On the new Wine Blog

I've been busy with wine.  I'm still an Orthodox gentleman, of course.;

I’ve been busy with wine. I’m still an Orthodox gentleman, of course.;

Lately, I’ve been putting most of my blogging energy to another project; I’ve been blogging about the wine industry here in my home state of Arizona. This is why Orthogents has largely been silent; I have to manage my time wisely, and this blog has…kind of fallen by the wayside. I’ll still post here from time to time, of course, but by and large, you should follow me here: http://azwinemonk.com

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Linkspam post.

http://www.businessinsider.com/lasting-relationships-rely-on-2-traits-2014-11

Kindness and generosity are the keys to a successful relationship. In other news: sky still blue, except at night.

http://thoughtcatalog.com/christopher-hudspeth/2014/04/18-ugly-truths-about-modern-dating-that-you-have-to-deal-with/

Modern Dating has gone down the tubes. We, as gentlemen, have to deal with these things–but not only that, me must, MUST strive not to commit any of these errors.

http://familyshare.com/marriage/the-most-overlooked-characteristic-of-who-you-want-to-marry

The key is to find someone whom you can suffer with, not just be happy with.

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/11/09/fashion/with-some-dating-apps-tinder-less-casual-sex-than-casual-text.html?referrer

Perhaps we are too picky?  I don’t know, but it is a bit of a problem, in a large market, men can be overly picky.

On Pipe Smoking (Part II)

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Thumbs up for pipes!

Thumbs up for pipes!

The fact is, Squire, the moment a man takes to a pipe, he becomes a philosopher. It’s the poor man’s friend; it calms the mind, soothes the temper, and makes a man patient under difficulties. It has made more good men, good husbands, kind masters, indulgent fathers, than any other blessed thing on this universal earth.

So, let’s continue our step-by-step guide on pipe smoking. You’ve now chosen your pipe, and you’ve now chosen your tobacco.

3) Load your pipe with your chosen tobacco. To do this, take a pinch of tobacco, and while gently holding your pipe, trickle strands of tobacco into the bowl of the pipe until it is filled to the top. Then begins the tamping process: use your pipe tool (if you have one–if not, a simple nail with a broad head, or even a finger will work) and gently compress the tobacco. For pipes that have bowls with straight sides, you need to tamp gently until the tobacco half fills the bowl. For those with tapered bowls, aim for more like two thirds full. The tobacco in the bowl should have a very springy, almost soft consistency. After this, you will repeat the process of loading and tamping until the pipe is almost full. Some say to load over the brim, but I don’t; as it heats up it expands, and such things could either scorch your pipe, or the sparks and lit tobacco will fall out the top and burn holes in your pants/shirt, and that would be bad. I ruined one of my favorite blazers that way. Next, Put the pipe to your lips and take a test draw. The resistance should be minimal, like sucking on a straw. If there is any more than this, dump out the tobacco and start reloading your pipe over again. You need an easy draw for your pipe, otherwise you’ll be huffing and puffing to no good use.

4) Light your Pipe. Fair warning, you will almost certainly need to relight your pipe multiple times. Eventually with practice, you might be able to smoke a whole bowl without relighting every time you smoke, but that generally takes years of practice (I still can’t always manage it). This is a complex process. First off, the ‘charring’ light (also called the ‘false’ light), the purpose of which is to expel any extra moisture from the tobacco and prepare a nice even bed for the ‘true’ light. To do this, light your match or lighter (I have no preference for either, and both work fine) and then apply it to the tobacco, moving it in a circular motion around the entire surface of the tobacco. Puff lightly a few times–DO NOT INHALE–simply to let air through. Let this light go out, then comes the true light. Relight your match of lighter and apply it to the tobacco, moving it in a circular motion around the entire surface of the tobacco. While doing this, take a series of shallow puffs on the pipe. This time the tobacco should not unravel and puff up as it did before. Extinguish your source of fire, sit back, relax and enjoy your pipe.

5) Smoke! Pipe smoking does not entale inhilation of the smoke. Instead, think of it as being simular to a wine tasting; you bring it into the mouth, enjoy the flavor, and expel the smoke thereby. If you puff too fast, the heat will cause tonguebite. Again, the key is slowness, and luxuriousness, in a sense. This is something that will likely take between 20-40 minutes at least, and can last longer. (I have a pipe I use for long drives that I typically can make last an hour) I also reccomend having a drink with your pipe; and this could be anything: water, coffee, a cocktail, or wine.

