Sunday, August 31, 2014

Thoughts on the 23rd Psalm...and what it means to me.

So I've been thinking about the 23rd Psalm a lot lately. I go through periods where it seems to bubble up from my subconscious. I'm not one to know bible passages by heart, but this one I do. Over the past decade or so it has, on various occasions, helped me a great deal.

This psalm—as with most of the bible, or any sacred text for that matter—I take as metaphor. I like to see how it translates to my life in this time in history, not what it may have meant two or three thousand years ago. This said, before I speak directly of this psalm I have to mention my views on who (or what) I think God is. Yup, I said the G-word and with a capital G.

My views are very personal (but aren't everyone's?) and may be out on the fringe for some, so if you are a literalist (meaning, you take the bible as the inherent and unfailing word of God) or if you have religious views that lean decidedly to the right, you may want to close this page right now and not read any further. But if you do continue to read on please do not send me hate mail or try to “save me.”

Ok, so I'll get back to the big G...who, or more specifically what, God is to me? Well, I certainly do not think of Him as an old man with a white beard sitting up on a cloud somewhere looking down. And I'm conscious that I just used the gender-specific “Him” in the previous sentence. I do this out of habit, I suppose, just in the same way I use the word God for what I consider to be the Ultimate Reality. To me—in my heart—the word God is also interchangeable with Spirit, Divine Source, Universe, Indwelling Presence (just to name a few)...the list could go on. I really believe that the concept of God is incomprehensible to our human minds (though not necessarily our hearts) but at the same time It/He/She is all that there is. I believe this Ultimate Reality is in everything and is in fact everything and we are part of It and It is part of us and in some unfathomable way we as humans live and move within this Reality and are connected to each other and everything and everyone is connected to us and everything in It. In short, I believe there is nowhere we can go where this Reality is not.

Split a piece of wood and I am there. Lift up a stone and you will find me there.” 
Gospel of Thomas, saying 77

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” 
Psalm 139:7-8

For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me.” 
Bagavad Gita 6:30

And how do I personally know that God exists? I see It/He/She reflected back at me when I look in the eyes of another fellow human. I feel Her when I see a person moved to tears...I know It when I am moved to tears. He is present in my heart when I help another person or if I see another person helping another. The Universe speaks to me when I feel a gentle breeze or rain on my face as I ride my bike, or when, amazingly, plants push through the spring soil after one of the harshest winters I can remember. And I even know this Reality when one of my beautiful dogs looks up at me with unconditional love the way that a canine does. I could go on, but you likely get the picture. Do I feel or know this Presence in my life all of the time? No, of course not. I'm a work in progress (but we all are). And that's why I need helpers like this psalm to remind me.

And one last thing before I talk directly about the 23rd Psalm...I have to mention the J-word. Yup...Jesus. Because I know that if I've kept your attention long enough to read this far then there are at least a couple of you who are wondering what my views are on Jesus. I will only touch briefly on him because I have thoughts in my head about what I'd like to write and it could go on for pages and I don't want to bore you with it now (but probably will in a later post). And another quick suggestion...if you are a literalist and you made it this far this may really be the time to click another link and get out of this page.

Firstly I would just like to say that while I believe that the Divine Spirit is part of each one of us and that we are part of It in equal measure, no matter what our race, religious background, gender, sexual orientation, etc....there is One Spirit that permeates all things, but at the same time I consider myself a Christian. And by this I mean that I try to follow the teachings of Jesus the Christ as best I can (but usually fail miserably on a daily basis). Do I think he was the only begotten son of Do I believe he died for our sins...nope. I'm not even convinced he died a physical death on the cross. Then what do I believe, you may be wondering? I believe that he was a divinely-inspired teacher who was trying to tell us how to live and that the life he lived was an example...pure love and compassion. He was truly enlightened in the same way that the Buddha was, and that he was telling us that if we did what he did we too could find heaven in this lifetime. So there it is.

