30 Months of Co-Living

We are into the middle of our third year at the RobiRoost where we share a 5 bedroom house with another family of 4 (their last name also begins with Robi...). It was meant to be a single year of co-living in transition between our former homes and the anticipated cohousing project we were all a part of. When the project was delayed and then abandoned, both our families were left in a bit of a quandary and so we moved to a different house and continued our home sharing.

Our families live remarkably well together. We share essential tastes in food, drink, activities, movies, beliefs, and lifestyle. There is a mutual care and respect for each other. We trust each other. We play together. Look after each other's children for date nights. We built and then enjoyed a beer advent calendar (more on this soon). This arrangement has given us some relief from the disappointment of losing our cohousing dream as we have built in community.

My children will certainly have a defined memory of these surrogate siblings and parents. They get tucked in once a week by either Jasen or Heather. They play Lego and superhero and house and watch morning cartoons on the weekend with their housemates.

We decided to celebrate our big family Christmas by going out for some food and then walking around Commonwealth Park to see the holiday lights. It was nice to relax together in this way. For me it demonstrated that getting together is not as special as it used to be. We've crossed a familiarity barrier that few people cross beyond the nuclear family. It's uncharted territory. I joke with my work colleagues about having a sister-wife and brother husband because I haven't found an easier way to explain who they are.

This fine family has inspired, encouraged, nourished, shared, commiserated with, challenged and blessed ours. I hope we have been able to do the same for them as they have become very special to us.

Cheers to 30 months together!


Historical Tour of Romance

I asked Amber out just over 17 years ago. She accepted my invitation to go for a hot drink at Kavaccinos in Lacombe and our relationship sprouted, budded and blossomed from that night in September. We decided to take the kids to this coffee shop and share some memories.

I was super nervous to ask her out. So nervous that I had to go to Lakeview Hall twice in the attempt - the first time she was in the lobby with a group of people which completely unnerved me. the second time I phoned the wrong Amber from the dorm lobby (I didn't know her last name) first and then finally got her on the phone. I borrowed my sister's car and took her out. I had no idea then what kind of joy would come from this euphoric date.

The coffee and food were better than I remember. Spending time with Amber gets sweeter everyday though.

We met at CUC which is changing its name from Canadian University College to Burman University (a move I fully endorse). I was on the welcoming team of upperclassmen when Amber arrived as a freshman. She caught my eye when she joined my jellybean group where we played a dumb name game. I emerged from Freshmen Orientation completely smitten. I had to ask her out just to put my mind at ease so I could continue with my studies.

After our initial date, we went on walks around the lakes at CUC. We took the kids down the hill behind the dorm to the path beside Lake Barnett.

Our first kiss was on one of these walks. I ended up kissing Amber's teeth because she was smiling so big. We've managed to improve on that one since.

One of the moments when I have sensed God's presence most profoundly was in the week or two following the beginning of our relationship. I was on my way to early morning classes walking up College Avenue when I was overwhelmed with how God had blessed me with this remarkable companion.

Whitemud Park

Went for a walk in Edmonton's Whitemud Park in mid-December with some good old friends. Lots of up and down on some rather slick hills, but the views were sights were stellar. The low winter sun and low lying fog on Whitemud Creek provided some wonderful visuals.


Analog Prizes

Advent has a lot of meaning. God sent his Son to Earth to take on physical flesh and blood because He loves this Earth. God's love for Earth is in direct contrast to the Greek dualistic disdain of the physical world as they believe it can not be as valued as the heavenly forms.

So, in honour of the Incarnation, I'm going to share some of the things of this world that have meaning and value to me!
Yo-yo - This might be my only toy. I pull it out every few months and give it a few zips to keep up my skills (which are adequate). Again, I like the weight and feel of the wood and that I can replace the string when required. I could use this yo-yo for the rest of my life - no need for replacement. 
My Wisdom Teeth - Amber is super grossed out by them, but I think they are awesome! I had them pulled in '98 I think. My dentist had me in a headlock so he could yank them out and fortunately, they all came out whole (and beautiful!). I keep them in a little leather pouch I made at summer camp when I was 13.  
Commemorative 400th Anniversary Canadian Silver Dollar of the First Acadian Settlement in 1604 - I don't go for much shiny stuff, but this was a must have coin. I picked it up at the post office in Robichaud New Brunswick in 2004. 
Razor - replacing blades in this solid implement costs me a few cents. I like the weight in my hand and that it gets really hot in hot water. Go stuff yourself Gillette!

Lord of the Rings Box Set - I found this 2nd Edition, 9th Printing, 1965 vintage set in a book store in Edmonton and I couldn't resist buying it. Only one of the books still has a sleeve, but the pages are still very crisp and I would be surprised if anyone has ever read this copy. I just checked eBay and there are 18 copies available there from $75-$405.