(Me being also the Arizona Wine Monk http://azwinemonk.com/, I prefer a good glass of wine with my pipe. Tannic reds tend to go best for latakia/perique blends, lighter reds or roses often go well with aromatics. I find I rarely drink whites when smoking a pipe, unless they’re intense dessert whites like maderias. Whiskey is also nice, too, if you have a good sippin’ whiskey.)

At the first sign of moisture coming through the stem of the pipe, stick a pipe cleaner into the stem and let it absorb any condensation in order to ensure that the pipe does not sour; the best way to discern moisture is if you hear a sucking sound–like that you get when you suck up the last bit of drink via a straw. The other way to deal with this is to put it down–said moisture will also trickle into the bowl where the coal is, and it will evaporate. Also, in general be sure not to let your pipe get too hot–this will affect the flavor and taste of the tobacco, and also could potentially affect you–tonguebite and whatnot. If it gets too hot, put the pipe down for a moment; or even let it go out and restart.

6) Clean your pipe. This is a bit of a process; I thought about doing this as a seperate entry, but I’d hate to leave anyone hanging.

You can generally tell when a pipe is done when the flavor becomes entirely ashy. Some people like to let their tobacco burn all the way to the bottom to create what is called a cake; I don’t, but that’s your call, and I’ve heard many arguements for or against cake. The cake is a layer of carbon deposits on the side and bottom of your pipe bowl. (I’ve heard you should NEVER do that for meershaum, and only wood and briar pipes, though.) Note: You should let your wood and briar pipes rest a day between smokes. Meershaum doesn’t need to rest, though; and corncobs are cheap, so you can build up a collection of about 50 corncobs for the price of one meershaum. (I have very little experience with meershaum, but I’ve decided that’s what my next pipe will be).

Wait until the ashes in the pipe are cool to begin cleaning. (I always forget to do that, oops) The first step is to shake up the ash, or what’s called the “dottle.” (new scrabble word!) Taking the bowl of the pipe (it should be cool now) in your hand, you will cover the bowl and shake the ash around to loosen it and distribute it around the bowl of the pipe. If you want to build up a cake, rub the ash into the walls of the bowl with your finger. If not, or after what’s left after the cake-construction process, dump the remnants out. If you don’t want cake, you can use the spoon-shaped tool on a pipe tool (if you have what I affectionately call the pipe multi-tool), to scrape away the carbon.

Next, you’ll want to run a pipe cleaner through the stem. Push until you can just see the end at the bottom of the bowl. Repeat this process a few times, alternating by gently blowing through the stem to clear any loosened ash. I generally remove the stem after I do this, and if you like, you can leave a pipe cleaner in there to absorb any extra moisture. After all the ashes and stem has been removed, polish your briar or wood pipe with a soft cloth. It’ll keep it shiny.

Lastly, every two months or so, you’ll want to give your pipe a good thourough cleaning with some sort of alcohol–everclear or isopropol. To start, remove the stem from the bowl and lay the two pieces out on a paper towel. Moistening a bristle cleaner with alcohol, run it through the stem from the tenon end to the mouthpiece. Doing this should result in a lot of brownish black gunk on the cleaner. Alternate with a dry pipe cleaner. Continue this process until you can run a bristle cleaner through the pipe so it comes out the same color it went in.

And now you are ready to start smoking a pipe and take on the world.

(The quote is by Sam Slick, from The Clockmaker.)

On Pipe Smoking (Part I)

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You might find that smoke blown out cleared your mind of shadows within. Anyway, it gives patience, to listen to error without anger.

So writes J.R.R. Tolkien, on one of his most pleasured pursuits–the smoking of a pipe on an autumn afternoon. Or winter night. Or spring morning. Or a summer brunch. Or, best of all, watching the evening monsoon. (Okay, so that last one is all me, here on my mountain in Arizona)

Now, of course smoking can be hazardous to your health, but the thing to remember is pretty much everything is hazardous, too. “Life,” as someone dear to me says, “is a carcinogen.” If you don’t already smoke, it’s something you should only take up at your own risk. (It’s also perfectly okay for women to take up pipe smoking, too. Admittedly, were I to find a good woman who also smoked a pipe, my heart would be more inclined to her.) That being said, pipe smoking is an affectation I reccomend taking up only if you already smoke; as a replacement for cigarettes, there are few classier options.