Sorry for the long ramble, here—finally—is how I view this psalm, and what it means to me. To sum it up in just a sentence, this psalm makes me remember what is real and important in life, and that even when things seem hopeless I still am connected to and inseparable from the same Divine Source as you and the next person, and that I have this Source within me to know that deep down everything is just as it should be. The psalm is in bold and my thoughts/interpretations are in italics, and I have to emphasize that these are simply my personal thoughts. I am not trying to force them on anyone. Thank you for reading this far.

Psalm 23 

The Lord is my shepherd,

(The Divine Presence is all that there is. It dwells within all things including myself, and it guides me.) 

I shall not be in want.

(I have everything I need in life, including more food than I can eat, clothing to wear, a house to live in, and the love of family and friends.) 

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,

(Even though I am often tired and overworked and feel like there is no end in sight it is often an illusion, because I am allowed to take rests whenever I need to...sometimes it's just a matter of turning inward. And when I do, through prayer, yoga, and meditation, I realize that I am on the shores of quiet waters.) 

He refreshes my soul.

(When I am at my most tired and stressed, when things seem hopeless, all I need is to remember the above three things and I can be refreshed. Turning inward and to remember what is really important in life.) 

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

(I am guided by intuition, or “gut feeling,” the goodness that each one of us has written on our hearts. All I have to do is listen. And little by little It guides me to become the person that I was meant to be.) 

Even though I walk through the valley of darkness, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

(Everyone has dark times—and I could write a book here, right?—but knowing that our Divine Source is with me always reminds me that there truly is nothing to fear. This, and the fact that I know I am in some sometimes incompressible or unknowing way being guided, comforts me.) 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

(The table is my life spread out before me—where I truly do have everything I need—and my enemies are internal (fear, selfishness, envy, etc), and these can be overcome.) 

You anoint my head with oil;

(Because I, like each one of us, is a welcome guest at this time allotted for me on earth.) 

My cup overflows.

(I may not have everything I “want” but I surely have more than I truly need. My cup (life) is literally overflowing with goodness.) 

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,

(Life really is what you make it. If I offer goodness and love, then goodness and love are returned to me. All I have to do is be open and allow it to happen). 

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

(Yes, I am a Christian that believes in reincarnation. Thus, I have been connected to this same Source—and probably you too—in previous incarnations, this current one, and those to come. And I could go on about this, but I won't) 


Thursday, August 28, 2014

On the Waterfront...a few photos and a few words

So in a few days it will be September already. Where has the summer gone? Time goes so very quickly doesn't it? And with this thought in mind (and the thought that it is predicted that we will receive an early visit from the infamous polar vortex this year) I headed to one of Buffalo's beautiful waterfronts last evening (even though I didn't entirely feel like it...though I'm glad I did). I really and consciously wanted to take in a summer evening--to remember it--for three months from now when it will be frigid. There's a really nice outdoor bar at the Buffalo waterfront so I grabbed a beer and waited for the sun to set. And the Yuba works great as a shelf for food, beer, and other things (see below). Anyhow, it really was a nice evening...feeling the breeze come off the lake while watching the sailboats come in for the evening. I snapped more than four dozen photos and here are a few of my favorites. Click any for a larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Kara Lynn Evancho (1967-2010)

Kara. Sweet but caustic Kara. It was 4 years ago that you left us too soon. You were one of the craziest people I knew (and I mean that literally of course, and I can hear you chuckling). You drank like a fish, smoked like a chimney, and had the mouth of a drunken sailor. But at not quite 5 feet tall (4-foot 11-and-a-half you always reminded me...that half inch was very important) you had one of the biggest hearts I could ever know. Unconditionally. That's how you liked people. I almost said love, but I know how you don't like that mushy stuff. When I was super-stressed out after divorcing and having a young son and moving into a house that was not even fit to live in at the time you showed up with a plastic bag full of sandwiches and loose beers. That's how you were. But I didn't appreciate it then. You drove me nuts at work (geeze you knew how to push my buttons) but we also laughed a lot. We talked a lot, too. We talked about how screwed up things were...we talked about how screwed up we were. But you were one of my biggest supporters...I would tell you to shut up when you told people that I was such a good cook that I could even make shit taste good. I still hear your voice at work. A lot lately. And it's comforting. Thank you for that. But rest in peace sweet Kara. You deserve it.

