Monday, December 26, 2005

The Holidays in Connecticut

Imagine giving an 8-year-old a Gameboy for Christmas, and imagine how many hours s/he'll spend over the next 48 hours playing with the Gameboy. If you substitute Kathy for 8-year-old and GPS for Gameboy, you'll have the picture of things around here recently. Yes, Kathy's folks got her a cool GPS that works with her PDA (the early Christmas present I gave her), and between set-up, reading the directions, testing it out, and taking it wherever she goes, I'd be surprised if it's spent more than four waking hours since she opened it out of her possession.

Now you have to understand that Kathy comes by her passion for such geektoys honestly, as her father is at least as passionate about such things. He's been into GPS pretty much the entire time I've known him. Last year in Costa Rica, for example, he felt right at home holding the GPS antenna over his head in his left hand as our little 10-person troupe was walking a suburb of San Jose (however, with that pose, and at 6-feet, 10-inches, Dad didn't look particularly at home).

So tonight Kathy, her folks, and I drove about 40 minutes away for dinner (at a brewpub, naturally). Mom drove, I was in the front passenger seat (I occasionally get car-sick, so why risk it), and Dad and Kathy were seated side-by-side in the back with their different GPS set-ups, comparing and competing. Kathy's had a bit of trouble initially, selecting a route that wasn't the fastest (though it probably was the shortest distance). It would tell us to turn at a certain spot ("turn right in 600 feet"), and Mom would ignore it. I kept expecting the GPS to bleat, "Turn around you idiot -- you missed the turn," but instead it would take into account the current position and reconstruct directions. Eventually it neared perfection at anticipating turns and distances. Kathy's bragging about the 12 satellites her GPS is picking up, while Dad's getting all indignant -- his GPS is older, though it was relying on his new software, Treats and Strips Streets and Trips 2006 -- because his GPS was slow to identify when to turn (e.g., 100 feet after the turn). And this is how the 80 minutes of driving proceeds.

They're having fun with their toys, and I'm having fun making fun of them, and Mom's getting a good laugh at the whole absurd scene -- everyone's happy, just like Holidays with family should be.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Two Years Ago Today

My maternal grandfather died two years ago today. He was my last surviving grandparent. At his funeral three days later, I gave the following eulogy:
I'm not sure what I can say about a man that turned 55 six days before I was born. I never knew the man that escaped Nazi Germany, returned in secret to visit his ailing father, and came to the United States where he met my grandmother and parented my mother. The only memory I have that's directly tied to his working years is visiting him at work one day in a giant warehouse or factory of coats -- I must have been no more than 5.

I say what all of you present undoubtedly know, that he was a kind and wonderful person, exceptionally considerate, polite and generous to charity. He liked to see pretty women, and wasn't shy about saying they were pretty.

While my grandmother was alive, he always seemed in the background -- she was the one that fussed over me, and that wanted to hear every little detail of my childhood. He was the driver, only occasionally participating in the conversation, and usually then to try to cap the ridiculous amount of praise my grandmother would give.

She died just as I was becoming an adult, and so it was during my adult years that I got to know my grandfather.

The man I knew was a retiree who lived in Daytona, and who liked to gamble, whether that meant playing poker with friends, or taking one of his countless trips to Las Vegas. Probably my fondest memory of him was when I went to Las Vegas with friends about a decade ago, and he happened to be there at the same time. We got together for a few hours, during which time we went to the casino. His eyesight was gone by then, so mostly we played slots. Still, I never felt closer to him -- there was a gleam in his eye as we played, no doubt because he could share with his grandson one of the joys in his life, though it somehow seemed more that he felt he was showing me the family business.

He also enjoyed travel. Every summer, while he could, he would leave Daytona for a couple of months to escape the Florida heat. I believe the last summer he did this was in 1997, when he fell and broke his hip. I was the first family member able to go up and visit him. Later complications clouded his memory of that time to the point where he couldn't remember I was ever there. But I remember. I remember talking to him when he was awake, reading while he slept, and helping him to the limited extent I could. I learned a bit more of family history, but more than that I learned of the effort necessary to keep going, and the hardships of aging.

