory it could be used to close large wounds quickly, even under battlefield conditions. In practice though, it was too sticky to be used effectively, and this usage was pretty much abandoned after the VietNam war. A specialized form is still used as a surgical closure, though the legacy remains in the original: Krazy Glue sticks nothing together better than people.

The bonds between people are important. It’s how we build family. It’s how we build community. With luck, it all ties together, and you have different individuals coming together, then those groups intertwining, and next thing you know, maybe you have a constructive, productive society. This is why we keep hearing that families are “the bedrock of society”, right?

But what does “family” even mean? Some people don’t take it much beyond blood ties, and the manner in which kinship privileges are extended to those that we permit to marry into them becomes critically important.

There’s a flashback scene in The Godfather Part II, set in 1941, just following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Sonny Corleone, played by James Caan, describes the thousands of Americans who have subsequently signed up to fight as “saps.” When younger brother Michael (Al Pacino) asks what makes them saps, Sonny says “they’re saps because they risk their lives for strangers.”


Michael: They don’t risk their lives for strangers, they’re risking it for their country.
Sonny: Your country ain’t your blood, you remember that.

Michael disagrees, and there is almost a fight at the family table when he reveals he has joined the marines that very morning, but the point is, even though both men love and respect their families and have very similar values, only one of them is prepared to risk everything with and for people he does not know.

Once he comes under fire, how much tighter will the bonds be between Michael and the men he fights with, his “brothers in arms”? Would he risk as much for them as for his brother Sonny, his actual familia? What about his half-brother Tom Hagen?

Whether we are talking about the Corleones or Michael’s comrades, we know there is no such thing as the perfect family, right? We all disagree, bicker, argue, shout, fight or whatever at some point or another. And at the extreme end of this continuum, there are sometimes family members that need to be kept away from each other, for their respective safety. How are these families, in their untenable situations, supposed to be the “bedrock of society”? Are only some families “real” families?

I mean, take a family where a working class, blue collar dad, living in a country rife with corruption and growing resentful under an occupying government, who then marries a teenaged girl pregnant with somebody else’s baby; is anyone expecting that to turn out well?

That’s right: this Galileean carpenter and his wife and her son, the Royal Family, such an intrinsic component of this time of year, is not only one of the earliest recorded and most famous of blended families, but they spend just as much time muddled up and making their by guesswork and good intentions as the rest of us, from a certain perspective.

In our reading from Luke, we heard how Mary and Joseph realized their son was missing from the caravan as they were returning from Jerusalem. This caravan would have been made up of familiar people and extended family members, so there was initially no cause for alarm, but when it turned out he was not travelling with the group after all, the two of them turned back to Jerusalem to find him. They do so three days later - and I pause here to ask all of you who are parents to remember a times spent waiting up for your son or daughter to return home, knowing that you weren’t going to be able to sleep anyhow, so you might as well stay up and ruminate for a spell, and then multiply that feeling by THREE DAYS - at the temple.

The words Paul attributes to Mary are brief but heartfelt, and convey the combination of worry, anger and most of all , relief at finding her son safe and sound: “Child, why have you done this to us? Look, your father and I have been searching for you anxiously!”

(I note here, with some interest, two points. First, Mary’s excellent and timely usage of a mother’s greatest weapon - guilt - , and secondly, that Joseph’s words are not captured. I presume that this is because he was either literally speechless, or perhaps he spoke and his words were considered unprintable according to the standards of the time. Either way, I truly feel for the man, as I often do.)

Now, I am not about to open a theological can of worms in terms of questioning the divinity and thus implied perfection of Jesus Christ, but I will say that from my privileged, middle-class, 21st century perspective, his response to his mother in the temple leaves a lot to be desired.

