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Manipulating Light (and how it nearly broke me)…

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As you may have figured out by now I am fascinated by photography for so many reasons. And the more I learn about it the more I am understanding that it is (A) all about light, and (B) learning how to manipulate light. With that in mind, these are a few photos I shot with an ND filter (which is sort of like putting sunglasses on your camera)…it allows you to take really long exposures in the day time. And when photographing something like moving water it sort of slows it down. But the interesting thing about this series (I think) is how they came about. I really wanted to photograph some moving water and the closest (other than the Niagara River) is Serenity Falls in Forest Lawn Cemetery. I had never been to this particular location and after finding it I was a bit surprised to see that I had to traverse a small and muddy incline. With my tripod and camera slung over my shoulder I took one step, and then another. My third step slipped out from beneath me and for a brief moment I was airborne, only coming to rest on my camera and tripod which were on my back (ouch!). I then proceeded to slip and slide and sort of roll down the muddy path until I came to rest on the edge of what is known as Serenity Falls. Is the name a sort of joke, I wondered? Anyhow, after regaining composure (I was by myself) and brushing myself off a bit, I was able to check my camera to see that it was not broke. Nor was I…but I am rather sore today.  And this is what happened just before snapping these photos.


Urban Simplicity.

Sometimes only white bread will do…

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So as you likely know if you’ve visited this blog before, I bake and eat a lot of bread but rarely the white variety. But sometimes the soft squishiness (yes, that is a word) is all that will suffice. An example of this is when making sandwich loaf (yes, that’s a thing also…these are the types of things one must make when working at a private club). To make a “proper” sandwich loaf the bread must be white of course, but also soft and airy. So if you are the type of person that enjoys really soft white bread (soft enough to rival store-bought) then this recipe is for you. Keep in mind that unlike store-bought bread–with its dough conditioners and preservatives–this will only stay really soft and squishy for a day or two. Nonetheless, this is a really delectable loaf.

Butter and Egg Bread

Makes 1 loaf

1/3 cup water

1/3 cup milk

1 package active dry yeast

1 tablespoon sugar

3 cups bread flour

2 large eggs

3 tablespoon melted butter

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 lightly beaten egg

Combine the water, milk, yeast, sugar, and 1 cup of flour; stir to form a batter. Allow to ferment for 1 hour. Stir in the 2 large eggs and melted butter, then add the remaining 2 cups of flour along with the salt. Mix then knead the dough for 10-12 minutes. Place the dough in a bowl at room temperature, cover it with plastic wrap, and allow it to ferment for 1 – 1 1/2 hours. Remove the dough from the bowl, shape it into a loaf, and place it into a lightly oiled bread pan. Preheat an oven to 350F while waiting for the bread to rise (about 45 minutes). Brush the bread with the beaten egg and bake it for about 30 minutes, or until golden and sounds hollow when tapped upon. Remove the bread from the oven and it’s pan and allow to cool before slicing. This recipe can be multiplied.

Urban Simplicity.

Another face, another very real story…

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For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Matthew 25:35-36

