08 June 2016

First Month of Having a Son Kicks Off a Few Other Firsts

Podcasting with Skywalking Through Neverland
The arrival of our first son this spring - after producing three daughters - kicked off a month with a few other firsts for me.  Each of these things would have been special unto themselves, but I found it fascinating that they all occurred within than first month of having a fourth child, our only son.

The first of these firsts occurred the day after my son was born - when a piece I had written weeks before was published on Mayim Bialik's website, Grok Nation. While my post was about raising daughters as a father who is really into Star Wars, the irony was that it was published one day after having a son!  In addition to having a piece of my writing get to a place with great visibility and a lot of readers (which is really flattering, especially after having considered myself an insufficient writer for most of my life), it was also my first time getting paid to write a blog post!

The next of these was also Star Wars related: appearing on a Star Wars podcast!  While I have sought establish my bona fides as a Star Wars fan by blogging, it was great to be able to share my thoughts on Star Wars in a different medium.  Moreover, the podcast, Skywalking Through Neverland, apparently has a lot of listeners, so it was wonderful to have such an audience.  Having met the couple who host the podcast in the winter, it was great to discover that they, too, reside in Long Beach. When the blu-ray for The Force Awakens came out, they kindly invited me over one evening to watch the deleted scenes and featurettes, while commenting on them.  Our comments would then be split up on two separate episodes of their podcast.  Since then, I have returned on a couple of occasions to speak about books for their podcast.

The final first was beer judging! Yes, that means drinking various beers and not paying for them. Moreover, we even got paid a little money for our time!  If only this occurred more frequently….  The competition for which I judged beer was the LA Beer International Beer Competition.  The set up was that judges received sheets of paper with rubrics for scoring, providing comments, and  noting off-flavors, while working with a partner in a dyad.  We got some interesting beers, definitely not typical-tasting beers, but yummy, nevertheless.  What was surprising to me was that I was able to detect some off-flavors, which my tasting partner did not, such as vinegariness in stouts and vegetalness in IPAs (or DIPAs or TIPAs), since I was clearly the younger and lesser-experienced person. In any event, it was really great to be able to take part in the experience, not only for the beers, but also connecting with different people there and for the simple honor of being invited to take part in it.  Ass a post-script, people subsequently asked me which beers I enjoyed the most: inasmuch as I wanted to tell people, we were only given numbers for the beers - not the names nor the breweries of the beers, since it was really anonymous.  Nevertheless, looking at the top three winners in our category, I will say two things: 1) they were really good and 2) I now know which are the three winners (and I will definitely buy those beers).

I really hope that there continue to be new firsts in my life, as I enjoy these exciting new developments.  I will say that there have been some more, especially with beer-writing, about which I hope to share soon :)

13 April 2016

New Child - What's Next?

With each child we have had, my life has changed.  With the addition of a fourth child in our lives, what is next for me?

The birth of our first child was the biggest life-changing experience of my life.  Having to not only take care of a living human being, but also to have responsibility for it was an awe-inspiring new facet to my life.  Moreover, this responsibility will stick with me for the rest of my life. It was a huge change to not only our lifestyle, but also on our outlook on life.

The addition of a second child brought about more responsibilities to life and was also a shock to our system.  Inasmuch as I had thought we had parenting down with one child, having a second child is a big surprise! Nevertheless, we managed and had the parenting of two children thing down.  A little over a half-year after our second daughter had been in our life, I discovered an interest in cocktails - both making them and consuming them.  I don't think this interest in cocktails was unrelated to my being a parent to a second child. I don't mean that it drove  me to drink; rather, it was a way to gain a hobby and express some of my individuality.

This need to express some individuality was not willy-nilly out of thin air. With more children, not only is one's time consumed, but so, too, is one's energy, as well as one's identity.  I think that this new interest of mine was borne out of a need to develop a separate interest area for my identity and adulthood. Eventually, the cocktails led into spirits (as they are the building blocks of cocktails (as well as liqueurs)), and then, eventually, into beers.

