An Eminent Silence

All three of my girls, the Eminent Wife, the Eminent Daughter, and the Eminent Feline, departed Abuja for the last time last Friday. The paperwork for the Feline came down to the last hour before the driver picked us up for the airport but we got everything done (including a last minute photocopy on a neighbor’s printer after the constant power outages blew mine up. So many wasted ink cartridges, grrrrrr……). They departed Abuja without incident but had a helluva time in Frankfurt when the Feline decided to go DevilCat on everyone and escaped from her carry-on case. It took a couple hours, threats by staff to call the apparently uber-expensive fire response team, and several scratches to get her calmed down and back in her case. But she made it on the flight and through customs without the 180 quarantine, so all’s well that ends well.

Today marks 4 weeks till my own permanent departure. Plenty of work to do, including a significant amount of writing as well as the standard rigamorole of checking out (changing magazine subscription addresses, arranging packouts, selling vehicles, selling personal goods, saying goodbye, final meetings, separating clothes and other household effects into three categories: vacation (2 suitcases)/ training (600 lbs for a year) / Korean (see everything else in a year!), and so on).  Busy busy!

And as a slight aside, I’m oh-so-excited to watch tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones. Several friends are watching but haven’t read the books and it’s going to be so much fun to see their reactions!

Excuses, excuses

How quickly five months flies past.

The biggest reason I haven’t posted much here is that much of what is going on with me isn’t suitable for posting on a public blog. Not that there is any big problem or scandal going on, but when one’s life is dominated by office politics during the day and scotch and cigars in the evening, it’s better to ride it out in silence.

I’m down to four weeks left at post. During the last few weeks, I’ve got to finish up 3 large writing assignments, host some representational events, and complete my annual review. The latter will be quite an interesting experience due to the aforementioned office politics and deadlines. In addition, there’s a lot of work to do winding down and checking out of the embassy and housing. I’m hoping to sell off most of my stuff as well, so there’s that additional negotiation and hassle. Needless to say, it’s going to be a whirlwind.

My family has been visiting here for the last week or so. They came down to help sort out what stuff goes to the States for our year or so of training and what goes to Korea. We only get 600 pounds of stuff to the U.S. which boils down to about 6 suitcases. The rest of everything else gets put in storage until we arrive in Asia in June 2014. They are also bringing the Emminent Feline back to Japan with them to avoid logistic hassles with me and my intended month-long road trip in July. It looks to be good to go but we’re finding that the interface between the Japanese and Nigerian ways of doing things isn’t easy. Hopefully we avoid the 6 month quarantine in Japan.

My band has played its last show, at least the last with me.  It was an amazing adventure with them and we really turned into a good band by the end. We went from by-the-book covers to originals with our own arrangements of covers and a lot of jamming and just relaxed fun music making.  Every show was better than the one before and while I still have a long way to go before I can confidently call myself a bassist, I know I made huge strides in what I brought to the stage. Being able to have the confidence to play a song I’d never played before live on stage with just a couple notes whispered to me as the music started was so exciting.  It’s honestly quite sad to say goodbye to it, as we all know we still had a lot of growth potential if we’d been able to play together for another year. But no regrets, only tremendous memories.

I’m done brewing beer. I only made about half of what I intended. Two of my last three batches didn’t ferment. I know that I messed up the first of those two by letting my mash temps get too high but I don’t know what happened with the last one. Perhaps my yeast finally gave up the ghost? I wish I would have been more consistent with it but it was fun and produced some drinkable swill.  I’m excited to pick it up again eventually.

I don’t know what all will happen between now and then but I can say with relative consequence I’ll be back in Idaho for the 4th of July.

Sunday, December 9

A big reason I haven't posted much over that last month is that I've been fighting off a persistent illness for the last 3 weeks or so. It's kind of minor in that I'm not incapacitated or in need of hospitalization but its significant enough that I've missed a few hours of work a couple days a week recently. It started with waking up to a sore, achy body with a healthy dose of fatigue, the kind of thing that typically you can take a day or two off and bounce out of. But with everything at work, I couldn't take a full day off and could make it through the day with Tylenol and throat lozenges. But the sore throat kept getting worse, culminating in a loss of voice last week. I took the day off and didn't mask symptoms with Tylenol (which I think was ultimately making it worse since I was taxing my system) and finally feel like I've got my energy back.