Instead of being chastened, or embarrassed, or apologetic, he is legitimately surprised at their anxiety. “⌊Why⌋ were you searching for me? Did you not know that it was necessary for me to be in the house of my Father?” The scriptures tell us that Mary did not understand what this meant, and despite knowing full well who Jesus is referring to, I can’t help but feel Joseph was maybe a little hurt as well. Regardless, Jesus returns with them, “submitting” as Paul relates it, and we have no way of knowing if he simply followed his parents home or was perhaps pulled along by the ear.

It’s important to note that Mary and Joseph were not helicopter parents - Jesus being out of their sight was not upsetting, as they believed he was within the caravan full of extended family, and people thought of as family. Conversely, Jesus is not being - you should pardon the expression - a smart-ass; he was neither afraid nor upset because he legitimately believed he too was among family, and in his father’s house to boot. From the caravan to the temple, it would seem that the concept of family can encompass a variety of stylings and permutations.

Consider my own extended and expanded family. Before we met, my wife Audrey became pregnant while travelling one summer while in college. She had the baby and gave him up for adoption to a couple unable to have children, exchanging letters and photos with his new family through a lawyer retained by the agency.

When the agency folded, she was told that if she wanted to maintain contact, she would have to do so directly going forward. By this point, the boy she had named Robyn was in his early teens, the two of us had been married for 7-8 years and we had a daughter of our own. When Audrey asked me what I thought, I told her the truth: that I was very apprehensive about opening our family up to such a close contact that we knew so little about, but that it was absolutely her call, and I would back her up, whatever she chose.

Unsurprisingly, she reached out and the exchange of photos and letters continued, and after a couple of years we decided to meet. My apprehension was peaking pretty hard when the four of them arrived at our home for dinner - yes, four: after welcoming the boy they named Bryce into their home, guess who went and got pregnant after all? - but their obvious and heartfelt love for their son and daughter, and their immense gratitude to Audrey for letting Bryce know his biological mother and her family warmed me to them immediately. As we sat down to dine, I made a toast: “Here’s to the families of choice.”

Despite the familiar saying, we can choose our family, and we do so all the time.

Andrew Vachss, the author of our third reading, makes this point again and again: we need to stop defining families biologically and start defining them operationally. Siring a child or bringing one to term is not what makes someone a parent. As he says, “we are what we do”. The ones we love become our family, our true family, and the terrifying truth behind that is that there doesn’t need to be any limits to it.When the woman he describes scooped up that child in a warzone, do you think she had time to second-guess herself about needing more food and water than she did on her own?

And what about our church family? We share beliefs, traditions and values - well, more often than not, anyhow - and seek ways to reach out and share our ideals about freedom and justice and compassion with everyone. We have tremendous latitude in how we express our faith, but in the early days of the church it was quite different.

Colossae was a Phrygian city in present day Turkey. Paul was in a Roman prison when reports reached him of the church there partaking in activities described as heretical. There are no details given, but it is speculated that they may have incorporated a variety of practices that would have been considered pagan at the time. It might be an interesting thought experiment to consider what Paul and other early church leaders would have thought about our decorating our church in brightly-lit evergreens to celebrate Christ’s birth at mid-winter instead of the spring or summer when he was probably actually born, but that is a topic for another time, perhaps.

At any rate, prior to our excerpt from Colossians, Paul has listed a litany of things for their church, and any church, really, to rid themselves of: anger, rage, malice, slander. Verse 11 is famous for opening the church to all, saying “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised,barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”

Then he begins his appeal for new behaviour: “as the chosen of God, holy and dearly loved, put on affection, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, putting up with one another and forgiving one another…. And to all these things add love, which is the bond of perfection.”

The bond of perfection. What a brilliant expression! Krazy Glue is amazing, but love is miraculous. It holds things together that would otherwise fall apart, makes the impossible feel possible.