When our third child was born, one thing I did to further the aforementioned trend was to being brewing my own beer.  This was a really neat way to better understand beer and to do something that helped me to further get into an interest of mine, apart from being a father. However, I also realized that while my identities as a husband, father, and rabbi were important, I knew something was missing. There was an important identity piece that needed to be developed.

Part of this identity piece that was missing was that I knew that I enjoyed sharing my ideas, knowledge, and more, but was not doing it fully enough. While I had been blogging on this blog of mine for over eight years, I knew I needed to begin writing more publicly and to embrace my identity as not only a blogger, but as someone who writes in the public sphere. I wanted my ideas, knowledge, and insights to get out there. To that end, I began by creating Drew's Views, which then led me to transition to Matters of Interest for my public writing.

Now that we have a fourth child, it is not that I specifically intend to introduce a new change into my life, whether that be hobby, interest, outlook, or something altogether different, yet I am also fully aware that a new child for me has brought new perspectives for me into my own life. How my identity continues to be articulated or how I will change is something about which I am both excited and nervous as to how it will fit into my already busy life.  We shall see….

31 March 2016

Our Fourth Child: A Boy!

Two weeks ago, my wife and I welcomed the newest addition to our family. Our fourth child was born on March 17th at 1:02pm and, after having three girls, we now have a boy! And, with boys, we celebrated his brit milah a week ago, on Purim, where we also shared his name. His English name is Eli James and his Hebrew name is אליהו יעקב. We named him Eli after my grandmother's grandfather and James after numerous Jacks in my wife's family tree. Since my parents-in-law have eleven granddaughters, we decided we would include my wife's maiden name into our son's, thus Eli James Scheier Kaplan. We are excited about this new addition to our family and hope the best for him!

10 February 2016

Several Hours in Ensenada: My First Time in Mexico

There was a lot of activity on Avenida Adolfo López Mateos
This past summer, my wife and I visited Mexico for our very first time. While on a brief cruise, we got out and explored Ensenada for several hours. While we knew that this was a touristy area, we figured we would enjoy it, nevertheless. We also knew not to expect any kosher food, which is why we stayed on our cruise ship for the morning, so we could eat, before heading out into town to drink. While we heard that it is normally sunny there in Ensenada, it was either raining or simply gray, although not cold, while we were there. While sometimes the rain was light and we could withstand it, we often would have to go inside to avoid the rain.

Enjoying margaritas at La Taberna de Ensenada
We first headed to where most of the shops were, on Avenida Adolfo López Mateos. While walking along this street, the first such place we went to avoid the rain was La Taberna de Ensenada, where we had been enticed to enter, not only on account of trying to avoid the rain, but also because of a good 2-for deal on margaritas. While inside, we also enjoyed the lovely ambiance of this bar.

Tasting in a liquor store
We continued along, eventually being coaxed into a liquor store to try some liquors. In this liquor store, Tequila Room, we were treated to a free little tasting of a reposado tequila, which was decent; then a crema de tequila, of which I had never heard before, but enjoyed its smoothness and sweetness; then a mango liqueur, which was really quite sweet, but enjoyable. There was also another tasting going on in this liquor store, and it seemed to have a different variety of options for tasting.

We then headed out and continued on our way, with many people out on the streets trying to coax tourists to come in and enjoy their various drinks specials. Our group of four - another couple as well as my wife and I - were about to go into one such bar, although it was dark, had meager drinks options and really loud music. Fortunately, I got us out of there - it would not have been pleasant. However, we then went to Papas & Beer, which had very enjoyable music. I had a piña colada, which was decent, although nothing special. We soon realized, while at Papas & Beer that it was a very lively happening party place with some raunchiness, which became quite interesting. So, we then left there and went a couple of doors down for a bar experience that was very different.
Enjoying beers at Hussong's

We then entered into Hussong's Cantina, which had a more down-to-earth atmosphere and definitely something less crazy than Papas & Beer. We found Hussong's Cantina to be a decent bar and we enjoyed their mariachi band, which was taking song requests. Since I didn't realize it was the birthplace of the margarita (and would've ordered one, had I known), I had a Tecate, which I found to be a solid lager.

