Baseball Has Arrived!

I wanted to get a baseball post up at the beginning of the season, but that pesky master’s project and thesis kept getting in the way. So here’s my first (of many?) posts about baseball, two and a half weeks into the season.

P1050008If you know me at all, or have read the about us page, you know that I am a Braves fan. Thanks to my uncles being huge fans and Ted Turner broadcasting Braves games to wherever we happened to be living, I’ve been following them since I knew what baseball was. I finally got to see them play live at age 14 after we moved to northern Virginia and my dad surprised us with tickets to see the Braves play in Baltimore (the Expos hadn’t moved to DC yet and interleague play was still new). It was AMAZING! I still remember Andruw Jones tracking down a deep fly ball – he was positioned in right center, the ball was crushed to left center, I thought for sure it was gone. Next thing I know he’s leaping at the wall, snatching the ball out of the air to take away a home run. I knew he was fast from watching him on TV, but it really puts into perspective how much ground he had to cover when you’re sitting there watching it happen in front of you.

2011-04-21_00-14-28_337Thirteen years later, I still am giddy with excitement whenever I get to go to the ballpark to see the Braves play. I was lucky that a couple of years ago their west coast road trip aligned with a business trip I took that put me just north of Los Angeles. My boss, knowing how much of a Braves fan I am, let me go early one afternoon so I could make the drive south to go see them play. It was awesome. I even got a signed ball from Eddie Perez, as I was the only one in Braves gear surrounded by a sea of Dodger blue (just days after the incident with the SF fan…). I’ve seen them a few times in Atlanta, and since we only live about three hours from DC, I try to make the drive at least once a season to see them play the Nats.

This past weekend was one of those times to make the drive. I looked at the schedule as soon as it was made public, saw that April 12, 13, 14 was the only weekend series for the Braves in DC, looked at my work load to finish my MS degree, and made a plan. I’ll defend my thesis on the 12th and then drive up to see them play that weekend as a celebration with my wife and baby.

P1010830Now, this is not the first time WV has been to a game. He was 4 weeks old, and I somehow convinced L that we should drive up to DC, sit in the front row, and see the Braves because I hadn’t seen them play live yet in 2012. It rained like crazy, the 3 hour drive took us almost 5, and the game was delayed because of the weather (so we didn’t miss the beginning even though it took forever to get there). It was tied after 9 innings, but it was late because of the delay, and we still had to drive back home so I could work the next morning, so we left and listened to the Braves lose in 13 innings on the way home. We tried to go see a game with my brother and his gf back in June while WV was still on the inside, but the skies opened up and let loose a storm of biblical epic-ness and we had to settle for a nice dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant. And I quickly lost the battle of trying to convince L that we should go to the game on her due date, saying she could just deliver at the stadium and we’d be all over Sports Center. Alas…

So I defended my thesis on Friday the 12th, provided musical entertainment for a zombie obstacle challenge with my band Key’d Up on Saturday the 13th, then we made the drive to go stay with my parents for the night and go to the game on Sunday. My parents wanted to come as well, so we had a full car (dad’s SUV) driving into DC with L, WV, me, my mom, my dad (W3), my brother, and his gf.

Paul Maholm vs. Gio Gonzalez. The defending NL East champions (and the favorite not only to repeat as division winners, but to win the WS) against the “good but not as good” challengers, who were riding an 8 game win streak and trying to sweep the Nats on the road. This was going to be a great pitching battle.

P1050015Boy was I wrong. BJ Upton drove a double off the left field wall on the first pitch of the game. He scored on a Gattis double, who then scored with Justin Upton on a Chris Johnson single, and Paul Maholm was staked to a 3-0 lead before he even faced the first Nats batter. I don’t know what it is, but the Braves seem to be able to absolutely destroy top tier pitchers (Gio Gonzalez, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, etc.) while struggling against mediocre guys or AAA call ups (at least that was the case last year). And destroy Gio they did. El Oso Blanco drove in another run. Chris Johnson drove in two while subbing for the injured Freddie Freeman. Justin Upton continued his power barrage with a monster HR to right center. Andrelton Simmons got into the action as well depositing a 3-run jack into the Braves bullpen. All the Braves fans in the ballpark (and there were plenty) were chopping and chanting. It was as if the game was being played in Atlanta. By the end of three innings, the braves had put up 7 runs against Gio. Maholm was just having fun after that, dropping 58 mph curveballs after backing hitters off the plate with 90+ mph fastballs. It was like he was throwing wiffle balls in the backyard. He even got into the offensive action by singling and scoring on Jason Heyward’s double in the 6th. Final score: Braves 9, Nationals 0. Total attendance: 39,389. After the 7th inning the attendance was down to about 20,000, most of them Braves fans.

