Thursday, December 23, 2010

sam calagione's holiday beer & food pairings

Holiday beer and food pairing tips from the BrewMaster. The article, via the Huffington Post, is here: sam calagione's holiday beer & food pairings


The holidays are upon us and that means multi-course, epic meals and countless opportunities to flex your beer and food pairing muscles. Ten years ago, hardly anyone was talking about how well the wide array of beers now available compliment different foods but the craft brewing renaissance has changed all of that. Foodies now know that craft beer has all of the distinction, diversity and food compatibility of wine and it has finally made it as an adult this holiday season. Light lager is refreshing and ubiquitous but rarely a great partner for flavor-forward foods. Craft beers have a lot more flavor and diversity. Yup, they will usually have a little higher calorie count then their light lager cousins but holidays are the time to relax and reward yourself. Suck it up and go for a jog or bike ride the next day but life's too short to resist treating yourself when so many great beer options are now available coast to coast.
First off, everyone's palate is different, that's why there are so many different kinds of beers and these suggestions should be taken as just that: suggestions, not mandates. The most sweeping wine analogy I can offer when considering beers to pair with food is this: ales tend to be more fruity and robust, like red wines, so they generally pair with foods in a similar way (e.g., steak, spaghetti & meatballs); lagers are similar to white wines, refined and mellow, so they pair better with more delicate foods (e.g., grilled fish, sushi).
So here are some suggestions for pairing beers with some common holiday food groups that your are bound to run into or are planning to cook up for guests yourself this season.

This is the de facto way into many a holiday meal and, while wines may go pretty well with some cheeses, the carbonation and diversity in beer make it a better partner. The bubbles in beer exfoliate the tongue of the fatty weight of the cheese to prepare you for the next bite. Some great combinations: 
  • Fresh mozzarella and a nice bready, spicy white beer like Avery White Rascal or Allagash White.

  • Sharp aged cheddar with a hoppy beer like Russian River's Pliney the Elder or Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA.

  • Roquefort or a big stinky bleu with a beer with some serious body and darker roasty grains, like Thomas Hardy's Ale or Deschutes Abyss.

  • Sirloin steak is usually paired with dry, tannic red wines; however, this classic dish is a great partner for spicy beers like Saison du Pont or Chimay Red.

  • A pork chop's lighter meat has more subtle flavors so you don't want to overpower it with too big of a bee so opt for a German bock, like Schneider Aventinus or an Amber Ale like New Belgium Fat Tire.

  • Glazed ham is both sweet and salty, so it needs an earthy and fruity beer as a partner, like Theakston Old Peculiar Ale or Brooklyn Brown Ale.

  • New England clam chowder is a thick, rich soup that has a lot of tongue-coating cream and a salty flavor, but it can be overwhelmed by too strong a beer. Opt for a stout, like Murphy's or Guinness.

  • Lobster is a dish that goes really well with traditional lager, like Heineken or Yuengling Lager.

  • Grilled tuna (assuming it is lightly seasoned and unadorned with a heavy cream sauce) goes well with a mid-body lager, like Troeg's Troegenator or Sam Adams' Double Bock.

  • Fried fish and chips needs a beer that is dry and bubbly enough to cut through the palate-coating batter. I recommend Bink Blonde Hoppy Golden Ale or Birra del Borgo ReAle.

  • Whether it is pure chocolate bars and candy or rich chocolate cakes, I think the ultimate beer and food pairing is any type of chocolate and dark roasty imperial stout. Try Ten FIDY from Oskar Blues or Chicory Stout from Dogfish Head.

Now eat up, drink up, have fun and cheat on your go-to beer...and don't forget to go for that run tomorrow morning.

