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Getting back to my practice?

Haven't written or even visited LJ in quite a while. I was looking over old posts that I made just the other day, mostly back from 2010, and discovering that I really miss meditation practice and writing I was doing then. I may try to get back to it. That probably also means getting back to regular meditation. That's the hard part.
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Life lessons from Serenity

"Love. You can learn all the math in the 'verse... but you take a boat in the air that you don't love... she'll shake you off just as sure as the turn of the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she ought to fall down... tells you she's hurting before she keels. Makes her a home."

"Storms getting worse."

"We'll pass through it soon enough."

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Loving my family

I had an unexpectedly fantastic Thanksgiving this year. Sabrina is away visiting her family in Oklahoma, and I was scheduled to work, so Trent was going to go his mom's and I figured I'd just watch a movie and enjoy a diner turkey meal to go. But a week ago I got an email from a cousin who lives in NY state only about 40 minutes from my work, and then on Wednesday the boss said to leave early if nothing was going on and we had everything done for Friday. So I arranged for Trent to come with me and after a few hours at the office we headed up to visit with family and their friends. The visit was awesome, had some great conversation and met some very interesting people, but the best part was catching up with my cousin Maura. I've always clicked well with her, and so after everyone else left about 10:00, we found ourselves sipping the year old winter warmer I made last October and catching up till 1:00 am. I really love her and enjoyed this immensely, and am really happy we've reconnected over the past year. While she lives in uber yuppie-ville, she is a really wonderful, down to earth woman with a huge heart. I'm now even more excited for moving into our new home, so I can have a house warming and invite her and her family to join us. As old relationships in my life that no longer serve me keep trickling away, the new relationships and reconnected old ones that are filling that space seem to be really filling a space in my life I didn't even know needed filling. And again I note... life just keeps getting better.

"It turns me on to think of growing old." - John Denver: Poems, Prayers and Promises

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Daily Smoothie

A bunch of people recently have asked me for my morning smoothie recipe. This is essentially my breakfast every morning. It usually will tide me over for 3-4 hours if I use casein protein powder and 2-3 if I use whey protein powder. However, keep in mind I have an uber metabolism, and this would probably keep most people satisfied till lunch. I usually split this 1/3 to Sabrina and 2/3 to me.

1/2 cup milk
1/2 yogurt
1/2 cup frozen berries
1/2 cup protein powder (vanilla or chocolate depending on mood)
1 granny smith apple
1 banana
1 large handful of dark greens (kale, spinach, collards)
1 medium carrot
1/3 cucumber (optional - adds a cool crisp flavor with vanilla)
6 ice cubes
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Dark Sour Mash Experiment - Brew geekery

So my last sour mash experiment turned out awesome. I have been told that Saison is a hard style to do well, and for my first Saison and my first sour mash, I have to say this was the best brew I've made yet. And those who tasted it at the party I was at on Saturday were fairly impressed, so I am a really happy puppy.

The proper response then is to do it again… sort of. I've decided to do a sour mashed porter. I just haven't' decided if this should be a hoppy porter or not. If anyone reading this has experience and a good idea of how a strong malt profile with a light sour bite and bitterness all play together, please let me know.

I made a full mash on Tuesday evening, Oct. 29, with a total of about 15 lbs. of grain and 19 qts. water at 152 degrees for 60 minutes. Added 10 qts. of boiling water to bring mash to 170 degrees. Sat overnight and in the morning was just under 120 degrees. Threw in some fresh grain, covered in plastic wrap, and placed in the oven to maintain a safe temperature for a sour mash (over 113 but under 131).

If I want it sour I have to keep it under 120 degrees, but the Lactobacillus delbruckii won't actually die until it reaches 131, just goes kinda dormant. I need to keep it above 113 because Clostridium butyricum which is a common contaminant of a sour mash becomes inactive above 112. I also add the plastic wrap to keep out any oxygen which will inhibit the grown of Acetobacter, which is aerobic. This is all about flavor contributions. I am going for the tart taste one gets out of L. delbruckii producing lactic acid versus the hot garbage taste and smell you would get from C. butyricum producing butyric acid or the vinegary smell you would get off Acetobacter producing acetic acid. All of these bacterium will die when I boil the hell out of this thing for 90 minutes. I always boil my full grain batches for 90 minutes to get rid of any dimethyl sulfide (DMS) that tends to show up with mashing light grains.

I plan to give this 48 hours to sour, and then throw it on the stove to for the boil on friday morning. My recipe is as follows, so if anyone has any suggestions please let me know. This was originally a recipe that didn't involve making a sour mash, but the sour mash has happened. I'm considering dropping out the 60 minute hop addition, but will likely make that decision in the moment as I've boiled it for a little while and then can determine how much sour there is already to balance the malt.

