Thursday, February 4, 2016

A yellow chair and two perspectives...

Just a yellow chair. I didn't notice it at first, there were so many around me. Some occupied and some not. I was sitting and having coffee in Herald Square today. An afternoon respite. But the reason I noticed this particular chair was because of two men. Well the first one actually. As I was sitting enjoying my coffee outside on an unseasonably warm winter afternoon, a man--an angry man--came rushing through the square. And rather than traverse all of the tables and chairs he quite literally plowed through a few of them, knocking over two chairs. One--the one pictured above--fell in a path. Then, just a minute or so later a man and women came walking by. And before passing the young man stopped, picked up the chair and positioned it back at a table. As he did he said to his companion, "Someone could trip over this lying there," and then they carried on. My point is this...two men had contact with this chair but had two drastically different attitudes. And attitude--I am finding out--is everything. Life is a mirror...if I view life in a positive manner, generally good and positive things come to me in my life. I'm not saying it is easy, or that I am able to do it always, but when I do I notice a difference. Our thoughts truly do shape our lives. To quote the late Dr. Wayne Dyer (and so many other New Thought teachers), "Change your thoughts and change your life." I'm jus' sayin'...

Urban Simplicity.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Five or Ten Quotes from Thomas Merton...

Image Found Here.

Thomas Merton, January 31, 1915 - December 10, 1968 

A couple days ago it would have been Thomas Merton's 101st birthday. Thus I briefly read some of his classic, Seeds of Contemplation, and came across some of his quotes, on this blog and elsewhere. The second-to-last quote below has been hanging on my desk on a scrawled piece of scrap paper for at least the past ten years. This said, some of these quotes are a re-post from previous posts on Merton. After reading them last evening I felt inspired to post them again. Here they are, along with a bit of information.

Priest, mystic, monk, activist, writer, poet, and artist, Fr. Merton was a true renaissance man. He was friends with Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Dalai Lama, and a contemporary of Martin Luther King, Jr. Before his untimely death he penned a huge number of books pertaining to spirituality, poems, artwork, and an incredible and moving autobiography. His work continues to touch countless souls...including the one typing these words. I love the opening line to his autobiography, the Seven Story Mountain..."On the last day of January 1915, under the sign of the Water Bearer, in a year of a great war, and down in the shadows of some French mountains on the borders of Spain, I came into the world."  Thomas Merton was born 100 years ago this month; to read more about him click here or here. To read the soulful and moving prayer that is attributed to him, and thus is called the Prayer of Thomas Merton, click here. 

"Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience."

"Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real."

"Just remaining quietly in the presence of God, listening to Him, being attentive to Him, requires a lot of courage and know-how."

"Every moment and every event of every man's life on earth plants something in his soul."

"A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire." 

"Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time."

"I cannot make the universe obey me. I cannot make other people conform to my own whims and fancies. I cannot make even my own body obey me."

"We stumble and fall constantly even when we are most enlightened. But when we are in true spiritual darkness, we do not even know that we have fallen." 

"The man of faith who has never experienced doubt is not a man of faith." 

"Perhaps I am stronger than I think."

To read more in the Five Quotes series, click here.
Urban Simplicity.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Things that can be carried on a bike (#684), and a reason I ride one...

On the bike...A gym bag, a book bag, a few groceries, and two bottles of red wine.

So this, of course, is not a lot of stuff to carry on a cargo bike that weighs 65lbs with nothing on it. But it's the lifestyle that I'd like to say a few words about. Firstly, because I own a few bikes that can carry things, I sometimes forget that not all cyclists do (such as when I see them riding with overflowing backpacks or have bags hanging dangerously from their handlebars). What I like about riding bikes that are built to carry things--and indeed the reason I bought them--is that I can usually carry everything I need. But this isn't what I was thinking about as I pedaled and coasted home this evening. What I was thinking about was how much physical exercise I work into my daily life, even in the teeny circumference in which I usually live.  Here's what I'm talking about, and these are just guessing estimates when it comes to actual distances, but this is where I rode today...