He was never the same after that. Heck, that was the first time he almost died. After a while, I think we lost track of how many times we figured he was about to die. So when the call came on Tuesday, I think it surprised all of us that this tough old man was finally gone, and that it had happened so suddenly. He had outlived two wives and just about all the family members of his generation. He had lived a full life, but was ready to die, something he had told us many times. That he died so peacefully is a blessing, and a relief to all of us who loved him.

My grandfather was able to attend virtually all the important events in his grandchildrens' lives. A picture of him sharing the celebration of my law school graduation with me and my father sits even now in my living room. He went to all of his grandchildrens' weddings. He even made it out West in 2001 for Josh's and Kim's wedding, and last year to meet Lauren, his first great granddaughter, when she was one month old. It meant a lot to me that he was able to come to Kathy's and my wedding, and doubtless my siblings feel the same way about him being at theirs. Sadly, he wasn't up for joining the rest of the family for Thanksgiving in Atlanta last month, and so he never got to meet his second great granddaughter.

The last time I saw him was for his 90th birthday party this past July -- it was wonderful that so much of the family was able to be there, and that we got to share one more happy occasion with him. He was beaming the whole weekend, especially during the party. One of my favorite parts of the weekend was watching Lauren's continued fascination with her great-grandfather's nose. She won't have memories of that weekend, but I imagine the rest of us there do -- we remember the youngest person there reaching out to the 90-year-old man, and their connection that spanned generations and included everyone in between.

I don't believe there's a Heaven, but if there is such a place, I have no doubt my grandfather is there.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

August 29, 1981, ~9pm

Today my parents' Chanukah card arrived -- it was one of those picture cards, and on the back Dad wrote, "Looking back after 40 years, we have accomplished many things. The greatest accomplishment, however, was to produce and raise 4 wonderful children, pictured here when they were still naive, innocent, and undeniably happy." The picture is my Dad's favorite of the four of us -- it is quite possibly the only picture where all of us are either laughing or genuinely smiling. It was taken during the Saturday night party of my Bar Mitzvah, 1 1/2 months after my 13th birthday.

In it I am surrounded by my three siblings, and we are all laughing and slightly damp (summertime with a pool in the backyard). This is my night, a celebration of becoming a man in Jewish tradition, in recognition that the years of after-school study have paid off. I am poised and posed, fresh from my success that morning, the big brother with a big smile for the camera. Josh is to my right -- he's only 16 months younger than I am, but the height difference suggests a bigger gap. He's not directly facing the camera, and his eyes are slightly slitted, suggesting a crafty expression -- no doubt he's thinking of the mischief he'd undertake in his teenage years. Shari is to my right, three months shy of turning 10, frozen in mid-laugh. Maybe it's her expression in particular that makes my Dad enjoy this picture so much -- I can't ever recall Shari looking as happy as she does in this picture. She possesses an unconditional mirth that disappears as we grow older and learn of the grays between the black and white. To Shari's right is Rebecca, almost seven and in a happy pose with her mouth half open and teeth plainly visible -- she knows what she's supposed to do for a camera.

Now that we live under four separate roofs, it's hard for us to share anything like we could then. My wedding day may have been the happiest day of my life, but there's a picture of Rebecca holding a Chuppah pole, a candid shot of unhappiness, jealousy I imagine, her having been with her boyfriend longer than Kathy and I had been together. I was happy for my brother, and then my sister, on the days that my nieces were born, but I wasn't there, and it didn't touch me the same way. At my folks' anniversary party last month, we were all filled with good cheer, but really there's no comparison to the happiness evident from 1981. Maybe the innocence Dad refers to is a necessary component to the happiness, especially with siblings. Almost a quarter of a century has passed since that night -- was that really our peak of collective joy?