Mash Ingredients
13 lb American - Pale 2-Row (86%)
12 oz German - De-Husked Carafa III (5%)
8 oz German - Carapils (3.3%)
8 oz American - Caramel 120L (3.3%)
6 oz American - Caramel 40L (2.5%)
15.13 lb Total

Boil Ingredients
1 oz Chinook Pellet - 60 min (45.63 IBU)
1 oz Chinook Pellet - 30 min (35.07 IBU)
.5 tsp wyeast nutrient - 10 min
1 tsp irish moss - 10 min
1 oz Amarillo Pellet - 0 min
1 oz Simcoe Pellet - 0 min
1 oz Amarillo Pellet - Dry Hop 5 days
1 oz Simcoe Pellet - Dry Hop 5 days

Fermentation -
White Labs - Edinburgh Scottish Ale Yeast WLP028 @ 68 degrees
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Sour Mashed Saison

So I decided to create a sour mashed Belgian Saison sticking with the German beer purity law guidelines. This was a load of fun. About 500 years ago, the Germans, being the neurotic purists that they are, wrote the Reinheitsgebot. This was a law stating that beer can only have three ingredients: water, barley, and hops. This law was updated to four ingredients and became known as the German Beer Purity Law after Louis Pasteur discovered yeast.

Working backward, beer, before it's fermented is called wort. This wort is made by mashing your malted grains, basically soaking the grains in water at a temperature and pH that will allow the enzymes in the grain to convert the starches into fermentable sugars. The pH that works best for these enzymes is between 5.2 and 5.4. There are many additive that can be used to adjust your pH, but if you are to obey the German Beer Purity Law, you must be a little more creative. These processes are either making a sour mash, or by having an acid rest in your mash. I chose the sour mash for the taste benefits or making a beer that is sour instead of bitter.

So what I did is mash 20% of my grain bill, which was two pounds of 2-row malted barley in 2.5 quarts of water at 149 degrees for about an hour. I then cooled the mash but left the grain in it, and tossed in a couple handfuls of freshly ground grain, and covered with plastic wrap for 3+ days to create an anaerobic environment. Since the grain has a bunch of microorganisms that live on it naturally, I used the fact that one is lactobacillus to create lactic acid. By placing it in a warm, anaerobic environment, I was able to have the lactobacillus out-reproduce the other organisms like acetobacter. So now, before doing the rest of my mash to produce my fermentable wort, I tested the pH and found my household pH to be about 7.5. I added a small amount of the sour mash liquid until I got the pH down to 5.2, and put the rest aside to add into the wort before I boil. I then mashed as usual at 149 degrees for 90 minutes (I like to mash for 90 minutes if I'm mashing below 150), then raised the mash to 170 to halt the enzymes, pulled the grains, sparged, added in the rest of the acidified wort, and boiled for 90 minutes. The rest is business as usual, add some hops (29 bittering units worth, mostly early), cool, pitch yeast (WLP565), and wait. What's interesting here is that unlike most yeasts that do best in the 60-70 range to reduce the production of esters and phenols that create off flavors, Saisons are generally fermented in the 80-90 degree range to create lots of fruity and peppery esters which add to the acidity of the beer.

So I checked my gravity two days ago and though it was still a touch high (1.014), and could still taste some residual sugar, this brew was fantastically delicious. I'm gonna give it another week or two to try to get down to at least 1.008 (saisons are meant to finish very dry and crisp). This is the beer to try if you've never liked beer but like things like vinegar and tart lemonade. Should be ready by Thanksgiving.

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Back again

Back again... Two days in a row. This is getting kinda crazy for me. But since I'm still at work killing time I figure I'd poke my machine a little. We got some work, but since I have my long weekend coming up, I'm on prep room duty and not arrangements. We try to set things up so that we can follow through with the families we meet with. Hence, unless it is what we call an added starter (funeral is same day), most of my job today is either prep room or errands and follow up from arrangements I made last week and over the weekend. The family for the new call is coming in for arrangements soon and then I will have clothing and will have a couple hours of work to do. Till then I do this.

But what I'm really excited about is my recent adventures in homebrewing. About a month ago I got a huge shipment of supplies for the autumn and winter... About 120 lbs of grain, 3 lbs of assorted hops, and three types of yeast. This will equate to about 10-5 gallon batches of beer, or what amount to the entire years brewing. I will likely do as I did last year, and brew about a batch a month until March and then brew 4-5 batches between March and April to last through to next October when the weather cools down again. Though I've discovered a fantastic style I'll be bottling in another couple weeks that can be brewed straight through the summer... A sour saison. I will do an entire post on this later so I can geek out thoroughly, and anyone who truly doesn't care can just skip it. Next batch, likely Friday, is an IPA.

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Life Update

I haven't posted in a forever time but since I'm sitting here looking for something to do, I figured I'd take a moment to get back in the habit, at least for the moment.

So I started a new job at a Jewish funeral home in Bergen county that I'm really enjoying. They are a busy house, and it's really nice to be personally handling 2-3 funerals every week. Busy as hell most of the time, but it makes the time go by quick and I'm helping people in the way I was trained to.

I still have Simplicity Memorial on the side, which is a challenge because it takes up almost all of my free time. In a matter of a couple months I've gone from being a man of leisure to the 3rd busiest person I know. I'm in the process of considering closing Simplicity just because it is so much work with so little compensation, and I just don't know if I'm willing to work that hard. My current solution is to change my pricing structure a little to make it more sustainable, and ride it out till the end of the year.