This post is a continuation of one I wrote nearly a month ago regarding the homeless in our city (click here to read it). In that post I mentioned witnessing a women being verbally abused while asking a group of young party goers for some spare change, and also of a man I spoke with who asked me for money on a sunny Sunday afternoon. He told me that he worked full-time (for minimum wage) but still had to beg on the street to support himself. The image above is of Sarah. I met her today while out on my bike. When I saw her sign it was as if my bike stopped itself. After giving her some cash she seemed a bit apprehensive when I asked her if I could take her photo. I told her that I have a blog, work as a chef, and am also an interfaith minister…she then looked at me like I was a bit crazy (and rightly so). Anyhow, we both relaxed and we had a nice but brief chat, this is her story. She’s a single mom just as the sign reads. She and her daughter are currently squatting in an undisclosed vacant house with a few other people. They eat mainly at food pantries and with money she earns on the street. She became homeless after her father–in an alcoholic rage–through her and his grand daughter out in the middle of the night. She has had difficulty getting/holding a job because she suffers from crohn’s disease and is concerned about her daughter’s safety. I have always been moved by seeing people on the street. And as a person of faith I literally cannot help but respond. But in my own personal view I am not doing enough. While I believe that all faiths speak the same truth, I call myself a Christian. And to me, being a Christian is not just about going to church on Sunday mornings, it is a call to action. If I truly were to live out the gospel I would have emptied my wallet to Sarah (OK, I nearly did…but trust me it wasn’t much; I rarely have more than a few dollars on me), or I would have helped in other ways. Tonight when I lay my head on my pillow in my own home with a full belly Sarah and her daughter will be in an abandoned home somewhere. And yes, I am fully aware that she and others I have spoken with and given cash to may be making this all up, that they may in fact be asking for money to support a drug or alcohol habit. But then again, maybe they are not. And if they are not I can’t he;p but wonder how I couldn’t be doing more. Because seriously, as you read this, think about it…what if their stories are true. I’ll get off my little soapbox now, but not before I ask you to watch the below video (it’s only a little over a minute long).

Urban Simplicity.

The view from my handlebars on a blustery but beautiful evening…

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Urban Simplicity.

When Buffaloes Fly…recollections of chicken wings

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By now most of you reading this know that I was born, raised, and in fact still live in the great city of Buffalo, NY. I moved away a couple times but have always found my way home. And while we (as a city) have an incredibly rich culinary tradition, we are—for better or worse—known for chicken wings. In Buffalo they of course are not known as “Buffalo wings,” just simply wings. I didn’t think of them as a regional specialty until I was in my early twenties when I had moved away and someone first referred to them as such. You may have heard these stories before—in person or in print—as I’ve previously told them, but I made wings for staff lunch a couple days ago and I thought of this again.

Anyhow, the first time I had heard of them referred to as Buffalo wings I was in a music store in Nashville, TN. It was the mid-1980’s and I was buying a cassette (remember them?). Noticing my “yank accent,” the clerk asked me where I was from. When I told him Buffalo his eyes lit up and he asked me two things: if I was familiar with the band The 10,000 Maniacs and if I liked Buffalo wings. It sounded odd to me because I had never heard of them referred to as such. I’m sure I was smirking a little when I told him that I did. It hadn’t occurred to me that chicken wings—as a fried food—were unique to our region. I just assumed everyone ate them, like fries or hot dogs or hamburgers.

A couple years later I landed a job as cook at a French restaurant in New Orleans. One day the house butcher brought me a bowl of raw chicken wings. Normally they went into the chicken stock but this day he had saved them upon the sous-chef’s request. The sous-chef, who I feared more than the chef (primarily because the chef never spoke to me, or screamed at me like the sous chef), wanted me to make the staff wings for lunch. He knew I was from Buffalo. Most of the kitchen crew were Cajun and loved the spiciness of the sauce.

“Take some to the chef, he’s in his office,” suggested one of the cooks. Terrified, and with hands shaking, I walked into the office with the sous chef and set down a plate of steaming wings, complete with celery, carrot, and made-from-scratch blue cheese dressing. I rarely had the opportunity to talk to the chef let alone feed him. “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” he inquired. The sous-chef told him in his native French that I was from Buffalo and that these were our delicacy. The wings, he told him were tossed with sauce piquante monté au beurre (spicy sauce mounted with butter). He also warned that they were trés piquant. Speaking in English (a language, I was told, he detested and spoke only in necessity) the chef told me he’d been to Niagara Falls, then picked up a drumstick and bit in. About 10 seconds passed before he pushed the plate away, and in what seemed like desperation, chugged the remainder of his ever-present glass of wine. Panting, he questioned “Shit, why so #!&¢!# hot.” Hey, I thought, he was warned they were trés piquant, and I only made them medium.