Why? A number of reasons. For one, pipe tobacco smells and tastes better than cigarettes, and comes in wider varieties. It seems more natural, closer to the natural condition of the tobacco leaf as it’s grown. For another, the time it takes to smoke a pipe teaches patience, and introspection, and these are traits which are decidedly necessary for a proper Orthodox gentleman. I find myself that whenever my mind is in turmoil (which it has often been of late–October is the cruelist of months), sitting down somewhere in Jerome, or in my hobbit hole with a pipe and a good book affords my mind and soul the time, and space, to uncurl, destress, and glorify God once more. And, you’re always in good company with a pipe.

This will be a two-part entry. This first section is going to be about choosing your pipe, and choosing your tobacco.

Continue reading

On Endings.

The worst thing that could possibly happen to anybody would be to not be used for anything by anybody. Thank you for using me, even though I didn’t want to be used by anybody.

The fact is that all things come to an end. Sometimes, that end is wonderful; with wedding crowns and babies and happy lives together until the Kingdom returns, and mutual theosis is undertaken, and you die together when you’re old and grey, family and mutual friends by your side, and all that working-to-achieve fairy tale endings stuff.

Other times, it is not so happy an ending; breakups and derailed courtships that seemingly end out of left field, and you end up alone on your mountaintop fastness situated against the deep of the sky once more. Perhaps it’s fallen apart out of left field, like a thunderbolt from heaven. Perhaps it was something mutual, like incompatible careers; she loves the oceans, and you are a man of the desert.

Sometimes, your trust is smashed, too, and you wonder if you’ll ever be able to completely trust someone again, even if that intention was not meant. (You will.) It probably wasn’t your fault, but you find yourself wondering if that’s true.  (It wasn’t.) And you have no clue how it happened, when things seemed to be going so well such a short time before.

The fact is, some ends are harder than others, and more painful. And sometimes, you never understand why things end the way they do. So it goes. Things were not meant to be. And while it’s okay to mourn for a time, it’s also important to remember, as St. John Chrysostom said, “Glory to God for all things.”

Forgive, but don’t forget. “As God Forgives, I forgive also,” as we say to each other during Forgiveness Sunday every year at the start of Lent. You’ve been hurt. Eventually the scabs will fall away. There is a whole life out there. Grasp it. You have friends who will stand by you. Let them do so. To brood constantly breeds sorrow, which breeds bitterness, and while the walls of bitterness may seem a sweet cocoon to you, they are rarely so sweet to others.

Do not forget the lessons you learned during the failed experience. Patterns you observed in your attempt at romance, things you noticed. Apply the lessons to the next time. Don’t make the same mistakes, or do the same things, because the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly, and expecting different results.

Stand outside, and let the last light of the sun warm your face, and let the majesty of the stars in heavens wash you clean. Let it go. Mourn, but only for a time. Go to confession, and be washed clean with hyssop, and be made whiter than snow. Something better will come. And chances are, it will not be what you expect. Maybe it won’t be the love of your life. But then, maybe with that awesome better thing that’s coming, you won’t even need a relationship, either.

In time, perhaps, if it was an amicable ending, you two can talk again without fear of opening old wounds, but that is for the distant future. For now, go in Peace in the name of the Lord, away from one another. Let the future take care of itself.  The future is a whole other country.

(The opening is one of my favorite quotes from Kurt Vonnegut’s sci-fi classic, The Sirens of Titan; poigniant and especially beautiful, because we are all being used by God, if nothing else. )

On Beginnings

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Nothing in this world was more difficult than love.

As far as I’m aware, there is no prayer in the Orthodox church for two people who are beginning a relationship, or dabbling in the idea of doing so. (if there is, please link me!) Yes, there’s prayers for single people, for married persons, for people who are in relationships, but not for beginnings.

I feel like this should be remidied. Why? Because the beginning stages of a relationship, as Byzantine (hur hur) as they might be, sets the groundwork for the future of that relationship. If you begin your relationship with full disclosure, openness, and with God present, it will help it move forwards. After all, if you’re thinking that this person could be the one you marry, you’ll be working together towards mutual theosis–and there’s no reason that can’t start before the wedding. Pray together. Pray apart.

Beginnings can feel terribly… well, terrifying. You’ve been alone, at least comfortably, working on all your insecurities, working on being a good, self-sufficent person. Just when you’re happy and more-or-less content being single, WHAM. Out of nowhere you meet someone. (Or alternately, you’ve been looking for a while, and Wham, you find them. Whatever!) Suddenly, your insecurties and wounds from the past can start acting up, mo matter the amount of work you put into fixing them. They start whispering at you, that this person can’t be as fantastic as you think. That if you run, you’ll be safe.

