No More Resolutions

It’s New Year’s Day and I’m wiping a considerable layer of dust off my personal blog. It’s been quite a while since I have posted here. This is not a surprise, because it’s been quite the year. But this post is not intended to be a 2018 redux. I’m looking forward.

(If you want to learn more about what I did in 2018, I suggest you Twitter stalk me. That’s where I post all the good stuff.)

The First and Only Order of Business

I’m not making resolutions this year. I’m making habits. I’ve read that you need about 30 days to give a new habit good footing. So, I’m going to tackle 12 new habits this year, one each month. I’m spending today choosing the line-up and order of some rad habits, big and small.

Here are the ground rules I am setting for myself:

  • One at a Time – Knowing myself, this will be the hardest part. I always want to do everything at the same time. But what I’ve read about habits suggests that I will have more success if I give my undivided attention to creating a single habit. So the plan is to focus on a habit for 30 days with the hope that, after 30 days, the habit will become more automatic and require less conscious effort. When the 30 days are up, I switch to a new habit.
  • Plan for Variety – As I build my plan for 12 new habits, I need to make sure to build some variety into the schedule. By alternating “big” habits and “small” habits and rotating through habits that pertain to different aspects of my life (e.g. physical health, emotional and psychological well-being, financial health, professional goals, creative endeavors, etc.), I’ll put myself in a better position to succeed.
  • Fill the Voids – Every new (awesome) habit that I want to make has at least one, and often more than one, corollary old (not awesome) habit. For example, I would love to be in the habit of drinking more water. That habit isn’t just about getting more water into my body. It’s also about addressing all of the habitual behavior related to drinking non-water beverages, from late nights with my coffee pot to my alarming love of Coke Zero to working happy hours. The point is if I’m going to do some awesome new things, I need to make sure I have given myself substitutions for the less awesome old things.
  • Expect Failure – Habits are hard to negotiate and, given that I am a creature of habit, breaking old ones is exceptionally hard for me. Though it sounds cliché, but I will have to remember and make a conscious effort to be kind to myself. I say to my students all the time, ‘F’ stands for the “first attempt.” The point is to keep going. Time to take some of my own advice.

The List (as it stands now)

  • January – Exercise every day.
  • February – Save $10/day.
  • March – 10 hrs/week uninterrupted writing time.
  • April – Channel your inner entrepreneur.
  • May – Daily gratitude.
  • June – Eat less. Eat better.
  • July – Figure out what’s fun.
  • August
  • September
  • October
  • November
  • December

As of now, the list isn’t finished and I consider it subject to change. January is a lock though and I should have plenty of time to consider things as the days and weeks pass.

50 Days Happier: Day 8 – Dreaming for a Fermentation Studio

In the last two 50 Days Happier posts, I wrote about my multitasking kitchen and adjacent laundry room.  This (unfortunately, REALLY ineffective multitasking) is 99% a product of the fact that much of my homebrewery lives in and around our kitchen.  In the last couple of weeks, I’ve finally gotten frustrated enough to move most of the larger items to the basement.  I can’t tell you how hard this was emotionally.  (In fact, I wont tell you because I honestly feel a little weird about it.)  Let’s just say it was rough.

I also dropped a couple of hints about the potential solution to this problem in the last two posts. In my introduction to the challenge, I mentioned that 50 Days Happier would not be all about getting rid of things. Equally as important for me is taking the opportunity to reflect on what is most important to me, finding ways to prioritize those things, and taking the steps I need to take to align how I think and how I live.

Homebrewing is undoubtedly important to me.  Beer and brewing have been the anchor of my academic career.  Homebrewing is the form of leisure in which I have invested most of my time and resources–the equipment that makes up my homebrewery is worth more than both of my vehicles combined. And I still harbor dreams of embarking on some sort of small commercial brewing venture before I die. In order to give homebrewing its due, I really need to give my homebrewery its own space.

We do have an unfinished basement, but as renters, the kind of finishing I would need to do to make the space usable for homebrewing is completely out of the question. Lucky for me, a colleague who is steadily becoming a close friend, has a room in her basement that is alarmingly perfect for a small homebrewery.