At any rate, I feel I don’t need to mention the origin of this simple food as it has been in the media countless times, but the recipe for them is about as simple as one can get…simply deep fry some chicken wings (no flour nor seasoning required) and toss them in a mixture of melted butter and Franks Hot Sauce. Sure there are going to be people who claim to have a “secret recipe,” but there really is no such thing…butter and hot sauce are all that are required (though additions of garlic or onion powder or a plash of vinegar are tasty enhancements).

Traditional Wings

Preheat enough vegetable oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit to fry as many wings as you see fit. While the wings are frying melt a good sized piece of whole butter in a large bowl and swirl in Frank’s Hot Sauce. When the wings float and are crispy and cooked throughout, remove from the hot fat. Drain them and toss with the butter and hot sauce.

Cinq Fleurs…

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Urban Simplicity.

Things That can be Carried on a Bike (#600)…

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A newly recycled–i.e. garbage picked–solid oak chair.


Urban Simplicity.

 

Four ducks in algae and eleven other things I saw while riding my bike this past weekend…

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Urban Simplicity.

Things That can be Carried on a Bike (#599)

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More than $100 in groceries, sundries, and dog food (and geeze ‘o man…$100 doesn’t go nearly as far as it did just a couple years ago).

Urban Simplicity.

Things that can be Cariied on a Bike (#598)…

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72 bottles of soda and a box of hors d’oeuvres.

Urban Simplicity.

H.H. Richardson’s Beautiful but Incredibly Eerie Asylum…

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So I normally do not post this many photos at one time but couldn’t help myself (sorry). Last evening I was riding by bike past the H.H. Richardson Complex and the light hit the building(s) at just the right point that it quite literally stopped me in my tracks….the moon was already out and the clouds were incredible. These buildings, or more specifically, this complex is also known as the Buffalo Psychiatric Center and originally as the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane when it opened in 1880, are straight out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. While there is a newer part of the complex which still functions as a hospital, these buildings haven’t been in use since the 1970′s. It was late evening just before the sun set and it was intense on the stone buildings…it made it (to me) seem even more eerie (not to mention the entire area was devoid of people). I did meet one gentleman who was birding…there are peregrine falcons nesting in the towers and can actually be seen if you look close (they are visible in 3 of the photos, and one shows one flying between the towers). Anyhow, I rode my bicycle around the circumference of the complex trying to catch the light as it faded. I shot a few dozen photos but these are a few of my favorites that I thought I’d share. If you like night shots, here’s a couple dramatic ones I took of the towers last autumn. Click any for a slightly larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

Things that can be carried on a bike (#598) and a brief comment…

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On the bike…Four framed photos, a large pizza, and a book bag.

The below photo is one of the photos I was carrying. It is part of a series of “Photos from a Moving Train.” This one is autumn along the Hudson. The photos will be hanging in the College Street Gallery (CSG) for the next six weeks. The CSG is part of the Allentown First Friday Gallery Walk, and the opening is this Friday at 7pm. Hope to see you there. For a map, click here.

Urban Simplicity.

Smokey Roast Red Pepper Hummus (yum!)

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This is another one of those recipes that is so easy to make and so delicious that you’ll wonder why you don’t make it more often. You can use fresh peppers—as I did for this recipe—or jarred ones which you rinse. I cooked the peppers over the grate of my stove at work, but this time of year it is fun (and flavorful) to cook them outside on a charcoal grill. And as with most my recipes, this is just a suggestion…add whatever flavorings or seasoning you would like. You’ll also note that when I say this is easy to make, it truly is one step. Once the peppers are roasted you simply combine everything in a food processor and puree it. The hummus will keep for about 5 days in the refrigerator…but it is so delicious it will likely be eaten straight away.