Bohemia beers
We then continued on down the street, coming upon another bar, where one of our group and I split Bohemia beers. I found the Bohemia (4.7% ABV) to be pleasant and kind of reminded me a little bit of apple juice, whereas the Bohemia Obscura (4.9% ABV) was both calmer of a beer, as well as darker.

We continued along and I was convinced to come into a bar for a $1 shot of tequila. At Phosphorus, I had a shot of Julieza reposado tequila for that $1, which was a nice, smooth tequila. I was then curious to have another reposado tequila, ordering Don Julio reposado tequila. This was pricier, coming in at $5, but it was a smooth, yet very flavorful and spicy tequila.

As we continued along, we returned again to La Taberna de Ensenada to get out of the rain and enjoy another margarita. Before returning to the ship, we stopped at a liquor store into which we had visited earlier. While there, I bought my first-ever bottle of mezcal (reposado). We then did our best to not get too wet from the rain on the way back to the cruise ship.

It was a good several hours in even just that one main strip of shops there in Ensenada. It’s clear that there is a lot more to do there - and that’s just on that one street(!). And, yes, it’s plainly obvious that it’s catering primarily to the tourists, especially those who arrive for a few hours while on a cruise. Yet, it has a certain charm, nonetheless. I would certainly find it fascinating to go again, especially when it’s not raining and to more fully explore the area.

01 February 2016

Struggling Between One Main Out-facing Blog and Multiple Spin-Offs

When I began blogging in a more public fashion over two years ago, my intention was to write on a bunch of different topics, causing all sorts of traffic to come my way. While the traffic has been pretty hit-or-miss, with visitors typically checking out some posts, perhaps, but it's not a dedicated site on just one topic.

The set-up of having all of my public-facing content began to change when, having recognized that I liked reading start wars blogs that focused exclusively on Star Wars, I decided that my weekly Star Wars posts needed a home of their own, a separate Star Wars blog for me. I've been noticing recently that my Star Wars blog is getting twice as much traffic than Matters of Interest, causing me to consider spinning off one, if not two further separate blogs for key interests of mine about which I write.

One is to spin off a separate Talmud blog and the other is to spin off a beer blog or, perhaps, more broadly, a beer, whiskey, and more blog. This way, when people come looking for posts on either of these topics, whether Talmud or beer, can see that that topic is a focus of mine and recognize that the website is a place they can return to check out further content on the topic, rather than the current situation of finding a strange mix of topics on Matters of Interest.

One struggle is thinking of the adage that, in order to succeed, seek to focus on one project and run with that rather than working on multiple things. I am not doubting the wisdom or truth of this statement, however, I haven't totally settled with it yet.

The biggest problem with starting up one or two further blogs is a huge one: TIME. If I spin off one or two blogs, then how would I continue to further divide my time and energy on blogging? As it is, I don't seem to have a surplus of time. Also, if I take away my Talmud content from Matters of Interest, then that would be further content I would be missing and seeking to fill on Matters of Interest. If there was money coming my way, I would consider it. Without that, though, I think I am going to keep my beer and Talmud content on Matters of Interest for now.

05 July 2015

Posts of Quotes and Excerpts on This Blog Posted Prior to Splitting Off Separate Excerpts Website

While I post quotes that I find interesting to my Excerpted website (which I created last year, but I have been doing since 2011), I realized I had never pulled together the various posts of mine that featured quotes or excerpts.  While I am tempted to, at some point, include the quotes and excerpts from within the following posts and put them onto Excerpted, nevertheless, they are listed below in reverse chronological order:

While these are primarily the posts of quotes and excerpts, it should be noted that there are numerous posts that feature quotes from Hebrew texts, although perhaps that might warrant an entirely separate post.  Also, most of these quotes/excerpts occurred after the first couple years of this blog, picking up in the following years, which helped serve as a catalyst for me to consider spinning off a separate blog dedicated to quotes of interest.  One thing about which I was leery was just putting quotes on this blog and not other substantive matters.  Ultimately, I decided to create that separate blog.

28 June 2015

Becoming a Tea Drinker?