Wedding Band - I've been wearing this for over 14 years and I still think it's great. We got white gold just to be different. I like the silver look anyway. I have ECCL. 9:9 engraved on the inside. Amber's choice: Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.

Beret - My friend Kiki bought me this wool hat in Annecy, France in 1997. I do feel a little strange wearing this in Calgary where no other men wear berets, but it keeps my head warm and I like how it looks. I got it at a hat store where they make hats. They measured my head!

Billfold - One of the real problems with wallets is that they can get so thick. This little gem fits my drivers licence, health card, insurance card, bank card and 2 credit cards. It also has a billfold for cash or receipts. I love its sleek, leather feel and that it has metal in it.

Swiss Army Knife - Who doesn't like these things?! My first one was red and was stolen in Banff, so I replaced it. Then my second one got stolen in Guatemala, so I replaced it in Antigua with this black one. The case is fantastic too - think nylon canvas with a belt loop. I used to carry it on my hip for my Guatemala years. Now, it's frowned upon to be carrying a knife in school... I use it for so much.


Books Reviewed: by Wendell Berry & Lazar Puhalo

Two books by two men from vastly different backgrounds, though still grounded in Christian tradition, tackle the meaning of society and what it means to live side by side with one another through a collection of their essays.

Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community
by Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is a giant thinker and wildly counter-cultural. He is a farmer in Kentucky, but he is highly regarded by organizations such as Stanford University, Rockefeller  & Guggenheim Foundations, etc. What is lovely about Mr. Berry is that he is living out what he is advocating for in regards to community life, local economies, participating in the restoration of creation, and political activism. Most of all, he is a passionate Christian.

In one chapter, Berry systematically tears down all of the arguments that George Bush Sr. had for attacking Iraq in the early 90s. In another he defends the harvest of tobacco - a coy poke at modern liberalism, though not insincere on the tobacco side either. Another chapter is almost pure satire on the topic of globalization, militarism, and technological progress. Elsewhere he harshly attacks the notion of free trade. These were enjoyable reads, but the real meat in the book were the ones directly addressing the affirmatives in how he believes people made in the image of God ought to live.

Berry is best when he points out nuanced, and sometimes drastically unbalanced, ways we see the world - creation. He points out that a word like environment "is a typical product of old dualism that is at the root of most of our ecological destructiveness." What's the big deal? Well, it removes local responsibility and care. The term "environment" is sterile, like "ecosystem," it is just a scientific concept rather than a reality of the actual ground in our literal back yard or nearby forest or the field that is ploughed in our neighbourhood.

Berry's treatise on heaven and earth is particularly refreshing. Heaven is the New Earth - a fully restored, functioning earth right where we already are. How should this inform a Christian's actions in local economies? He reignites the concept of dualism and how it has destroyed our ability to truly engage restorative actions in our current life since we believe the spiritual soul is certainly of more import than the decrepit body. It isn't
person = body + soul
rather, it is
soul = body + breath of life
Recognizing that the physical realities are indeed spiritually significant changes all paradigms.

Culture, Commonweal and Personhood
by Lazar Puhalo

As I reported earlier, I had the great privilege of meeting Archbishop Puhalo this past summer. To hear him state his qualifications, you would think he is an astrophysics lecturer at the Sorbonne with a part time neurobiology post at UBC. In reality, he is a highly educated, highly respected clergyman who has been able to take part in countless public dialogues with great scientists on the issue of science and faith. He lives at the Monastery of All Saints outside of Abbotsford, BC where he continues in his retirement to serve as a local bishop in the small chapel there as well as the official liaison between the Archdiocese of Canada and the Government of Canada.

This book takes several of its essays from actual talks Puhalo delivered at various conferences in Romania within the last 10 years. He talks through how science is poorly understood and viewed without a patristic understanding of Christian theology. He lays out the pros and cons of ecumenical dialogues. The idea of personalism is analyzed thoroughly in its historical evolution and its contrast with Orthodox principles.

In general though, it is societal, religious, and philosophical paradigms that are defined, shown insufficient, and revealed how they are incompatible with Christian thought. Though the text is very dense, I was able to follow Puhalo's organized stream of consciousness, and learn a few things in the process. I was both affirmed and challenged.


Tool Shed Brewery & Beer for Life

A year ago, I tried my first Tool Shed beers: Star Cheek IPA, Red Rage Ale, and People Skills Cream Ale. I was immediately enamoured with the Star Cheek IPA which was a far more local, affordable, and high quality IPA compared to the west coast American IPAs I have learned to appreciate.

Graham and Jeff started out as home brewers and decided to take the plunge and start a brewery. They had to begin brewing in BC by renting Dead Frog's brewery because of the archaic brewing laws in Alberta. This year, the laws changed and they secured a spot in NE Calgary and have built a magnificent brewery.