 

Smokey Roast Red Pepper Hummus

Makes about 4 cups

2 (15oz) cans chick peas, drained and rinsed

2 roasted red peppers

1 cup tahini

¼ cup lemon juice

¼ cup hot pepper sauce (optional)

4 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons smoked paprika

1 teaspoon sea salt

 

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

 

How to Roast a Pepper

Remove stickers from the pepper. Place the pepper directly on the grate of your gas stove with the flame adjusted to medium. Using a set of tongs turn the pepper ever couple of minutes until the entire outside is completely black. Immediately place the pepper(s) into a small paper bag and seal it closed. Allow the pepper to rest for a couple of minutes. The steam that naturally occurs loosens the skin. Remove the pepper, and while holding it under cold running water gently rub of the blackened skin (it’s wise, but not essential, to do this over a small colander to catch the skin, which may clog the drain). After the skin is removed gently tear the pepper in two and remove the stem and rinse the seeds.

Urban Simplicity.

Notes to My Younger Self; Eleven Things I’d like to say.

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Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

–Bob Dylan

Time goes so very fast doesn’t it? I remember hearing this when I was younger and not really paying it much attention, but the older I get the more true this seems to be.

I am a creature of habit, I always have been. And while I have moved away from Buffalo, NY—the city of my birth—a few times, and have done a bit of traveling, I have always called it home. I live in the eclectic and somewhat bohemian neighborhood known as Allentown—a village within the city—and I know it’s streets like the back of my hand. Some of the businesses I have patronized for decades. And this is what I was thinking while I was out for a couple beers the other night at one of my favorite watering holes.

As I leaned against the bar, which is so old that it in itself is leaning, I thought about the three decades that I’ve come here. In my younger years I would visit late-night for serious partying, but these days it’s mostly just a beer or two in the early evening. And I’m not sure what made me think of this one night in particular, but I did. I was likely about 22 or 23 at the time and had driven here from the suburbs by myself. I was still living in my parent’s house, though they had both passed away by this time. Anyhow, I’m not sure why I remember this night—as nothing out of the ordinary happened—but it came to mind. I can even remember what I was wearing…parachute pants (remember them?) tucked into combat boots (keep in mind this would have been the early eighties and I was heavily influenced by The Clash…watch this video). And on this night I was leaning against the bar just a few feet from where I now stood, albeit 30 years later.

In those days the thought of being 52 years old would have been inconceivable…an old man. At the time I thought I was so grown up—I’ve often felt older than my years—but in retrospect I was just an uncertain young man. I was rebellious, crazy, and wild, but I also carried the weight of the world on my shoulders; and I had so much unresolved grief. But no one probably knew this because even then—just as now—I have the ability to put on a different facade, the face I believe people want to see. And now—so many years later—I had the fantasy of going back and offering my younger self some useful advice.

I imagined standing next to my younger self and having a beer and gently telling myself things that would help me along the way. After all, who would no better than me? Many people write themselves notes (I know that I do)..a sort of “note to self” so they don’t forget something. Well this is a sort of note to self in the retrospective sense…truly trying to remember who I was meant to be as I walk this planet.

It is said that with age comes wisdom. While this may be true, I at times still feel like that uncertain and confused young man. But being more than twice as old as I was then, and knowing myself better now than I did then, I feel I would have some good advice to offer my younger self. And these are some of the things I would say (in no particular order).

1. Don’t worry. For the most part everything works itself out. If you have your health that is enough. You may have heard this a thousand times but it’s truer than true.

2. Cherish relationships. Family, friends, acquaintances, all of them. Over the years people drift apart or in and out of your life. People get sick and die. Cherish them all because you never know when the next time you’ll see each other.

3. Spend your time wisely. When you are younger there is so much time for everything. But as you get older you will realize that time is your most valuable commodity. Spend it wisely.

4. Be kind to people (everyone) and don’t hold grudges. The only one you will be hurting is yourself.

5. Don’t take yourself—or life—too seriously. As you start to fall into certain roles (because you will whether you like it or not) don’t take yourself too seriously. Life can be so fleeting and the years go by quickly. Enjoy it.

6. Relax. Yup, it’s that simple. I know that you are a driven person, and a creative person, but allow yourself to relax now and again. Just…do nothing.