Love is what ties it all, ties us all together. It’s what held Jesus Mary and Joseph together in their challenging times, and, if we’re lucky, it can do the same for us. When love defines our relationships, both within and outside our many families, that is when we are at our most Christ-like, when we are living the lives God most wants for us as his children. But don’t take my word for it! Some of the greatest thinkers and poets of the 20th century have spoken extensively and profoundly on the importance of love:

Love will keep us together - The Captain & Tenille
All you need is love - The Beatles
Think of your fellow man, lend him a helping hand/ Put a little love in your heart - Jackie Deshannon

God knows, and Paul recognizes, that no family is perfect; that’s why he includes that bit about putting up with another. That’s what makes this such a great passage to read during the holidays, right? Love and faith are tied closely together for me;I always have the most hope when I know love will be involved in my future.

Looking back now at our decision to meet with Bryce’s adopted family, it seems silly to admit how fearful I was that expanding our family might somehow diminish the amount of love I had available to distribute. I’d had similar worries prior to the birth of my first daughter, and again prior to the arrival of the second. Clearly, it takes a long time for me to get important messages.

Meeting Bryce’s family though, expanding my family in a whole new way, felt like finding a hidden gusset on a piece of fully packed luggage. The case is unquestionably full, but by moving a zipper and revealing a previously concealed fold of material, it expands to accommodate even more. A miraculous transformation brought on by the simplest of means.

There was always a blood line connecting our two households, but what really made us family was that first meeting. Fenya and Glory refer to Bryce as their big brother. He calls Audrey’s parent’s Oma and Opa, and they were just as proud as the other parents when he married his high school sweetheart 5 years ago. During his toast, Bryce’s Dad Robb said to them, “It had to be hard for you to see Bryce go, all those years ago, not knowing where your daughter's child would end up. And now here you are, and God's brought you full circle to a place you couldn't have imagined then, watching your grandson get married, and knowing you are still a part of his family."

I expressed my wonderment to Robb later on, and he shook his head in similar amazement and said, "There are so many ways each of our lives can turn; what can we do except look forward in faith, and look back in gratitude?"

When Bryce and Sara came over to visit just before Christmas, he asked how Oma and Opa were doing. Audrey started updating them on her parents when he said, “Actually, I mean you two.”

And that is how I found out that I am going to become a grandfather of sorts next summer.

There is no blood shared between myself and Bryce, but we are connected, and we are family. A family held together by love, the bond of perfection. I intend to be "Poppy". though, and not Opa.

There is a lot of talk about the amount of divisiveness in the world these days: the entrenchment of ideologies, the fear of increased immigration, the rise of intolerance. We’ve seen it before, and the solution is always the same: love. In 1965, Jackie DeShannon, who I quoted earlier, said:

What the world needs now is love, sweet love

It's the only thing that there's just too little of
Like I said at the beginning, there is no brilliant insight here. It’s the simplest message there is: love is what holds us together, whoever “us” might happen to be.

And if we try hard enough, and broaden our perspective enough, we can see others as our family: people of other languages, other faiths, other colours, other political affiliations or sexual orientations, it doesn’t matter.

Whether we see them in our homes, across a backyard fence, in mall or across a border fence, recognizing them not as “others”, but as fellow children of God and thus part of our truest human family, we can connect in new ways, learn new things, and come together, stronger than ever.

We live in a broken world, and we always have, but we can make it better. We can piece it together with the bond of perfection.

Amen

Kintsukuroi - the Japanese art of mending pottery with gold

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Scriptures:


Colossians 3:12–17 (Lexham English Bible):


Appeal for New Behavior

Therefore, as the chosen of God, holy and dearly loved, put on affection, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, putting up with one another and forgiving one another. If anyone should have a complaint against anyone, just as also the Lord forgave you, thus also you do the same. And to all these things add love, which is the bond of perfection. And the peace of Christ must rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body, and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another with all wisdom, with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God, and everything you do in word or in deed, giving thanks for all things in the name of the Lord Jesus to God the Father through him.



