sin of passion

"But this had been a sin of passion, not of principle, nor even purpose" -- Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter


Presence of Thought

I started doing yoga about four years ago, mainly because I wanted to get in shape and regain the flexibility that I once had when I was a dancer. While I have been quite successful at learning to contort my body into seemingly impossible pretzel-like poses, there is still one pose that I struggle with consistently -- the final resting meditation.

If you have ever tried meditation, you know the drill, get into a comfortable position, close your eyes, breath deeply, and clear your mind. Simple enough, right?

Well, maybe the sitting still and breathing part, but if you are at all like me, turning off your thoughts is a near impossible task. As soon as my body is still, my mind makes up for my body's lack of movement by racing through thoughts a mile a minute. This rapid succession of thoughts is amplified as soon as I actively TRY to think about nothing. The more I try to stop my mind from thinking, the more my mind thinks. I'm sure you can relate to this. It's like when someone tells you to NOT think about a purple elephant and the first thing that pops into your head is an image of a purple elephant.

Beyond meditation practice, staying present is a constant struggle for me in my everyday life. Like most people, I am addicted to thought. I over-analyze, over-think and obsess constantly about everything, from work and relationships to past regrets and future plans. I attach to these objects of thought and allow them to consume my awareness, leaving no room for my mind to be present in the moment.

When I am conscious of a particular thought and attach to the object of the thought, I become distracted from the present moment. As long as I attach myself to the thoughts that pass through my mind, I can never be fully present in the moment. Presence is not something that is achieved through conscious manipulation of thought.

Alan Watts makes a great analogy to illustrate the conscious effort of being present:
“The more we try to catch hold of the present moment the more elusive it becomes. It is like trying to clutch water in ones hands. The harder we grip, the more it slips through our fingers." -- Alan Watts

The key to being present is not to cease thought entirely, but, instead, to be aware of the mind's process of thought but detached from the objects of thought. Our mind must contain our thought objects like a vessel contains water, allowing them to flow freely. We must become an observer of our active mind, watching as each object passes by, aware of there presence but holding on to none.

So, the next time you meditate, pay close attention to your wandering mind and the trails of thoughts that pass by. Be aware of these thoughts, but do not allow yourself to become attached to them. Notice as they arise and then let them float on by. Through this awareness and detachment, you open yourself up to the moment.


Baked Potato Salad

I went to the Dallas Farmers Market on Monday on a quest for blueberries. My friend had picked some up over the weekend and brought them over on Sunday afternoon to snack on while we lounged poolside. They were AMAZING...sweet and juicy and full of flavor, nothing like the conventional ones you buy at the supermarket. The next morning, I decided I had to have some of my own.

I had never been to the farmers market on a weekday (mainly since until recently I spent my weekdays chained to my desk) and apparently no one else does either, including the farmers. Needless to say, the pickins were slim and there were no blueberries, but I did not, however, leave empty handed. I picked up a basket of locally grown new potatoes and green onions on my way out and headed home to fix myself some lunch. On the way home, I started thinking about what I could make with potatoes that wasn't too heavy. I've been on a salad kick, ever since the ridiculous heat of Texas summer arrived, so I decided that potato salad would be my lunch.

My primary experience with potato salad is the pre-made yellow stuff my mother used to buy at Sam's, of which I was never a fan. One thing I have always been a fan of, though, is baked potatoes, loaded with bacon bits, sour cream, cheddar and chives, the ultimate comfort food. Being that it was 110 degrees outside, a steaming hot baked potato was the last thing I wanted to eat, so I came up with a salad version, served cold and perfect for the summer. It's incredibly easy to make and tastes delicious, especially after its sat in the fridge a day or two.

Baked Potato Salad

2 lbs new potatoes, quartered
1/2 cup canola mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3 green onions, chopped
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
chives (for garnish)

Bring a pot of water to boil. Add the potatoes and cook until tender. Drain the water and allow potatoes to cool to room temperature. (You can prep the potatoes ahead of time and store them in the fridge)

In a mixing bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, onions, cheese, bacon and spices. Add the potatoes and stir to coat.

Serve chilled, topped with grated cheese and chives (optional).


What's in a name?

"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon

I never intended to start a blog and never write on it. Sometimes, no matter how sincere the intent, life just gets in the way, and before you know it, it’s been close to a year and the blog still consist of one lonely entry.

And then sometimes, you get laid off and need something to occupy the time between collecting unemployment checks and searching for jobs in a recessed economy. (Okay, maybe that’s just me..)

Needless to say, here I am, again, eight months later with the same intent, to actually write on this blog on a regular basis. With all of the free time I have as of late, it seems silly for me to NOT write here regularly, so I am making the commitment now. I’m putting it out there, so now I have to be held accountable.

So, with that said, let’s get back to the title of this blog…what’s in a name?…specifically, what is the significance of the name of this blog, Insignificant Preambles. The title comes from a line from Dazed and Confused, a film by one of my favorite directors and fellow Texan, Richard Linklater.