It was frustrating because I'd been pretty regular with working out, tennis, and golf. I bought myself clubs for Christmas so I don't have to borrow clubs but wasn't able to use them until today. I'm a horrid golfer but we've got good people to play with. It's so nice just getting out on the course; not quite wilderness but its quiet and gets you walking for a couple hours, plus the mental element of golf is an enjoyable (if infuriating) challenge.

Between workouts, golf, beer making, at least one day of sleeping in, and the band, I don't have much down time on weekends at all anymore. I really enjoy playing music but it's getting the shortest attention. I don't want to give it up but sometimes wonder if its a selfish choice to keep up with it without committing to it. It's a bit irrelevant in the short term due to holiday travel by members, so we'll see what happens next year when we all settle back in.

The beer is going well but I've discovered that I like brewing and bottling but really don't care for cleaning the bottles prior to bottling. It's incredibly time consuming, especially the rinsing of the bottles. They need at least 3 good rinses and its just takes time to fill and empty a bottle, especially when you need about 50 of them per batch. I've got 3 batches ready to go though and have to just man up and do it. It's good timing, though, as they'll all have 5+ weeks of carbonation and conditioning by the time I get back. The feedback on what I've made so far has been positive and I'm feeling good about what the final 7 months have in store.

I'll be going home in a few days for about a month. The initial plan was for me to arrive after Christmas and we'd made plans for that but then I was able to get an earlier week schedule. The Eminent Child is still expecting me after Christmas though and I'm so so so so excited to surprise her. I should be able to get home before she gets home from school and I just can't wait to see how she responds to find me waiting for her.

That's pretty much what's happening, in a nutshell.

Back online – for now

My data plan on the iPad runs on recharge cards. A 1 month 5 gigabyte plan is 8000 naira, a little over $50. Charge cards are sold in 1500 increments, so I buy $60 worth of cards and use $50 of the credit each month. A couple weeks ago my credit expired so I loaded up the credits to discover that the page where I buy the data plan wouldn't load. I kept trying and trying without realize that in the background, I was checking email without a data plan, just using the basic credit. Needless to say, this is pretty expensive.

I finally get the data plan page to load a couple days ago but now I'm out of credits, but I got some more and now we are back in business. A for updates on me, I've started golfing as a great way to get out of the house. I'm terrible, as is to be expected for someone who's never golfed before, but the people I golf with are understanding and we all have a good time. I ordered some clubs of my own (merry Christmas to me!) that should be here in a couple weeks.

Wrk is going good. I've been here long enough now that I'm understanding how the job works and am getting into the flow of it. Meeting Nigerian contacts can be challenging as they do not always maintain appointments but that just goes with the territory. I've a ton of projects going on that keep me busier than I could ever want to be.

I am ready to my family again for sure. It's only been about 10 weeks this time but being apart from them is something that doesn't get easier over time or the more you do it. I'm pretty much wet to arrive home a week earlier than originally planned which should make for a good surprise for the Eminent Child. I'd wanted to surprise them both but had to come clean with the plan because of how much work the Eminent Wife puts in to helping schedule things. I'll have a nice final R&R then before returning to Abuja for the last time. Once I come back in January, I'll be here until July. The girls are planting to visit one more time then, and this will be everyone else's last chance to come down too!

Had the first bottle of beer made from grain. Seemed very tasty to me. I'll be bottling up some more later today.

I'm watching the Eminent Canine of friends who are out of town. It's nice having home around even though the Eminent Feline bullies him.



Wednesday November 1, 2012

Yet again time slips away and it's been weeks since an update. Not a whole lot going on with me though. Work is work and I'm getting better at the process and improving my writing. I've been busy making beer and my first batch is bottled. The whole process is so simple and straightforward, it's surprising more people aren't doing it. It is a bit time consuming, I suppose, with the brew itself taking about 7 hours from setup to cleanup and bottling taking a couple hours. I like it, as it gives me something to do by myself other than reading or looking at a tv or computer. I even like cleaning my equipment at the end of the day; it's makes for a nice satisfying resolution to the brew. And then nothing is as happy sounding as a fermenter bubbling away the next day.

I did go golfing last weekend which turned out to be a lot of fun. I hope to make a habit of it too. I'm still not putting in enough time on the rowing machine but tennis and golf has to help some, right?