Holding a cup of Earl Grey tea at World Tea Expo 2015

Before going to last month's World Tea Expo, I had maybe consumed a handful of teas in my life, certainly no more than a dozen. And I didn't particularly care for them.
However, while at the World Tea Expo, I had teas, then more teas, and even still more teas. And, lo and behold, I began to like them!
Yes, I had been a coffee drinker, although teas are of a different character.  While coffee seems to confront its drinker with a fuller and more aggressive mouth experience, tea seems to me to more subtle.  Yes, I still drink coffee and am not planning on giving it up.  However, I have begun not only to like tea, but also drink it instead of coffee at times.  
It is not only the subtler taste that appeals to me at times, but also the way that I have experienced the caffeine's effects.  Yes, there are teas with less caffeine, but for those with caffeine - such as two of my current favorites, Earl Grey and Darjeeling (first or second flush) - I have enjoyed the way that they help me focus more cerebrally than does the caffeine with coffee.
This one-two punch of a more subtle taste as well as a more enjoyable effect of caffeine has caused me to become someone who now likes to drink tea.

21 June 2015

Becoming a Beverage Blogger?


While covering the World Tea Expo last month, I frequently encountered the common question of "What do you write about?"  For those of us with press passes at the World Tea Expo, the badges listed our publication, and while many people there with press passes were there covering the event for tea blogs or other publications, mine simply stated "Matters of Interest Blog" listed on my press pass.  

After trying to say that I write about local events in Long Beach, such as the World Tea Expo, I have covered other events such as the Long Beach Comic Con, US Coffee Championships, and more. I also began to realize that I do a fair amount of writing about beer and whiskey, that I've written about wine, and that I had written about coffee at the US Coffee Championships. With that realization, in addition to covering local events, I said, "I write about beverages."  Perhaps, in other words, I could say that I am a beverage blogger, right?
It worked.  Rather than trying to describe all the various topics about which I write at Matters of Interest, answering their question with "I'm a beverage blogger", they nodded and seemed to be content with that answer.

It is an interesting proposition to categorize myself with such a description, though.  It is not as if I set out to become a beverage blogger or even write a lot about beverages.  However, I realized that, due to kashrut, most foods and restaurants are off-limits for my experiencing (although I do write about kosher-certified restaurants), whereas many beverages are not. Yes, most wines aren't certified kosher, so they're out, as are many liqueurs that have wine in them (and, by extension, cocktails), but coffee, tea, and many beverages with alcohol are okay. So, I've written about them.

Of course, assessing those things which I have consumed gustatorily are not the only matters that I consider at Matters of Interest, but I am realizing that they are not an insignificant segment of my material.  So, perhaps I need to consider that beverage blogging is something that I do and part of my [writing] identity.

14 June 2015

How I Began Drinking Coffee Four Years Ago


While I am now a fairly regular drinker of coffee, this was certainly not always the case.  In fact, I only began drinking coffee four years ago.  I never drank coffee in high school, I never drank coffee in college, and I never drank coffee in rabbinical school.  However, all it takes is the right circumstances.

When I moved out to Southern California a little over five and a half years ago, I found myself frequently meeting people in coffee shops, so I felt obligated to drink something.  Initially that something was hot chocolate, which was seasonally appropriate, since it was the winter.  However, when the winter warmed up, I wanted to drink something different, so I went with ice blended drinks (okay, it was primarily at stores of Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, which have very tasty iced blended drinks, which are sweet).  Somehow, I eventually moved on to drinking lattes, which were the closest I came to actually drinking coffee.
Outside of coffee shops, I would normally get my fix of caffeine through either Diet Coke (or similar drinks) or energy drinks, which had a generous amount of caffeine.  However, when I was out of my element four summers ago, I turned over a new leaf in my caffeine consumption.
While staffing BBYO's International Leadership Training conference four summers ago at B'nai B'rith Perlman Camp, I did not have access to my typical caffeine sources - no lattes, no Diet Coke (okay, some, but how much Diet Coke was I going to consume?), and no energy drinks - what was I to do? After nearly a week, I knew I needed to do something, so having seen a pot of coffee in the staff lounge, I figured I would try some.  With some Splenda added, it wasn't terrible.  I then began consuming coffee regularly both there, in the staff lounge, as well as in the dining hall (which was not as good as that of the staff lounge, but it wasn't bad).
Upon my return to Southern California, I tried drinking lattes again, but found them to be too heavy for me to drink, whereas coffees were not.  In addition to finding coffees lighter and easier to drink than lattes, I also enjoyed that they were minimally caloric, versus the hundreds of calories that came with lattes (or iced blendeds).  Thus began my drinking of coffee regularly - thanks to being outside of my normal circumstances.