Religion, Philosophy, and Christmas

The genesis for today's post came from a recent New York Times op-ed piece. The article itself and hundreds of reader comments can be found here: A Tough Season for Believers. In a nutshell, the author, Ross Douthat, argues that Christmas is a difficult season for Christians because it serves as a reminder that faith has been co-opted, materialism is rampant, and religion itself is circling the drain. This commentary may have gotten my back up just a bit, and I wrote the following impassioned response:


What a bleak and sad outlook about Christianity, the value of religion in general, and the utility of philosophy as a means of understanding our place in the cosmos! Of all the major publications in the world, I think only the New York Times would publish such a hopeless and cynical commentary. The author is completely lost, looking in the wrong direction, and coming to the wrong conclusions. I am familiar with the books he cites, particularly with Putnam and Campbell (the latter at Notre Dame). As for Hunter, well, at U VA any mention of God will get one removed from the tenure track, so Hunter is boldly proclaiming that Christianity is dead unless it finds a way to blend in with the complexity and diversity of modern society such as that which one might find in New York City, or ancient Rome. And we all know what happened to the Roman Empire! 

I can boil my reaction down to seven points:

1. God is real. When Stephen Hawking changed his mind and said that universes can create themselves, therefore there is no need for God, he was partially correct. We know that universes can create themselves and the cosmos is in a constant state of rebirth. Universes form like bubbles in bath water--expanding until they burst, and the matter gets reused. What we don't know is where the original matter came from, or what started the process in motion. Like it or not, the answer is not nothing.

2. Religion is mankind's attempt to make a connection to an unseen, yet all-powerful force known by different names throughout human existence but referred to here as God. The essence of religion is faith, faith in the mystery of a truth beyond human understanding. Being a human (flawed) institution, the mechanics of any religion will be problematic. I do not argue that religion is the answer to all of life's important questions. Therefore religion is not sufficient on its own for a good life. Religions are not all the same. Some religions are better than others, and the differences are worthy of thought and debate.  Much blood has been spilled in the name of religion. It's a sad fact that our debates happen over the course of generations and sometimes become violent. I do not advocate violence in the name of religion. 

3. Philosophy is mankind's attempt to understand our place in the cosmos by means of deductive reasoning and empirical facts. Reasonable people can disagree. (So can unreasonable people, but that's a whole different subject.)  There is benefit in discussing different perceptions and measurements. There is benefit in comparing competing measurement systems. Over time, the assessment frameworks we use have grown in abundance, diversity, and complexity. Yet as they proliferate, they also coalesce around common elements of what we can really know. Take the study of the human brain, for example. There are biological frameworks, and frameworks based on psychology. Different ways of developing our understanding of the brain can lead to common knowledge about what occurs in different parts of the brain. But such knowledge on its own is not sufficient for a life well-lived. The problem with philosophy is that it is limited to the powers of human perception. See #1.
4. Art is more akin to religion, especially in the creation and appreciation of it. Music, dance, poetry, the things that stir our souls do so because there are waves of resonate energy moving through the cosmic ocean. Art, the best art, is about passion. What is life without passion, art, and religion?

5. Science and philosophy are related, especially in the attempt to analyze, test, classify, and understand the natural world. As we learn more and more about the universes, we need God less and less. God does not ride a blazing chariot across the sky every day. No, the earth revolves on it's axis once every 24 hours. The earth is not 5,000 years old. No, there must be some elements missing in the history as recorded in the Bible. Science is about knowledge. Who wants to live a life without knowledge, science, and philosophy?

6. Human existence is enriched by both art and science, by both religion and philosophy, and most especially by the critical thinking skills that enable one to navigate successfully in a complex and diverse landscape. Alone, thinking or believing are insufficient. Both together are necessary.

7. The Dali Lama said that the best way to find peace and enlightenment if you are a Christian is not to convert to Buddhism, but to be the best Christian possible. Chasing after the next spiritual trend is a way to broad but shallow understanding. Searching ever deeper is more likely to yield insights that resonate.  In the deepest depths of all religions, in the depths beyond where science or philosophy can take us, there we will find the God of all religions and the prime mover of the cosmos. 

If Christians march to war into a cul-de-sac of separation and conservative values, then yes, they will cease being relevant and die off as they should, and as Mr. Douthat predicts. All Christians are not the same, and it is a cynical mistake to assume that we move as a monolithic block behind the likes of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and Ralph Reed.  People adapt. The institutions made by people also adapt. The great unanswered questions underly and motivate all change toward a unifying and universal understanding.