Home > Church  1.5 miles
Church > Coffee Shop  2.5 miles
Coffee Shop > Home  1 mile
Home > JCC 1.25 miles
JCC > Grocery Store .75 miles
Grocery Store > Pharmacy .75 miles
Pharmacy > Wine Shop .5 miles
Wine Shop > Home .5 miles

I am fully aware that this is not for everyone. If, for example, you live in a rural or suburban sprawl riding a bike as a means of daily transport would be nearly impossible. But luckily I live in a condensed urban area which has an excellent Walk Score (94% "walkers paradise"). I am in no way trying to be a braggart or say that living in high density is better than the suburbs or rural--everyone makes their own choices and decisions--it's just that this is what works for me...this is the environment in which I thrive. This said, riding my bike today running errands and other things I rode nearly nine miles, if I would have worked today I would have ridden another four (Two there and two home). It was not drudgery, nor did I dread having to do it. On the contrary, it felt good--really good--to be out in the open air and to be using my own muscles to propel me...I am both the cargo and the engine. I wasn't tired or exhausted while doing it. I just did. The older I get the more I realize how precious one's health is, and riding a bike not only exercises my mind and body, but also--as I get winded when pushing into a headwind on an incline--gives me a not-so-subtle reminder of this.  And this is what I was thinking tonight as I coasted down a slow decline in the road with the wind to my back on an unseasonably warm Sunday in January.

Urban Simplicity.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

It's all about the light...

This evening--after rushing around in a kitchen for nine hours--I rode my bike down to the waterfront. I hadn't been there in a couple weeks and needed the fresh air...the solitude. In the summer months it is packed with people, but this time of year it is nearly empty. I've mentioned many times on this blog that dusk and dawn are my two favorite times of day to take photos, and these photos are reasons why. The light, as it slants away or towards the earth, changes things. As I stood watching the scene in front of me as the sun set and the light changed, I felt truly grateful to see it; to be part of it. These were all taken within a half-hour of each other. Click any for a slightly larger view.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

After all this time, it still bothers me...

You'd think that after all these years I'd be used to it, that it wouldn't bother me as much. But it still does. You've probably guessed by the above image what I am talking about...getting honked at, beeped at, yelled at, or in the case this evening, screamed at, from a car. But I'm jumping ahead, here's the brief story that prompted this post.

I was on my way home from work this evening, and waiting in traffic at a stoplight. I was against the curb and there was plenty of room between the cars and my bike. The traffic light turned green and cars began moving. Because of the intersection, and it being evening rush hour, traffic moved slowly. So slowly that I was easily able to keep pace with the cars. But I still stayed to the curb, lest someone wanted to pass. Then I hear just behind me...Beeeep! Beeep! Beep! I immediately stopped, put my foot on the curb, and turned to look because it was such an aggressive sounding beep. The car was just behind me and had plenty of room to pass. Initially I could not see his face because when I turned I was greeted with a middle finger stretched out in front of his face and aimed at me. But I could hear him even through closed windows. F.......k yoooou! He yelled (screamed) a couple times before lowering his hand with the said raised middle finger. I just looked at him. Our faces were likely less that ten feet apart. At one point he actually turned his wheels towards me and pumped the gas a little, pretending he was going to hit me. But then he turned his wheels away from me and hit the gas hard. Squealing his tires, and then screeching around the corner, hitting the curb along the way.

I just sat there for a few seconds. Somewhat out of breath, but mostly just flabbergasted. What, I wonder, could I have done to bring so much rage to this guy. I was going with traffic. I had stopped for the traffic light the same as everyone else. There are two rear lights on the bike, and a front headlamp.

On the rest of my ride home this is what I thought about. Firstly, my first reaction to this still brings up an anger in me, but (and here's the big but), it is only brief. In the old days I would have retaliated with angry words. These days I find myself trying to make eye contact with the screamer, to see who they actually are. And the odd thing is, that when my brief anger dissipates and I do see the person face-to-face, I actually begin to feel sorry for them. That this is their reaction to something that they find frustrating, that this is their response.