07 June 2015

6th Press Pass: World Tea Expo 2015

At World Tea Expo 2015 on my 6th press pass
With the World Tea Expo taking place in Long Beach last month, I figured it would be a great opportunity to learn about teas. Yes, that's right: learn about teas.  As someone who has had very little tea in one's life, I was nevertheless curious to experience and learn about tea.  Fortunately, I was able to secure a press pass to attend the World Tea Expo, which made it my sixth press pass, having received three in 2014 and my third press pass of 2015 (as well as my third press pass not at a comic convention, along with the LA Travel and Adventure Show and US Coffee Championships).

Teas available for tasting by Teas, etc on the first morning
The first morning, I was only able to be there for a couple of hours, so I was able to start off tasting some teas by a few vendors, which was great to be able to experience how different styles of teas tasted and broaden my palate, as well as to understand how they taste.  I had arrived early that morning to try attending a session given, however, I was told that I would have to seek permission from anybody giving sessions if I could attend, since I was press.  That seemed a bit strange, so I just avoided sessions altogether.  Another instruction was to not take pictures unless I had received permission first.  Apparently, this proscription against picture-taking was primarily on account of fear of vendors having their products being widely being seen before they were ready to go to market.  So, I made sure my picture-taking was done with caution and with permission.
Tasting some Waterfall Teas on the second morning

On the second day, I tasted some more teas by the same vendors with their offerings out, which once again provided a nice buzz to carry me throughout the day.  This was great to get some more tasting in and to expand my knowledge of teas.

I then stayed long enough to also catch a bloggers panel!  Yes, my people - fellow bloggers!  I knew I had to attend (yes, there was a bloggers panel the first day, but I was, sadly, unable to attend). (Yes, I realize I'm blogging about my blogging about a bloggers panel.)
Bloggers Panel at World Tea Expo

I thought having a bloggers panel was a brilliant idea and I'm glad such a space was carved out for tea bloggers at the World Tea Expo.  Of course, it's great for various tea bloggers to catch up and to connect with each other, but it's also great for people who are not into blogging to gain an insight into this demographic. I thought it was good, although it would have been nice if there was more time allotted for them to deal with more questions.  But it was interesting for me as a blogger to see how this particular topic of bloggers considered their subject.
Also, I appreciated that one of the panelists considered it a "wonderful write-up".  Also, there were some folks, including panelists, who thanked me on Twitter for the write-up (see here and here (and also here), which makes me so glad that I was able to positively contribute to such an event and to its attendees through my blogging.

International Tea Importers teas on the expo floor
On the final day of the event, I was not able to try the various teas available out in the walkway as I had the first two days, but that was no matter, as I was able to taste many teas [finally] on the main exhibition floor of the expo. While I didn't taste all of the teas available for tasting on the exhibition floor, I was still fortunate to be able to taste many of them.  (Also, I should mention that there were some cool products available for viewing, including Alpha Dominche's Steampunk MOD..)

Tasting tea and Scotch was a blast!
A definite highlight of that day, however, was undeniably attending a tea-and-Scotch-tasting!  This was really cool!  Although you can read more at the link I shared, basically,  there were three Scotches and three teas that were paired with each other and we got to experience how their pairings enhanced each other and contrasted them with each other.  It was eye-opening - I would never have thought to put these two beverages together! Update: that post got mentioned in a post by World Tea News.

I am grateful to have received this press pass and to have learned a lot about teas!