Luke 2:41–52 (Lexham English Bible):

Jesus in the Temple at Twelve Years Old

And his parents went every year to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to the custom of the feast. And after the days were completed, while they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. And his parents did not know it, but believing him to be in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. And they began searching for him among their relatives and their acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.


And it happened that after three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting in the midst of the teachers and listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his insight and his answers. And when they saw him, they were astounded and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you done this to us? Look, your father and I have been searching for you anxiously!” And he said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that it was necessary for me to be in the house of my Father?” And they did not understand the statement that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was submitting to them. And his mother treasured all these things in her heart.

And Jesus was advancing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and with people.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

2018 Advent Beers: Part IV

Three breweries from Norway, Ireland and New Zealand submit two bottles apiece for the final fourth of this last year's Advent Beer Calendar. 

Day 19: Calm Christmas - Belgian Tripel

The more Belgian-styled beers I try, the more I find I like them. I tend to find them more yeast-forward than malty or hoppy, and they often have that wonderful "liquid bread" feel to them, in addition to being quite potent. This Norwegian tripel from Nøgne Ø is no exception, adding a bit of smoke to the recipe for good measure and seasonality.

Day 20: Winter Storm - Nordic Farmhouse Stout

Even stronger than the tripel, this stout is a true winter warmer at 10.5%. In addition to the coffee and chocolate notes, the extra hops give it a roasty mouthfeel, and there are fruit traces in the afternotes. 

Day 21: Warrior - Irish Red Ale

I normally associate a piney taste with hoppier beers, but there is definitely some here, balanced out with lots of citrus aromas and a grapefruity taste. A bit of toffee comes through in the aftertaste too, as advertised.

Day 22: Phat Phantom Irish Stout

Barrel-aged stouts are normally a big hit with me, but I felt a bit let down by this one. I found it a bit too dry and bordering on the sour end of things. Not completely unpleasant, but certainly not what I have come to associate with this style.

Day 23: Stone Free - Hoppy Apricot Ale

This beer was sour as well, but I was more prepared for it, having read the label. Very nice, but not really in keeping with the season, is it? Although, I suppose it is pretty warm in New Zealand, 8-Wired's country of origin... Light, fresh, fruity and sour, I think this would be a delightful beer for the patio on a hot day.

Day 24: God Save the Lager - Imperial Pilsner

I suppose amping up the ABV to 7.5% is one way to get more further into this style of beer, but once again, this one failed to connect with me. I don't mind lots of hops (all australian and NZ in this case), but I'm there for the tartness and aromatics more than the bitterness, which this one had in spades.


And that's it for the 2018 Advent Beer Calendar! More hits than misses, but fewer standouts this year, I'm afraid. With so many more options available year-round, and events like the Craft Beer Festival where samples of strange and wonderful beers abound, I'm not one-hundred per cent sure I will be back next year, but it's such a wonderful tradition and delightful element of surprise that it would be very hard to give up. Let's see how I feel next November!

Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Advent Beers: Part III

Ah, what the heck, I'm on a roll and Glory hasn't made her way downstairs so we can start work on the jigsaw puzzle yet - let's squeeze in another six-pack of advent beers!

Day 13: Saison


As a brewery name, Yankee & Kraut is hard to top, as is their logo, a rodeo cowboy riding an enormous pig while raising a goblet of beer in his free hand.  The label to this farmhouse-style saison is likewise delightful in its homage to Edward Hopper's painting Nighthawks, except with animated suits of clothes replacing the figures we are used to. Brilliant floral aromas, crisp citrus flavours and malt-forward body make this strong (8%) yet light-tasting beer a real winner.

Day 14: Stout

Somehow managed to avoid taking a photo of this one, which is a shame, because it is another very creative label. As the art implies, this 5.4% stout is a feast for the senses, with bitter chocolate rising up over the roasted malts and returning as a lingering aftertaste to every sip.

