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Marriage Equality is a larger part of U.S. history than the confederacy


I was looking at various news sites and suddenly struck with the fact that as of this week, Marriage Equality, also known as Same-Sex Marriage had been the law of the land for 75 months, which was 50% longer than the total existence of the Confederate States of America, so all of those bigots who keep waving the Confederate flag are promoting something that has existed as at most two-thirds of the existence of Same-sex Marriage…

So…

We needed a new meme, and I made one.

PLEASE… please, please: retweet, reblog whatever!

I am so f-ing tired of all of the confederacy/white supremacist/pro-trump/related racist posts. Can we please start a counter narrative???

Happy Freedom Day!

A bi guy and a gay guy – it’s cartoony versions of my husband and me!
New York, USA – June 24, 2012: Men dance while riding a float in the New York City Gay Pride Parade 2012. Thousands came out in support.

If Good Days Start With Coffee, Then Bad Days…

I mentioned in an earlier post that one of the presents my husband got me for Christmas was a replacement coffee maker, since the heating plate on the one I have been using for years was rusting out. I have only been using the coffee maker for about a month, so I was a little surprised after making the a new pot of coffee on Monday that the clean light was flashing on the maker. Which means that as soon as I finished drinking the coffee, I needed to clean everything out, load up the reservoir with a blend of vinegar and water and run a clean cycle.

Since that took a while late in the afternoon, I didn’t make a second pot of coffee.

My usual routine is to make a fresh pot of coffee on Monday morning, then after I drink the first pot, I make a second pot in the afternoon. I only drink about half of the second pot. Then usually on Tuesday morning I heat up the leftover from the previous day in the microwave until I finish it off, then I make a second pot which is usually consumed that day.

So I’ve used to having some coffee I can drink first thing on at least two days a week so I don’t have to try to make a new pot without already having some caffeine in my brain. I got through the rest of Monday by drinking a couple of cans of a brand of Cold Brew I sometimes mix with the homebrewed coffee to make a kind of mocha.

Even though I knew what had happened Monday afternoon, I was a bit shocked when I came into the kitchen Tuesday morning that the carafe was completely empty. I put some coffee beans in the grinder, then went back to my desk to boot up the work computer. There were several urgent messages awaiting me, so I started working on various things.

During a break between urgent calls from various co-worker, I headed into the kitchen to get some coffee. Except there wasn’t coffee. There were just fresh ground beans waiting to be put into the filter basket. I hadn’t remembered to come back and do the next part of the process. So I put the gounds into a filter.

And because there were a lot of alert sounds coming from the work phone, I headed back to the computer to deal with the follow up questions. By the time there was a break, I was developing a caffeine-deprivation headache. So I headed into the kitchen again…

…I had put the grounds into a fresh filter and put the filter into the coffeemaker, but I hadn’t put any water in the reservoir, let along turned the coffee maker on.

I didn’t get the coffeemaker actually going until about noon.

So it wasn’t exactly the best day.

Maybe Wednesday will go better…

I guess I’ll find out!

Adventures in Memories of the Poorly Educated

While discussing with my husband the middle bit of my review of episode four of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier I was reminded of this truly bizarre argument I was involved in during college. The setting: a freshman level World History class at a Community College in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. in 1980. Several students in the class were adamant that the instructor (and those of us who sided with him) were absolutely incorrect to say that the Spanish Civil War was not a portion of the U.S. Civil War that spilled over into Mexico. And why in the world would we think that it happened in Europe?

Sadly, it was not the dumbest thing I ever heard a college or university student argue over the course of my academic career…

There is only coffee time and cocktail time…

Quarantine: there is no longer AM and PM. There is only "coffee time" and "wine time."Last week I wrote about the fact that I had only just that Monday finished off the last of the many bags of Christmas/Holiday Blend coffee beans I bought in November and December. Later that week there was another transition related to coffee in my house. To explain, I have to take you back to September of 2014, just over six years ago, when the coffee maker I’d been using for some years died. We went out and bought a new one. One of the things I really liked about the new one was that it used carbon water filters between the water reservoir and the carafe which were the same filters that the previous two machines we’d owned had used. A lot of coffee machines by many different manufacturers have settled on that filter, so it wasn’t super difficult to find one.

