Note to Self:

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Mystery...two brief stories about the same thing


The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.
~Albert Einstein

I have always believed in the mystery of the unseen. No, I am not referring to ghosts, but simply that there is more to this life than we can see. What is reality, after all? Science will tell you that everything we can see and touch is not actually solid but is moving and vibratory (Google string theory as one example). But I have to restate my opening sentence, or at least amend it.

I have always believed in the mystery of the unseen but don’t always remember or know it. By this, I mean that I am not always open to it. Such has been the case these past few months. Trying to manage a full-time job, a part-time job, and 8 credits of schooling (and trying to have a life) has been trying to say the least. So I just shut things out and live in the material world, which isn’t always my favorite place. The irony is that some of the credits I’m taking, and the class that has been most challenging for me, is a religious studies class. The reading and writing required for the class is approached academically rather than theologically or devotional, in short in my head not my heart. When I get like this I sometimes need a slap in the face to wake me out of my slumber so I can again see the incredible mystery that is all around me. And this is what happened a few days ago.

As with all of us, there are certain dates of the calendar year that have great significance to me. I’m not referring to holidays, but personal dates we remember each year. There’s one such date that I remember each year and on that day take a sort of pause, to remember. What the date means to me is something I’d rather not share in this public forum other than it is very personal. It has had life-altering significance and on that day I simply remember. But this year I didn’t remember; I forgot. I didn’t realize I forgot but I did. Then, out of the blue, I received a text from someone who made reference to the date.

Slap! Wake up, it was telling me. When I read the text I felt like I was in a movie...reading it but not really able to comprehend. I was groggy from being woken up. My skin tingles now as I type these words.

There is so much mystery around and it is so easy to see and feel but when I am so engulfed in my own issues it’s as if I shut everything out and live externally rather than internally, which for an INFJ can be a very scary place. The text reminded me to stop and remember not just that particular day but life, each and every day. The difficult part—the real work—is to keep it going.

The day after I received the aforementioned text I had the day off. It was early and I was heading out to a coffee shop. As I rolled my bike down the plank on my front porch I half-expected a squirrel to run up. No I am not crazy (okay, maybe a bit), there is a squirrel that lives in the eave of my neighbor’s porch and in the spring and summer it runs up to you as you leave the house. My neighbor named it George but we’re questioning whether we should rename him Georgina because he may be a she. But the squirrel didn’t show.

When I bring my bike down the porch I have to set it on its kickstand so I can go back up the porch to lock the front door. It, being a rather large bike, has a rather large kickstand which makes a sound when unfolded. Anyhow, when I set the bike on it’s stand and it made it’s predictable sound I heard the sound of feathers being ruffled. It came from the direction of my neighbor’s porch where George/Georgina resides. I look up to see a peregrine falcon perched directly above the squirrel’s hole, which is only about 15 feet from where I was standing. Holy shit!, is what I’m pretty sure I said aloud. It was waiting for George/Georgina. Did he/she have babies in it’s nest, I wondered?

Then the falcon flew to a tree branch, which was actually closer to me but higher. And for another few seconds it looked down at me then flew away. I tingled. The cycle of life I thought. Even in the city these wildlife things happen.

I hopped on my bike and rode to the coffee shop, and as I did I thought of how incredibly strange life is and what was real. Both of these stories are really about the same thing, the mystery of life.

After a lifetime of working in kitchens I don’t have any money to speak of and have (mostly) stopped worrying about it. I really don’t desire things any longer. Experience is what excites me, and life is about experience. That, to me, is reality.

As I pedaled I thought of the famous conversation Buddha had with his disciples, as recorded in Dona Sutta. I’m abridging and paraphrasing, but it goes something like this. He was first asked if he was a god or messiah to which he answered no. Then asked if he was healer or teacher, also no. Then what are you, he was finally questioned. To which he simply answered, I am awake.

I need constant reminders in my life to stay awake. The text was one—that really was a slap—and the falcon another. I need them constantly, we all do I suppose. When I came home this afternoon George/Georgina came running up to me, as usual a bit too close for my comfort, so I stomped my foot for him/her to stop. And when he/she did I told him/her to be careful, to stay awake, that the falcon knows where you live. I don’t think he/she understood me.

In a way, I suppose, when I warned George/Georgina I was really warning myself. Stay awake, because the falcon (ego) knows where you live. Stay awake lest it plucks you away. Next year, I’m sure I will not forget the date.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
~ 2 Corinthians 4:18 

Urban Simplicity.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

After the Parade, and a Few Other Things I've Seen Recently While Walking or Riding a Bike...