On a more personal note, home life is pretty great right now. We changed Trent's schedule to week on, week off, and I only work three days on the week I have Trent, which makes for greater involvement in my sons life. Also, Sabrina and I are falling into pretty good routine. On the other hand, since she is the second busiest person I know, the house is slowly turning into a wreck. I'm trying to institute some methods and home policies that keep things cleaner in the moment, and that is sort of working, but the bigger chores such as cleaning the bathrooms or vacuuming and moping the floors is a challenge.

Now, I need to get back to regular exercise and meditation. I did walk/run five miles yesterday while avoiding 5 hordes of zombies, so I'm on my way. I got really thrown off a few months back when some shit went down with one of my closest friends, and things were difficult on the home front, and I was starting a new job all at the same time. I've been living in a state of groundlessness for months now, and am finally getting my feet back beneath me. At least I hope.

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Traditional Running Shoes vs. Toe Shoes

I've been experimenting with the Adidas Adipure zero profile toe shoes for the past month and have made some observations for anyone interested in trying out running in a zero profile shoe. I actually have two pairs of toe shoes, the Adipure and a pair of Vibram. For all practical purposes, they are essentially the same in that thay have zero profile and keep your toes separate. I prefer the Adidas Adipures based purely on the fact that they are black and just as comfortable with no straps to worry about.

When I run, I attempt to utilize a technique known as Chi Running, which involves a bit more consciousness about how I run than simply going out and getting miles behind me. The idea is that you lean forward from the ankle and allow gravity to pull you forward, regulating your pace by the degree of lean. If you do not move your feet, you would fall on your face. Because you are leaning forward, your foot placement is when stepping down is either directly below you or slightly behind. You never step out in front of your body, as this creates a breaking motion which is the percussive action that eventually will destroy your knees. There is a bit more to it that this, but those are the basics necessary for the continuation of this entry.

When I run in the toe shoes, it is actually essential that I practice the chi running technique. The first reason is that zero profile shoes have no padding at all. They simply have a protective rubber form on the bottom. The heal is not raised up above the rest of the shoe at all, as it tends to be in traditional running shoes. Because of this, if I extend my foot ahead of me when I run and come down on my heal, it hurts. So I am forced into the style of running I prefer. The impact is absorbed through my calf muscle instead. The positive for me with the toe shoes is they make the chi running method occur naturally, so I can get lost in the music I'm listening to, an audiobook, or simply in my thoughts. Also the toe shoes weight next to nothing. The negative is that the lack of cushioning is very hard on my feet, and anything beyond a 10k leaves me desperate for a foot massage.

With traditional running shoes, I still utilize the chi running technique, but it is a bit more difficult. For one, because the heal is padded and elevated, if I don't stay focused, I fall back into the habit of extending my feet out in front with each step, which tends to cause both knee and IT band pain that I've essentially eliminated by chi running. The other thing the raised profile does is cause me to lean forward more to get the technique right, which increases my pace, and makes me wear out faster. Also, after wearing the toe shoes for running for almost a month straight, I've grown to notice how much heavier the traditional shoes are. The advantage to the traditional shoe of course is that if I stay focused, I can run for hours without my feet hurting.

I think I'm going to adopt a style where I run in both, using whichever one feels right on any particular day, and will likely do most events in the zero profile adipure toe shoes.
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Getting Back in the Habit

I write here very rarely. That's because I write very rarely. I'm out of the habit. I'd like to change that. I find I'm in a better place in the world during the times I'm journaling. I don't know which is the cause and which is the effect. I think it's a co-creation thing. I write when my mind is more together, which helps me get my mind more together.

So the past couple weeks have been ridiculously intense. It's been a huge transitional phase with Sabrina starting a new position with UMDNJ in a new location, the need to acquire a new car for her, my car needing a bunch of repairs, and some serious reflection on relationships in my life. I've been trying to spend a full day in my office at least once in the past two weeks, and have been unable to pull this off. Maybe tomorrow. The paperwork is completely out of hand at this point. Since I've kept up with the financial parts of the businesses, at least the paperwork chaos isn't effecting my clients or the vendors who supply me, just my sanity. I will get to that in due time. Likely when I make time.

Today is rest and cleaning. I worked until 2:30 am yesterday, got home around three, and wasn't able to sleep until 4. Woke up with a call from my cousin at 8:00 that the car repairs I did were perfect, he would fix my A/C today, and we would be in good shape. I'm very happy to have gotten that call, I just wish it had been about three hours later. I will compensate with a nap this afternoon, but it won't be a replacement for the lost sleep. That will probably take me two days to recover from. If I allow myself to nap more than an hour, I won't be able to sleep tonight till 2:00 at best, and then I'm just screwed. This extra energy thing because I'm not poisoning myself daily can be exhausting if I don't manage it right. Maybe I should return to marathon training. At least then, I was exhausted all the time, and never had a problem with sleep. I will also stop drinking caffeine eventually to combat the sleep issues I've experienced, but one step at a time. As a good friend of mine said recently, "You can't throw away all your crutches at once or you'll fall down and break your face."