Day 15: Ambra

Red and amber ales are a preferred style of mine, but normally clock in well below the 9.3% in this version from Italy's White Pony. Sweet, strong and malty, with herbal aromatics and afternotes.

Day 16: JeFe

Hefeweizen are a wheat-based ale suited for hot days and multiple glasses, but the addition of passionfruit to this one, as well as the hints of cloves and spices, make it appropriately festive.

Day 17: Morpheus 

A saison from Brouwerij Alvinne in Belgium, this strongish (6%), yeasty beer is light, fruity and refreshing, but I still can't fathom going back out into the midday sun to plow a field after drinking a pint of it!


Day 18: Un Belle Histoire

This porter is 5.6% and the normal coffee flavours are almost overpowered by an oakey sourness - not tremendously unpleasant but certainly unexpected!

2018 Advent Beers: Part II

Wow, that holiday season blew by pretty quickly, didn't it? Looks like some of my advent beers won't hit my blog until 2019...but at least these six snuck in under the wire!

Day7: Fruit Salad

In lesser hands, the idea of an India Pale Ale flavoured with grapefruit, passionfruit, mango, raspberry and blueberry might be a bit offputting, but Denmark's Evil Twin Brewing can always be counted on to bring creativity and balance to the table. Extremely fresh tasting and crisp thanks to the hops you normally associate with IPAs.

Day 8: The Check Please

This Black IPA from Evil Twin is made with Cascadian dark hops. I've had a few beers in this style now, and although they will never be my favourite, they are a delightful variation on regular IPAs, with a bit of roast-taste making its way through the hops.


Day 9: Galaxy Hoppy Blonde

Huh, apparently I neglected to log this one in on Untappd...well, my recollections are of a strong (6.5%), hoppy, Belgian-style beer brewed in Denmark by Ugly Duck, with added tartness brought forward by Galaxy hops. Lots of subtle fruit aromas from the yeast esters, I presume. I seem to recall that their bottle copy reflects the sort of mindset that keeps many women away from beer, but in the glass I had no complaints.


Day 10: Export Lager

I associate lagers with a time in my life when practically every beer you were offered was a lager (including some labelled as IPAs...yes, I am looking at you Alexander Keith!), most weren't very good, and as a result I hardly ever drank any. There are plenty of good examples of the style now, but the association remains. Ugly Duck's Dortmunder lager (as opposed to Pilsner) is a solid example, with a great malt/hops balance and clean, rich taste. A great entry point into craft beer for those who mightn't have taken the plunge yet.

Day 11: Can You Pass Me the Milk?


Milk stouts are one of my favourite subsets of my favourite style of beer. This Dutch one from Brouwerij Frontaal is surprisingly light at 4.5%, but still rich, smooth, and a little sweet, with hints of chocolate. Plus a fantastic label design.

Day 12: Ceres


The other half of Brouwerij Frontaal's advent offerings, Ceres is a lighter (5.3%) Scottish Ale with lots of body and hint of smoke, to my palate at least.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Nativities Studies

Our house does not lack for Christmas decorations, but my sister-in-law’s place has just as much if not more, and is focused particularly on nativities.

They run the range from kitschy to classical, folksy to refined, abstract to realistic. Looking at them this afternoon, I slowly moved from bemused to genuinely curious, and found their diversity compelling and reflective. 

I’ve always resented the depiction of baby Jesus as blond, blue-eyed and cherubic, as opposed to someone who might actually have lived in first-century Palestine. 

And Nebraska Jesus is here, to be sure, but he is joined by Royal Families with African, Indigenous and South American faces, wisemen of metal, stone and sticks, families of forest animals and snow-people.

The beginning of one of history’s oldest and most famous blended families is reflected lovingly and imperfectly an astonishing 176 Times in Betty’s house (and that’s not counting the ones in the Christmas tree). Here are just a few of them. Let these families remind us how no two families are alike, how every one probably looks a little weird from the outside, and how each of them is at least a little bit miraculous.

Merry Christmas!