So a couple things. One is that I've begun carrying my camera with me again on a regular basis, hence the photos. It's therapy for me (seriously). The first three photos (the one above and two below) were shot today just after the St. Patrick's Day Parade (Buffalo recently ranked the #1 city for this event). I didn't see the parade but as I live very close to where it happens I snapped a few photos afterwards. While the above shot--which is one of my favorites--may seem a bit snarky I don't mean it to be. It's three drunk people stumbling along and holding one another up (if you saw them in person they sort of swayed in a synchronized motion as they walked). Anyhow, I thought it was nice how they all held one another up. Years ago (many years ago) that may have been me. This rest of the photos are in no particular order. They were shot over the past week or so, where we basically experienced every season (except truly hot summer) within the course of the week. Click any photo for a slightly larger view.












Urban Simplicity.

I am not a perfect cyclist by any means, but...


For those who know me, or even have simply been to this blog in the past, likely know a few things about me, and one of them is that I don't own a car and choose bicycling as my primary choice of personal transport (the other two are walking and public transportation). This said, I am not an anti-car person, it's just that about 5 years ago I realized that not only I no longer needed one but that it was cumbersome to have one in my life.

I'd also like to add that I am in no way a perfect cyclist. For the most part I follow the rules of the, but still, I am not perfect (but who is).

Anyhow, thus said, I had gone out for coffee this morning to do some reading and writing at Sweetness7 and before heading home stopped at Westside Stories and purchased a book on the life of Bonhoeffer. So, in short, I was sort of caffeined up and blissed out as I pedaled and coasted. I was keeping pace with traffic as it had slowed because a driver next to me was making a left turn into a driveway. It was then that I noticed the car behind us turn into the bike lane behind me to pass the car on the right. Did he not see me? He sped ahead, narrowly missing me. He was so close I could feel the air move between us as he passed, the side-view mirror nearly clipped my handlebar. I yelled out--partially in anger and partially in fear--and he looked over at me with a quizzical look as he passed. I slammed on my brakes and stopped. A passerby who was walking saw it and inquired, "Whoa, dude, are you ok?"

Again, I am not a perfect cyclist, but today I was on a clearly marked bike lane when a car crossed into it to pass. Please (other cyclists) do not comment on this in a hateful anti-car way (as tempting as it might be), and pro-car people, please do not comment in the other direction. All I ask is that people in cars be aware. While my bike is heavy by bicycling standards (about 55lbs), your car weighs a ton-and-a-half. To the person in the car whom which I refer, you are likely not reading this, but if you are, know that your actions today almost changed both of our lives.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Sacred Ground (words and photos)


Do you remember Moses at the burning bush?  God had to tell him to take off his shoes–-he didn’t know he was on holy ground. And if we can just come to see that right where we are is holy ground–-in our jobs and homes, with our co-workers and friends and families.  This is where we learn to pray.” ~Richard Foster

So last week after having breakfast with my sisters on a crisp winter's day I rode my bike to the cemetery. As odd as it may sound, I find cemeteries beautiful. Peaceful. I find its sacredness calming and in a way connecting. I had some things on my mind and needed the calm.

Sometimes if I'm feeling stressed or disconnected I have a practice which I do. I think to myself how in some time (hopefully later than sooner) I will no longer be here. I will cease to exist in this particular bodily form. I do believe I will exist in some type of consciousness but cannot fathom what that may be. At some point I (my soul)—which is eternal—will shed this body like an old coat and move on to whatever there is beyond. We all will.

When I looked around at the monuments I thought of how each person had their own worries and stresses but in the end none of those worries matter. Some of the graves have large monuments built to honor their loved ones, but they are no more important than the smaller ones or even those unmarked.

I know this may seem a bit dark and even morbid, but it's not. To me it is inspiring because it makes me remember what I have right now. Because that of course is all we really have...the now.

Thinking in these terms also helps me remember our connectedness and the holiness of everyday life. If, for example, there is something greater than I, a higher power, which I believe there is, then wouldn't this source shed the same light on you and I and everyone equally? So if this is true wouldn't we each carry a spark of light from this source within us, no matter our circumstances? And if this were true wouldn't each of us be not only connected to one another in some mysterious way but also precious to this source in some unfathomable way? And if this were true would each interaction, each step we take, in some way be holy, sacred. The very ground on which we walk sacred.

