Saturday, February 25, 2006


Today we started our first batch of wine - using a merlot wine kit we bought at the new Hops and Berries store in town. Things went pretty smoothly, but the first time you do something like this it is always a litle slow and, for me, nervewracking! It seems there are a lot of different ways to clean and sterilize equipment, different ways to be sure your "must" (fermenting wine) stays at the proper temperature, etc. So, you get directions with the kit, then the guy at the store says he does it a little differently, then you get online and there is more advice than you can read. So, after all that you just plunge ahead and start! We will figure out what works best for us and keep notes and hopefully round two will be a bit easier.

After cleaning and sanitizing everything, you add some bentonite to hot water, as Mom is doing above. I need to read up and figure out what that is for, but it was in the kit so in it went!

Then you add the juice concentrate, and add warm water, keeping the temperature of the mix at about 70 degrees F. Here's Mom checking the temperature before we added the last amount of water to get to the 6 gallon mark.

After you top it up to the 6 gallon mark, than you sprinkle the yeast over the top, which I am doing here. It's funny, I was nervous about it - didn't want to goof it up, and it all seems so precise. We had to measure the OGR (as you recall from Nate's post, this is the original gangsta rap otherwise known as the original gravity reading), and it was 1.075, just about right, and indicated we could have an alcohol content of about 10%.

We are using a tub filled with water and an aquarium heater element to maintain the temperature at about 70 degrees. The wine will also heat itself up a bit as it begins to ferment, so we'll watch and see if we need to cool it down at all. But the water bath seems like a good way to keep a nice consistent temperature, because we turn our house heat down at night. Other things we read about include using a heating pad, a blanket wrap, a light bulb, etc! It is beginning to seem that this is just as much an art as a science, and not all that precise after all! Mom's checking the thermometer on the left photo. Time will tell, and speaking of which, we got the 4 week kit, so in 4-6 weeks the wine will be ready to bottle and then is best after being bottled for two or more months. So, given that we have to wait to so long for our reward, we're going to Coopersmith's tonight - but likely for a beer. They just made a double strength punjabi ale which is really good!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Tulsa, snow and family!

Mom and I had a great visit with Justin, Juliana, and Sierra in Tulsa. Family is the best! We helped paint and fix up some rooms in the house, so J&J can put their house on the market soon. The first day we painted a bit outside, and it was warm - maybe even 70 degrees. But the weather changed and it snowed and got really cold - with a windchill below zero! We were surprised by the snow and cold. And we guessed that Tulsa had maybe only has one or two snowplows in the whole city, because the streets stayed icy and slick for several days. Sierra and I walked to a coffee shop one morning and with the north wind we thought we were in Minneapolis!

So, then we worked inside the house and our biggest project was painting the kitchen walls and cabinets. We took off all the doors and laid them all over the house and it came out really nice. You can see the new wall color behind JJ&S in the first photo, and the cabinets in the photo with Justin.

Sierra is now occupying what she has dubbed "The West Wing" and we put a new light in her room, along with some metal blinds, and fixed up the bathroom too. And we got her signed up on NetZero, so she has internet access right in the West Wing!

On Friday night Juliana and some friends had a surprise Birthday party for Justin! We all kept the secret and totally fooled him. It was fun to meet lots of friends, and there was even a Toña beer (Nicaraguan) that I had. Justin got some fun gifts, and Sierra even did a little crazy dancing. Turns out Tulsa is a rockin' place after all.

We had told Justin that we were going out to dinner at Kilkenny's Irish pub, so we did that on Saturday night instead. It was a great place,with great beer and really good food. Sierra and I each got the fish and chips and it was yummmmmmmmmy!

Pastor Justin Schroeder did the church service on Sunday, and we all went to hear. He spoke on the topic of "Helpers, Fixers, and Servers" and it was very well done. A separate highlight was a guitarist/singer who sang a song by bob Dylan called "Gotta Serve Somebody" which tied in really well with Justin's sermon. After church we had lunch and visited with some folks.

But, wait, I haven't told you the real highlight of the whole trip....
I saw a new bird! It's called a Smith's longspur (or as we affectionately nick-named it "snit's longsnur"), and they breed way north in the arctic, but spend the winters in central Oklahoma! I went out two mornings and found one on the second try. Yippee! Life is truly good!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

A Gringo's adventure in Mexico

I did it! My presentation went really well, and I got a lot of compliments after. Both on the technical content and on my spanish, so I felt pretty good. It turns out that it was really good to have my presentation on Friday, because it gave me all week to listen to the other speakers, make changes in my talk, add relevant examples, and, most importantly, get more comfortable with my spanish. So, by the time I gave my talk, I was sort of surprised that I wasn't that nervous and even felt sort of confident. And I think that helps a lot, because then people aren't focusing on my nervousness about the language, but they are (hopefully!) listening to what I am saying. I had 90 minutes alloted, but I was going strong, so they told me I could have a bit more time. It was a lot of fun, and what was interesting is that so much of what I teach here in the U.S. applied to the biologists in Mexico and their problems and issues. And having been there the week before, I could bring in examples that we had talked about, and they could relate even better.

So, all in all, I couldn't have asked for it to go any better. There was even a representative from the U.S. Consultate who came to hear me, so, of course, then I couldn't crack any anti-Bush jokes! The only problem was I brought home a bad sore throat and am not feeling too hot. Probably brought on by being a bit stressed out.

The meeting was held at the Centro Ecológico, which is a zoo/park outside of town. One morning several us met befoe the workshop to birdwatch there, which was lot of fun. I didn't see any new birds, but it was good to get out and walk around and talk more informally with people. and speaking of informal talk, that was where I had the biggest problems. Just understanding some of the simple small talk stuff. So, I need to switch gears a bit, and study less of my work type vocabulary and work more on chit-chat!

I didn't get to do too much else than go to the meeting each day. We left the hotel at 8:15 a.m. and usually didn't get back til after 6. Sonora is sort of the beef capitol and I ate more meat than usual. One night we went to a seafood place and had a great meal there. I learned about a "mixed" beer drink. It's a blend of a beer, with lime juice, bitters and hot sauce. served on ince, with salt on the rim. I think it was called "michilate" but I'm not sure. It was good!

On Saturday morning before I returned home, I got to walk around the town a little. There is a beautiful cathedral and plaza, but once you get on to the side streets, it reminded me a lot of streets in Leon, Nicaragua.

I made a lot of great contacts, so now I will be thinking about ways I can followup, and see what other projects or trainings might work for the future. So, stay tuned!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Letters to Editor

I've been thinking I need to get back into writing letters to the editor. Partly to vent, partly because I feel like I should be doing or saying something, and partly because I hope it might make some small difference. But I'm pausing to think a bit first. What makes a good topic? What makes a good letter? Who am I trying to reach? Is it worth it? (for a good article that helps make me feel it is worth it, see this piece by Howard Zinn)

For me, what makes me think or has the possibility to change my mind when I read a letter is a good strong case, backed up by knowledge. I am not likely to change my mind when I read a piece that is totally opinion. Maybe that is the scientist in me. On the other hand, a letter of facts is a boring read, and I think people may not even finish it.

Also, what topics do you think are most pertinent right now? What tends to draw your attention on the letters page? Something new? Something kind of "out there"? A short piece versus a long one?

Thanks for any thoughts or ideas.