This weekend my band is playing again. Sometimes I almost regret joining because the practices break up what would otherwise be a wonderful lazy weekend day but I have so much fun performing, it makes it worth it. I also reflect back on what I teach the Eminent Child about the value of practice and the sense of achievement one gets from investing time and effort to develop a skill or achieve a goal. I'm sure it will be a good night. Can't stay out too late as I've got a tennis game the next day. Not sure I'm ready to play with others but I'll just have to step up. Serves will be interesting.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Was busy all last weekend, never enough time to do the relaxing stuff you want to do, had to say goodbye to more friends. Got more beer done, feeling good about that. Didn’t get the first two batches transferred to secondary but finally got to it today. The beers look a bit light in body and didn’t have much aroma, so we’ll see. It will probably only sit for a few days as I really want to bottle this weekend, but we shall see.

In the meantime, work is good. It’s frustrating to not be very good at it but I get good feedback on how to improve. Speaking of work, the State Department hosted an incredible media session where they laid out everything known about the attack that killed our Ambassador in Libya.

Monday, October 8

This three-day weekend wasn't as great as the last as I spent most of the time curled up in bed. Friday night was a good time playing Scrabble with a bunch of people from work; I'm terrible at Scrabble but enjoyed it nonetheless as you end up spending time with people you otherwise don't see outside of work very much. Finished the night with a cigar and nightcap with a couple of friends on the roof, just taking in the city and enjoying the night.

Went to bed expecting to get up and go get ice for another batch of beer but instead felt like the ice was poured in my bed. Aches throughout my body, busted guts, and I knew I wasn't going anywhere. I bailed on the workout and ended up sleeping until 3:30. My neighbors had invited everyone over for a rooftop social and I felt okay by that time. I'd committed to staying up and watching the Oregon/Washington game with a friend here who is a huge Ducks fan, but if I hadn't slept so long I probably would have cancelled on that too. As it was, I made some coffee after everyone left the rooftop and felt half-way decent. Got home after the game intending to get up after about 6 hours for band practice only to discover that I felt like hammered shit.

I spent all day Sunday in bed or curled up on the couch (I even put a sweatshirt on, I was so chilled, the first time I've worn one in Africa). I was looking forward to staying up all night watching football and had even invited people over for bbq steaks but cancelled all of that. I went to bed early and slept late again today, finally feeling halfway decent. Even though today is a holiday I had a meeting (Nigerians were working!) and then went to the office to get ready for the rest of the week.

I'm still lethargic and feel like I don't have much strength. The worst part was not being able to take advantage of the weekend to talk to my girls. The network was crap though so even if I was in good condition I don't think I could have talked to them. I'm in bed early(ish) now so hopefully tomorrow will be good. I don't want to miss tennis tomorrow, for sure.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A bit tired today after my first crossfit in a while.  Feels good though.

I did get a second batch of beer brewed last Monday.

Took delivery of my consumables yesterday.  Mostly liquids (gatorade!) and briquets.

Started tennis lessons yesterday.  Local coach, good guy.

Had Korean food today, but wasn’t so hungry immediately after the workout. Was expensive, especially the beer. Usually they cost between 300-500 naira but they raked me for 1800.  Crap.

Here’s an article about a new book on the Foreign Service for those who might be interested in what I do. America’s Other Army

Abuja All-grain: Alright!!

I mentioned my frustration with the brewing process last weekend but climbed on that horse again yesterday. I was mostly nervous about using my non-self-priming pump to move the wort from the mash tun to the boil pot. I set it all up and just ran some water through it and it worked almost perfectly. I had to fiddle with it a little bit as it didn’t seem capable of recirculation unless I lifted the pump. That was easy to address and once I confirmed that, I was ready to go.

I got a cooler of ice that I run a preliminary copper immersion cooler in to chill the water before it runs through the copper coil in the beer. The last hurdle was to come up with a grain recipe. I went with something very simple to start with that I can use as a baseline for future recipes. I’m using a no-sparge method because its easier and I’ve got plenty of grain and don’t need to worry about efficiency. Sparging sure seems to be a complication process for what you get out of it, but maybe I just don’t understand it entirely.

  • 13 lbs of American 2-row
  • 1 lb of 60 Crystal
  • 1/2 lb of Munich
  • 1 oz Cascade for each of Bittering, Flavoring, and Aromatic hops
  • Safale S-04 yeast

I co-opted the no-sparge recipe provided in “Brewing Better Beer” and tweaked the hops and starting water. I’ve read about difference using more/less water for thicker/thinner wort but went with a huge 11 gallon start because of the no-sparge and also just because it was easier. I got 7 gallons of wort at the end, so I will use the same recipe but 8 gallons in the mash tun, hopefully producing 4 gallons of wort that I will add to 3 gallons of water pre-heated in the boil pot. I’ll actually make this batch tomorrow, using the Safale US-05 yeast and the lessor starting mash tun volume.

