Tuesday, 10 July

I knew this would happen but am still surprised by it. Time is rushing up fast and I’ve got a lot of work still to do before I leave.

I haven’t been interviewing at work this week, trying to wrap up the bigger projects and organize my workflow to hand off to the officer following me. However, there is so much general churn going on every day, I’m barely able to even touch it. It really highlights how understaffed we are here. I really do wish I could stay on for another year as I know that the work I could get done would be so productive.

There were some distractions that impacted my ability to be productive as well. Last night the security alarm in my apartment decided to go off at random times throughout the night, starting just as I went to bed at 10:30. The oddest part was that I hadn’t armed it for the night when it first went off and I was perplexed why it was going off. It went off again around 4:00, only I didn’t realize it right away. I incorporated the sounds into a dream for a while, apologizing to the guests at my house about the noise. Suddenly it dawned on me that it was a REAL noise that had been going on for quite some time! I leapt from bed and immediately slammed face first into the door, banging my knee in the pitch black. I got it off, but it went off a few more times by the time the sun came up. I hadn’t slept very well as a result of all of that and called in late to catch a bit more sleep. The alarm continued to go off at random times, including three times in the amount of time it took me to get out of bed and out of the shower. I called the security team to come fix it and it went off 3 more times by the time they got here.

Now that it was daylight and I was coherent, I investigated and noticed that one of the cables near the door that had always been frayed had completely fallen apart. It turned out this was the panic button cable and it was shorting out, thus solving the mystery of why it was going off even when the alarm wasn’t armed. They replaced the cable and all was well.

Of course, once I got to work, there were troubles with my upcoming travel. Part of the paperwork was filled out incorrectly and suddenly someone realized that there was no money authorized to pay for my travel. That caused a bit of consternation and stress but we got that squared away. It ended up costing me a couple hundred dollars as part of a cost-contruct but that was to be expected. I’m just happy that it didn’t change my confirmed tickets because I’d already paid the little bit extra for the Economy Plus seats on the United legs of the trip.

I still have to bottle a batch of beer, drop off the Eminent Feline, and pack. Packing is a challenge because I’ve got at least 3 if not 4 destinations (Camping, home visits, training) that require completely different types of clothing. The biggest challenge will be in Washington. How many suits to bring? I sense that they’ll get pretty wasted in just a single day in the summer heat and I don’t look forward to paying hotel prices to get it cleaned overnight. Still don’t know what to do about the daily wear; hopefully I can find a coin laundry nearby or maybe convince a friend to let me use their facilities.

All in all, I’m very stoked about the upcoming trips. I’ve met my new boss who seems to be a great asset at work and someone that I think I’ll really enjoy working under. There will be a lot to learn but I can already tell that he is capable both of recognizing the learning curve I’ll be on as well as challenging me to move along it as fast as possible. Even though I said I kind of wish I could stay in the consular section, given the choice, I wouldn’t pass up this opportunity. It’s hard to walk away from work that I enjoy and I know I’m good at (and a section that needs me, if I can be so bold) but it would be even harder to turn down this opportunity.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Today was our last band practice before my first gig. They’ve played together for quite a while but its been a race against time to get me up to speed. We could use another couple weeks of practice but I think we’ve got it close enough for people to have fun tomorrow night. We shall see….

I turned in my bidlist today. 30 positions involving a combination of jobs I really want and places the girls really want to go to. I will be happy with anything on the list but there’s definitely a few that I’d much rather have. Just need to temper expectations for a while. I hope I get a response sooner than later…..

I may have ruined my last batch of beer. I’m starting with too much water and last time, the fermenter was too full, leading to a slight explosion when the built up CO2 escaped. In the process of cleaning it up, I exposed it to the air and even lost a small rubber gasket into the wort. I also don’t know the effect of dumping out part of it. If airlock activity is anything to go by, fermentation significantly dropped off. Then again, it usually only vigorously active for a couple days anyway. I’m hoping it turns out okay but I can’t be surprised if not.

Friday night brew

It’s been a busy week. My boss is out on vacation so I’ve got extra duty covering as section chief. It’s busy but quite enjoyable. My bid list is due on Monday, so a lot of attention has been paid to that, as well as coordinating with my assignment officer and the family. It’s shaping up to be a phenomenal list and we’ll be happy with anything we get out of it. I’m into my last week with the Eminent Shepherd and to top things off, the band I’ve been playing with has a gig on Tuesday. We’ve had some good practices and are making good progress with the music; I think it will be a fun night.