Urban Simplicity.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Two simple but delicious recipes to use up all those tomatoes growing in your garden...

Both of these recipes have been posted in the past (or at least variations of them). And whether you grow them in your own garden or buy them from the market or a store, this is prime tomato season. Both recipes are simple to make a bursting with fresh flavor. 


Garden-Fresh Tomato Sauce 
Makes about 3 quarts

4 quarts fresh tomatoes
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 small onions
4 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon crushed hot pepper
2 cups chicken broth
1 bunch fresh basil
Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds; discard the seeds and dice the tomatoes. Heat the oil in a heavy sauce pan; add the onions, then the garlic, then the sugar, salt, fennel, and hot pepper. Add the diced tomatoes and the chicken broth (or vegetable broth). Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cook the sauce for about 45 minutes, or until it has reduced and thickened. Stir in whole basil leaves and remove from the heat. Allow it to rest for 5 minutes. Taste it for seasoning, then puree in a blender. Refrigerate until needed.

Spicy and Smoky Tomato ketchup 
 Makes about 2 cups

2 pounds ripe tomatoes
1 small onion, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
6 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Remove the cores of the tomatoes, and make a small X-shaped incision on the opposite ends. Drop the tomatoes in the water a few at a time and blanch them for only about 45 seconds, just to loosen their skins. Transfer the tomatoes to a bowl of iced water. Peel away their skins, cut them in half, squeeze out their seeds, and dice them. Transfer the tomatoes to a small pot with the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then lower to a low simmer. Cook for about an hour, until it becomes quite thick. Transfer to a blender and process until smooth.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Temple, some Balancing Rocks, Honest Ed's, and a few other things I Saw While Riding a Bike through Toronto Yesterday...

So yesterday I was on a quick 24 hour vacation in the beautiful, vibrant, and bustling city of Toronto, which lies two hours north and just around the bend on Lake Ontario from Buffalo. I went there with my son and his cousin, and after dinner they went off to do their young guy thing which allowed me to take photos of this inspiring metropolis. I have ridden a bike in Toronto before (when I brought my folder with me) but on this occasion I utilized Bike Share Toronto, which was really nice and convenient (but more details about that in a later post). Anyhow, with it's proximity to Buffalo I have been to Toronto more times than I can remember but I am always still thrilled and excited to go there. It was such an incredibly beautiful summer evening, which I spent riding around snapping photos...interspersed with bar stops and good Canadian Beer of course. Anyhow, here a bit of what I saw; click any for a larger photo.

Urban Simplicity.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ten things I saw while riding my bike recently...

So I could go on and on about the many reasons I choose to ride a bike--some obvious and some not so much--but these photos explain a lot of it. As many of you know I usually--more often than not--carry a camera with me while riding my bike, and in the evening a tripod as well. It is so easy for me to simply stop and snap a few photos. After a stressful day or evening facing a hot stove, riding a bike and photographing what is directly in front of me--really looking at the natural beauty that s all around us and right in front of us--is in fact a form of therapy for me. Anyhow, I'll get off my little soapbox now. Click any photo for a larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A waterfall and Lucille's cousin...