I’ve been using that one ever since. Sometime last spring, during the couple of months that my husband was furloughed from his job and we were both home full time, he pointed out that the hot plate that the carafe rests on was getting rusty. I took a look and saw a little bit of rust, and noted that the black enamel that coated the plate was flaking off, but otherwise figured it was a minor problem.

My usual routine is to rinse out the carafe and the filter basket every day before I make new coffee, and to run the carafe, filter basket, and the gold filter through the dishwasher about once a week. I don’t usually clean the hot plate because, well, the coffee that I drink never touches it directly, and I’m lazy.

Some months after Michael had pointed out the rust, while the carafe and other bits were in the dishwasher, I decided to do a thorough cleaning of the rest of the coffee maker. The hat plate, once scrubbed, looked a lot worse. Essentially, every time I pull the carafe out or put it back in place, a little bit of coffee spills out and lands of the hot plate. Trapped between the hot plate and the carafe, the coffee boils away and burns and coats the hot plate with a layer of black burnt coffee. There was way more burnt coffee than enamel left on the warming plate, and a whole lot more rust than I had realized (because most of it was hidden beneath the burnt coffee).

The hot plate has a heating element attached to the underside, which means an electrical current runs through it. Depending on how bad the rusting gets, this might eventually pose an electrical hazard. Still, looking at it, I figured we were a long way away from in being a problem. Which was not really a wise thought, I know. But nothing continued to go wrong and slowly the issue faded away into the back of my mind.

Then, on Christmas Eve, while we were online with a bunch of friends, wishing each other Happy Holidays and occasionally opening presents, my husband carried over from behind our tree a large box that had been sitting there for some weeks with a tag identifying it as a present from him to me, and told me I had to open it in front of our friends.

Inside the box was not just a coffeemaker, but the exact same model as we currently owned… even though the manufacturer had stopped making it about a year ago. Several places on line still had unopened boxes, so he’d ordered it. I wound up telling the story above to our friends. And since it was Christmas Eve, I didn’t want to drop everything to go take the old maker down and open the new one.

The problem is… I left the new one in its box through Christmas, New Year’s… and Valentine’s Day… and it was still sitting in its unopened box last Monday when I made a pot of coffee using the very last of the Christmas Blend coffee beans. After posting that blog post, I realized what I needed to do next. So, that evening, I unplugged the old coffee maker, disassembled various bits, and set the water filters (I didn’t mention that this unit uses two: one for the coffee reservoir, and the other for the separate hot tea maker) in water to soak overnight.

The next day I made the first pot of post-holiday coffee with the new coffee maker. And everything works find. The coffee is good. It is, after all, identical to the old one just brand new. Let’s hope it’s another six years at least before I need to replace it.

It was anti-climatic. But then, I should have just unboxed the coffee maker a couple months ago, right?

While normally I would chalk it up to procrastination, I’m going to also throw a little bit of blame at the quarantine and how time has become a fog the longer I’m working from home, never going outside without a mask, limiting my shopping trips generally to once a week, and so on.

Speaking of, I didn’t think of commemorating my own quarantine anniversary until about a week afterward. So, this week is the 57th week of working from home, for me.

That’s right, just a little more than a month before our governor issued the first Stay Home, Stay Healthy order, I developed a severe cough overnight. So on the morning of February 19, 2020, I sent my boss an email saying I would be working from home until the cough went away. It was exactly one month after the first COVID-19 case had been identified in our state, in a man who lived only a few miles from our place. The cough (along with body aches) persisted for a bit more than two weeks. I never developed a fever, and never experienced the shortness of breath and deep lung pains that two friends who were later confirmed to have come down with COVID in the following month.