But I also wonder how this person operates in the rest of their life. Is this the only place they scream like that? Is it because he feels safe (but frustrated) in the car? If, for example, I had done something to upset him and he were not in a car and we were both face-to-face would he scream like that, or even threaten to hit me (the way he did with his car)?

This also makes me question our society. How did it come to pass that this is how a person in a car reacts to a person on a bike. I personally am not a perfect cyclist, but for the most part I follow the rules of the road. And tonight I most definitely was.

The thing is, that none of this solves anything. The angry guy sped away, thinking I'm a nuisance. And to me he just looked like the cartoon above, a sort of caricature of an angry person.

As a full-time cyclist these incidents are bound to occur from time-to-time. Another happened to me just a few weeks ago (click here to read about that one), and I guess that's why I'm writing about this one...because they were so close together, and both drivers were so verbally--and nearly physically--violent.

One would think that by now I would be used to it. But I'm not. It still affects me. And I don't know what the answer is. 

Urban Simplicity.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

There still are a few feral places (left in the city)...

So this is what happens when I get to the coffee shop with books to read and realize I left my reading glasses at home...I go for a ride and take photos (this happened a week ago as well).

One of the (many) things I love about Buffalo is that there are still somewhat wild places located within the city proper. And no, I am not talking about scary neighborhoods, but more of, well...urban wilderness. And all of this is within a half-hour bike ride from my front door.

Anyhow, after realizing I forgot my glasses, I thought I'd go seek out the SS Columbia, which arrived here last summer. Here's the beauty of the times in which we live. I googled it's location, and found it was docked at Marine A in Silo City (for those not from WNY, this is where most of our remaining grain elevators reside, some of them are in use and some are not). Seeing on the map that Marine A was not accessible (unless I wanted to scale a 10' fence and risk getting shot at, I thought I'd circumvent it and follow roads that hugged the Buffalo River from the other side, which went through the Old First Ward.

I took a few photos of the elevators from a different vantage point from which I am usually accustomed, and then I rounded a bend in the road and there was the ship...and she certainly is majestic.

I wanted to get a closer look so I continued on down the road and found an open gate. It was pretty creepy because of the uninviting sign (bottom picture). But I went in and knocked on the door to the building (there were trucks outside and smoke coming from a chimney). No answer. After a few more tries I rode past the building to the dock to take photos. I had a great view of the boat across the river, which are the resulting photos here. But the whole while I kept turning thinking the guard dogs would be released at any minute. 

On my way back I stopped on the desolate road to tie the lace to my boot (the road is pictured below). A pickup truck passed me and slowed as he did. The only vehicles I encountered were pickup trucks or tractor trailers. The driver in the truck just sort of looked at, "what is this middle-aged guy on a bike doing down here on a cold winter day."

Anyhow, it was a really great ride, probably 10 or 15 miles in all. And one of the things I enjoy the most are all the city animals. Tons of dear and rabbits, and in the past I've seen racoon, fox, skunk, and falcon. But I've still yet to see the elusive snowy owl. Maybe next time. As usual, click any photo for a larger view. For other posts on Silo City, click here.

Urban Simplicity.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The view from my handlebars 1.20.16

This is my neighborhood, Allentown. To me, it feels sort of like a village within the city. I've lived here for about 15 years, but I've hung out here for many years prior. Anyhow, I was on my way home from work this evening. It was snowing lightly, and there was barely a wind in the air. I could feel the snowflakes on my face and hear my tires as I pedaled and coasted. I felt (feel) gratful; the scene in front of me was beautiful. So I stopped and snapped a couple photos as I straddled my bike. And here's one of them. If you'd like, click the photo for a larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Art by Default...