Then again, that photo was only a moment. It suggests a togetherness that didn't exist. The four of us didn't spend the evening together -- 13-year-old Aaron would have been playing with his friends, not his 9-year-old and 6-year-old sisters. We were called together to pose, and it's quite possible we weren't in the same room at any other point of the night, much less interacting. A moment was captured, and it's possible the next time we're together, another moment will exist. We might not be standing together so that a picture can be taken, and even if we are, no photo might be taken. But all it takes is a moment.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

On Barleywines

Barleywine is a style of beer that's traditionally produced for the winter months -- it is bold of flavor, and strong in alcohol. Figure that the average American barleywine clocks in around 10% ABV. Their British cousins are usually somewhat milder (though not always), but at 8% or so, they are by no means mild. In beer, most of the flavor is determined by the malts and hops used. Generally speaking, malts provide for the sweet, and hops provide for the bitter. American-style BWs generally favor the hops, while British BWs usually emphasize the malts.

The first barleywine I had was Anchor's Old Foghorn, probably around 1994. That first time, I was overwhelmed by the alcohol qualities it contained, and did not appreciate them. Rogue's Old Crustacean (yes, many barleywines are called Old something) soon followed, and it too took some adjustments to my palate, but I did in fact enjoy it. Since then, I have tried well over 100 barleywines, and the style has become one of my favorites.

In recognition of their higher alcohol content, barleywines have traditionally been bottled in sizes less than 12 ounces. Both Old Foghorn and Old Crusty were for sale in roughly 7-ounce bottles, as was the most famous of the style, Thomas Hardy's Ale, a British brew. The barleywine I just consumed, Lakefront's Beer Line, was in such a traditional bottle, which is well-suited to its 10% ABV. These days, however, the smaller bottle is the exception rather than the rule. Like many wines, bigger beers can develop different characteristics as they age. Yeast is placed within the sealed bottle so the beer can continue to ferment -- this is called bottle conditioning. The thing is, the aging process works better with larger bottles, which is why the bottle of Cisco's barleywine I'm currently drinking -- Baggywrinkle -- which clocks in at a very strong 12% ABV, is 750ml (25.4 ounces for the less mathematically inclined out there), the same size as a standard bottle of wine. Unlike wine, unfortunately, an opened bottle of beer generally cannot be stored.

Thus, such large quantities of high-alcohol beer certainly produce a challenge to consume by oneself, particularly on a weeknight. I wish Kathy could share this with me, but recently she seems to be have developed an allergic reaction to bottle-conditioned beers, quite possibly from the yeast (she hasn't had any reaction to draft beers), so I will soldier on, perhaps into oblivion. Not likely though -- it's not like this is the first time I've done something like this.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Something You Don't Want to Hear from Your Dog Walker

"Which one of you taught Junebug to use a zipper?"

That was the phrase that greeted me when I took a call from B, our dog walker, this afternoon. Yes, that clever dog of ours was able to unzip B's purse, sniff out the unopened box of Andes Mints, open it, and devour all but four of the mints in the roughly 60 seconds it took B to pick up another client's dog.

Junebug is easily the smartest dog I've ever had. She's also one of the sweetest dogs I've ever met, which is certainly a survival trait -- it's probably why we kept her despite all the havoc she created when we adopted her. Junie is part rottweiler and part German shepherd -- she's undersized and we don't know anything about her lifestory before she arrived at the pound. All we know is that she'd been abandoned, then was at the pound, then a foster home, then another foster home. So by the time we got her (in July 2000), she was a wreck -- to say there was separation anxiety is an understatement. Because she kept messing up our house we took to putting her in our room when we went to work, which was a big mistake -- her anxieties only increased. Then we tried crate-training, but that so freaked her out that she literally broke through the soldering to get out of the cage. She drove us nuts, and each of us was ready to take her back to the pound, but somehow we never wanted to get rid of her at the same time. The calm spouse would talk the enraged spouse down just in time for the roles to reverse.