I am a Christian. It's Christmas. I am happy. Tough season? Maybe for Mr Douthat.


With a tip o' the hat to Edward and Vincent for bringing this article to my attention.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Census 2010: Population Winners and Losers

Here's a link to a great interactive chart showing 2010 Census Results. This is published by American Public Media for their Marketplace program. You can look at trend lines for every state and territory using 100 years of historical census data.

As you can well imagine, census data are wildly popular in this political, info-techy town. There are two broad constituent groups who have been waiting with bated breath: politicians, who want to know the likelihood of keeping their job; and voters, who want to know the liklihood of having their voice be heard.

For politicians, the idea would be to reduce the variance or political diversity in the constituent group they are trying to please. If one is elected on a conservative platform, one is more likely to earn favorable performance ratings (and get re-elected) from a conservative consituency. You can never please everyone, but too much diversity in the populace means it will be harder to please anyone.

For voters, the idea would also be to reduce variance, but from a slightly different perspective. If one is interested in a particular issue, say poverty, health care, education, or the ecomony, one doesn't want his voice to be lost in the sauce. Voters have more power when they are voting as a block. Too much diversity of opinion waters down the message to the elected official.

Let the gerrymandering begin!

With a tip o' the hat to Angelo for sending the link.

Beer and the Arc of Civilization

One of the many reasons I like Dogfish Head Brewery is their Ancient Ales series, a fascinating series of beers produced by the partnership between pioneering brewer Sam Calagione and molecular archeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern. Two beers from this series were featured in Discovery Channel's Brew Masters program, Episode 5, Ancient Ales. The episode offered insights into the process of creating Ta Henket, based on a recipe and brewing process described in hieroglyphics in an Egyptian pyramid. The secondary story described some challenges in brewing Chateau Jiahu, an American interpretation of a 9000 year old recipe discovered at an archeological site in China.

The Ancient Ales series began in 1999 with Midas Touch, a beer that captured my imagination when it was released. According to the Dogfish Head website, Midas Touch Golden Elixir "is an ancient Turkish recipe using the original ingredients from the 2700 year old drinking vessels discovered in the tomb of King Midas." The idea of recreating an ancient beverage by performing spectral analysis on the dust in a funerary chalice is absolutely fascinating. When I drank Midas Touch Golden Elixir from a chalice, I felt connected by a liquid time machine to brewers and beer lovers across the ages.

The Ancient Ales series has grown over the years: Midas Touch, Chateau Jiahu, then Theobroma, and now Ta Henket. In addition to ales reconstituted using archeology, Sam has brewed other "ancient" beers using traditional ingredients and methods that flaunt the Reinheitsgebot: T'ej, Sah'tea, and Chicha, to name a few. Then there's the whole list of off-centered concept brews such as Pangaea and others too numerous to mention here.

Bottom line: I am a fan of Calagione’s idea of exploring culture, history, art, tradition, and innovation through the medium of imbibable bliss. The whole history of civilization can be traced in beer. Can humanity’s future be seen in the bottom of a glass?

More information about these intriguing beers is here:

More information about the Ancient Ales series itself is here:

A comprehensive list of Dogfish Head beers is either here:

… or here:

More about the Discovery Channel’s Brew Masters series is here:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Beginning the Craft Brew Adventure: A Questionnaire

If you are new to the wonderful world of craft brewed beer, I would like to help you get started on a great adventure. Here are a couple questions. Your answers will help me make good recommendations for you. There are over 30,000 beers out there, but we can winnow the list down to 3, based on your preferences and what is available in your area.