Last weekend was too busy to get any beer made but I’m starting to run out of time. If I don’t get it made now, it won’t have time to ferment before I leave. I should be able to get whatever I make this weekend bottled before I go though. I’ll be using my serial chiller system for the first time tonight, very interested to see how it works out. I’ve got a smaller copper chiller in an ice bath feeding into the actual chiller and can hopefully avoid having to lift the whole pot into a bath to get the last few degrees down.

So now I’m drinking some homemade brew, brewing kind of late, watching the Eurocup. I was initially dismayed to find that I didn’t have access to the first channel I found showing the game but I found a different one. Germany just scored over Greece, so I hope the Greeks can equalize and make it an exciting game. I think I’m rooting for the Germans though.



Dana air crash

It was a relatively uneventful weekend until the crash today. As best as I know, no one affiliated with the embassy community was involved. Makes one wary when traveling though, of course

It feels kind of disrespectful to talk about the standard mundane crap in my life following an event where 150+ lost their lives. I was feeling a bit under the weather today and didn’t make beer as planned. Yesterday was mostly good. I worked in the morning (we’re doing overtime on Saturdays to help alleviate the problems associated with our understaffing and the immense wait times for appointments) and went for a workout afterwards. The brother of a friend from orientation is doing some volunteer work in Nigeria and he joined us for the workout and BBQ afterwards.

The American Pale Ale I made first tastes ok but not great to me. The English Brown has a bit of a sour impression that settles down and is quite drinkable. I brought a Party Pig of it over to the BBQ and it seemed to be genuinely liked by people. I tweaked muscles in my back last weekend when I slipped while attempting a flip into the pool; I pulled an abdominal yesterday while doing a backflip. That’s part of the reason why I didn’t want to make beer today, even though I’m itching to try the new cooling system.


The Eminent Canine guest is doing well even though the Eminent Feline is still pretty antagonistic towards him. He is getting some good time out with a neighbor canine and he seems to have settled into the new environment quite well.


Big holiday

We had a four day weekend due to the alignment of Memorial and Democracy Day. Beautiful weather on Sunday, phenomenally powerful thunderstorms at night. Nothing spectacular happened. I was going to go to Ghana but cancelled because I am taking care of my friends cat. The Eminent Feline and he have become great friends and I will miss him after his mom picks him up tonight. He meowed really loud sometimes though and I really recognized how silent the Eminent Feline is.

Bottled a dry-hopped IPA that tasted quite good going into the bottles. The dry hops made a mess in my bottle spigot and I ended up losing probably a 6 pack or so off beer as a result. Will have to experiment with muslin bags for dry hopping. Didn’t make another batch due to schedule conflicts and expected bad weather. Only a 3 day week this week though so perhaps this weekend. Need to start seriously shifting gears into all grain mode.

Although we are losing the visiting cat, we are getting a visiting dog for a few weeks. He’s a great German Shepherd and I’m really looking forward to having him even though the Eminent Feline is going to have some serious adjustments to do.



’twas the best, worst of times

Woke up quite excited today knowing that I was going to get the list of available positions for my second tour. This enthusiasm was dampened upon arriving at work to discover that the online system for publishing the list was offline for maintenance. Yes, this was the middle of the night in DC so it kind of made sense. I t eventually came back online but to my chagrin, the list was empty. We eventually figured out that this by design and the powers that be don’t release the list until later in the day.

I had plenty of work to do so I plugged away a cleaning out my inbox until about 5:00 pm. I was shutting down and getting ready to leave when I got email announcing the list! Nearly 500 available posts, so much to consider. I’m quite fortunate in that I’ve served my required consular tour and am off language probation, plus I’m serving in a hardship post. Basically this means I’ve got about as much freedom to choose among the available positions as is possible.