I’ve come to this cemetery for years, for solace and photos. And I remember a while back, in the summertime, seeing a group of teenagers lying on the grass as if it were a public park. They seemed harmless enough, and happy, but inadvertently they were lying on a person’s grave. A cemetery worker saw them as he drove by. He stopped and I was close enough that I could hear what he said. He told the teenagers they were welcome to stay so long as they stayed on the road or benches or other public areas, because where they were currently sitting was sacred ground.

As I rode my bike through the paths of the cemetery last week, on a crisp winter day, I would stop periodically to snap a photo when something caught my eye. And when I did I would hear the sounds of wildlife as the cemetery is an unofficial animal sanctuary in the city. At one point a family of deer gracefully meandering through the gravestones. The sound of geese is always present as they squawk and cackle near the lake and stream. And circling above were a couple falcons searching for prey. The cycle of life, I thought. And I also thought of the irony...so much life in this place of graves. So much beauty.

Years ago I happened upon a book by the spiritual writer, Ernest Holmes, at used bookstore. The bookstore has since closed, and the owner himself has made his transition, but I still have the book. It's simply titled, Practicing the Presence, and is the first book of New Thought I had read, which eventually changed the way I view things. When I first picked up the book I opened it at random and the first words that I read were, "The very place on which you stand at this moment is holy ground." Chills ran up my spine as I read it and they do again as I remember this and type these words.

So as I stood there straddling my bike, my breath visible from the cold, I thought about this. It is true that nothing matters but now. The connections we have with one another and how we interact in this particular time we all happen to be passing through are all we have. Money worries are nothing. Annoyances at work, ditto. None of it means anything. The only thing that matters is love. For one another and all things. And as I stood thinking these things, for a very brief moment, the veil was lifted ever so slightly and I caught a glimpse of this. And at that moment I was standing on holy ground, and realized that each one of us is sacred. To each other but also to our source from whence we came and will ultimately return.

As I pedaled and coasted home I had a full belly from brunch, but also a full heart from my contemplation in the cemetery. Now I have to remember to carry this with me throughout my days. And that will be the most difficult part.









 Urban Simplicity

Friday, March 3, 2017

Thin Ice, Blood Church, and a few other things I saw while riding my bike yesterday...


"Life is one long decay, no? There's a lot of beauty in it."
~ Urs Fischer

So I had yesterday off of work and had an appointment on Buffalo's East Side. I love riding my bike through the neighborhoods for a couple reasons. One is that my heritage is there. I was born on the East side, and generations before me lived there. But also the neighborhoods. While the East Side is home to some of the most impoverished neighborhoods in our city, I find it oddly peaceful to pedal and coast my way through the streets with often dilapidated buildings and urban prairies. I feel the presence of souls past as I coast through the quiet streets.

It was cold out (I was glad it actually felt like winter) and I was pedaling into a strong headwind, so for a bit of reprieve I stopped for breakfast at Mattie's Restaurant on Fillmore and was served by Miss Mattie herself. And with a full belly and warm coffee I pedaled the rest of the way home and felt grateful to be on a bike, to be able to experience my short 10 mile round trip with all my senses.








Urban Simplicity.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Five or Twelve Quotes from Dr. Seuss

(aka...Dr. Seuss, Theo LeSieg, Rosetta Stone, Theophrastus Seuss)
Born on this day 1904

“You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.” 

“Only you can control your future.”

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.”

“Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.”

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?" 

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” 

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”

“A person's a person, no matter how small.”

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”

“You're off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So... get on your way!”

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!”

More in the Five Quotes Series.
Urban Simplicity.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Nearly Night (Fastnacht Kuecheles...recipe and lore)