1. What is your zip code (need to check my sources for distributors and retailers in your area)?
2. What is your current go-to beer, the one you almost always have in the fridge? Why do you like it?
3. What is the best or most interesting beer you have ever tried? What did you like most about the flavor or aroma: hoppy bitterness, malty sweetness?
4. Is there a beer you've tried and said, "never again!"? What turned you off? Too sour, too fruity, too funky?
5. Do you have any price considerations? Beer comes in many different packages. I convert beer price to cost per pint for comparison. I have spent anywhere from $1 to $24 per pint with plenty of really good ones available around $6.
6. Are you willing to receive alcohol in the mail if we don't find something local? There are some restrictions regarding interstate shipping of alcohol.
7. Is pairing food and beer together a consideration? When you order a beer at a restaurant, to you tend to get a beer you like or do you try to select a beer to compliment the meal?
8. Finally, look at this list of 12 ingredients and tell me which three are most appealing and three least appealing: coffee, chocolate, vanilla, cherry, raspberry, watermelon, caramel, licorice, coriander, strawberry, oatmeal, orange.

The answers will give me an idea for what will work best for you, so just send me what answers come to mind quickly. I will reply with 3 recommended craft beers available at retailers in your area.

Chocolate Zucchini Bread (Lite)

Here's the recipe I used for my first crack at baking bread back in August. It turned out great! I used 5 mini loaf pans instead of 2 regular pans. 

From EatingWell:  January/February 1999, The Essential EatingWell Cookbook (2004)

In this recipe remake, we replaced much of the oil with fruit-based fat replacement, reduced the amount of unsweetened chocolate but added cocoa powder and used half as many nuts but toasted them for maximum flavor. The result retained the original's tender crumb and rich, chocolaty flavor with only one-third the fat.

2 loaves, 8 slices each Active Time: 45 minutes | Total Time: 1 3/4 hours

  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, (1 3/4 ounces)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, preferably Dutch-process
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup fruit-based fat replacement, such as Lighter Bake, or unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted
  • 2 cups grated zucchini, (1 medium)
1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Coat two 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch loaf pans with cooking spray.
2. Spread walnuts in a pie pan and bake until fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Set aside to cool.
3. Whisk all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.
4. Whisk eggs, sugar, fruit-based fat replacement (or applesauce), oil, vanilla and melted chocolate in another large bowl until blended. Add to the dry ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined. Fold in zucchini and the reserved walnuts. Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, smoothing the tops.
5. Bake the loaves 55 to 60 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Invert onto rack and cool completely.


Per slice : 239 Calories; 8 g Fat; 1 g Sat; 3 g Mono; 40 mg Cholesterol; 38 g Carbohydrates; 4 g Protein; 3 g Fiber; 143 mg Sodium; 97 mg Potassium
2 1/2 Carbohydrate Serving

Exchanges: 1 starch, 1/2 fruit, 1 other carbohydrate, 1 fat

Nutrition Note: Original Zucchini Bread 365 calories, 23 g fat EW Zucchini Bread 239 calories, 8 g fat

Tips & Notes
  • Make Ahead Tip: Store well wrapped at room temperature for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 1 month.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ramblin' 'bout readin' 'ritin' and 'rithmatic

Reading is a challenge for an extrovert like me--not a physical challenge, but an emotional one. I would much rather talk. In fact, I often make the act of reading more pleasurable (and much slower) by mentally talking with the author. Reading to stimulate a conversation is worth the effort, but reading for its own sake, well, it's just not my thing. I do thoroughly enjoy a good book, but I like to take it to a coffee shop so I can have some other people milling around.  Obviously I do a ton of reading as an operations research analyst and PhD student, but again, this reading is done for the purpose of presenting the information to others or adding to the body of human knowledge.  

As a means of engaging with others non-verbally in the world of ideas, I prefer writing and drawing. Unlike the random coffee-shop noise or the imaginary banter with an author that improves the experience of reading, expressive activities like writing and drawing are best done in quiet, introspective moments. I rarely write or draw anything for its own sake, as a more introverted person might. I generally have an audience in mind, real or imagined. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder--and for me, beauty is utility. I do not see myself as a diary writer, but I do keep a journal full of personal revelations and sketches. The distinction I make between diary and journal has to do with my motive for writing. I write with the idea that one day, my two daughters will inherit my journals. In other words, I write for them. My journal helps me as a diary might, but more than self-help, I imagine it will be a source of comfort and inspiration to my progeny. What wouldn't you give to read about your Grandfather's joys and fears, described in his own contemporaneous handwriting?  