The only limitation or restriction is that I (as everyone else) can only bid on positions with the proper timing. We have to factor in our home leave and any language or professional training required for the position with our set departure and expected arrival dates. If they match up, we can put it on our final bid list; if not, we can’t

So it is quite ironic when I realized that the many Japan posts are designed for non-Japanese speakers and have arrivals dates between 10 and 13 months after I’m set to depart Abuja. Because I tested out of Japanese and already have the required language skill level, I don’t need (or get) training, which messes up the timing and moves the Japanese options outside the realm of the possible for me. It boils down to this: beause I speak Japanese at the level required today, I can’t bid on the position. We aren’t allowed to take additional training to fill the space.

I understand why they have the policies they do and wold probably institute similar policies myself if I was in charge. It still is frustrating though, but it is what it is, eh? There are plenty of other fascinating posts on the list. I’m sure we’ll get something that makes us happy

In other news, I has my first homebrew today. It wasnt very good, to be honest, but it’s only been in the bottle for 2 weeks and needs at lest another week to properly settle in. It started with a good head that disappeared quickly.


Sunday, 20 May 2012

Today was a good day.

Got up and had a nice little conversation with the family.

Helped a friend put together some shelves. I like helping and I like building stuff, even if it just Ikea.

A friend had a brew kit of his own that he’s had for a long time, so he came over and I helped/showed him how to brew. His yeast was pretty old and I’m doubtful it will activate for fermentation, but I can repitch one of my packets if it doesn’t take off. Forgot to pull some beer in the beaker for measuring the initial gravity and it was too foamy to do it in the fermenter, but if I have to repitch, I can take a quick reading in a couple days.

While we were brewing, a few more friends stopped by. We hung out, made some beer, they fired up the grill and we had a nice BBQ feast with steak, ribs, kabobs, corn. A few people drove the XBox around for a bit. I enjoyed that because they are amateur racers, both with cars they built/are building for track racing. They not only appreciate a game like that more than more, they are pretty good at it too.

We played poker to close out the night. Good friendly game that fortunately didn’t go too late.

Ended the night just having a nice conversation with a friend on the balcony, enjoying one last drink for the day.

Maybe the finishing touch was finding a little gecko in the shower and giving it to the Eminent Feline to play with.

Steaming Pile Update: May 16, 2012

Since I got my internet working again, I’ve had problems with my keyboard on my iPad, where I do all my blogging now.  I also had that post destroyed by a WordPress app crash, so I’m working on a new workflow that would at least preserve my writing and avoid such stresses.  I’ve discovered that the WordPress app is notoriously unreliable. I’ve heard good things about Blogsy but need to set aside some time to learn how to use it.  That, of course, leads to more delays and fewer posts. Sorry.

Some quick updates:

* Goodbyes

I’ve said before and I’ll say it many many more times: one of the worst parts of this job is the departures of friends. We all serve 2 or sometimes 3 year tours and friends are coming and going. We spend a lot of time together here with real friendships. In the last week 4 of the people I spent most of my time with have gone with 3 more to go in the next month or so.  Almost my entire social circle will be gone by the time I leave for summer R&R. I know I’ll meet new great people but it is nevertheless a bit demoralizing to say goodbye to people that if you lived in the same city you’d be friends forever with but due to the nature of this job you likely will never meet again.

Just gotta be grateful for the time and memories we had.  I’ve been a little low energy and lethargic lately and I think this emotional toll is partly to blame.  Need to be more active. Did groove out on the bass a bit last night and recorded a track that was fun to do, which helped.

* Beer is bottled!

The first two batches, the American Pale Ale and the English Brown, are in bottles and mini-kegs.  The APA came out at least 5 points light in gravity which means its a lower alcohol content than designed. I’m not so concerned about the alcohol per se, but I’m bothered by questions about what went wrong. I think I may have had the temperature in the room a little low. The yeast may have been weak too, after spending so long on the shelf before I started brewing.

I didn’t measure the original gravity on the Brown so I don’t know where I’m at on it.  I did hit the prescribed final gravity. Both beers tasted thin, both in body and flavor, but there’s still a lot to come during carbonation.

I also tried using a Party Pig, a mini-keg system that uses a nifty chemical pouch system to maintain pressure inside the 2.5 gallon bottle. It sits on its side on a little stand with legs and really does look like a pig.  I have high expectations. 2 more weeks for both batches before we start drinking.

I have one batch that would be ready to bottle this weekend but I need to rack it to secondary and add more hops into the fermenter, a technique called “dry hopping”.  I was supposed to do it last weekend but was distracted by everything else.  I’ll make that transfer and brew another batch today.