It was a great game to attend, watching them sweep the highly touted Nats on the road, winning their 9th in a row, and really punishing the great pitching staff that is supposedly better than theirs. As of this morning, the Braves lead the majors with a 1.83 ERA, whereas the Nats are #20 with 4.29 (even with today’s loss the Braves ERA improved to 1.77). In the 2 games that the Braves have lost, they have been outscored 3-0. In the 6 games that the Nationals have lost, they have been outscored 47-10. I could pull out more stats such as overall run differentials, inherited runners scored, home run differentials, etc. but I think that would be overkill and each point I make would likely be countered by some off the wall statistic from an opposing fan. Suffice it to say that the Braves are pitching well, with or without their offense.

P1050006Now, this isn’t a post to bash the Nats. They’re a great team and will win a ton of games (against the Marlins and Mets), and really make things interesting as the season progresses and they battle the Braves and Phillies for the division title. The season is still young (not even 10% complete), and I’m sure the Braves will falter here and there, but for now I am enjoying the fact that they are 12-2 and continue to hit the cover off the ball while the pitching stays stingy (tough 1-0 loss this afternoon, the KC pitchers should buy Doug Eddings a steak dinner for his generous strike calls). It was great to see the Braves play, great to see them win, and great to go spend some time with my parents and give them some WV time as well. The next game we will catch live will be against the Mets while we’re visiting L’s parents.

2013-04-03_18-59-12_946I do have some bad news to report… The beer glass you see in this image was my lucky Braves beer glass. I set it down wrong on a coaster the other night, and it fell over, dumping a freshly poured honey ale all over the table and breaking into a bunch of pieces. R.I.P lucky glass, may you continue to give the Braves good luck in spirit.

So here’s to the 2013 Braves! My tagline since opening day: Home runs and home brews! Go ahead, DC fans (or Braves haters), and tell me how it’s a long season and anything can happen. Go ahead and rub it in that the Nats won the NL East last year and the Braves lost in the one game Wild Card playoff. Go ahead and remind me that the Braves only got one WS championship during the 14-year run of consecutive division titles (which is infinitely more WS championships that the Nationals franchise won during that same period). Go ahead and say “we’ll see how much this sweep matters in October…” and other things that mean absolutely nothing but make you feel better as a Nats fan looking up and seeing the Braves atop the standings early in the season. We will see what happens come October. Maybe the Braves will continue to be hot, maybe they’ll trail off and the Nats will catch/surpass them. Maybe the Marlins will get lucky (not likely). The past is the past, this is 2013. Both teams made improvements and it will be exciting to watch them both throughout the season. GO BRAVES!

Is anyone else as excited as I am that the season is here and the Braves are kicking butt?

Productive Saturday

Well, today was a pretty productive day, especially for a Saturday. As you can see, I’m actually writing a blog post!

So here’s the day so far:

We woke up at 7:30 am. Not just L, but both of us! This never happens. Most of the time I have a gig on Friday so I don’t get home until 3, so my normal Saturday wake up time is around 11ish. But last night I had no gig – we made dinner, caught up on some Stephen Colbert, and went to bed at a normal time.

So L made coffee (Mobjack Bay Coffee) and left to go to some garage sales, I whipped up some bread batter and set it aside to let it rise, pulled out a copy of my thesis that my advisor had scribbled red ink all over, and began to brew beer. A couple weeks ago I purchased a new brew kettle – 8 gallon capacity, stainless steel, with a spigot. I’ve been itching to try it out but hadn’t had much time (stupid thesis…), but I have been working pretty hard lately and figured I could address the red ink issues with one eye while keeping the other eye on the kettle. I got the water heating up and began to work on my edits. After a while, the water had reached 155 degrees (F), so I added my grains for steeping, set the timer, and continued to work.

P1040717WV woke up around 9:30, but he wasn’t all that cranky so I changed his diaper and let him run around the kitchen in his walker until L got back (and she made delicious pancakes and sausage patties). After the wort was finished boiling, I took it out on the porch to let it cool while I took a trip to the dump. Don’t worry, it was covered so nothing could get in the beer. By the time I got back home from the dump, the wort had cooled enough where I felt comfortable transferring it to the primary fermenter. All I had to do was open the spigot and let it go!

So now I’ve got a batch of pale ale fermenting, two loaves of bread ready to go into the oven, fixed the red ink issues, and the trash and recyclables are out of the house. Doing an acoustic gig tonight, then I get to spend tomorrow with my family (and maybe work on my figures).

Ack! Don’t forget to label bottles!