Readin', 'ritin', and, what else? Ah, yes, 'rithmatic. The three Rs. Math and logic hold special appeal to me. There is so much room for interpretation in what is said, written, or drawn. Sometimes that wide range of meaning is important, as in when one wants to unite in many different points of view and differences are subjective. When clarity or brevity is the issue, math is the answer. When there is a dispute about the answer of a logic problem, the debate centers on how the problem was formulated, where the data came from, whether the math works, and other such objective measures. You might like a painting or a song, and your friend might completely disagree. But whether the bridge will stand up is something that two people can eventually agree on.

Of course, agreement does not prevent the bridge from collapsing anyway! But even in disaster, one can go back to the numbers and the logic and find the cause of failure.

I like to have a reason for doing things. The best reasons are based in rational thinking, but we may not always have time to discover the truth before we must act. In the end, I am pragmatic in my application of logic to the problems of the day. I am quick to compromise and not given to dogmatic points of view. I like to do helpful or useful things. Interestingly, the judge of whether something is useful is a customer or a consumer, not the producer. Part of what drew me to study architecture was the idea of making a sculpture that people would actually use--sculpture to not only admire, but also in which to live, work, play, or worship. I thought of architecture as bringing form to a client's dreams and visions. I like the iterative design process and the gradual unveiling of a program's ideal solution.

With so many problems to work on and so many competing demands for my time, I like to follow a few basic principles. First, do no work without a customer. Trust me, I could keep myself busy for days, but there are bills to pay. I need a customer. And if I have the luxury of choosing from among competing customers, I prefer a customer with an interesting problem and deep pockets. There should be a mutually beneficial reason why I select a customer. Secondly, I begin a project with the end in mind. I try to scope the effort and use the customer's inputs and constraints to shape that effort toward a mutually satisfactory end. Third, I use a holistic, systemic problem-solving approach. In other words, I look for ways that different parts of the process impact the other parts, and I work to develop the parts in parallel. This requires many re-visits of the program. Finally, when analyzing something such as a presentation or proposal, I think about why I like or dislike something, and I describe my perceptions using as many senses as possible. 

So it starts with an audience or a customer and an interesting problem. I will read and research for a purpose. I will write and draw while I talk, or as a substitute for talking if necessary. Admittedly, it's always helpful to have a written record. And of course, transparency is good. Archives are good. OK, I will write and draw a lot, and then present these ideas to the customer. My inspiration, my approach, my logic are always under scrutiny--and the ultimate value or applicability of these efforts is often externally derived.

This is essentially my philosophy of learning, teaching, and living. My willingness to go back to square one many times over the course of a project can be very irritating to some people. I see the world in shades of gray. People looking for a quick result or a firm final answer may grow impatient with my process orientation. To me, the search for the truth has its own merit. 

"The presence of those seeking truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they've found it." –Terry Pratchett

Friday, December 17, 2010

25 Best New American Beers of 2010 -- Paste Magazine

What a list! How many of these winners have you tried?

Paste Magazine's Best New American Beers of 2010

I admit, there are several I have not even heard of, which is good. I am fine with that. Why? For one thing, I have lots going on in my life, and keeping up with all of the beer news isn't one of them. More importantly, it's nice to know that there are so many great beers out there that I have not even heard of because that means there will always be something new and exciting to try when I go shopping.

The best? The Quest continues...

The Internet is "making" us dumb?

"Some critics think the Internet is making us dumb. The Internet fundamentally changes the opportunity set. All the world’s knowledge and all the world’s garbage are both just one search away. The Internet appears to exacerbate innate tendencies — the smart get smarter while others will simply find new ways to waste time or inflict harm." --Tom Vander Ark

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Musing Philosophically on a Gray and Snowy Day

Snow is starting to accumulate. Schools are released early and after school activities are canceled. I am home early from work and hunkering down to write.