7. Don’t suppress your creativity. You are an extremely creative person (we all are) and as a child it is expressed so freely, but as we get older this is sometimes stifled (and in so many ways). Creativity is what makes our souls jump withing these bodies that we currently occupy. So just do it. Create. Write, draw, paint, play music…whatever makes your heart sing.

8. Live in the present moment (and enjoy the journey). I don’t mean to keep harping on this but it is true, life can be so fleeting so just enjoy every minute of it. This, I truly believe is why we as eternal souls have incarnated into these human forms…to experience life. All of it; the good and that bad. It’s not about the destination but the journey itself. Enjoy it. Every minute of it. Never lose your sense of wonder. Embrace it.

9. Don’t try to be someone you are not; be yourself always. Throughout life people will try to fit you into certain roles and identities, and you yourself will try to make yourself fit into roles and identities that you are not meant for, but don’t do it. Be yourself. Always. It may be difficult sometimes—really difficult—but just be yourself. To everyone and all the time. Years from now you will be happier for it. Be your authentic self.

10. Embrace the fact that you are an introvert. It will take you many years to accept this, and many more thereafter to realize you are an INFJ (sometimes INFP)…one of the quirkiest and most obscure personalities to visit this planet. But the sooner the better. Don’t just accept this, embrace it. Once you figure this out things will fall into place much easier. You’ll be a better person all around.

11. Be grateful for everything. Seriously. Even when it seems impossible or undeserving. Just be grateful. Everything is a gift.

So of course I could go on for pages having this imaginary conversation with my younger self. Offering the younger me advice on how to navigate the years ahead. But as I was typing I couldn’t help but think…if I am writing and conversing with my younger self 30 years prior, what I wonder will I want to tell my current 52 year old self when (hopefully) I am 82, thirty years from now. But then it came to me that maybe I’m already doing it…that much of what I have to say to my younger self is just as pertinent now as it was then. Now I just have to heed my own advice.

There are only two ways to live your life. One is though nothing is a miracle. The other is though everything is a miracle.”

–Albert Einstein

 

14 Quotes from the 14th Dalai Lama

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Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.

There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.

Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of Universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life.

We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.

My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”

“Silence is sometimes the best answer” 

“Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.” 

“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”

“Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.” 

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” 

“If you can cultivate the right attitude, your enemies are your best spiritual teachers because their presence provides you with the opportunity to enhance and develop tolerance, patience and understanding.” 

“Only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek.”

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”  

Click here to go to the Dalai Lama’s website. 

More in the Five Quotes series.

The Miracle of Controlled Spoilage (bis)

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“Preserving was almost a mania with Mrs. Bergson…
When there was nothing to preserve, she began to pickle.”
—Willa Cather, “Death Comes for the Archbishop” (1927)

Fermented foods still amaze me. Not only are they bursting with flavor and so incredibly good for you, but they basically make themselves; you simply provide the proper conditions and let nature take it’s course…salt some food, put it in a bucket and wait. Yup, it’s that simple. Kim-chi, or spicy Korean sauerkraut, is my favorite. I’ve posted this recipe many times before but not in a while. I was prompted to re-post the recipe after tasting my latest batch of the good stuff (pictured). Being as hot as it has been it didn’t take long to ferment and geeeze o’ man is it delicious…bubbling and bursting with flavor and nutrients in each bit. This is so easy to make; I hope you try it. If you’re interested to read more about fermented foods (and would like a bunch more recipes) here are a couple articles I wrote for Artvoice on the subject a few years ago (click here and here). If you’d like to delve deeper into fermented foods, I recommend this book.

Kim Chi

(Korean-Style Sauerkraut)

1 head Napa cabbage, cut into two-inch pieces

1 small daikon, grated

2 tablespoons kosher salt

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 small piece ginger, minced

1 small onion, minced

2 tablespoons chili paste

1 tablespoon sugar

Mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl. Transfer to a container that is wide enough to fit a few small plates inside it. Press the cabbage down and weight it with plates. Cover the container and leave at room temperature. After a day it should release enough liquid that it is submerged, if not, add a little salted water. After about 2 days small bubbles will appear, after about a week or so it will smell and taste distinctively sour. Taste it as often as you like and when the flavor is to your liking transfer the container to the refrigerator to slow its fermentation.

