Friday, March 16, 2012

Without a Net

I knew that the day would come. For the past seven months I have been on sabbatical from teaching. I have taught in alternative high schools for a decade, servicing an 'at risk' student population. It is challenging work and I love it. Once you have earned the trust and respect of my students, they are fiercely loyal and very loving in their own way. Teaching is a secure profession for the most part, job stability, good pay, quality benefits, and a comfortable schedule.

I took my leave from all of these things to explore the possibilities of becoming a professional brewer. My teaching job is 135 miles away from my house, while the brewery is half a mile away. Brewing is a real opportunity for me to be more a part of the day to day routine of my family. It was my hope to be able to be brewing for the majority of my sabbatical, but it did not work out that way. Anyone who has been part of a brewery startup will tell you that delays in the process come with the territory. Then with my March first deadline looming, I had to officially make my decision. Was I going to roll the dice on a career in brewing, or return to the safety of my teaching job?

As I was writing the letter to my Superintendent informing him of my decision, an array of emotions washed over me. I am a bit of a safety cat by nature, so to see the words I was typing on the screen was admittedly a bit frightening.

"I regret to inform you that I will not be returning to teach for Kelloggsville Public Schools at the end of my sabbatical"

I felt that I was truly stepping off of a ledge.

I don't know about you, but for good or for bad, my career identifies so much about me. I remember when the first school I taught at abruptly closed it's doors leaving me jobless. I felt empty, nameless. 'Teacher' was and is a big part of what I am. In part, it was that title that forced my hand, demanding that I grow up. It is a profession that has given me some of my loftiest highs and some enveloping lows.

There is a small part of me that fears I have made the wrong decision for my family. Time will tell. I hope to be able to look back at all of this and be able to honestly say that I was fortunate enough to have two careers I loved.

Drink good beer with good people.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Great Belgian Beer Run: Day Three - In Bruge

Jet lag got the best of us.

After sleeping for only a handful of hours the night before, my travel partners and I expected another short night of sleep. Due to that assumption, no alarm was set. We woke up at 10:30 am. We had hoped be have been on the road for hours by this time, but we continued to embace our mantra of just rolling with the punches. We cleaned up fast and took off on foot for the Diegem train stop. Despite the short duration of our stay in Belgium, things were beginning to feel more familiar. Our goal for this, our last full day in Europe would be to take in Bruge.

Our free-wheeling (read foolish) travel plans were to go to Bruge, find beer, and drink it. It had worked for the previous two days, so why would it stop now? The train ride out continued to hold charm for me as we sped away from Brussels. The particular train car we were in was more comfortable than others that we had been on, so I took advantage of the time to settle down and to work on previous blogs in this series. About the time we arrived in Bruge and got off the train was when I realized how poorly I had scouted the city, both for beer and food. Mercifully, my phone was recieving enough of a signal to help navigte us on foot into the historic portion of our destination.

We had always planned for our trip to just be about beer, but Bruge caught us off guard. It was georgous. All of the places we had been in Belgium had a wonderful distinct visual flavor, but Bruge is on another level. The city center is wreathed by various waterways. Many ease through the city center itself, creating picturesque scences wherever you look. The canals encouraged a romantic Old World feel that made me promise to try and bring my wonderful wife out there with me for another among many trips I hope to take back. This is an area that demands that you take your camera out. Despite our intent to remain beer-centric, the beauty of the city turned us into tourists.

With our patented travel approach that has come to be known as "walking around", we managed to find the city's historic center. In all honesty, we set off to see things that we had only seen in the movie In Bruge. I know what you are thinking, and yes we are super savy travelers. The city center was swarming with tourists just like us, picture taking, posing, and being buffeted by heavy warm winds blowing in from the coast. We took our share of pictures and marveled at the archetecture. Lou saw that a nearby museum had a Salvidor Dali exihibit that he wanted to check out, so we did. All I knew about him prior to viewing the hundreds of pieces they had on display was the painting with the floppy clock, what can I say, I am well rounded.

We caught some lunch at one of the little restaurants that line the heart of the city. The beer list looked descent, and there were a lot of french speakers inside eating mussels. This was my cue to follow suit. I like trying to eat local specialties where ever I happen to travel to. In Belgium, one of those items are mussels. I would rate lobster, crab, and shrimp all above mussels when it comes to personal preference, but when in Rome. The food was excellent, and the beers were fine. There was a local 'gueuze' that they served, which was tasty enough, but it did not have authentic flavors. The body was too full and you could tell that it had been back sweetened, robbing it of what should be it's textbook dryness and refreshing snap of acidity.

The rest of the afternoon was filled with picture taking, and nabbing some presents for friends and family back home. As we were walking about town, we were confronted by a jovial man that was dressed as a castoff from a Renaissance Festival here in the USA. He wanted the three of us to take one of those propped and staged tourist photos. I believe that at one point that he called the three of us "Zed-Zed Top" due to the beards we had. Despite his flattery, we moved on.

As the sun approached the horizon and hunger began to stir once agian, we decided to head back to Brussels for dinner and beers. Despite the fact that Day Three of The Great Belgian Beer Run had more of a sightseeing spin, I was glad for it. It gave us another opportunity to take in a culture that is not our own, and provided what ended up to be one of the more invigorating days that we spent abroad.

Drink good beer with good people!

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