Our car is a mess. A complete mess. Whenever we drive to see either of our parents, I always make sure that I clean it out for fear of one of our moms saying “Wow, you really need to clean out your car!” It’s not disgusting/unsanitary – no moldy growths from food scraps or anything – just full of papers, junk mail, an empty seltzer can or 5, coffee mugs, etc. So before we pack up the car with 13 loads of laundry, I go outside with 2 bags – one for the recyclables and one for the trash. Which normally turns into 4 bags. Sometimes 7. And then 2-3 trips back to the house carrying in coffee mugs or water cups. But it’s “clean.” I never have time (or the desire) to vacuum, wash the windows, wipe the dash, hose off the rubber floor mats, etc. Getting the trash out is enough.

But it never fails – whichever house we go to, the respective mom almost ALWAYS make some direct or indirect statement about the cleanliness of the vehicle. If only they could see a before picture…

So the other day, L decided that while I was working with one eye on my computers and the other eye on WV she would REALLY clean out the car. She removed ALL of the crap that was inside, vacuumed, washed windows, the whole works. The only thing she didn’t do was wash and wax the exterior (lazy, right?). She even found a bottle of windshield washer fluid and refilled the reservoir because it was bone dry! What a keeper! I didn’t even think we had any washer fluid because I distinctly remembered finishing off a bottle last summer and didn’t recall going to the store to buy more.

Later that night, I took the dogs out for a walk and noticed a windshield washer fluid bottle on the floor of the entryway that had a tiny, tiny bit of a fluorescent yellowy liquid in the bottom of it. While we were on the walk, the wheels in my head began to turn. I’ve never seen fluorescent yellowy windshield washer fluid. And as mentioned before, I didn’t even think we had any. What could it be?

Not Washer Fluid Aha! Last summer, I flushed the radiator of L’s car before we sold it! And since I’m frugal, I don’t buy the 50/50 solution for $10.99, I buy the same volume of fully concentrated stuff for $12.99 and cut it with water. But to be able to make my own 50/50 mixture, I have to pour 50% of the fully concentrated fluid into another receptacle, then add water to both. The empty container that I had at the time was an empty washer fluid container. I figured that since I take care of all the routine maintenance things, I’ll take one look at the bottle and know instantly that it’s not washer fluid when I see it at a later date…

I got back from walking the dogs, then came upstairs to tell L my discovery. She was feeding WV, and I walked into the room and said “I made a mistake a while ago that you unknowingly perpetuated.” She was completely confused and had no idea what I was talking about. I explained to her the situation, and that it was entirely my fault, that I should have labeled the container. She felt so bad though. She had been extremely helpful in cleaning out the car, and then going above and beyond to refill the washer fluid reservoir! How was she supposed to know that the liquid inside the bottle that said windshield washer fluid was not, in fact, windshield washer fluid?

I did a quick search to see if anyone had done this before and what could be done to fix it. I was prepared to completely disassemble the entire washer fluid system. Most of the posts in the search results were of the opposite problem – washer fluid in the coolant overflow reservoir. But nestled in the second page of results was a little post from our friends at Car Talk explaining what to do. Click and Clack save the day, again!

$1.62 for some flexible tubing for siphoning (not using my beer siphoning equipment) and a few minutes of letting gravity do it’s work and the reservoir was empty. And I didn’t have to take anything apart! (Getting to all of the components was going to be doable, but difficult and time-consuming). Refilled with windshield washer fluid, and now I’m good to go! (And if you ever need to siphon anything that you don’t want to ingest, PLEASE pre-fill the siphoning tube with water and let the water flow start the siphon)

So the moral of the story is that communication is key. Whether it’s written or verbal. Or nonverbal, for that matter, if you’re competent enough to know exactly what your wife is thinking without her having to say it. It would have taken me mere seconds to cross out “Windshield Washer Fluid” and write “50/50 Antifreeze” on the bottle, and would have saved a lot of time (not to mention the antifreeze/water mixture that I took back to the auto parts store for proper disposal). Could I have used that fluid again, or was it more advisable that I take it back to the store for disposal?

And now, a little joke to tie it all together:

Q: What’s the last thing that goes through a bug’s mind as it crashes into your windshield?

A: It’s ass.

Homemade Bread and Grateful Dead

Back when I used to have to commute an hour to and from my office, I would pass the time by listening to the radio. Mainly just switching back and forth between the news and the local classic rock station. When I would get tired of hearing about people blowing each other up because they can’t just be decent and agree to disagree I’d switch over to music. When I would get tired of hearing the same Rush and Skynyrd songs (don’t get me wrong – great bands, but WAY overplayed… need more Allman Brothers and Grateful Dead) I’d switch back to the news. Here’s some Dead for your head while you’re reading about bread – make sure you have the bass on your system turned up (shameless plug for my band, Key’d Up):

One particular day, I heard an interview on All Things Considered with a woman who had written a book called Make the Bread, Buy the Butter. The author, Jennifer Reese, had taken the time to try a bunch of different recipes (hot dog buns, pickles, bacon, vanilla extract, keeping bees, etc) and write about her experiences. She lets the readers know which items are worth making from scratch, including both time and money involved, and which ones you should just buy from the store. She and I don’t agree on everything (homemade sushi is less expensive AND worth the work, we use the hot dug bun recipe for hamburger buns and they’re just fine), but it does have a lot of good info.