Urban Simplicity.

Things That can be Carried on a Bike (#597)…

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Six (8ft) 2x4s, and a few other things.


Urban Simplicity.

A few things I saw while riding my bike yesterday (and why looking upwards can really be a form of therapy…to me anyways)

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Urban Simplicity.

How to make tofu really flavorful and chewy in three simple steps (yup, it’s this simple)

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This is really easy and the outcome is so delicious that I’ve even had a devout “tofu hater” say it was really good. Eaten as a snack, on a salad or sandwich, or as a component to a stir-fry or rice dish, it delicious, healthy, and versatile. I seasoned this with Cajun seasoning and sea salt but the flavors are really up to you (herbs, curry, smoked paprika, Mexican…it’s really limitless) but what you want to take away from this post is the simple method in which it is prepared, not specific ingredients..

(1) To start with, purchase extra firm tofu, then–after removing it from it’s package–place it between a few plate to gently squeeze out some of it’s moisture; leave the tofu like this for about 20 minutes (continued below).

(2) Slice the tofu and coat it with whichever seasonings you prefer. Then place it on baking sheet that is fitted with a wire rack. Having the wire rack is important because air need to circulate under the tofu as it bakes.

(3) Bake the tofu in a preheated oven (350F) for about 20 minutes, then turn the slices over and bake for another ten. Allow it to cool before serving.

For multiple actual printable tofu recipes click here.

Urban Simplicity.

 

Let Me Walk in Beauty (a Native American Prayer)

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 Image found here

Let Me Walk in Beauty

O Great Spirit,

whose voice I hear in the winds

and whose breath gives life to all the world,

hear me.

I am small and weak.

I need your strength and wisdom.

 

Let me walk in beauty

and let my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.

Make my hands respect the things you have made

and my ears grow sharp to hear your voice.

 

Make me wise so that I may understand the things

you have taught my people.

Let me learn the lessons you have hidden

in every leaf and rock.

I seek strength not to be greater than my brother or sister

but to fight my greatest enemy, myself.

Make me always ready

to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes

So when life fades as the fading sunset

my spirit may come to you without shame.

 

Great Spirit of love, come to me with the power of the North.

Make me courageous when the cold winds of life fall upon me.

 

Give me strength and endurance for everything

that is harsh, everything that hurts,

everything that makes me squint.

Make me move through life ready to take what comes from the North.

 

Spirit who comes out of the East,

come to me with the power of the rising sun.

Let there be light in my word.

Let there be light on the path that I walk.

Let me remember always that you give the gift of a new day.

Never let me be burdened with sorrow by not

starting over.

 

Great Spirit of creation,

send me the warm and soothing winds from the South.

Comfort me and caress me when I am tired and cold.

Enfold me as your gentle breezes enfold your leaves on the trees.

And as you give to all the earth your warm, moving wind,

Give to me so that I may grow close to you in warmth.

 

Great life-giving Spirit,

I face the West,

the direction of the sundown.

Let me remember every day that the moment will come

when my sun will go down.

Never let me forget that I must fade into you.

Give me beautiful color.

Give me a great sky for setting,

and when it is time to meet you,

I come with glory.

 

And Giver of all life, I pray to you from the earth,

help me to remember as I touch the earth

that I am little and need your pity.

Help me to be thankful for the gift of the earth

and never to walk hurtfully on the world.

Bless to love what comes from mother earth

and teach me how to love your gifts.

 

Great Spirit of the heavens,

lift me up to you

that my heart may worship you

and come to you in glory.

Hold in my memory that you are my Creator,

greater than I,

eager for my good life.

Let everything that is in the world

lift my mind,

and my heart,

and my life to you

so that we may come always to you

in truth and in heart.

Urban Simplicity.

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