One of the things I spend time thinking about, particularly in a candle-lit, tea and Bach moment such as this, is how to make and sustain (or repair) beneficial connections in an increasingly fragmented and disconnected world. If my smart phone is a tether, as some suggest, so be it. Living alone and un-tethered in a mountaintop monastery is not the life for me. 

Granted, I feel a real need for moments of mindfulness, meditation, prayer, and solitude. Such moments are a necessary antidote to the otherwise potentially overwhelming stimulation of modern urban life. But to permanently withdraw from the fray seems extreme, even selfish. Suppose a life spent in solitary prayer would guarantee one a state of enlightenment. Would such a life be worth living? Has a Buddhist monk who achieves Nirvana made a difference in the world, or only improved himself? I am not questioning the pursuit of enlightenment, just asking, “Are we here on this Earth to change only ourselves?”

Perhaps I am merely revealing a New World / Christian bias, but it seems to me that the point of life is to grow, yes, but beyond that, to help others grow. The bit about helping others requires us to not only be in the stream of all living things, but to interact in some (hopefully) mutually beneficial way. We don't pull ourselves out to sit on the embankment, or curl up to retreat within our innermost selves, except to rest, and after resting, promptly get back in the flow. Life is interaction, and in particular, interaction with others.

So, being connected is a good thing, right? And like all good things, more is better, right? This brings up the obvious question: Is there such a thing as too much connectedness? In an effort to avoid isolation, could one err to the opposite extreme, and become over-connected?  I imagine a how a person, possibly afraid of being alone, might become a compulsive joiner or an inveterate channel surfer who lives in a state of perpetual distraction. I also imagine the personal relationships for that person to be fleeting and shallow.

Achieving balance between the extremes and nurturing those beneficial relationships may hinge on motive. Do we retreat to recharge, or to avoid the messiness and compromise of living in the stream? Do we connect to help and be helped, or to avoid the pain and loneliness of isolation?

Depending on one’s motive, some temporary periods of either isolation or over-exposure may be a positive thing. Key questions: Have I managed to stay between the extremes of hermitage and hyper-connectedness? Am I neither anti-social nor a compulsive joiner? Have I mastered the Information Age’s balancing act well enough to retain my identity as an individual without over-committing to groups and causes?  What about the quality (as opposed to the quantity) of my relationships? Could I be more helpful if I were actually less connected?

While I am decidedly not interested in unplugging from the world, I may be flirting with the other extreme. Look: WaldenU, YouTube, eBay, FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, BeerPal, BlastOff, a dozen email accounts, various and sundry listservs, membership in 100 organizations and groups, and of course, this blog. Sounds a bit extreme, even to me! I am going to spend some time examining my motives, my actions, and my results. Perhaps I should join a contemplative monastic order—just long enough so I can figure it all out!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Winners of National Geographic's 2010 Photography Contest

Here are 47 amazing photos that are sure to delight or inspire you.

National Geographic Photo Winners

What a wonderful world! 

To Everything There is a Season

A Year in Groveton Woods

The first snow of the 2010 season has snapped me to my senses.  Granted, it was just a dusting, but the point is that I was just getting into Fall, and now Winter’s already threatening! It was a chilly 58 degrees in my bedroom early this morning, and a little colder downstairs in the kitchen before the coffee pot came on. Though I enjoy the lower utility bills that accompany the transitions between cooling and heating seasons, maybe it’s time to break down and fire up the furnace. Yes, it may be time to admit that summer's really over, and old man winter's really coming. There’s still time to embrace and enjoy the best season o-f-all—Fall!

Ice over an eddy in Rock Creek preserves remnants of DC's first snow on a gray day in 2010.

Earlier this Fall, I walked to and from my polling station to vote. I took some new pictures of scenes around my neighborhood.  I have now taken pictures of some of the same landmarks in all four seasons. Here in words and pictures I proudly present, “To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn) There is a Season” aka “A Year in Groveton Woods.”