While her unused basement laundry room is also unfinished, it has some amazing things going for it:

  • It’s more finished than our basement (i.e. concrete and not dirt floors).
  • It has direct access to the outside. (I don’t have to disturb anyone unless they want to be disturbed.)
  • It has two windows. (Perfect for ventilation.)
  • Basement temperatures are very fermentation friendly.
  • It has hot and cold water. (For cleaning and brewing respectively).
  • It has 110V and 220V electric. (Enough to power my electric brewing rig, lights and my fermentation fridge.)

110V and 220V electric. Ideal for running my electric homebrewery and other electronic peripherals.

Most importantly, the space is close to home and work and in the home of someone who is open and welcoming and creative and down with having a brewery/beer cave in her basement.

Making the Investment

As I considered this move, a lot of doubts crossed my mind.  I will still have to make a pretty hefty investment of time and money to get the space “brew ready.”  More to the point, I can’t just mooch off a friend and so I will be paying (an admittedly super modest) rent for use of the space.  I have asked myself a number of times whether or not it’s worth it for a few kegs of homebrew.

After some serious deliberation, I realize that this is something that I want to MAKE worth it.  While I don’t have a ton (or a penny) of extra cash, rent will be easy to cover.  I spend more time sitting in bars by myself (I call these times “remote office hours”), working on my computer, than I would really like to admit. A couple of drinks and a meal here and there add up quickly and all I really need to do is cut out a couple of these outings per month to cover rent for the new space.

I am also the faculty advisor for the Randolph College Zymurgy Team. While I am happy to have students on the “team” over to the house for brew days, the set-up isn’t ideal and my house is a bit of a hike from campus. The new space would be far more amenable to hosting the group, my colleague is sort of known for opening her home to students, and she happens to live virtually across the street from campus.

(There are some other potentially long term advantages, but I think you get the idea.)

Big Dreams for the Fermentation Studio

Miles and I headed over to the space so that I could take some measurements. He immediately approved of the location after discovering rope hanging from a tree branch just outside the studio door.

The first thing I will have to address is a deep cleaning and covering up some things. I’ll give this former laundry room a good scrubbing and (assuming my generous host is cool with it) hit it with a bright white coat of paint.

The concrete floors and wall will get a good scrubbing and maybe even a coat of paint.

The ceiling is unfinished and will need to be covered. I am hoping I can use a temporary/removable solution in the short term.  I’ve seen a number of solutions on Pinterest that may work, but this will take some thought and planning.  (If anyone has ideas, please leave a comment!)

Exposed insulation in the ceiling will be one of the first things I address. Fiberglass dust in the kettle doesn’t sound great.

The room is shaped something like a fat ‘L’ (or like a rectangle with one quarter missing.  The narrowest space created is about 5.5 x 6 feet.  It also the location of one of the windows and close to both the water, drain, and electricity. So, this will be where my brewing equipment will be located.

The perfect “nook” for my brewing equipment. I’ll put the brew table/stand against the back wall. Water and electricity are accessible on the right.

I will have to make a DIY vent hood to direct steam from the kettle out of the window. Lucky for me, plenty of industrious homebrewers have documented similar projects online.

Thinking I can retrofit this table into a table into a stand/table for my kettle, mash ton, pumps, and chiller.

Finally, I’ll need to install a laundry/utility sink in the space, which shouldn’t be too terribly difficult.

Laundry/Utility sink will be the last “must have” for the space.

Beyond these “must have” upgrades, the space will need to store my collection of kegs and carboys, gadgets and tools, ingredients and supplies.  I also plan to bring my fermentation refrigerator over.  In my more ambitious moments, I think about building a small bar/tasting area–but we’ll have to see about that.

The project is a bit daunting, but I am excited to get started and (at a minimum) get things moved over to clear out some space in the house.  Not sure when I’ll be able to make progress on this project, but I’ll be excited to post updates when the time comes!