Ultimately two things led to her turning the corner. The first was hiring B. The second was the rainy evening I literally picked her up when we were outside for a walk, to prevent her from going back inside the house before she'd gone to the bathroom. There's nothing like showing a dog who's boss, and apparently it was something that hadn't been made clear before then. After these two changes, Junebug still made messes, but gradually she became more comfortable, to the point where they occurred less and less. These days it's the exception rather than the rule to come home and find something to clean up. That's not to say that even five years later she's ever wholly reformed, particularly when she stays at B's (B is also our dog sitter). In addition to using the floor for a bathroom, Junebug will make you regret it if ever you leave food or the trash within reach (including counters) -- even if it seems impossible for her to reach, she'll get to it. However, because she only performs these stunts when no one's around, none of us know exactly how she does it. Discovering the answer to this mystery is the one reason I may someday invest in security cameras.

Today B couldn't figure out how Junebug got the plastic surrounding the box off without tearing a gash in it -- apparently it was left relatively intact. Such is the genius of Junebug.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

40 and Counting

Today is my folks' 40th anniversary. I was unable to find the statistics on how many marriages last at least 40 years, but it's certainly much less than half of them (25%?), so in my book this is something worth celebrating. That being said, because all of us couldn't be together today, our family celebrated the anniversary over Thanksgiving weekend.

Either because I wasn't born or was too young, I don't remember much of the first decade of their marriage (I remember some things from the era, but very little that's specifically tied to their marriage). What I do know is that they married young (by my generation's standards), and somehow made it through those early years into the middle years. The middle years weren't always the easiest for any of us, but they (and us offspring) got through them. I think they'd say that these last ten years have been their best ones together -- they've gotten better at communicating with each other (a necessary trait when all the kids finally moved out of the house and silence was the alternative), they have enough money, Dad's work life has been less stressful (and as of April, non-existent), and they've gotten better at appreciating each other. The love that was punctuated by loud fights (though not by fisticuffs) has been replaced by a loud love (because that's the only way they know how to talk to each other). The genuine love they share today is indeed something worth recognizing.

So from a distance, I raise a beer to my parents, to toast them on this special day. May they live in good health to celebrate their 50th and even 60th anniversaries together (with renewable options for the 70th and 80th).

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Political Rant of Miscellany

It's been quite a while since I've made a political post, but not for want of subjects.

The Abramoff scandal continues to chug forward, but as the details are coming forward, the public's interest is already fading. It's a shame, because this scandal gives ample demonstration of many of the things wrong with lobbying in this country. I'm astounded by the range of activities Abramoff is accused of -- this is one of the more despicable ones (and it's also tied to Tom DeLay). Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT) is the latest politician to agree to give back money he received from Abramoff. Burns pushed for a $3 million grant from a federal program intended for impoverished Indian tribal schools to one of the richest tribes in the country, a client of Abramoff. In the wake of the Abramoff investigation, Senator McCain has become the first Republican to join the call for an overhaul of lobbying laws.

Speaking of McCain, in the good news/bad news world of McCain's anti-torture bill, Bush has agreed to the basic provisions of the bill, something that was fairly inevitable in light of the 90-9 vote with which it passed the Seante. Still, there's the possibility that it won't be as significant a step forward as it might have been, seeing as how the language in the accompanying bill by South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham would make it significantly easier to rely on information gained from torture performed overseas. Strangely, this bit of news isn't getting nearly as much attention as Bush's reversal.

I hope the senators in the filibuster concerning the Patriot Act don't back down -- they are almost unanimous in their support of much of the Patriot Act, but are concerned that the current bill takes away too much from our civil liberties. When there are a few libertarian-bent Republicans (e.g., Sununu, Murkowski) joining the Dems, it seems that their concerns are legitimate. The trick will be to get their message out, which is that they aren't the ones preventing the bill's passage; rather, it's their colleagues who aren't willing to keep reasonable safeguards in place. Of course, as the minority position, they're at a disadvantage in making this argument.