So here's the brief story behind these photos. I had worked both my jobs today and was riding home. The frigid air felt good. Then I stopped at a traffic light and both the sound and sight of this giant murder of crows caught my attention (yes, that is what a group of crows is called...a murder). There were hundreds maybe thousands in a group of trees just ahead. I approached the trees (taking care not to go directly under them as I was concerned about droppings). And I just stood there, straddling my bike, and watched them. I felt sorry for the people in their cars zipping by that they couldn't see this. But one of my first thoughts, this is really incredibly beautiful. Then I thought...geeze, I wish I had my camera. Anyhow, with low expectations I shot off a bunch of photos using my phone (all the while, as the crows stared back at me, knowing that they have facial recognition abilities...they can remember a face for years). When I arrived home and uploaded the photos they were exactly as I thought...poor quality in the traditional sense. But then the more I looked at them the more interesting they looked...almost like impressionist paintings, or even ancient photographs. Because of lack of light and low pixel quality of the phone, the images are mere impressions of what I saw, but in a really beautiful way. It was snowing as well, which is only faintly visible in a few, but most apparent in the bottom photo as I turned in the direction of a street lamp. The snow, I'm sure, also aided in the blurred effect.These were not put through a filter, they are as they are. And when I look at them now they offer me the same sense of peace as when I was was standing on the frigid pavement straddling my bike while the crows flew above me. And for this reason I wanted to share them.

Urban Simplicity.

Monday, January 18, 2016

People who inspire me...

“People say, "What is the sense of our small effort?" They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time.” 
~Dorothy Day

File this under "People Who Inspire Me." This is Dorothy Day​ (if you are unfamiliar with her, you may enjoy her autobiography, The Long Loneliness). She was one of the founders of the Catholic Worker Movement. In this photo, circa 1973, she is about to be arrested. It was her last arrest. She at the time was 76 years young. She was protesting the way migrant grape farmers were being treated (mistreated) in California. She herself was not a farmer, nor were any of her family members. She wasn't even from the west coast. But there she was in Fresno, California risking arrest (and she was arrested) to stand up for the rights of people, most of which she barely knew. To me, I find this person so much more powerful and inspiring than any wealthy pundit screaming from a podium or pulpit. Not sure why I thought of her today (and I write as if I knew her, but of course I did not), but I did think of her and wanted to share her photo. And in this photo--one of an elderly women sitting calmly but sternly, and the backs of strong young men carrying guns and billy clubs and towering over her--the faces of the arresting officers are not visible, but I pose this question by what you can see...who, here, do you think was more afraid?

"And what does the Lord require of you? To do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
~Micah 6:8

Urban Simplicity.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

I went for a bike ride today, and then it snowed (and snowed and snowed). A few pictures and a few words.

So I knew it was going to snow this morning, I just didn't know how much or when it would happen. I had initially set out on the Yuba Mundo because it doesn't have snow tires on it. The roads were dry and the snow tires on the Boda Boda make it difficult to pedal. Actually, I didn't even intend on going for a long(ish) ride; I was simply going to a coffee shop to read and write. But then after ordering my coffee and sitting at a table I realized I had forgotten my reading glasses. So I just sat there like a crazy person (click here if you are not sure of the quote which I am paraphrasing). Anyhow, I had my camera with me, so I thought I'd ride to the waterfront to take some photos. I hadn't been there in a few weeks and was somewhat alarmed that, on January 17th, there was no ice to be seen. By this time the lake is often frozen over. It was, other than being a bit cold, overcast, and windy, a rather nice morning. I snapped the below photo fist, and then rode over the the observation deck at the end of the harbor and looked through one of the windows to snap a photo of the city, and when I say "windows" I really mean "opening" because it is completely open to the elements (pictured above). The next photo (two below) shows the scene that I saw next as I turned and faced the lake...a veritable wall of whiteness moving across the lake. A lake effect snow squall. The image just below that is the Bird Island Pier, which snakes it's way out about a mile into the lake, and which I've walked many times in warmer weather (click here to see some good shots of that). The remaining shots are pretty random, just some things I saw on my ride home in the snow. The second from the bottom is actually one of the first I took today, a sort of selfie. I had just arrived at the waterfront and passed my reflection in what looks like a window that was blown out of a half-built restaurant because of the wind. Anyhow, the reason I include that photo is to show the difference a couple hours can shows me with my Mundo and dry pavement beneath me. And then the bottom photo is one I took after I had arrived home from an evening errand...the Boda with at least a half-foot of snow on the ground. All-in-all it was a fun if not exhilarating day to be on a bike; I certainly got in my aerobic exercise for the day. Click any photo for a slightly larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

Faites Simple...