During the course of those two weeks, the corporate overlords at work had issues a series of all-employees emails, first announcing we were canceling our company’s participation in a big international tech conference we usually exhibited at (the conference itself was canceled eventually); then saying that any employee who needed to work from home could start doing so without going through the usual approval process; then encouraging people to work from home if they could, especially if they are anyone in their household was exhibiting symptoms.

It wasn’t long after that before the corporate line shifted to not just encouraging, but putting everyone, including those who could not work from home (people maintaining our data centers, for instance( on a schedule where only half of the employees can be in the office at a time.

And yeah, I’m making cocktails for myself more often than I used to. Because there is a lot of anxiety in my life. Even though I was very introverted, not being able to spend time face to face with friends has been stressful. I come from a long line of professional worriers, so I’m always fretting about people I know getting sick.

It’s a feeling that virtually everyone is sharing. And it isn’t fun.

But, it’s better than the alternatives.

Socially acceptable chemical dependence in the morning

“I just love the smell of socially acceptable chemical dependence in the morning.”

“I just love the smell of socially acceptable chemical dependence in the morning.”

Today I am drinking coffee made from the very last beans out of the last bag of the many types of Holiday Blend/Christmas Blend I purchased during this last holiday season. I opened the first bag of holiday blend coffee a day or two before Thanksgiving, and I have been working my way through them—without making coffee from any of the bags of non-holiday blend beans in my pantry—ever sense. I am not certain, but I think this year might be the latest I have gone into the year still trying to use up those Jingle Janglin’ Java Beans. I know I usually make it into at least mid-February.

One thing that is different this year is that I have adopted the habit of placing the coffee carafe and all other machine-washable bits of the coffee maker into the dishwasher on Sunday. Then make a couple of pots of tea for my caffeine intake that day. Also, Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) fell close to the last day of Thanksgiving that it can, so I had one less week than I do most years to get through the bulk of the holiday blend coffee. Therefore, I shouldn’t be surprised that it took several extra weeks to use up the holiday coffee this year.

But that isn’t my only coffee problem.

I have so, so many bags of non-holiday coffee beans. Partway through the holiday season I finally realized that there were at least three times as many bags of the non-holiday blends hiding on the shelf behind the holiday blends than I thought. And it really confused me for a moment. Then I realized what happened.

My favorite coffee, bar none, is Wings of the Morning Kona Coffee from Ka `Io Farms. Which is usually carried by Central Market (and which I originally discovered at Ballard Market back when we lived only four blocks away from that store). But the availability is kind of seasonal. It seems every year (but not at the same time of year), the bags of Wings of the Morning vanish from the store shelf for about three or four months. And the last time I found some on the shelf was in either late August or early September.

It’s a more expensive coffee than most of those I drink, so I save it as kind of a special treat. I have also often stretched the Wings of the Morning supply by mixing the beans with Lowry’s Dark Hawaiian Blend, which still tastes really good, but makes me feel less guilty about the cost per cup of the coffee.

Anyway, the reason I have so much extra coffee in the pantry is that every time I went to Central Market hoping to find Wings of the Morning, but found that spot empty, I would buy one or two bags of some of the other coffees they sell there. Of the stores I regularly shop at, Central Market has the widest selection of coffees from different roasting companies. And once in that some period Ballinger Thriftway had the Lowry’s coffees on sale really discounted, so I bought two bags that week.

Which all adds up to a whole lot of coffee beans in my pantry.

When I noticed, mid-December, just how much more coffee there was in the pantry than I thought, I added a new item to the Shopping List on my phone: “DO NOT BUY COFFEE.” So, unless, by chance, Wings of the Morning suddenly appears in the store in the next few months, I’m not going to be buying any new coffee. Because it will clearly take that long to make a significant dent in the coffee in the pantry.

And before anyone suggests that I used that as an excuse to drink extra: I drink, on average, one and a half pots of coffee per day all by myself. I really don’t think I need to increase my intake.

Otherwise, I might vibrate myself into another dimension.

Statistics are seldom simple — or, a queer survivor unpacks survival, visibility, and feeling safe to be out

America's self-identification as LGBTQ+ by genereation. Source: Gallup 2020.