Four Seasons, Virginia Style


I began this seasonal photo journal of life in Groveton Woods just after the record-shattering snowstorms of 2009 / 10. Being snowed-in turned all of us Groveton Woods condo dwellers into real, bona fide neighbors. We met each other before the streets were plowed, when offices were closed and the power was iffy. There was nothing to do but go outside and shovel. And soon, it was like a block party. United by a common cause, we pitched in until all 148 driveways were clear.   


Winter rolled into spring. April in northern Virginia means bright, clear blue skies, deep green grass, lots of birds singing, and buds, blooms, and bees everywhere.   On a soul-cleansing walk one day I passed right by a couple of landmarks that earlier this year had been covered in record-breaking snow: the Groveton Woods marquee, and the little stream that runs parallel to Harrison Avenue.  The sight of these same landmarks in the full glory of spring gave me something to think about as I walked through the neighborhood.


Summers can be oppressively hot and humid in Virginia, particularly the part of Virginia where I live and work: close to sea level and surrounded by concrete and water.  The summer update photos reveal my neighborhood landmarks in a harsher summer light producing starker contrasts and the desire to find shade and air conditioning.


Autumn brings a welcome relief from the heat. The days get shorter, the nights get cooler, and neighbors fire up grills for tailgaters and block parties. It’s harvest time, time to reap rewards and count blessings. The Boys of Summer yield to the Gridiron Greats. Changing leaves are a main attraction in a climate with four distinct seasons. The colors started changing first in the Blue Ridge Mountains just west of here. By late October, the changes were sweeping through the trees along the nearby Potomac.

Still Life: A Study in Seasons

Ever notice how differently familiar objects appear as the Earth revolves around the Sun? I looked at three things in the changing heat and light of our four seasons: (a) the stream near Harrison Road; (b) various flora that decorate the neighborhood; and (c) the Groveton Woods marquee.

The Stream

Winter: Wind-blown, snow-laden branches snap and fall on the frozen stream.
The unyielding ice shatters.  The branch is stuck. Nothing moves.

Spring:  A branch falls and the water absorbs it and continues flowing.  Even though I am scared, I need to be more like that stream, not tense and brittle, but calm, relaxed, flowing.

Summer: a trickle of water barely quenches the parched embankment and the harsh summer sun casts a stark shadow. The deer sleep in the cool shade and only come out at dawn and dusk.

Fall: The colors are the story. Not only are the leaves fading from deep green to drier, crisper auburns and yellows, but the light and air quality are accentuating the change. As the humidity fades, the air thins, and the sun strikes a bit more softly.

 Seasonal Flora

Winter:  the only flowers in the winter are a bouquet of icicles hanging from my gutter

Spring:  purple bottle brushes bloom along the Rock Creek Parkway

Summer: A butterfly bush is loaded with at least 40 butterflies

Fall: Our neighborhood is on fire with these brightly colored trees

The Groveton Woods Marquee

Winter: Hunker down, dig out, talk to your neighbors (!), huddle, and rest

Spring: Spring forth, circulate and pollinate

Summer: Harsh light of a bright summer sun renders everything, even the colorful blooms, in a high contrast wash of intense light.

Fall: The blooms are long gone. A little color comes back though in the form of the bright blue sky and the many shades of green in mature plants.

Life in Motion: Things We Do In Different Seasons


National Weather Service says DC has broken a 111-year-old record for total season snowfall: 54.9 inches, besting by half an inch the old record set in 1898-99. Near-neighbors and net-neighbors shared humorous names for the common calamity: Snow Mas!, Snowtropolis, Scoopapalooza, Snowmaggedon, Apocalypse sNow, SnOMG!, Snowzilla, and Snow-Be-Gone.


Simultaneous Easter, Cherry Blossoms, and sunny days bring record-setting hordes of tourists, swarms of bugs, and clouds of pollen.  The pollen count was 4400 one day, ten times the normal for spring.  Different season, different records.  On a motorcycle ride I encountered a cloud of wind-driven pollen so thick it found sinuses I did not even know I had.  Then, down by the edge of the Potomac, I hit a dense cloud of bugs too stupid to get out of the way.  Fortunately (?) the next thing that happened was a cloudburst so sudden and so drenching that it washed all the pollen and bug juice from my goggles and nostrils.  There’s probably some humor in spring-time calamities, too.