To help raise capital and extend their appreciation to their original backers, they offer 100 Golden Growlers: Beer for life for $5,000. If you're interested in the terms of the agreement, you can contact them. Graham responded very quickly to my clarifying questions and invited me to come and meet him to chat about it.

The beer maxes out to 200L each year. They are happy to provide the beer in growlers, cans, kegs, etc. You can have several people attached to a single Golden Growler subscription and each will be able to access the benefits (sharing the 200L - about 600 beer - of course). Another benefit is exclusive access to test batches.

So, on October 23, Amber and I went on a date to visit the new brewery and get a tour by Jeff. He spent 45 minutes with us showing us the new digs and telling us about the plans. They had brewed their first batch that day, but he was happy to take the time. I signed up and handed over the money that would give me and 2 friends the benefit of beer for life.

The 100 Golden Growler members' photos will be featured on a wall. Each will be given a special 1.89 L growler and be invited to exclusive events. I'm excited for the first one where we will get to try the test batch of the Eggnog Milk Stout.

Brew Six-B: In Flanders Fields Red Ale

The second of the two batches I brewed on November 10 was a Flanders Red Ale. The primary flavour profile of this type of beer is the yeast, but the grain selection adds a whole lot to the mouthfeel, colour, and aroma.

I didn't have a heatstick to raise temperatures, so I had to add hot water at different intervals to do the job. I used the very helpful calculators at Brewer's Friend to help with the water volumes and temperatures. I got all my ingredients at The Vineyard.

The recipe I found led me through this:
MASH30 min @ 50˚C; 50 min @ 68˚C; 10 min @ 75.5˚C5.25 lbs Canadian Superior Pilsen (1.4-1.9˚L)
5.25 lbs Vienna Malt (3-5˚L)
1 lb Munich (6-10˚L)
0.5 lb Wheat (1.5-2.5˚L)
0.5 lb CaraRed (15.6-19.3˚L)
0.5 lb Special Aromatic (3.5-5˚L)
0.5 lb Caramel Munich (120˚L)
BOIL90 min
1 oz East Kent Goldings (5.8% alpha) - 60 min
WLP008 East Coast Ale Yeast (initial fermentation)
WLP655 Belgian Sour Mix (second fermentation 6 days later)
22 Litres; 24 IBU; Original Gravity 1.050 (potential of 6.4% ABV)

This is a lengthy process. I will let this one ferment for 6 months to allow for the flavour to max out and allow the beautiful mix of bacteria to do its job on the beer. It is supposed to be a sour beer which I think works with the name I've chosen. Even the brew date works!

The reason I chose to make a Flanders Red is because of my enjoyment of the expensive and delicious Duchess of Bourgogne.

Brew Six-A: Czar's Imperial Stout

In preparation for the two brews I did (check out Brew Six-B), I read up on advanced brewing in my handbook: The Complete Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papazian. I have the 2nd edition (1991); the fourth came out this year. In it I gained a much deeper understanding of what happens during the mash and the boil.

In the mash (the process with hot water and grains), the starches from the malted grains are turned into sugars with the help of enzymes. Not all malted grains have the enzymes required - these are called adjunct grains. It's important not to have too many of these as not much sugar will appear in the wort (sugar water). Various grains bring different flavours and colours to the beer. The flavours often happen via the way the barley, wheat, oats, rice, etc. are malted - this is where all the names for the barley come from (2-row, crystal, chocolate, munich, black, etc.).

Each grain contributes to the colour of the beer. The darkness of the malt is expressed in ˚L or SRM (Standard Reference Method). I was so surprised at how dark my wort came out with only 2.25 lbs of really dark malt of 17.25 lbs of grain.

Hops are way more complicated. Primarily, they are used in bittering the wort - helping to remedy the sweetness of beer. The more malt (sugar), the more hops are needed. In this recipe, I have extracted an enormous amount of malt, so I have to use some hops with high alpha acids. The longer you boil them, the more the acids attach to the malt.

Then there are the hop oils. The oils dissipate very quickly in the boil, but the hops need to be boiled in order to extract them. To get these oils, hops are added at the very end of the boil for 1-5 minutes. The hop oils are what contribute to hoppy aroma and flavour.

The amount of hops used, the amount of acid and the amount of time they are in the boil determines the IBU or International Bitterness Units of the beer. High IBU doesn't necessarily mean the beer will be bitter, but it usually does. In the case of imperial stouts, a high IBU is needed to keep the malt in check.

One of the other new methods I got to try out was the cooling coil. If a brew is not cooled quickly after a boil, it can be infected with wild yeasts and bacteria which can impact the flavour of the beer. The coil is hooked up to a cold water source (ice water bucket with a pump or in my case, an outdoor tap). The water circulates through the wort in the copper pipe and emerges piping hot. It took about 20 minutes to bring the temperature down to 22˚C. It didn't hurt that it was outside in -20˚C weather.