I oddly seem to have misplaced a bag of bottle caps from my first kit.  Not a problem in any way but just infuriating because I try to be disciplined about keeping things organized and my house simply isn’t that convoluted: things should be easy to find.

* Dramacats

A friend of mine had to go back to the US for a few weeks for additional training and I’m watching her catwhile she is gone. The Eminent Cat wasn’t too fond of the Eminent Intruder at first and would hiss and run away.  The Intruder wasn’t too keen on being left alone in a strange place either and spent the first couple days hiding under the couch.  But over the last week, huge strides have been made. The Eminent Cat is still a bit of bully and will still hiss from time to time (especially if the Intruder is in the bedroom). She chases him around a bit and I’ve seen her bat at him, but never with claws and never any biting or outright fighting.  The chasing is more playful than aggressive (although I’m not sure that the Intruder sees it as playful as much as intimidation). He is a skittish cat by nature and doesn’t seem too intimidated by her though. She was sniffing his tail this morning and wasn’t hissing, so we may have passed a threshold. I’d like to think they’ll bond enough that when she goes to his house this summer when I’m on leave things go well.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

No updates recently due to a combination of bad internet service and extreme busy-ness this week. My boss is at a training seminar and I’m top dog in the section (yay!). I enjoy it but there is SO much more work to do. I have to attend all of the meetings that require a consular presence and attend critical administrative issues. With our precarious security situation, I am also involved in any issues relating to the release of official messages to the American community in Nigeria. It’s been very interesting but very very busy and I’ve been in the office 12 a day this whole week.

Actually that isn’t perfectly accurate. Tuesday was Workers’ Day and observed as a national holiday here. I took 15 pounds of steak to some friends’ place and we had a proper barbecue. I had a bunch of drinks leftover from last weekends’ going away party so we had a delicious celebration of the workers of the world. A couple cigars and floating in the pool made it a well appreciated break.

Speaking of floating in the pool, have I mentioned the floating that I have? A friend of mine who was here when I arrived had a couple and I got some for the Eminent Family to enjoy during their visit. They are big inflatable chairs that are just prime relaxation. I often read in them.

Update on the PSA IPA: I was worried about the yeast but it kicked in nicely. Took a little longer to start than the other two but once it got goings it was so vigorous I could hear the gas escaping a few times a second. It is still bubbling nicely and I may have to postpone this weekend’s brew if it doesn’t settle down enough to rack to secondary. I will be bottling the American pale ale this weekend though.

Batch #3: PSA IPA

New Category! I forget who came up with Abrewja in reference to the homebrewing going on here, so unfortunately I can’t give credit.

Today I brewed my 3rd batch of beer in as many weeks. The first two have been so far, so good. The American Pale Ale will get bottled next week and the English Brown the week after. Today I made a “PSA IPA”, a dry-hopped IPA produced in support of men’s health issues to raise awareness of prostate cancer. Proceeds from the sale went towards some foundation and there was a nice little card inside pointing out that prostate cancer is 3X likely for men as breast cancer is for women. Get checked!

I am excited about this one because of the dry-hopping, where hops are added into the fermenter rather than during the boil/brewing process. I’ve heard good things about that. I’m a little nervous overall for this batch though because the yeast didn’t seem to rehydrate as vigorously as the first two batches. I did shake it up better in the fermenter though, so hopefully that offsets it.

I missed my OG by 4 points as well, 1.50 instead of the 1.54-1.60 the kit indicated was the target. I think that’s partly due to using too much water. I’ve got a crude measurement system at best and need to recalibrate. 7 gallons of starting water is too much. I did boil down more this week than last though. I also forgot to measure my OG last time but had enough left over after filling the fermenter this time to measure. I will definitely use less water next time.

Today’s brew got disrupted by a powerful later afternoon thunderstorm, but thankfully it hit right after the initial partial mash/steeping of the special grains. It was easy to just cover up and shut down for a bit while it passed, then fire up the boil, add the extract and hops, and move on. I was able to get it down to below 70 degrees as well, so there shouldn’t be any reverse pressure on the airlock this time.

I’m so excited to see how these are going to turn out! I’m fairly confident that they’ll be drinkable and I’m getting comfortable enough with the process that moving on to making my own all-grain recipes is going to be FUN.