“I'd like to quit thinking of the present, like right now, as some minor insignificant preamble to something else.” – Cynthia

Most of us move through each moment of our lives without ever really being present. Life moves past us, moment by moment, as we remain focused on some moment in the future vastly more important than the one we are living in now. The present moment then becomes a mere prelude to what is to come, our destination. Be it money, power, career success, the destination that we are headed becomes out singular line of focus and all else becomes blurred as we race to the finish line.

The unfortunate truth in this way of life is that the destination is never as satisfactory as it is anticipated to be, so once it is reached, it is replaced by another, more distant goal and the cycle repeats itself. There is always some target in sight and the rest of life is aligned with reaching the end. What these people fail to see, is that life is not about getting to some ultimate end. No, life is a journey and must be lived in each moment. Becoming present in the current moment and living within it is what, in the end, leads to contentment.

Soon, one realizes that what they thought were minor insignificant preambles to their life story are, in fact, not minor at all, but profoundly important. It also becomes apparent that these fleeting moments are not mere introductions to our life story; they are the story, the bricks that build who we are.

One of my favorite philosophers of the twentieth century, Alan Watts, illustrates this perfectly in his comparison of life to music…

“No one imagines that a symphony is supposed to improve in quality as it goes along, or that the whole object of playing it is to reach the finale. The point of music is discovered in every moment of playing and listening to it. It is the same, I feel, with the greater part of our lives, and if we are unduly absorbed in improving them we may forget altogether to live them.”

Thus, the birth of this blog…a place for me to post about the random, seemingly unimportant matters of my life that I feel like sharing. Do with it as you will…if you enjoy it, I hope that it brings inspiration and entertainment into your life, if not, move on and find something that you are more passionate about. Remember life is about the journey and not the destination. Life is happening all around you. Take a break from the race to stroll through the forest. Exist in the moment, for this moment is all that exists


in the beginning there was beer

I figured what better way to start my first blog than with one of my most favorite things in the world....beer. This past Saturday, my friend Jana and I kegged and bottled our very first homebrew with the guidance of our very own Brewmaster, Mark. We made a clone of Westvleteren 12, a Belgian strong ale that has been rated "Best Beer in the World" by RateBeer.com. For our first stint in beer brewing, we were being more than a little ambitious.

Brewing beer proved to be a fairly simple process. Well, simple in technique, but definitely a test in patience. You see, the process of brewing beer is one that involves a lot of sitting and waiting. We initially brewed this batch in June and all that has happened over the last two months, aside from a transfer of the beer from one tank to another, is sitting and waiting. While we waited, the yeast was busy converting the sugar to alcohol. Did I mention that this beer is over 10% alcohol? So, needless to say, the yeast had a mighty tough job ahead of them. After about 2 weeks, we transferred the beer into a new tank in order to remove some of the yeast waste so that new strands could form and continue fermenting the beer.

The beer at the end of the primary fermentation cycle.

Brewmaster Mark transfers the beer into a new carboy with our mascot Dagny there for moral support.

The beer is now ready for 6 more weeks of fermentation.

Fast forward six weeks and it is time for the final step before the beer is ready for consumption, transferring the brew into the keg and bottles. First, we pulled out a sample to get a gravity reading so we could determine the alcohol content of the finished product. It's just shy of 10%....not quite as much as the original, but still a hefty beer. Mark then showed us how to transfer the beer into the keg.

Testing the beer's gravity to determine alcohol content.

The beer is ready to be transferred into the keg and bottles.

Brewmaster Mark transfers the beer into the keg.

Dagny keeps an eye on the beer at all times.

Under normal circumstances, the beer would now be finished and ready to drink, but we wanted to fill some bottles to give to friends and family. The most tedious part of bottling beer is sterilizing the bottles. They must be sterilized thoroughly so that there is no bacteria that could effect the flavor of the final product. Lucky for us, Mark's new place has a dishwasher with a "Sterilize" setting that made this step a cinch. While the bottles were being prepped, we prepared the priming sugar by disolving it in hot water. Since we forgot to get the appropriate sugar from the beer store, we used regular table sugar, which the man from the store ensured us would work fine. Priming sugar is added to the beer for the remaining yeast to feed on after bottling. In addition to alcohol, carbon dioxide is the other bi-product created by the yeast eating the sugars in the beer. This is how the bottle beer gets it's carbonation. We mixed the sugar into the beer and siphoned off 12 bottles from the keg.

Our first bottle.

Me with our first case of beer.

The end?

Well, not quite...we did make sure to take a sample for ourselves to taste for quality assurance. This would be a true test of our success.I was nervous about the result, given we were being quite overambitious in choosing the best beer in the world as our first. But the second the sweetly bitter liquid hit my mouth, all doubt subsided. Even though the sample was warm and flat, it hit well above the mark of my expectations. I would go as far to say that, to even the most experienced beer drinker, this beer is DAMN good! Mission accomplished...success is ours!

Now it's time to plan batch #2. Stay tuned for our next adventure in brewing!

- cas