I was on my way to my sister's house in Alden, NY today and thought I'd stop and snap a few photos of Blossom Falls in Elma, NY. And yes I actually drove a car (car share). Anyhow, I found a few things interesting. One is that I had my son with me, who is 19. These falls were a big party spot for my friends and I when we were in high school 35 years ago (yikes I am getting old). Who would have thought that I'd survive those days let alone stop back with my son. Anyhow, as far as Lucille, she is great blue heron I was following down the pier in Buffalo a couple weeks ago (read about her and see her photos here). So you can imagine my surprise when I arrived and saw another great blue heron feeding in the creek. Click any photo for a slightly larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Things that can be carried on a bike (#603 & #604), and a recipe...

#603...Two plastic buckets containing a 24 hour whole wheat preferment (on my way to work in the morning)

#604...Two empty plastic buckets and also a plastic box containing 3 freshly baked loaves of whole wheat bread (on my way home from work in the early evening).

100% Whole Wheat Bread
Makes 2 loaves
6 cups whole wheat flour, divided
2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
3 cups water, divided
4 teaspoons instant yeast, divided
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup honey

Separate the ingredients in two bowls using this ratio: In one bowl combine 4 cups of flour, the vital wheat gluten, and 2 cups of water. Stir it just until combined; cover with plastic wrap and set aside. In a second bowl, combine the remaining 2 cups flour and 1 cup water and 2 teaspoons of yeast. Stir it just until combined; cover with plastic wrap and set aside. Allow the bowls to rest for at least an hour. After the ingredients have rested and have begun to ferment, combine the contents of both bowls to an upright mixer that is fitted with a dough hook. Also add the remaining ingredients: the salt, olive oil, honey, and remaining two teaspoons yeast. Knead the dough on medium speed for about 8 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for one hour. Transfer the dough to a work surface, cut it into two pieces, gently shape it into loaves, and place them either on a baking sheet or in loaf pans. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 45 minutes. Preheat an oven to 425F/218C. If making free-form loaves, slash them with a razor just before they go into the oven. Bake the bread for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on. As the bread bakes rotate the loaves in the oven once or twice to ensure even baking. Remove the bread from their pans and allow to cool for 10 minutes before slicing.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Spicy Avocado and Black Bean Hummus

This is just another variation of the seemingly endless theme of hummus recipes. And this one--if I do say so myself--is not only equally delicious but also really simple to make...put everything in a food processor and process until smooth. But technically this is not a hummus after all (I can be such a stickler) because the Arabic word hummus translates as chickpea. This would be ful or fool (beans). Anyhow, this is really good, and really healthy, and really easy to make.

Spicy Avocado and Black Bean Hummus

Makes about 4 cups

2 ripe avocados, peeled
2 cans (15 oz. ea.) black beans, rinsed
1 cup tahini
4 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ cup lemon juice
¼ cup water
¼ cup hot pepper sauce

Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth.

Urban Simplicity.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

If there is a bicycler's heaven-on-earth, this place may just be it....

Urban Simplicity.

Five (or ten) Quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt

Image found here.

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

“You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”

“You can often change your circumstances by changing your attitude.”

“Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.”

“With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.”

“It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself.”

“Happiness is not a's a by-product of a life well lived.”

“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”

“It isn't enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn't enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”

More in the Five Quotes series.
Urban Simplicity.   

Monday, August 11, 2014

Moon Stalker...

Okay. So first of all I have to apologize for all the moon photos. But I really couldn't help myself. If you saw the super moon you know what I am talking about. It was just so incredibly beautiful. This is really a continuation of this post, where I went out and took photos in the moonlight while standing on the Michigan Avenue Bridge. The photos on this page were actually shot over the course of two night, all from the same vantage point of the Bird Island Pier but at different times and using different camera adjustments. The only three photos that were not facing east towards Buffalo are pretty obvious in this group...two below this text is an image of the point where Lake Erie spills into the very mouth of the Niagara river and begins it's 25 mile trek to the Falls, and below that is the Peace Bridge, and the last photo is the sunset looking west at Canada. Sorry again if I'm boring you with so many's so peaceful out there on the pier at night and I shot more than a hundred photos. These are just a few of my favorites. Click any for a larger view.

Urban Simplicity.