This is a recipe that I post every year just before Lent. I usually post it on Shrove Tuesday--the traditional day these doughnuts are eaten--but thought I'd post it a day earlier in the event anyone would like to make them (and I hope you do). I was lucky enough to be brought up with food traditions on both sides of my family. I had mentioned in an earlier post that I was Lebanese-American on my father's side, well my mother's side of the family is of German-French ancestry. The recipe below I received from one of my sisters, who learned it from our mother, who learned it from our grandmother, and so on.. The name of these doughnuts in German is fastnacht kuecheles and they are very similar to the French or New Orleans biegnet. They are traditionally eaten the day before Lent as a (now mostly symbolic) act of using up all the rich, luxurious, and fatty foods before spending the next 40 days in introspection (living lean). The names of the day may change from one tradition to another but they all basically mean the same thing. The English name is Shrove Tuesday...shrove is the past tense of shrive, loosely meaning to offer confession or penance. In French, Mardi Gras translates literally as Fat Tuesday...the last of the "fatty stuff" for 40 days. And Carnival, translates loosely as "farewell to meat," or "farewell to flesh," meaning goodbye to meat and/or carnal pleasures for a while. What I find interesting is something new I learned about the German version of these doughnuts, not so much the recipe itself but its etymology. I have been fascinated with languages my entire life but know almost nothing (fast nichts) about German. Anyhow, I always thought that the word for these doughnuts--fastnachts--meant fast night, or the night before the fast...Lent. And this still may be true. But when I did some electronic translating and broke the phrase into two words--fast nacht--I've come to see that it translates literally as almost night, likely making reference to the somber darkness that shrouds the next 40 days of the Christian Calendar. Unrelated but still related to this recipe, the word kuecheles, is likely a variation of k├╝chle, meaning fritter. Anyhow, these are very simple to make and super-delicious. The one thing that's not shown in the photos but is included in the recipes (and is the best part) is that they are tossed in powdered sugar while still warm. And I can still hear my mother's voice from when I was a boy and tossing the kuecheles with eager anticipation (just as I do today)..."Joey," she would yell while standing in front of her frying pan, "You're getting sugar everywhere." And I likely was.


Fastnacht Kuecheles


Makes about 3 dozen
1 cup water (room temperature)
1 cup milk (room temperature)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons yeast
6-7 cups all-purpose flour, divided
3 large eggs
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt
powdered sugar



Combine the water, milk, sugar, yeast, and two cups of flour in a large bowl. Allow to rest for 1 hour, or until the yeast is fully active. Transfer to an upright mixing bowl with a dough hook. Add the eggs, melted butter, salt, and 4 cups of flour. Run the mixer on low for 1 minute (if the dough seems too sticky add the remaining cup flour) then turn to medium and knead for 5 minutes. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rest at room temperature for about an hour, or until double in size. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and cut into three pieces. Shape into balls, cover, and let rest 20 minutes. Roll into large circles about 1/4 inch thick, then cut the dough into diamonds 2-4 inches wide. Cover the diamonds with a cloth and let rest 10 minutes. Preheat a couple inches of vegetable oil to 350F in a heavy skillet. Carefully fry the fastnachts in batches, cooking them for a couple minutes on each side until they are puffed and golden-brown; drain on absorbent paper. Allow them to cool for a few minutes, then toss a few at a time in a paper bag with confectionery sugar.


Urban Simplicity

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Things that can be carried on a bike (#714) and a quote...


[Commuting by bicycle is] an absolutely essential part of my day. It’s mind-clearing, invigorating. I get to go out and pedal through the countryside in the early morning hours, and see life come back and rejuvenate every day as the sun is coming out.”
~James L. Jones, Barack Obama’s former national security advisor

On the bike: 47 framed photos of various sizes on their way to a show.


Monday, February 20, 2017

What is it?


Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
~Desmund Tutu

So today the local Jewish Community Center had a bomb threat. It was one of 10 JCCs across the country today, and dozens in the past few days, that have had bomb threats. I've been a member of this JCC for the past 15 years. I was there swimming yesterday. They--the workers and the members--are incredibly beautiful people. Over the years I've made friends with many.

Two nights ago, on a corner that is just one block from my home and next to one of my favorite watering holes, two young men were beaten simply for being gay.

Islamophobia is on the rise, this can not be denied. I work with a few Muslims and they are hard working and so very friendly. I cannot imagine having hatred towards them simply because of their faith.

What is it? This hatred. Where does it come from. People are not born hating, they are taught it. But why? What is it? It stems from fear, I am convinced of it. We are all just people. No matter our color, faith, or sexual orientation, we are just people.

The above photo was taken at dusk this evening from my front porch. A beautiful evening. The temperature today hit the upper 40s Fahrenheit. It's supposed to be like this all week. By the weekend it is supposed to hit 60F. This is Buffalo, NY in February where it is normally frigid and snowy. But it's the hate that occupies the news. Climate change does not know borders, race, or religion, but it is happening.

I can't change the big stuff but I can do small things. We all can. And that's what I need to focus on. The good stuff, no matter how small.

To answer my own question...the good stuff. That's what it is. Because light and good always overcomes darkness. But I'm rambling now. Anyhow, this is what I was thinking as I stared at the sky on an incredibly beautiful yet really unseasonably warm February evening. I'll get off my little soapbox now.