The story has just broken, but NSA spying on international conversations smells very fishy to me. The standard is that you go before a secret court and if you make a half-assed showing that there's reason to spy on the individual, the court will issue a warrant. In other words, if a person being investigated were actually a likely terrorist, it would have been no big deal to get the warrant. This is what makes me believe that the people being investigated weren't likely terrorists.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Darkest Time of The Year

The time that it takes to make a baby
Can be the time it takes to make a cup of tea.
-- Billy Bragg
Two more birth announcements in the past two weeks. Earlier this week there was another pregnancy announcement, on top of the four we already knew about. Truly I'm happy for these people, these friends of ours. But I can't help but also feel a little jealous. Some of them have had to go through trials of their own (as well as misfortune) to get pregnant, but for others it seemed as easy as falling out of bed. I want a happy ending. Not that I'm entitled to it, no one is, but still it's what I want. We'll try with our two remaining embryos early next year, but I can't say that I feel optimistic. Maybe I should be, given that we got pregnant last time, but five years of trying without success leaves me feeling pretty pessimistic.

Sigh. Most of the time I'm ok, but work has me down and this has me down, and the holiday blahs are in full swing. I have little desire to be with people socially in this the most social of all seasons. Kathy's doing better about the whole baby thing, so maybe it's hitting me now because I'm finally allowing myself the time.
Excuse me
I'm not the man I used to be
Someone else crept in, again
I want to be alone
-- Peter Gabriel

Monday, December 12, 2005


George Singleton's title character, Novel Akers (younger brother of adopted twins James and Joyce), finds himself over his head when he moves to Gruel, South Carolina, hometown of his estranged wife. Gruel has a host of characters, and things seem more than a little quirky, strange, and even dangerous. The town has a secret, or several, and Novel finds himself determined to learn of it, even realizing that the truth is more likely to result in his demise than set him free.

There's a lot to laugh about in the story, what with Novel and his wife moving back to Gruel to establish the Sneeze 'n' Tone, a weight loss program based on non-stop allergen-induced sneezing. And you can't help but laugh when you read of one business in town, the Gruel Pig Petting Zoo and BBQ.

At the same time, there's an edge to the book. The reader is confronted by an unreliable narrator -- Novel is slightly delusional in part due to the excessive alcohol he consumes when he attempts to write his autobiography, also called Novel. Or maybe he isn't delusional at all, and the paranoia he develops is justified by the townsfolk.

I did enjoy Novel, but things did get a bit tiresome at times. The first time Novel described the outlandish trick shot two regulars are attempting at the pool table in the town's only bar, it was funny. The second time it was amusing. I didn't try to count how many times one of their attempts at a trick shot was described, but it was in the neighborhood of ten.

I think there's an excellent story somewhere in the book, but what's actually presented could stand for a bit more development and some additional editing.

Rating: 6/10

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Orange Bowl

In the first ever ACC championship game, FSU upset Virginia Tech, and now they represent the ACC in the Orange Bowl against Penn State despite an 8-4 record. While it might not make for an interesting game, I think the real excitement could rest in seeing whether FedEx, the sponsor of the Orange Bowl, will sell this year's sponsorship to the highest bidder. With 76-year-old Bobby Bowden coaching the Seminoles against the 11-1 Nittany Lions, led by 79-year-old coach Joe Paterno, I can see FedEx making a bundle in the resulting bidding war between Metamucil and Depends, though perhaps AARP would outbid them both.

Friday, December 09, 2005

On a Slow Moving Car

Picture yourself when you were about eight, sitting with your friend on your friend's Mom's car in the garage. It's just a standard 4-door blue-grey Buick or Oldsmobile, and both of you are sitting on the hood with your feet pressed onto the brick wall of the back of the garage. You're chatting about baseball or football, school and classmates, or maybe all of those. Time back then seemed to stretch out forever, until it didn't, like when you suddenly notice that your knees aren't bent quite as much as they were when you first sat down. And after thinking about it, the two of you can't help but wonder if maybe you, two small boys just sitting around, are powerful enough to have moved a car! The next thing the two of you do makes all the sense in the world at the time, as you actively push against the wall, just to see that, yes, you did it. It doesn't take too long before there's no bend in your knees at all, you've been able to move the car that far!