"Faites simple." (Make it simple)
~ Auguste Escoffier

I really believe that I'd be hard pressed to find anyone that didn't agree in that often keeping things simple is the best way to go, and not just with cooking but with most things. Though this time I am speaking of cooking. I made these carrots as a side dish tonight with pasta and chicken cacciatore. The carrots, I think, were the best part of the meal...braised and basted in olive oil with onion, garlic, and hot pepper. Here's the recipe...

Braised Baby Carrots

This is so simple and it can be done with nearly any vegetable. But the reason it works especially well with carrots is that they are a hard vegetable and they are also naturally sweet. So when you cook them with the onions, garlic, and hot pepper, they begin to caramelize and the end result is sort of sweet and spicy. Anyhow, this is how to prepare them:

Cut the tops off the carrots and peel them; discard or compost the tops and peels. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the carrots and shake the pan a little to coat them with the oil. Lower the heat and cover the pan and cook the carrots for a few minutes. Then remove the lid and add a small sliced or diced onion. Cover the pan and cook a few more minutes. Then remove the lid and add a clove or two of minced garlic, as much crushed hot pepper as you'd like, and a pinch of kosher salt. With the pan uncovered, continue to cook the carrots along with the other ingredients, taking care not to burn the garlic. If the onions and garlic brown too quickly, add a couple tablespoons of water to the pan. Then cook the carrots until the water evaporates. The dish is complete when the carrots are soft and flavorful. The entire process will take about 10 minutes.

Urban Simplicity.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Things that can be carried on a bike (#682), a rare selfie, and a few snowy thoughts.

Okay. First things first. I know you can't stop looking at that painful image of me just below so lets discuss it. That's a selfie I took upon arriving home yesterday from my second job. I had about a two-mile commute, and of course it was into the wind. It was also snowing...hard. Something like 3-inches an hour. And yes, that is an icicle on my eyebrow. I used to have ski-goggles, but my dogs chewed them (I really need to get another pair). Anyhow, you may look at that image and think I'm a bit nuts (which I am) or worse, you may feel sorry for me. Don't. I ride a bike year-round by choice. As with many year-round cyclists, this to me, can be fun, and it was. Would I want to ride in those conditions all the time? No of course not. Once in a while is fine. The other images are evidence of non-harsh winter riding. The one directly below my selfie was taken the day before yesterday as I left for work at 6:25am...a beautiful pre-dawn winter's ride to work. The only sound was that of my studded snow tires as they gripped the snow and ice. And yes steel-studded tires for bikes are readily available (closeup shot below), and I couldn't ride year-round without them. Thus said, this past week is also the first I've ridden this particular bike in the snow (the Yuba Boda Boda) and I couldn't be happier. With the bike's size and weight, and with the snow tires, I feel like I'm riding an SUV (or more appropriately, utility bicycle). And lastly...things that can be carried on a bike (above)...a yoga mat. I started taking/practicing yoga for the first time in about 5 years. When I came out of class tonight everyone was walking to their cars while I went for my bike. It was/is such a lovely night. Just past dusk, not much wind, and not too cold. And as I bent to unlock my bike I saw rabbit prints in the snow around and under my bike. A rabbit was checking out my bike while I was inside twisting myself. This made me smile. It also made me remember how much I enjoyed using a bike as transportation. On the way home the cold air felt good on my face. And as I huffed and puffed up a slight incline (the studded tires offer much resistance, i.e. they make the bike much more difficult to pedal) I was conscious of my breath (a carryover from the yoga class). And as I coasted down the other side of the incline the sound of the tires whirled against the pavement. Not only did I stretch my muscles in class, but I also used them on the way home. And this is what I thought about as I pedaled and coasted home on a particularly pleasant winter's eve.