That little insidious voice is not good to listen to. Your insecurities might lead you to run. Don’t. Unless there are clear and explicit red flags, (like, “has a history of axe murder”) don’t run. You could destroy something beautiful. If your insecurities are driving you mad, confess. Get advice from your priest. It may seem counterintuitive to confess things which may not seem on the ground level to be sins, but if this person is as wonderful as the butterflies rampaging in your stomach seem to suggest, then you owe it to them. Your insecurities could lead you to sin; to hurting someone needlessly, or judging them wrongly. It’s also going to be a good thing to talk to the person you’re…pre-dating/courting/dating about your insecurities, and have a heart-to-heart about it. Knowing what each other is dealing with will be incredibly helpful.

You need to work out how this is going to work together. The fact is, that your companion is probably just as nervous, frightened, and overthinking things just as much as you. Talk about it. Talk to your spiritual father. Have her talk to hers. Talk to each other’s together, even. Pray together. Pray apart. For this, I reccomend prayers to the Theotokos and St. Xenia. (Yes, she’s mostly responsible for people finding spouses, but I see no reason why she can’t pull her weight in making sure people become spouses, too. 😛 And why the Theotokos? Well, why not?)

The point is: yes, beginnings are scary. You’re moving out of your comfort zone, again. You’re potentially going to be with someone you’ll be with for a very long time. Of course you’re scared. But there’s no reason to let that fear rule over you. It’s a time of discovery, too, and exploration. And Discovery and exploration can be scary, too, but are more often filled with wonder and majesty, or at least, good things.

For now, because I am a nerd, I’ve been intermingling my prayers to St. Xenia and the Theotokos with the Litany against Fear, from the Dune novels, asking the two of them to ally my fears, and to grant me wisdom and guidance. So far, it’s been working.

“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing….only I will remain”

Just remember; you might be too old for fairy tales now, but that doesn’t mean that one day you’ll be old enough for fairy tales again.

Linkspam Post

Linkspam!

50 conversations to have before you get married:
http://houseofdoig.blogspot.com/2014/03/50-conversations-to-have-before-you-get.html?m=1
(These are all good things to talk about)

Dating is a privilege:
http://www.bedlammag.com/dating-is-a-privilege/
Yes, it is. And if someone doesn’t respect you, or who you are, you should probably not be with them, either. Mutual respect is key in any dating relationship. And this is why also, the 32 minute coffee date rule to determine marriagability is stupid, you can’t understand ANYBODY in 32 minutes.

Orthodox Prayer to find a Spouse:
http://www.saintgregoryoutreach.org/2010/01/prayer-to-find-spouse.html
Here you go.

Problems with the Courtship system:
http://www.thomasumstattd.com/2014/08/courtship-fundamentally-flawed/
Dating is hard, but Courtship is stupid and flawed.

Guest Post: Budgeting 101

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If you want creativity, take a zero off your budget. If you want sustainability, take off two zeros.

–Jaime Lerner

First of all, I want to thank my friend Lisa Kurz for filling in today, as she, (as she rightly points out) is a nerd about this sort of thing, and is therefore much better qualified to explain this than myself. Second of all, budgeting is IMPORTANT. I learned this the hard way. Knowing that she’s amazing at this, I went to her for help…and so far, so good. So, without further ado, I shall let her speak on the subject:

A few months back I helped Cody set up his first budget ever. I nerd out a little over budgeting and think they are quite fun. Cody asked me to write down some of this budgeting process to share here, so here it goes.

Why do I need a budget?

First of all, budgets are important because the money we have is a gift we’ve been given. If you’re a Christian, you have probably heard that we are “stewards” of the money God has given us. Basically this means we should use what we have wisely. God isn’t about to entrust us with more if we are mismanaging what we already have. So there it is. Budgets are important. They help us to manage our money.

Where have I been spending my money?

If it’s your first time making a budget, you’re going to want some scrap paper. Make a list of the categories where you spend money (housing, utilities, food, clothes, car, loans, ect.). Next make your best guess as to how much money you usually spend in each of these categories in a one month time frame. If you don’t have a good guess and use a debit card often, you can check on your bank statement and make some quick calculations to this end. Find the total amount that you think you spend every month. It may be helpful to separate this out into NEEDS and WANTS at this point too- especially if you often find yourself in the red at the end of the month.