America’s self-identification as LGBTQ+ by genereation. Source: Gallup 2020. (click to embiggen)

Last week I posted this story in the Friday Five: 5.6% of American adults say they are LGBTQ. Over half identify as bisexual – The number of LGBTQ Americans coming out and claiming their identity just keeps growing. Digging beyond the headline, a lot of people focused on the generational chart (pictured above): Millennials (folks born between 1981 and 1996) are about four-and-a-half times more likely to identify as queer than Boomers (folks born between 1946-1964), while Gen-Z (folks born after 1996) are nearly eight times more likely than Boomers to identify as something other than heterosexual.

The story was published early in the week and I kept seeing various hot takes on the results. I was a little surprised at just how many people were willing to leap to the conclusion that younger people are only saying that they are queer to be cool.

“The lack of boomer LGBTQ+ people isn't because it's 'more popular now.' Many were murdered by they peers, died from government inaction during the AIDS crisis, committed suicide due to lack of social supports, or have had to live in the closet due to their peers' cruelty.”

(click to embiggen)

This ignores several facts that would disproportionately reduce the number of queer people in those less-young generations responding to this survey. Not the least of which is that many of them are literally not alive to respond. Twitter user @mike_i_guess sums up much of what I’d like to say on the matter, though I would use the term “contemporaries” rather than peers:

“The lack of boomer LGBTQ+ people isn’t because it’s ‘more popular now.’ Many were murdered by they peers, died from government inaction during the AIDS crisis, committed suicide due to lack of social supports, or have had to live in the closet due to their peers’ cruelty.”
—@mike_i_guess

I want to unpack that a bit. We don’t really have statistics on hate crimes before the passage of the federal Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990, and even then crimes against trans people (or those perceived to be trans) weren’t counted until the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2010 was signed into law. But queer people have been subject to bashings and murder for decades. The longer one lives, the more opportunities there are to fall victim to such crime.

It’s been known for a long time that queer people, particularly queer children and teens, are far more likely to attempt suicide than their straight contemporaries, and the statistical analysis is that the disparity is entirely due to the stress of homophobic abuse and related issues. Preliminary studies show a slight decrease in those numbers for teens and children since about 2012, as growing acceptance of queer adults in society has given more of them hope of a happy future.

Then there are health care issues. Numerous studies show that queer people are more likely to experience interruptions in health care coverage, are less likely to be forthcoming with their health care providers, and less likely to receive the same quality of health care as their straight contemporaries. It’s a complicated result of both systemic and direct homophobia. Lots of people operate under the mistaken notions that bigotry only exists in a small number of people who actively hate others because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, et cetera, but it’s a lot more subtle than that.

For instance, let’s talk about the bit about interruptions in health care coverage. For years in the U.S. one’s health insurance (if you have it) is provided by your employer. Most people don’t get to choose their coverage, they have to take what’s offered by their employer. Which means if you get laid off or otherwise lose your job, your health coverage goes away. Queer people are disproportionately likely to be let go when a Reduction In Force hits a workplace. They are also less likely to get promotions and more likely to earn less than their straight co-workers who received similar job performance reviews and have similar experience. This is not because most managers are actively homophobic. It is a combination of a lot of unconscious processes.

For example, if a queer person doesn’t feel safe being out in the workplace, they will police themselves constantly to make sure they don’t let telling details of their personal life slip. While straight co-workers will be sharing stories about things they did with the children over the weekend, or a project they worked on with their spouse, or even issues with an ex-spouse or in-laws they don’t get along with, the closeted co-worker remains mum. The closeted working can’t talk about their partner freely or in detail. So they limit themselves to very vague generalities are just politely comment on the other person’s remarks. This is perceived as being unfriendly. Not sharing personal details after another person shares some of theirs is considered anti-social. So the closeted queer employee is perceived as being less of a team player, aloof, and so forth. This has a deleterious effect on every aspect of employment, including as mentioned above an increased likelihood of being one of the people let go if there are lay-offs.