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50 Days Happier: Day 7 – So Many Jars

With the exception of our unfinished basement, the kitchen is the room in our house that makes me unhappiest.  More than any other space, the kitchen screams “cheep rental home amenities!”–from the vinyl sheet flooring (that I gather is supposed to look like ugly tile) to the laminate countertops (that are supposed to look like some sort of mossy green “granite”) to the out-of-the-box oak-ish Home Depot base and wall cabinets.  All together, the “infrastructure” of the kitchen creates the kind of space I would never choose to live in.

My efforts to try to rectify this situation combined with our over-abundance of belongings have birthed something truly insane. Case in point, the “pantry.” Though this eat-in kitchen is one of the largest we’ve lived in, it’s not the most well appointed space.  Conspicuously missing is anything that can be easily used as a pantry.  A few months after we moved in (almost two years ago), I got the bright idea to turn two old, broken down particle board bookcases on their sides, attach them to the wall (supported by a couple of random Ikea furniture legs I had laying around), and use some wooden boards to create a top surface and divided shelves.

Violà! Pantry.

I am more than a little bit embarrassed to admit that this project lingered in a state of half-completion for more than a year.  I got the bookcases mounted, the legs on, the exterior panted and the top surface placed.  But the painting of the interior, and the dividing shelfs remained undone month after neglected month.  It looked simply awful, was marginally functional, and did not produce a lot of happy feelings.

Just before I started the 50 Days Happier challenge, I got my act together and finished painting and dividing the shelves.  It’s still not the most amazing thing in the world. but with no real pantry, this gives us some much needed storage.

After more than a year of half-completion, the bottom half of the bookcase pantry is more or less complete.

Way back when I originally built this thing, I hung a couple of cheep shelves for dry goods and a shallow case that I intended to use as a spice rack above the bookshelves.  The actual use of these shelves has been all over the place.  The top shelf is filled with jars of dry goods.  The middle shelf is home to about 20 pint glasses, roughly half of my collection.  And the spice rack is mostly empty, save for some cast off spices we never use (mace, anyone?).

The upper half of the pantry. Used…sort of well.

Tackling this part of the kitchen also required me to empty out part of one of our wall cabinets.  We (okay, really just my spouse) are jar savers.  From salsa to tomato sauce, pickles to peanut butter,  our empty jars enter a kind of countertop doldrums where they float around, soaking in soapy water until they eventually make it into the cabinet or (sometimes) get recycled. A large amount of cabinet space has gone to housing these jars that seem to never get used and an entire drawer (we have few) has gone to a ragtag collection of lids.

All the lids.

Today’s Challenge: Jars

I started by pulling the pint glasses off the shelf and packing them up to take to the new fermentation studio. I definitely experienced a pang of loss while packing the glasses into a box, but I’ve made the decision (or rather been beat over the head with the stark reality) that the kitchen cannot effectively multitask.  If my beer and brewing equipment, accessories, and collections are going to remain an important part of my life, I need to treat them that way and give them their own space. Prioritize. Organize.

Next, I dumped the lid drawer, emptied the jar cabinet, and pulled most of the dry goods off the shelf.

So, so much crap.

While the DIY pantry solution isn’t making its way onto any HGTV specials, I would like it to look as “nice” as possible.  As such, I hope to cull down our collection of jars so that we have as many matching jars and lids as possible. The sorting took a while and I ended up transferring a lot of bulk grains, rices, nuts, lentils, and obscure flours into new jars.

Sorting the jars. So many different shapes and sizes!

Finally, I reloaded the shelves with sorted jars.  I even included several empties in a couple of sizes so that we have room to add more dry goods (in the event they come out with a new flavor of nutritional yeast or something).

To be 100% honest, the pantry doesn’t look noticeably “better,” but after recycling all the unused jars and lids, I gained half a wall cabinet and an entire drawer worth of kitchen storage.  THIS is a huge deal for me and quickly a number of random things that have been looking for homes found their new, and more organized, resting places.

All the jars, all in one place.

I plan to order a case of small spice jars to load the rack soon.  But for today, I am done and feeling at least a little bit happier about my kitchen.

Dear Amazon Prime fairy, please send these.



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