How much money should I spend?

The next step is to ask yourself how much money you have coming into the house in a one month period. Count everything (you and your spouse in the same pool after marriage, of course), even tip money. If you are self employed look at a low average month to give you a good idea. The goal of the budget is to live below your means, so if you have extra at the end of the month that is okay (we’ll get to some ideas for that in a bit). Look at your two totals. If what you have been spending is higher than what you make in a month, you are living outside of your means.

Why should I tithe?

Giving the “first fruits” of your earnings to God is as old as humanity. It’s older than Christianity, and Judaism, it dates back, biblically speaking, to the beginning of time. Before you even make your budget, take 10% (Move your decimal one place to the left. Eg. $4000 of income has a $400 tithe) and tithe it to your local church. If you don’t have a church home, give it to a mission or other program that you trust to use it wisely. Since the idea of giving back to God is pre-law (before he gave Moses the laws for the Jews) I believe that this is a non-negotiable as far as properly handling money; I believe it applies to all of creation. (ED: It does. We were created as stewards of creation. You’re Orthodox, you should know this.)

How do I actually make a budget?

Here’s the nitty gritty of budget making. List all of your expenses in order from most important to least important. I’ll give you a hint, most important includes things that you NEED:
1- Food/Groceries (not eating out)
2- Shelter (rent or mortgage, insurance)
3- Utilities (gas, electric, sewer, trash)
4- Transportation (car payment, gas, maintenance, insurance)
5- Clothing (more applicable if you have minions as they tend to wear out and outgrow their clothing)

After all of your NEEDS bills are listed, calculate the total and see if you have money left. Do you need to look into making meal plan and planning your grocery spending better? Can you switch to a new service provider for trash or electric to get a lower price? Is your car payment killing you- perhaps you should get an older car that is paid off? Answering these and similar questions that may come up are getting you started on slimming your budget.

Next comes bills that you should pay and want to pay, but life would not cease without paying them. For example:
1- Internet/Cable (I actually suggest nixing cable but that’s a different story)
2- Cell phone bill
3- Credit card payments
4- Student loan payments

Plan in your budget to pay these types of bills after your monthly NEEDS are met. The collectors will try to convince you that paying Sallie Mae or Visa are NEEDS, but these things do not trump caring for your physical needs first. If you don’t have enough money to cover these types of bills think about making cuts and call to see if you can get onto a different payment plan. Plan on paying off all of your debts as soon as possible. You can become a giver and help more people if you are putting less of your money into debts and payments.

The last (ish) thing you will want to put into your budget is things that cost money that you WANT. The end goal is to make your INCOME and your “OUTFLOW” equal. If you did this subtraction problem it would come out to zero: Income-Outflow=$0.00. Things that you want may include:
1-Dining out once a week
2- Short term savings (sinking funds*)
3- Long term savings/Retirement investments
4- New clothes/shoes ect.
5- Vacation money
6- Gift money

You may have noticed that even though your budget will balance to zero, you are not actually spending every time you make. With this last area of the budget, you will be putting some money aside for future purchases. It’s also a good idea on your first budget to set aside $50-$100 for a “slush fund” in case you have any miscalculations. I mentioned about a sinking fund. This is when you are saving up for a bigger purchase. For example I might need to replace some furniture in my house; I will designate $50 a month to a sinking fund called “furniture”. After 4 months I will have $200 set aside for furniture. Then I may go and get a $150 office chair. I will use up some of my sinking fund and it “sinks” down to a balance of $50. The next month I can continue adding to this fund to replace the next piece of furniture on my list. Sinking funds are also helpful for quarterly or biannual bills. Divide the total bill by the number of months until the next one comes; this amount is what you should put into a sinking fund each month until the bill arrives. Then you use the sinking fund to pay the bill.

So there you have it; your first budget. The last important thing to know is: you should make a NEW budget every single month. Expenses change, gas prices go up, school field trips or business trips eat some of your cash- all of these things that happen “sometimes” can be anticipated by making a new budget that is individualized for every month. I need a lot of gift money in May and December, but not as much in other months. This is taken care of by making a different budget for each month. I can allocate my money differently based on the season and the needs of the moment.

(Ed: this goes without saying, but if you’re dating, you need to budget for it.)

And there you have it, fellow Orthogents!