Even more dangerous is the tendency of some health care professionals not to take as seriously symptoms reported by a queer person. I have a very personal example of this. In the very early 1990s I had a series of weird health events. It took over a year for my doctor and two specialists to figure out what the underlying problem was. Before that diagnosis, I had a number of incidents that required me going to an emergency room.

One time, I had been unable to keep any food down. Soon I was running a fever and it reach the point that even trying to sip plain wanter sent me running to the bathroom and left me curled up with horrible pain in my stomach after I threw up the water. Eventually, Ray (my now late-husband) convinced me to let him take me to the hospital.

We had one bit of good luck. As we were checking in, a nurse who just happened to be coming to the front to give the admin person some information related to another patient, noticed how bad I looked. She asked a couple of questions, then pinched my forearm, before telling the admin person, “He’s extremely dehydrated and need to be put on an IV right away.”

I was whisked off, put on an IV, had my vitals taken. Not long after another nurse came in and drew a bunch of blood, asked questions, and finished filling out the admission form. Some time later the initial nurse dropped by to say her shift was ending, but before she left she wanted to see for herself if the fluids they were pumping into me were helping. My fever was down, I felt a lot better, and apparently I looked a lot better.

Then we just waited. I don’t know how long I laid there. Ray got very impatient and went to ask when someone was going to check on us. I think I was on my third unit of fluid at that point. A doctor showed up, asked a bunch of questions, checked a few things, and told us they were still waiting for a couple of the blood tests to come in. Some time after that the doctor reappeared, alone with a nurse who changed out the fluid bag again. The doctor explained that the blood tests were inconclusive, but he suspected I had a rare form of ulcer that his caused by a particular kind of infection of the stomach lining, so he was prescribing some pills that would help with that. He said that as soon as I was rehydrated enough that I had to go to the bathroom, I’d been discharged. I should keep taking the pills for the rest of the weekend (it was a Saturday night), and see my regular doctor on Monday.

I fell asleep on the drive home. And pretty much slept through all of Sunday. I was able to keep broth, plain water, and tea down, so I thought the pills were helping.

The next morning, I left a message with my boss saying I was sick and hoping to see my doctor that day. I had just hung up and was going to look up my doctor’s phone number when the doctor’s office called us. They’d gotten the information from the hospital and my regular doctor was not happy. They wanted me to come right away, bring all of the paperwork the hospital had given me, “And if you haven’t taken any of those pills today, don’t take any more!”

My doctor wasn’t just unhappy, he was royally pissed. The pills I had been given had nothing to do with ulcers or infections of any kind. They were tranquilizers. Among the notes from the ER doctor was the phrase, “Gay male patient claims he doesn’t have AIDS.” His diagnosis was that I was probably just overreacting to “unremarkable symptoms.”

My doctor wanted to know why I had gone to that hospital instead of one that was much closer to my home (where he happened to be a resident, and would have been called as soon as I was admitted, instead of him finding it out when they pulled faxes off the machine Monday morning). I explained that my employer had recently changed our insurance plan and there was exactly one ER in the city that was considered in network. He explained that the particular hospital I had gone to had a number of doctors like this one guy who 1) assumed every gay male patient was infected with the virus that causes AIDS, and 2) there isn’t anything you can do for AIDS patients, anyway, so don’t waste a lot of time on them.

The blood tests that came back before they admitted me clearly indicated that in addition to the fever and other symptoms I did have some kind of serious infection. But the medicine prescribed wouldn’t treat any infections. Tests results that had come back after they let me go gave my doctor a good guess as to what kind of infection I did have, and he prescribed something that actually would work against. Then my doctor walked me through the process of filing a formal complaint. Which he was also doing.

The upshot was that I received a partial refund from the hospital of my out-of-pocket for the ER visit. My doctor pried a letter out of my insurance company saying that the hospital close to my house would be covered as in-network. But just to be sure, my doctor also got a letter from that hospital saying that if my insurance billed me as out-of-network they would cover the cost of the difference in out-of-pocket.