The first few batches will be pure blind experimentation since I can’t taste of the beers until they are done. I think I can get 2 more brews next week (another 3-day break) and I need to come up with some recipe ideas. I want to do some dry hopping (although the hops clogged my bottling spigot last time, i might attempt to use a bag. I’ve got most of my malt stored in airtight dog-food containers but I didn’t buy enough to hold everything. I’ve got chocolate malt still in the food-saver bag I brought it over in that I’m excited to use. I think I’m going to continue to use American 2-row base malt for the first batches. I’ll have to make one batch with 40 crystal for sure and probably other batches with 60 Crystal but using Biscuit or Carapils. I actually need to read up on my malts again to make sure I’m equating them correctly. In my mind I’ve got 3 classifications: base malt (i.e. American/British), Crystal Malt, other “normal” malts like Biscuit, Munich, and Carapils, and the “extreme” malts like the Chocolate. I’m not sure that’s accurate though.

I think I’m going to buy a couple more Party Pigs. They are awfully convenient when bottling and its nice to be able to pull a draft home brew from the fridge.

Flight Fiasco

Last week I flew to Lagos a day before the rest of my colleagues so I could meet with people working in industries I cover, an initial face-to-face meeting with people that I'll be talking a lot to as part of the job. Everyone else was coming down for a weekend of meetings with our colleagues at the consulate, essentially the same purpose as I had with my industry contacts. We've got a number of new people in new jobs and it is an important opportunity for us to get to know the people that we constantly coordinate with via email.

Domestic air travel in Nigeria is notoriously unreliable (and expensive to boot), but I made it down with nary a hiccup. Thursday morning we got word that the first of our colleagues had arrived (he took the first flight of the day) and everyone else was planning to trickle in on the remaining flights throughout the day. But on my way to my first meeting, we got word that airport worker unions had occupied the terminal of the main carrier still operating (Air Nigeria collapsed a couple weeks ago under apparent mismanagement and Dana was grounded between June and September due to the crash of their plane. They've been reinstated to fly but haven't launched flights yet). Arik is by far the biggest remaining carrier (even before Air Nigeria went under) but now we discovered that all but 2 of us were not going to be able to fly down for the combined section meetings. Even though I got out, my return ticket was on Arik, so I was stuck in Lagos.

We tried getting seats on one of the smaller remaining carriers but the was a mob rush for seats during boarding on the last flight out of the capital. Apparently it was a free for all with both ticketed and unticketed passengers making it onto the planes. I didn't witness it, but I can imagine the chaos that would emerge from desperate Nigerians at the end of a long frustrating day.

In the end, I was able to get scheduled on a different carrier without too much hassle and made it back on Friday. Had I been stuck in Lagos, I was looking forward to helping out on the visa line but that was not to be, alas.

I returned to discover that the band is all in town and they want to have practice on Sunday. I've got a real dilemma developing on weekends as I want to watch football, do the band thing, go to workouts, and brew beer. Once I get the beer thing down, I'll be able to do a whole grain batch in under 8 hours I think, but that means either I start early on Sundays in order to watch football (but can't do the band then) or I skip the workouts to do it on Saturdays (or start it in the afternoon and brew until after dark). If only I could work 4 days a week!

I'm still having issues with the brewing process. I was highly motivated to take advantage of the Saturday opportunity now that I returned from Lagos earlier than planned. It's a bit more complicated in theory but the real challenge is that I'm using a non-self-priming pump that I'm just not sure how to use and there are more parts involved in the brewing itself. I'll be using a dual-burner process and thus have to rig a way to switch fuel from one burner to the other.

As I set up the equipment I realized that in spite of my best efforts, I'm STILL short a barbed hose adapter for the pump. I forced the tubing over a non-adapter piece and was going to brew no matter what but then ran into issues getting ice. I usually can get ice from the Marine's but there's been a bunch of turnover and I now only know 2 of them and only have 1 phone number. I think they had a Marine House party last night as well so they may have been sleeping late and even running low on ice. I didn't want to just roll over there without checking in but the guy I texted about it never got back to me. So I fell into a funk and spent the day in my pajamas, catching up on Daily Show and Louie episodes while playing Minecraft. The newest Survivor has started (I made an application video while I was home but couldn't submit it, even though the website said they were still taking applications). It was a sad day for beer and now I'm doubting whether I'll be able to get it down. I've heard of a second option for ice that i need to follow up. I ordered the final (I hope!) piece for the bigger setup, so if I can get good ice options, I'll be ready to rock.