Lately I’ve been considering if I want my life to have a new chapter, and if so what it will be. For a long time my goals have been prescribed. In school I fell into a rhythm and got through classes one day at a time with the intention of graduating. I was a student longer than necessary and went to graduate school which included an internship. The internship had a time restriction so again I found a pattern and counted down the days until termination of the contract. My current job does not have a time limit, and it’s felt strange not having an end date on the horizon. Part of the reason I went to grad school again was to have something else to put on the calendar. Most students in my current university complete the Master’s program in 2-3 years and I’ll probably stick around as long as possible just so I can keep marking off days of as many semesters as I can.
This could be the pattern for the majority, or even the rest, of my life. I could take a year or two off to focus on my day job, then register for grad school and struggle with balancing the two just to celebrate when I complete the degree requirements. After all, as much as I enjoy chemistry I’m far from the brightest student in the university. With my academic history it’s doubtful that I’ll find a position in a high-end laboratory and do the kind of research I read about in magazines like Science or Nature. The more likely outcome is finding a position as a lab technician just like I had one summer after completing my undergraduate degree. I wouldn’t complain if that were to happen. Completing basic operating procedures in a lab isn’t a bad way to pass the time, even if it is repetitive and gets boring. I also wouldn’t have any reason to complain if I kept my current job and re-enrolled in school occasionally. I know some people older than myself who stayed in school their entire lives and seem happy.
There is another option, and it’s one that I never would have considered if my books weren’t published. I could find a way to make a living using the creative part of my brain, rather than the analytical one. There are independent bookstores in town which cater to local authors. I have come to rely on them for distribution of my book and one time, on a whim, I asked the owner about the process of purchasing and operating the space. I’ve never thought of myself as a business owner, but if I had my own place where I could prioritize helping other writers make their work public, it would be one more future that I wouldn’t complain about.
I’ve looked up independent bookstore owners online and talked to other people around my neighborhood. The common piece of advice I’ve heard is that just selling books isn’t ideal. Most places hold events like live readings from authors and charge admission. The common secondary source of income is to designate a section of the store to selling arts and crafts or setting up a café. Most places don’t seem to have anything fancy; just a display of charms, or maybe an espresso machine coupled with a rack of scones.
I have plenty of things that aren’t anything fancy. I’ve maintained my hobby of weaving superhero logos to serve as wall hangings or coasters. I’ve brought them to comic conventions to sell along with my books and last year I almost sold out, so there is at least a small audience for them. I’ve also been an amateur baker for years. I make sourdough bread every week and I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Lately I’ve expanded into practicing small pastries like muffins, doughnuts, cinnamon rolls, and scones. The recipes are simple: a few cups of flour, some sugar, an occasional egg. This week I focused on muffins and doughnuts and despite the simplicity, they took a long time to prepare. That should improve with practice. Kneading bread used to be tiring and take a long time, but now I can do it even when I’m half asleep.
In all honesty, opening a bookstore is not probable. Even if the weavings and pastries sell, I’ve heard it’s difficult for young businesses to stay afloat. It’s especially troubling now since I have a deeper appreciation for how quickly a global crisis can derail any hope of turning a profit. But I’m going to keep practicing and preparing. I’ve started looking at storefronts for lease both in and out of Albuquerque and have found a few locations where I can imagine myself setting up a shop. The main library in town has monthly sales which I’ve been taking advantage of to increase my used book collection. I’ve been weaving every night to find out how many wall hangings or coasters I can complete in a month. I’m also going to keep practicing baking and my goal is to have a sample menu prepared by the end of the year. While I don’t know if I ever will pull the trigger on this dream, it will take a few years before I’m even prepared to attempt it, and it feels good to have another countdown. There was a time when I’d wake up every morning and think to myself: “in X more years I’ll be done with school,” or “my internship will be completed.” Now I’ve set an arbitrary date to quit my current job and open my own store. I don’t know what I’ll do after that. Perhaps by that time I’ll be ready to stop counting down and start settling down. Only time will tell.
I realized I never posted how the homegrown beer turned out. I’ve been enjoying it for a few weeks, although “enjoying” is a bit of a strong word. It took some getting used to. I mentioned before that there were signs of problems during fermentation. The airlock was not showing any activity at all and during transfer it smelled like vinegar. Since the yeast seemed to be progressing slowly, I figured it would need to be in the bottles longer for carbonation to build up. After the bottles were capped, I moved them to the room where they would be least likely to get in the way throughout the day, which just happened to be the same room I’m using to overwinter my pepper plants. That was a mistake. I don’t want the plants to get too cold, so that’s the only room that’s being heated. The warmth seemed to have provided a suitable environment for the yeast, and the bottles probably only needed to sit for one week. Instead, let them sit for more than two weeks. This was partly because of the low fermenter activity and partly because it was finals week, and I was too busy worrying about exams to check on them or move them to the refrigerator.
I realized the mistake immediately when I opened the first bottle. It was a flip cap and opening it over the sink did nothing to prevent the mess. As soon as I pressed the wires the cap was knocked out of the way and a stream of suds hit the ceiling. I tried to force the cap back into position, but the pressure was too strong. Trying to wrestle the cap onto the lip only caused the beer to be emitted in a ring instead of a geyser. It was exciting, but by the time it was done there was only about three fingers of beer left in the bottle. On account of the time I put into making it, you better believe I savored every remaining drop.
Thankfully, only one bottle was a flip cap. The rest were aluminum crown caps so opening the rest was more controlled. I still lost some volume on each one. I had to continue opening them in the sink, and I did it by prying the cap off gently and letting the gas and foam be directed downward. It took a few minutes for each bottle to equilibrate and when it was finally ready to be opened fully there wasn’t much head to the product since most of the pressure was released during the opening. Despite this issue, for a first attempt at using homegrown ingredients for brewing, I’m satisfied with the results. I thought I smelled vinegar before, but it doesn’t taste sour at all. It’s a light beer and corn is the dominant flavor. I’ve heard beer described as liquid bread. Well, this tastes like liquid corn bread. In quality it doesn’t come close to anything that can be purchased in a store, but the most common style in my neighborhood is IPAs and this is refreshing after all the bitter brands. In conclusion, this was worth the effort, and I intend to try it again this year.
As a side note, I also tried making wine for the first time and found greater success. This was also brewed using homegrown grapes, but they from my neighbor’s plants instead of mine. I didn’t exactly have their permission to use them. We have a brick wall between us instead of a fence, the grape vines cascaded over the bricks so technically they were in my yard, and if I didn’t eat them the birds would have so I like to think I scored one for the humans. Anyway, I don’t have any experience making wine, so I decided to use a process similar to the Bug method that I use when making ginger beer. I put a portion of the grapes in water, crushed them, added sugar, and let that concoction sit for a few days. When it started bubbling, I put the rest of the grapes in a pot of water, crushed them, heated them into a sort of hot grape juice, and strained it. When the juice reached room temperature I added the bubbly starter and transferred it all into a 64 fluid ounce growler fitted with an airlock. Unlike the beer, that airlock showed activity within 24 hours. Once the bubbling stopped I replaced the airlock with a screw cap and let the growler sit for approximately 3 months. Some of that time was spent in the closet and some in the refrigerator. I don’t think the grapes had a high sugar content, so the final product didn’t have a high alcohol percentage and lacked the sting of the wines I usually buy. But the color is rich, and it tastes dry but pleasant. It’s a great dinner wine and it’s also something I want to try again. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep swiping grapes from my neighbors so this might motivate me to grow my own grapevine.