Friday, August 28, 2009

Camping 2009 at Whitewater State Park

Friday night, August 15th, we set off down the road for Whitewater State park for our 5th annual camping trip. This year the group grew to 11 campers including our youngest addition, Mikey, at 7 months old.

We arrived before sunset, set up our tent and got settled while we hung out with Bill & Sara. We soon noticed that the park's claim of "no mosquitoes" was true, and very nice. The rest of the group arrived later and we begin to fill up our 3 campsites. The biggest challenge (and most entertaining) part of the evening was putting up Jean's new tent. She bought it after last summer's trip, and didn't open it until this year, only to find that all the elastic cords in the tent poles were cut or broken. It took everyone to hold lanterns and sort through 40+ pieces of tent poles, and figure out how to assemble the 5 different poles to make up the tent. We eventually got it up and Jean had a place to sleep!

Saturday we enjoyed some good hiking, good food as usual, and great time with friends. We tried making donuts for breakfast this year, but some of our cans of biscuit dough got too wet in the cooler and exploded... mental note for next year. Tacos in a bag for lunch, simple and tasty.

The afternoon hike took us up to a high point in the park where we could see for miles. The view was excellent and we got to see some cool rock formations. Beth took it a bit slower, but did very well on all the steps, rocks, and rough terrain for being about 7 months pregnant. After we got back she relaxed and some of us went to wade in the river and skip rocks.

Our foil dinners worked especially well this year. Nick found a local firewood supplier and we got some good hardwood that doesn't burn up too quickly, and our fires burned well and made a good bed of coals for dinner. We were actually eating our foil dinners before dark! That may have been a first, or at least the first time in a few years.

We also learned that camping is not the best experience for somebody who's 7 months pregnant. Sleeping on an air mattress is not very conducive to staying comfortable and sleeping on your side. Beth hadn't been comfortable on the mattress or the camp chairs, and had worked pretty hard on our afternoon hike. Having been through this unusual stress, Nathan wasn't moving as much as he normally did and didn't respond to the usual ways of getting him moving. Since we knew Beth wouldn't sleep well that night and we were concerned about Nathan, we decided to leave after dinner and s'mores. Thanks to everyone for helping us pack up so quickly.

Rochester happened to be on our way home, close to the state park. For our own peace of mind, we stopped at the emergency room at St Mary's hospital in Rochester. The staff was excellent and got us in and out quickly. They set up a monitor so we could hear (and measure) Nathan's heartbeat for 20 minutes of observation. Thankfully, Nathan was just fine. Once Beth was able to recline to a comfortable position and drink some cold water he started moving again like normal. The best part of the experience was when I started talking to him. We usually talk and/or sing to him at night, so when I talked to him at the hospital, his heart rate immediately slowed down. It's pretty amazing to see how your unborn son actually knows and recognizes you, even if it's such a simple level. We're excited for the day we get to meet him.

After leaving the hospital we sent messages to the rest of the group to let them know all was well, and headed for home. At about 1am we pulled into the garage, came inside, and headed right to bed. I slept until 11am the next morning. I guess I needed it. We got to enjoy the bulk of the trip, made sure Nathan was OK and got to spend some quality time with him, and got out of camp just before the rain came. Overall it was another great (and memorable) camping trip. Now we get to look forward to Nathan's first camping trip next year!

Monday, August 10, 2009

The First Batch of Mead

It's time to go back down to Pegboard Cellars (the workbench in my basement) to start a new brew. This time I'm taking my first stab at Mead. Since starting my wine, I've been reading and learning from The Compleat Meadmaker, a good book loaned to me by my dad. I also happen to work with a lot of home brewers and mead makers, so I've picked up information and advice for awhile from them.

This was also my first attempt at making a yeast starter culture. Using a recipe outlined in the book, I mixed up some water, honey, yeast energizer, yeast nutrient, and dry malt extract to make my starter. I put the mixture in a glass jug, added the yeast, and sealed it up with an airlock. From my [beginner's] perspective, the yeast starter gives the yeast a chance to grow and multiply, and get accustomed to the kind of liquid they'll be fermenting. In this case, a mixture of mainly water & honey. After about a day of fermenting the yeast starter, I had a healthy culture of yeast that was ready to take on 13-plus pounds of honey in a 5 gallon batch.

While I could make many kinds of mead just like I would make wine (adding fruit and other flavorings), I'm making a simple "Show Mead," meaning that it's only fermented honey and nothing else. The book had a Dry Show Mead, Medium Show Mead, and a Sweet Show Mead recipe. I opted for a Medium Show Mead, using just over 13 lbs of honey in a 5 gallon batch. Based on the advice of the book's author, and other meadmakers I know, I went with the "no heat" method, which makes the whole process much easier by not needing to heat anything up. Supposedly, this also preserves more of the honey's natural flavor. After sanitizing all the equipment, it was just a matter of pouring everything together (water, honey, yeast energizer, yeast nutrient), mixing it up, and adding some oxygen by stirring it up with a whisk.

Before adding the yeast, I dropped in my (sanitized) hydrometer to get a specific gravity reading. It looks like I have a starting gravity of about 1.092. This gives me an idea of how much sugar is in the mixture (water would be 1.000). As it ferments, I can take more readings to see how much sugar has been converted to alcohol, and estimate the alcohol percentage of the finished product.

Now the bucket has been sealed up with an airlock and it's bubbling like crazy. It should ferment pretty vigorously for about 2 weeks, and then I have to wait. They say mead isn't really good until at least 6 months to a year later. I guess I'll have to be patient. For now, it smells delicious.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Nisswa with the In-Laws

I recently got back from the annual family vacation in Nisswa with my wife's family. For the third year in a row now, we've stayed at the Good Ol' Days family resort on Lower Cullen lake. It's not the "rustic cabin" kind of place like I used to go to as a kid, but a great vacation nevertheless. The rest of the family stays up there for the entire week, but this year (like every year so far) I came home early to conserve my vacation days. We had a great time hanging out with our family, playing with the kids, eating good food, and just relaxing. The resort has a lot of nice amenities, and lots of planned activities for the kids.

Each year everyone makes a dinner for the family. This year we made Brandt-style fish from the sunfish and Walleye I brought home from my BOTCO fishing trip earlier this summer. It was our first time making it. With the help of some good instruction from Mom, the fish turned out great, and made for an excellent dinner and some good leftovers.

The niece & nephews were fun as always, but with the first trip with the twin babies, the logistics changed quite a bit. Babysitters were always needed, and having two infants on differing sleep schedules made things interesting. Overall though everyone did quite well.

We almost went fishing while I was there, but the weather was too cold & windy out on the lake. I got as far as re-spooling some new fishing line on my poles though. I had meant to do that a long time ago, so at least it was nice to get that done. The plan was to catch some panfish and show the guys how to fillet without scaling the fish, but... no fish, no fillet. Maybe next year.

Many thanks to my in-laws for another nice vacation!