Right about that time, however, the car begins moving on its own. The back tires evidently have been pushed out the garage, and onto the slightly sloping driveway behind the house. The two of you race out the garage to get behind the car, to stop what you've started, but you discover that it's far easier to push a car on a flat surface than it is to stop the same vehicle on a slightly downward slope . You push with your scrawny eight-year-old arms as hard as you can while your friend runs in to get his Mom. You're not worried about getting run over -- even though you can't stop it, it's not moving that fast. Besides, you're eight, which means that as far as you're concerned, you're immortal. No, your only worry is the car, and the neighbor's fence -- the car's heading straight for that fence, and it sure as heck isn't going to make the turn to avoid it with no one steering. You sure hope your friend's Mom gets there pronto.

You have an impossible vision of this scene, as though there were a photograph showing a short and bony curly-haired kid straining against a car while his friend is racing out of the screen porch and his friend's Mom is just starting to appear from out of the shadow caused by the inside room being so much darker than the daylight. But of course there never was a picture, only your memory superimposing an out-of-body experience.

You know what happens next, for all this happened roughly 30 years ago, but there's still a part of you that's there in the past in the non-existent photo, unsure whether your friend's Mom will arrive in time. And time once again stretches out into infinity.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Morning Jaywalk

From the North side of Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast, just west of 8th Street, people cross to the South side without going to the crosswalk in order to get to the Metro in the most direct manner possible. From the Metro, these same people cross to the same point to go to points North and East. In this picture, the North-South street on the right is 8th Street, and by the red dot one can see where the median has been worn away by people crossing to and from the escalators visible in the lower left of the picture.

This morning was unseasonably cold, and a number of morning commuters were waiting to cross at the usual location. Then a cop, with lights flashing, came around the bend and parked right in front of where people make their illegal crossing. Almost everyone reluctantly walked back to 8th Street and waited for the light. One person, however, held his ground, and when the light changed, he crossed right in front of the police car. The officer might have been stunned by the pedestrian's sheer brazenness, but he still possessed the wherewithal to pump his siren. In response, the jaywalker looked back, with scorn or even anger, then continued to cross the street unabated. The pedestrian was wearing headphones, and didn't know whether the cop shouted at him, or got out of the car. Perhaps the jaywalker figured that it was too cold for the cop to get out of his car to chase a jaywalker, that maybe the morning coffee and donut were more important to the cop than hassling one person about doing what he and everyone else would do the next day the cop wasn't there. Perhaps the jaywalker was outraged by the cop focusing on such trivial offenses when cars driving in the neighborhood routinely drive 15-20 miles per hour over the speed limit, and no one has ever heard of, much less seen, a cop taking the trouble to ticket a driver. Perhaps the jaywalker was simply cold, and eager to get where he was heading as quickly as possible.

Regardless of what he was thinking, the jaywalker continued across the street, to the escalator, and descended into the Metro station. As he boarded his train, the cop was nowhere to be found.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Post-Party Oppression

Last post I talked about our party that's taken place the first Friday in December for the last 10 years, but I didn't discuss a newer tradition, the second night. Yes, Saturday has become the beer geek tasting, when I invite people from RateBeer, along with a few of my other beer geeky friends, to hang out and drink some rarer beers (most of which they provide). So we really serve as hosts of a non-stop beer-bash weekend. As usual, this past weekend was amazing in terms of the people who came, and in the quality and quantity of beer.

Regarding the quantity, on Thursday a neighbor came by, apologized for not being able to come on Friday, and handed over a high-quality case of beer. At 5pm the day of the party, a couple came over with three cases of beer (he's the manager of a liquor store), including a case of homebrew. So by the time we were up to two guests, we already had four cases of beer (thank goodness this year I decided not to "prime" the beer fridge). And from then on, people brought six packs or more, much of the beer relegated to sitting on the porch out back, kept chilled by the cold weather. A former co-worker of Kathy's showed up with a growler (half a gallon) of a Chicago brewpub's winter seasonal, along with another dozen bottles of top-notch beers -- I don't think we even got to try any of those on Friday. There was a fair amount of drinking, but even so, lots of beer was never was put out back to cool or refrigerated, as there was no chance it would be consumed. The later guests were all given mixed 6-packs to take home, as were those who came on Saturday night. I left a six pack with the neighbor who'd brought the case. And after giving all those beers away (~3 cases), by Sunday afternoon we were able to fit the remainder of the cold beer into the two refrigerators (I have an under-the-counter beer fridge). Barely. We needed to go grocery shopping, but there's been no place to put any of the perishables.