30 min @ 52˚C; 30 min @ 70˚C; 10 min @ 75˚C14 lbs Canadian 2-Row (2˚L)
1 lb Crystal Medium (45˚L)
1 lb Roasted Barley (300˚L)
0.75 lb Black Malt (500˚L)
0.5 lb Chocolate Malt (350˚L)
BOIL 90 min
60 min 1 oz Northern Brewer 8.6% alpha
30 min 1 oz East Kent Goldings 5.8% alpha
30 min 0.5 oz Fuggles 5% alpha
20 min 1 oz Fuggles
2 min 0.5 oz Fuggles
Wyeast 1084 Irish Ale @ 22˚C

23 Litres; 56 IBU; Original Gravity 1.073 (potential of 9.4% ABV)

I am very excited about this brew. It should be packed with flavour and punch. Incidentally, the term imperial is interchangeable with double - so it's a stout that is twice as strong. It's called imperial because the Brits would brew this strong stuff and export it to the czars in Russia.

Brew Five: Winter Ale & Anne's IPA

Brewing an all-grain beer is so much more work than picking up a beer kit. So, the beer had better be that much better! I was commissioned to brew 2 batches of beer for my friend Anne. The first was brewed back in June, a hefeweizen which ended up getting contaminated with lactobacillus and having a sour flavour. I brewed the second, an IPA along with a spiced winter ale on this occasion in July.

I borrowed my friend Alex's gear again: modified cooler with a copper manifold in the base which filters the sparge from the mash, thermometer, heat stick, and a turkey fryer for the boil. I set everything up in the back yard with the help of the kids picnic table.

I searched both recipes out online and modified slightly to my purposes. Here they are:
Anne's I Pee Eh (Chainbreaker White IPA Clone)
MASH (90 min)15 L Water (65-68˚C)
6 lbs Canadian Superior Pilsen (1.4-1.9°L)
2 lbs Wheat (1.5-2.5°L)
1 lb Toasted Wheat (425°L)
1 lb Crystal Medium (75°L)
BOIL (60 min)60 min - 1 oz Warrior Hops (13.7% alpha)
5 min - 1/3 oz Sweet Orange Peel; 1.5 tsp Coriander Seed; 0.5 oz Falconer's Flight Hops (10.5% alpha)
1 min - 1.5 oz Falconer's Flight; 0.5 oz Cascade Hops (5% alpha)
0.5 lb Wheat Dry Malt Extract
PITCHWyeast 1332 (Northwest Ale)
Original Gravity: 1.047
Final Gravity (30 days later): 1.006
ABV: 5.4%

Winter Ale (Sciukas All Night Long)
MASH (90 min)15 L Water (63-66˚C)
10 lbs Canadian 2-Row (2°L)
2 lbs Light Crystal Malt (45°L)
Sparge: 16L 67˚C (it should have been 75.5˚C to mash out)
BOIL (60 min)
60 min - 1.5 oz Cascade Hops (5% alpha)
6 min - 2/3 oz Sweet Orange Peel; 1 oz Ginger Root; 2 Cinnamon Sticks; 1 oz Caraway Seed; 0.2 oz Whole Clove
3 min - 1 oz Tetinang Hops (4.9% alpha)
1 lb Honey
Wyeast 1388 (Belgian Strong Ale)

Original Gravity: 1.052
Final Gravity (30 days later): 1.001
ABV: 6.7%

The entire process for two 5-gallon batches - cleaning, heating water, racking, bringing to boil, racking, cooling, cleaning - took 5 hours. I had to take my son to the dentist in the early afternoon and help make supper, so I started early in the morning.

Both brews turned out quite well. I have several litres of the winter ale ready for Christmas holidays and I have been enjoying some in the fall too. Now that I have read about the chemistry and enzyme reactions that occur during the mash, I think I could have made even better beer had I played with a few different temperatures and stuck with very light SRM grains for the IPA to give it a lighter colour and taste.


Sukkōt: The Feast of Tabernacles

On October 9 we celebrated Sukkōt, a biblical feast commemorating the time the Israelites spent in the wilderness. My father and his wife have been observing what are traditionally Jewish holy days for a few years now. They were visiting us in Calgary when the Feast of Tabernacles began so my father rigged up a temporary tabernacle or booth or tent in the back yard and his wife prepared a terrific feast for our entire household.

You could say that Christians are living in the wilderness now - the time between the exodus (freedom) and promised land (fulfilment of the promise of the new earth). Setting aside time each year to remember this was God's intent for His people.

We feasted on kabobs, pumpkin hummus, olives, tabouli, grapes and wine.

While it cooled down substantially at sunset, we hung out for another and enjoyed more wine and laughter.