The initial incident happened in the city of Seattle, which most people think of as an extremely liberal city where virtually no one is homophobic. I was lucky that I had as my primary physician a guy who was ready to fight for his patients. Who know what would have happened if I hadn’t had him in my corner? And the doctor who sent me home with tranquilizers was simply appalled that anyone would think that he had allowed any sort of prejudice guide his decision to lie to me about his diagnosis and send me home with medicine that would just make sure I was too sleepy to do anything for a few days.

I bet to this day he would swear that he doesn’t have a homophobic bone in his body. Homophobia isn’t limited to people scream slurs while they beat you.

“...Though the AIDS epidemic began around 1979, data on deaths were unreliable until 1987.”

“…Though the AIDS epidemic began around 1979, data on deaths were unreliable until 1987.” (click to embiggen)

The takeaway: for many reasons queers are less likely to get consistent, quality health care. They are disproportionately less likely to experience good health care outcomes. Therefore, more likely to die younger than their straight contemporaries. And that doesn’t even include the hundreds of thousands of queer men in the U.S. who died starting in 1979 due to the AIDS epidemic (which is still ongoing, but the availability of multi-drug anti-viral cocktails beginning in the mid-1990s have met it is no long a death sentence, even though there is still no cure).

Then there is the phenomenon of people so deeply afraid of being outed that even on an anonymous survey they will not identify as anything other than straight. Any reasonably friendly out gay man who has ever logged into a hookup app, a gay chat site, or similar forum will have many stories of getting hit up on by men who are married to women (usually with kids), and desperately want to have sex with other men, but only if you can be discreet and guarantee that no one will ever know. If you can get them to talk about it, they will admit that they have wanted to have sex with other men since they were teens (or even earlier), but have always been afraid to be out, and they are convinced that their lives will end if their wife and family ever found out they were anything but 100 percent straight.

I remember one particularly heart-wrenching conversation with a guy who felt he was super lucky precisely because his first (and only) child was a son, so that his super conservative and religious parents and in-laws were all happy, and he was able to just stop having sex with his wife at all after the arrival of the first baby. And significantly, his wife was perfectly happy that he supposedly hadn’t been interested in sex at all for the next about 30 years (at the time I talked to him). He had been having lots and lots and lots of sex for all those years—it was just furtive, downlow sex with other men. And I have little doubt that if he happened to be surveyed by Gallup, that without hesitation he would describe himself as straight

Now while I have met a few younger men like him, the vast majority of these downlow closet cases I run into online now are middle aged or older.

It’s more accurate to conclude from Gallup’s generational information that younger people currently feel less fear to admit their orientation. We hope that, going forward, they will also experience fewer of the issues that have caused earlier generations of queers to die before their time.

In which I pedantically remind you that today is NOT President’s Day…

"When a person did his best, do not scold him for his failure" —George Washington

“When a person did his best, do not scold him for his failure” —George Washington

Originally published February 15, 2016:

I know I start to sound like Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory when I say this sort of thing, but the holiday we’re celebrating today is not named “Presidents’ Day,” it is “Washington’s Birthday Observance.” I’ve written before about how the myth that the holiday is President’s Day got started and why it is so persistent. I’ve also written about the reasons why there has never been a federal holiday dedicated to Lincoln.

But especially because of those racist reasons that have prevented a Federal holiday recognizing Lincoln, I think it’s important to remember that this holiday is not Presidents’ Day, unless you’re in one of the 10 states that have a state holiday this day which is called President’s Day (my state isn’t one of them). Five states still recognize a state holiday for Lincoln (Illinois, California, Connecticut, Missouri, and New York), though schools and state offices often remain open on that day.

And don’t get me started on the fact that because Washington’s Birthday Observance happens on the third Monday of February, George’s actual birthday, February 22, never lands on his Federal holiday. For shame!

Happy Day Before Discount Chocolate Day

We’re snowed it, which seems to have made us more busy rather than less. I have not finished my WandaVision review. I started to write a post about the impeachment BS, but I’m just not in the mood.