There’s a good reason that Congress takes off the month of August. Man, it’s hot and muggy here in the summer. The dog days are good for catching an evening Nats game or driving to Ocean City for a day at the shore.  The air-conditioner runs non-stop, 24/7, to combat the heat and humidity.


School starts up again and all of the vacationers are suddenly back, clogging up the commute. The boys of summer yield the mantel to the pigskin players as Football season kicks off.  The air conditioning system can finally take a break in October. There is a month when Nature goes through a rapid transformation. Harvest season. The leaves are turning. People want to sit out on the porch and drink lemonade and talk to the neighbors again—you know, neighbors? Those people you met last winter in the snow storm? 

Neighbors enjoy each other’s company an impromptu block party tailgater around the grill and cooler on a recent Fall evening, just before kickoff

As the tree sap slowly drains back, life all around the trees near our stream also slows down a bit.  The harvest is in. Grounds crews have raked, vacuumed and mulched all the leaves from the gardens in and around Groveton Woods. Christmas trees and lights are going up in windows around the block. And the furnace is on. Yes, Virginia, the holiday season is approaching.... 

2010 has been a good year.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Join the slowest-growing religion in the world – Dudeism

Dude-Vinci by Colin Cotterill
Come join the slowest-growing religion in the world – DudeismDudeism is an ancient philosophy that preaches non-preachiness, practices as little as possible, and above all, uh…lost my train of thought there. Anyway, if you’d like to find peace on earth and goodwill, man, we’ll help you get started. Right after a little nap.

Inspired by one of the best movies of all time, The_Big_Lebowski.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Top Ten Reasons Twitter Does Not Totally Suck Rocks

Follow the logic. Does this make sense? Fire back if you grok or find a chink. 

1. People should lead, follow, or get out of the way.

2. Obama tweets.

3. So does Diane Rehm, but I don’t have to care about everybody just because they tweet. Still, sometimes I find someone interesting just because I tend not agree with them, nor they with me. 

4. I like beer. I like to drink, smell, taste, brew, talk about, and stare at it. I like other stuff, too. Sometimes I like to hang out with other people who feel the same way. Some of those people are nearby, and some are not, so hanging out might involve electronics.

5. I want to feel connected. I just don’t need to have a lot of email (or Facebook) traffic from people who might be very interesting but are not my actual friends (Obama, Diane, The Onion, greatdividebrew, newbelgium, hookandladder, ShmaltzBrewing, MoylansBrewing, bells beer, RogueAles, ShinerBeer, GLBC_Cleveland (Great Lakes), dogfish_ale, magichat, flying dog, DepotBrew, YazooBrew, etc.)

6. I did not invent Twitter (or Facebook). So, I should either follow or get out of the way. Or invent a better Twitter (or Facebook). Or make Twitter (or Facebook) better.

7. My kids are 16 and 13. They are typical kids. By that, I mean:

a. They tweet

b. They txt (a lot)

8. Kids these days have peeps like I had friends when I was a kid. Except they have peeps from all around the world strung together through the ether, whereas I was limited to neighborhood kids and we met in the church parking lot for pickup ball games. 

a. Kids today collect peeps as if more were always better, as if they were keeping score by quantity. 

b. They interact with peeps in short, frequent bursts. Happiness is various and sundry electric jolts throughout the day. Meanwhile, I only saw my friends when I was playing outside. 

c. Some of my friends required a good deal more tolerating than others, and that was ok. Now we have Ignore buttons. 

Social structure is changing. Everything alive changes. Change is not a guarantee of life, because some paths are perilous, but the decision to stop changing is the same as checking out of life.

10. I don’t want to wake up one day and discover that I have become irrelevant to my children’s generation because I failed to keep up with changes. Diane Rehm tweets, and she‘s in her 70s. That doesn’t make tweeting right, but it does mean that one either does, or does not, tweet. So, “Lead, follow, or await your demise.” Tweet! Tweet, damn you! Tweet and live!