So I'm condemned to keep drinking through our beers, to clear out space for food. It's a thankless task, one that appears Sisyphean. Today I gave out another couple of six packs to co-workers, now we have room for orange juice. I seem to be fighting a cold, but I must keep drinking. I'm not sure it'll be enough, I think I need help. What does it mean when I've been thanking people for giving my beers a good home?

Incidentally, even once we clear out beer from the fridge, there's still lots more beer in the cupboards, and yesterday, another mixed 12-pack arrived as a make-good from someone who stiffed me a couple of months earlier.

Finally, I'd have to say that my decision last night to attend a beer tasting, despite the gallons waiting for me at home, removes any lingering doubt on the question of whether I'm sane when it comes to beer.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Party Time

This evening will be my 10th time hosting a Holiday Beer Party, the 8th time with Kathy. With one exception, the party has always been held on the first Friday of December (when my sister got married that weekend, it got moved to the following Friday), and guests who have attended most of them have learned to set aside that date in their busy seasonal calendar. Originally the party started simply as a recognition that winter seasonal beers make some of the best beers out there. Holiday beers are when brewers get the most creative, and the designation doesn't necessarily mean anything other than that the brewer decided to brew something special for the winter. Generally speaking, there are two types of winter beers. Quoting from an article I wrote a few years ago:
The first is a spiced treat - the most commonly used spices seem to be nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, orange peel, and cardamom. Probably the most well-known examples in the U.S. are Anchor Our Special Ale and Harpoon Winter Warmer. Quite a few of these beers, including Our Special Ale, change their recipes from year to year, thereby increasing the excitement associated with their annual appearances. The differences each year also encourage one to try vertical tastings, assuming you can stand to leave some to sit for a couple of years.

The second type of winter seasonal is big and bold, and likely high in alcohol. Certain barley wines, imperial stouts and Belgian-style strong ales only make their appearance to counter those brutal winter nights. Victory Old Horizontal is one example, the Belgian treat Delirium Noël another. One of the most extreme examples is the relatively recent Dogfish Head World Wide Stout, all 23% ABV of it. A few of the beers in this second category also change recipes, but even when they don?t, the beers can still vary noticeably across the years.
This isn't a party just for beer geeks, as it's anything but a formal tasting. That being said, we provide tasting glasses, which lets people drink less than a whole bottle at a time, thereby giving them a chance to sample more beers without acquiring an otherwise certain hangover (though they're still welcome to hangovers
if that's what they really want). Not everyone partakes of the beer -- some even stick to soda. Imagine, some of our friends find they have a good time with us even if they're not drinking alcohol!

The first time Kathy joined me in hosting the party, she started decorating like crazy. When I asked her why, she answered that she was preparing for the Holiday "Beer Party." I tried to explain that it was a "Holiday Beer" Party, but to no avail -- now it's both (ah, the compromises one makes in a relationship).

That first year together was also the first year we started the tradition of serving up a U.S. Capitol made out of Belgian chocolate (in recognition that we live on Capitol Hill) -- it's delicious, and I find myself enjoying the leftovers for the following month. One tradition that's been around since the first party is chili. That being said, what started as a double batch of the chili I've been making regularly since college (though it's evolved considerably, and switched from ground beef to ground turkey) has turned into my making 2 quadruple batches that add special ingredients (this year each quadruple batch includes
a bottle of Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout), and Kathy making a veggie chili that's about half that amount. We cook the chili at least one night in advance (that's right, this year's is already made). Aside from making it easier to do set-up when not also having to cook, it tastes better -- the meat (and in Kathy's case, the beans and veggies) does a better job of soaking up the seasonings, resulting in a more flavorful chili.

With Kathy's adherence to the "better to have too much than run out" school, we offer up a lot beyond chili and chocolate. Almost makes me wonder why we don't start the party at 6 rather than 7:30. Almost.

Hope everyone has a similarly fun holiday party to attend tonight.