Our original plans had been to get takeout from one of the restaurants we haven’t been to in a while, but the snow and ice and being in a hilly part of town (and watching both yesterday and today cars struggling to get up the hill at either end of our block) has left us both feeling much safer staying it. Besides, the chest freezer is so full we can’t squeeze any more food into it, so it’s not like we don’t have anything to eat.

Today also happens to be the birthday of one of my favorite people, and we already had plans to watch a movie (virtually) together tonight with him and a bunch of mutual friends. Among the silly thing my hubby gave me today is a pink and lavender and other fun colors hanging bird bath that will be going out on the veranda (I have the perfect place to hang it, midway between were the birdseed feeder and the hummingbird feeder hang) once the snow and ice are gone. I have been scattering a lot of birdseed out on the veranda, with is all really visible on the snow, so there have been lots of birds hopping around out there. I haven’t seen but one fleeting glimpse of a hummingbird since the hold weather hit, but since I’m bringing in the hummingbird feeder each eventing at sundown so it doesnt freeze, I’ve been measuring the nectar. I usually put a quart of nectar in when I refill, and ordinarily it takes the local birds about a week and a half to drink that much. The first two cold days they drank about half a pint. Yesterday it was a bit more than a pint. So they are definitely visiting, just not when I happen to be looking out.

We got a little bit of rain mixed with snow today. The weather service is predicting rain and warming temps tomorrow. But last time I checked they are still saying a bit most snow late tonight transitioning to freezing rain in the wee small hours.

I need to go check the squirrel feeder and maybe scatter some more seeds for the birds…

A bit of rock (sugar), a lot of rye, some sliced citrus, and a bunch of spice

Throughout December I started several blog posts without finishing them. There were more distractions than usual this holiday season. I decided that even though several of the unfinished post are seasonal, I should finish and post a few. So, here’s one:

During the weeks we were shuttling car loads of stuff from the old place to the new, I poured the last bits of a couple of bottles of bourbon into jars with a sliced orange, lemon, a couple of vanilla beans, and various spices to infuse for a few weeks to make a batch of Rock n Rye. After filtering and decanting, I made this label when we set out the libations at the Christmas party.

During the weeks we were shuttling car loads of stuff from the old place to the new in 2017, I poured the last bits of a couple of bottles of bourbon into jars with a sliced orange, lemon, a couple of vanilla beans, and various spices to infuse for a few weeks to make a batch of Rock n Rye. After filtering and decanting, I made this label when we set out the libations at the Christmas party.

For a number of years I ran a Steampunk-based roleplaying game. We got together about once a month for an afternoon game. And people brought food to share, it that it was also a potluck. My husband would frequently look for period recipes that could be adapted into a good potluck dish. In the course of this research he happened upon the origin of the liqueur known as Rock and Rye. It was invented in the 1800s by a guy who was trying to figure out how to turn a large quantity of bad-tasting bourbon into a sellable product.

This requires a short digression about bourbon, particularly bourbon in the U.S. during the 19th Century. Farmers had long been in the habit of turning a certain amount of their annual grain production into alcohol. Besides being a product other people were willing to pay for, barrels of whiskey and similar spirits could be stored safely for much longer than grain could. Usually. But every now and then something would go wrong (the storage building might have gotten to hot for a period of time, or could have been flooded, et cetera) and many barrels of the alcohol that should have aged into something quite delicious would be ruined.

So, this guy had come into possession of a quantity of such bourbon, and he tried various things to make it palatable. The process he settled upon was to mix rock candy (sugar), sliced up citrus, and some spices (most notably star anise) into the bourbon, let it infuse of a month or so, then strain out the liquid. The result was a sweet-tasting booze that carried a deceptive kick (because the citrus oil, sugar, and spices masked a lot of the alcohol taste). He patented it and began selling it for its supposed medicinal purposes. Many decades later, during Prohibition, because Rock and Rye was still often sold in drugstores as a medication, it was one of the few products containing alcohol one could buy in many states.