So I was listening to this interview, and thought to myself, “This sounds like something right up our alley – when I get home I’ll order it and hopefully it will arrive in time for Christmas.” I got home, quickly got to my computer, and stealthily placed the order. L and I were eating dinner later that evening, talking about our days, and she mentioned this really neat interview she heard on the radio and how she thought the book sounded like a great idea and was thinking about buying it. Ugh… I had to spoil the surprise and let her know that I already ordered it for her.

The main reason I bought the book was to save money. I figured over the years I would be saving way more than the $15 plus shipping I would be spending on the book. But it also turns out that I’m saving myself and my family from ingesting whatever crazy stuff the food industry puts in their breads. One example is L-Cysteine. Sourced mainly from human hair (although I read that they have changed to mostly duck feathers in Europe), it violates certain religious dietary restrictions, and the thought of ingesting either human hair or duck feathers is kinda gross. I haven’t done all the research to know which breads contain it and which don’t, but since we’re no longer buying bread we don’t have to worry about it.

Now, you might say “I can’t make my own bread, that’s too time consuming, and I really don’t know how to cook.” Wrong, wrong, and it doesn’t matter. You CAN make your own bread, it really doesn’t take much time at all, and my baking experience before I met L was preheating the oven to 400 degrees and throwing a frozen pizza in there for 18-20 minutes.

Here’s how little time it takes: On Saturday mornings, when L is feeding WV or making something delicious for breakfast, I mix up the bread batter. Then I stick it in loaf pans. Then I go about my day doing whatever needs to be done (oil change, garden work, Fortran code translation, procrastinating, etc.). After the bread has risen for a few hours, I stick the loaf pans in the oven. Then after 28 minutes I remove the breads from the pans and stick them back in the oven. Then after 5 minutes I turn them. Then after 5 more minutes I take them out. It’s that easy, and really not time consuming.

Recipe below with prices, permanent recipe link here. Total cost per loaf*: 94 cents, 88 cents without the flax seeds.

Ingredients:
5 1/2 cups bread (or all purpose) flour
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp yeast
3 1/2 cups water
4 tsp kosher salt
Flax seeds/Sesame Seeds (optional)

Procedure:
Activate the yeast with warm water, then mix in the flours, salt, and water.
Oil the inside of two 9×5 loaf pans, put half the dough in each, then sprinkle flax seeds on the top. Or mix the flax seeds in with the dough. Your choice.
Cover the loaves with a clean, damp dish towel/cloth diaper and let rise until the dough is as high as or just above the tops of the pans.
Bake at 450 degrees in the pans for about 28 minutes, then remove from pans, put the breads back in the oven on their sides for 5 minutes, then flip them to their other sides for 5 minutes. You might want to put a shallow pan or some aluminum foil underneath so the flax seeds don’t fall the the bottom of the oven and burn (if they’re on top of the loaves).
Breads are done when they sound hollow when tapped (or when you ask your wife if that’s what hollow sounds like and she says yes).
Remove the loaves from the oven, see if you can wait until they cool to slice and eat.

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*Numbers rounded to nearest cent, tax not included. I remember a joke that my quantum physics professor once told us in class: “A mathematician will say that a series is convergent if its limit exists. A physicist will say that a series is convergent if the first term is finite.” Today, I’ll pretend to be a physicist and will be ignoring values that I don’t care about.

-King Arthur flour (each variety) is $4.19 for a 5 lb bag at our local Food Lion. Flour is (on average) 4.4 oz/cup, so a 5 lb bag will yield about 18 cups. ($4.19/18)x(5 1/2) = $1.28. 1 3/4 cups is $0.41. Other flours might be cheaper.
-My 1 lb bag of yeast was $6.99. There are about 160 tsp in 1 lb of yeast. $6.99/160 = $0.04.
-Our water comes from a well. I guess we do pay for the electricity to pump it. I ignored this.
-I bought the salt for $0.99. There are 131.5 tsp in the container. ($0.99/131.5)x4 = $0.03.
-A 15 oz bag of flax seeds at Trader Joe’s is $2.99. There are 56 tbsp in the bag. I use about 2 tbsp when I sprinkle them on the loaves. ($2.99/56)x2 = $0.11.
-I sprayed the inside of the loaf pans with cooking spray that was given to us by friends who moved. I ignored this price too.
-I don’t know how much it costs to run the oven either. So I ignored this as well.

I’m game for other bread recipes too, so if you have a favorite send it on over!