"My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference."
~Jimmy Carter

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The views from my handlebars on a late winter's eve


So I had the day off today and was out running errands on the bike (surprise, right?). Normally by this time of the year I am so tired of the snow that I can't wait for it to end, but it has been such a mild and mediocre winter that mostly what I am waiting for is the gray and wet to end. Anyhow, it started to snow and I had my camera with me so I took a few photos, and here they are. Click any for a larger view.





Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Shorbat Addis! (Syrian-Lebanese Red Lentil Soup)


So I've posted this recipe (or variations of it) a few times in the past but not in quite some time, so I thought I'd re-post. It is so easy to make, really delicious, and nutritious, too. And it'll make your house smell delicious as it simmers. This recipe makes 2 quarts, but it tastes better the 2nd or 3rd day and it freezes well also. The recipe I use contains chicken broth, but it is just as delicious when made vegan/vegetarian using vegetable broth as a substitute. A bowl of this soup along with a piece of bread and maybe a piece of fruit is complete and filling meal. If you enjoy soup, I hope you make this. You won't be sorry.

For additional Lebanese inspired recipes, click here.



Red Lentil Soup with Spinach

Makes about 2 quarts

4 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons whole cumin seed
2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon crushed hot pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 (15 oz. Can) diced tomatoes
2 cups red lentils
8 cups chicken broth
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cups (4-6 ounces) fresh spinach, chopped
¼ cup lemon juice

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper; saute slowly until caramelized. Add the garlic, cumin, turmeric, hot pepper, and salt; cook another minute or two. Add the tomatoes, and cook them until the juice reduces and everything forms a sort of paste. Add the lentils and broth; bring to a boil then lower it to a simmer. Cook the soup for about 30 minutes, then add the potatoes and simmer another 30 minutes or until the soup thickens and the lentils become very soft. Stir in the spinach and cook another 5 minutes. If it becomes too thick, add additional broth or a little water. Stir in the lemon juice and remove from the soup from the heat.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

There are reminders everywhere (and I need constant reminding)


"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."
~Philippians 4:8

The above Bible quote is one of my favorites. And yes, I am a crazy leftist liberal who reads the Bible (occasionally). I find inspiration in it in the metaphoric sense, not literally. But as is often the case when I start typing, my mind is ahead of my fingers and I jump ahead. Let me start over.

The above photo was taken last evening, I saw it at just the right time. I was on my way  home from my second job and feeling depleted physically and spiritually. Physically from working too much, not getting enough sleep, and having a cold; spiritually from the uncertain times in which we live. If you are on Facebook then your feed, like everyone's, is likely filled with mostly posts about politics. And the negativity after a while really wears me down. It helps when I focus on good (hence the above quote).

I of course am not immune to the negativity. While I've made the personal commitment to not join in with the onslaught of it on Facebook, I still get caught up in it in conversations at work and else-wear. The fear turns to anger, but it is still fear. I am convinced of this. But there are reminders everywhere, all we have to do is look. And sometimes I believe they are placed right in front of me just when I need them most, such as the above sign attached to a fence on a building I passed last night. Do you have an extra coat? leave it here and we will give it to someone in need. Simple, right? Isn't that what life should be about? 

Focusing on the anger is the easier path, I think. At least it is for me. Being angry is not fun, but it is easy. Focusing on love (for one another) and having compassion for all of humanity is more difficult. But that's the path that I choose. Do I stray from the path? Yes, of course...daily, hourly, by the minute. So I draw myself back. And sometimes I simply forget. That's why I need guideposts and reminders. People are good and there is good all around us. But we need to look, all the time. Here's a few more examples:

The photo just below is the local chapter of Food Not Bombs, which cooks and feeds people for free twice a week year round, no matter the weather. The second photo below is a building I pass a few times a week on my way the coffee shop (where I type these words). They have a table outside on the sidewalk and offer free things to whoever wants or needs them. The next photo is the Homeless Jesus statue in downtown Buffalo. People leave clothes, sundries, and food for the homeless year round. And my personal favorite is the bottom photo. I was walking to the corner tavern one evening last month when I saw the note taped to a gate in front of a neighbor's house. Someone had apparently dropped one of their bags and it had a loaf of bread in it and the neighbor held it for return. Simple acts of kindness with profound results.

There are countless other examples of good happening all around us, these are just a few. And while I post these as a share to you, they are really (selfishly) for me. I have to remind myself to focus on the good (and I need constant reminders). Light always overcomes darkness, we simply need to seek it...to become the light.

"In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart."
 ~ Anne Frank





Urban Simplicity.