The point was that there was a recipe for how to make batches of it at home, rather than go to a liquor store and see if they carried the manufactured stuff. Pick of the cheapest kind of rot gut whiskey you could find (it didn’t necessarily need to be bourbon or a rye whiskey), slice up an orange and/or a lemon, put it in mason jars with rock candy, star anise, and so forth. Keep it in a dry cool place. Check on it and shake it every now and then to make sure the sugar dissolves, and eventually strain it out into bottles.

Two of the labels from last year’s batches…

We tried it. And I was quite surprised at how good it was. I started experimenting some more. Any time I picked up a new bourbon or rye (assuming it wasn’t too expensive), if I decided I didn’t really like it for making cocktails, it would go on a back shelf until I was ready to make a batch of rock and rye. It’s difficult to find plain rock candy now a days—it almost always has artificial colors and flavors added—but I can usually find Lump Candy at the local asian market, which works just fine. You can also find big bags of star anise, as well as cinnamon sticks, at much cheaper prices than the regular grocery store.

What would usually prompt me to make a batch is if I noticed that I had an orange or a lemon or lime in the fruit bowl that was getting iffy. The skin was hardening and you just know in another couple of days it would start to mold. So I’d grab a couple of mason jars, whatever cheap bourbon was on the back shelf, a package of rock candy, and start assembling. For spices I tend to put three or four stars of anise in each jar, two or three sticks of cinnamon, and about five whole cloves. Sometimes if I have vanilla bean on hand I’ll slice one of those and throw in, as well.

And sometimes there would be other fruit. There was a bunch of dried apricots and dried cherries left over after my husband made solstice cake one year (and the leftovers had been sitting in the pantry for a few months at that time), so they went into a batch of Rock and Rye.

The last partial bottle that I still haven’t quite finished off.

For the last several years I’ve made two or three bottles (one batch is usually two mason jars, which once you strain out the solid bits, turns into one bottle of finished products) in time from our annual Christmas party. I give each batch a name, based on what it tasted like when I sipped it, and I make labels for the bottles. I’ve been picking up small plastic shot glasses that are in the shape of the red plastic cups you see frat boys drinking beer out of in movies—I can usually find them in both red and green at Christmas time. And I set out cocktail umbrellas along with the shot glasses, just for fun.

Because it isn’t the same base booze each time, and because the citrus isn’t always the same, the batches do wind up tasting very different from each other.

Last year I ended up making three batches, plus I had a lot of the 2017 favorite, “Farewell to Ballard” leftover. The three batches I made last year wound up being labeled “You’ll Get a KICK Out of Me,” “Feel the Lemon Flow Through You,” and “As Sure as There’s an X in Christmas!” Two of those are song lyrics, and one is a riff on a line from Star Wars.

Because we’ve been caught in this slow-moving apocalypse for eleven months, I didn’t make any new batches of Rock and Rye. If we couldn’t get together for a party, there would be no one to share them with. And for whatever reason, I still had a lot leftovers from last year, any way.

I typed whatever, but I know a big part of the reason. It isn’t a beverage that you drink a lot of at a time. One of my friends misunderstood the first view years we did it, and was shocked after he had been sipping at a shot for a while at how the alcohol was hit him. When I describe letting the booze infuse with the citrus and sugar, that gives some people the impression that it is juice with some booze in it. It is not diluted. It’s still a shot of bourbon, it just has flavor added. No significant amount of the juice of the citrus winds up in the liquid. You get the citrus oils, not the juice.

It’s the kind of thing that you drink in small quantities. And sipping shots of flavored bourbon by myself isn’t that appealing. But I’ve invented a couple of drinks using the Rock and Rye as a base. One is a toddy: put a shot or two of Rock and Rye in a mug, top off the mug with hot water, add a slice of lemon and a cinnamon stick. It’s really good on a cold winter night. The other is a Rock and Rye and Soda: but some ice in a double rocks glass, add a shot or two of Rock and Rye, top off the glass with seltzer water. The latter is a bit better for warm weather.

I realized that I still had those bottles left over the week that we hosted the virtual version of the party. I have been trying to use them up so I can clean out the bottles and think about possibly making a batch for next Christmas. Because maybe we can have a party this year?

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