Bicycling Through Thin Space…

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Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia.”

~H.G. Wells

The day before last I walked my bike out of my living-room in predawn hours and down the plank on my front porch that serves as a sort of ramp. I’ve used this ramp system for about ten years, since first injuring my back and unable to carry even my lightest bike up the short flight. Thankfully, since then, my back has healed. But since riding cargo bikes almost exclusively, which tend to be heavy even without cargo, the ramp has become the norm. And on this morning after walking the bike down the ramp I stood there for a couple minutes. It was not yet light and there was a crescent moon in the sky with Saturn and Jupiter visible. It was already humid; dampness hung in the summer’s air.

I was not looking forward to the day, I knew what I was walking into at work…another very busy and understaffed day. How many kitchens have I rushed around in, I wondered, as I stood there. The story of my life…hot bustling kitchens. But as I stood there gazing at the sky I was in awe. I felt small, and I felt stupid for worrying about my petty issues. But still I was not looking forward to the day ahead of me. So I whispered a prayer as I stood there in the predawn darkness in front of my house. I asked the Universe to show me Her beauty, to remove my fear and replace it with Her love. Then, knowing that it was already there and available for me—that all I had to do was accept it—I finished with thank you. And I hopped on my bike.

With the first push of my pedals I, in the early silence, could hear a squeak that I’ve been meaning to tend to, and it annoyed me as I hadn’t yet. My middle-aged body felt tired. After working evenings for decades I have still not adjusted to these early morning hours. I do not get enough sleep. And my legs were sore as I pushed through the humid darkness. But then as I let it go, the wet air felt good on my skin. As I rounded a corner seagulls fought for a scrap of something in the street. There was a person rummaging in a trash bin for cans, and hearing me coming (probably my squeak) he looked up and our eyes met. I nodded, suggesting a greeting. My problems are not real problems, I thought to myself, as I pushed up a slight incline.

My route to work is a direct one, mostly a straight line, and a main thoroughfare in the neighborhood. The commute is just shy of two miles and is often bustling with cars and people, but predawn it is quiet, except for the seagulls. While I pedaled I couldn’t take my eyes off the moon which hung low in the summer sky. I’d catch glimpses of it between buildings as it slowly set beyond the horizon, signaling the beginning of another day.

Sometimes—not always but sometimes—bicycling, for me, can be a meditative experience. Especially in the early morning hours. And on this day it was. I was conscious of my leg muscles pushing the pedals, and of my breath which sought oxygen to fuel my body. And even the sweat which now cling to my back and ran down my brow, in an effort to cool my middle-aged body. I was both the engine and the cargo. Over the years I have come to believe that we as humans do not have mystical experiences, but rather we—who are eternal souls—are mystical beings having human experiences. Thus, when we feel some sort of mystery or unexplainable experience we are actually remembering our True Self, what it is like to be whole. The veil is lifted, if even for just a brief second, but that is enough.

And as I pedaled and huffed and puffed my way to work, I was aware of the moon setting to my left while the first glimpse of light from the rising sun began to show to my right. A continuing and never ending cycle. For just a second or two it was as if nothing mattered and there were nothing to worry about…all there was, was that very minute. The past was just that, past, and the future was not yet here. Just now, that’s all there was. But then, just as with any mystical experience (or what I like to call, non-experience), I thought about it, and it was gone.

I’ve also come to believe that, to me, bicycling can actually be a form of spiritual practice, where I can experience what the Celts refer to as “thin space,” where the line between the seen and unseen blur. A glimpse to what is real. And on this morning I felt it. Knew it. Does this happen every time I hop on my bike? No, of course not. Rarely, actually. If it did I would never get off the bike. But it can, I know this.

When I arrived outside work to lock up the bike I was soaked with sweat, my body was doing what it was built to do. I was still dreading the day, but now much less. I had asked the Universe to show me Her beauty, to remove my fear, and She did. I knew now that no matter what happened, no matter what transpired throughout the day, nothing could harm me. That everything would be okay. And it was.

Za’atar Bread!

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I went to a family gathering yesterday and saw some cousins and aunts that I hadn’t seen in quite a while. It was truly beautiful. We all brought things to eat, and one of the things that I brought was za’atar bread. I don’t make this that often but when I do I wonder to myself why I haven’t made it in such a longtime; it is so simple and delicious. But before I talk about the actual recipe I suppose I should mention the herb blend itself. Za’atar is a common herb blend all over the Levant, but is particularly common in Lebanon. In it’s most common form, it is comprised of thyme, sumac (which gives it it’s distinctively slightly sour taste), toasted sesame seeds, and sea salt. But there are many variations; two of the more common also include oregano or cumin. It’s usually readily available in any Middle Eastern market. If you are in the Buffalo area you can purchase it at Pete’s Lebanese Bakery, Guercio’s, or Penzy’s on Elmwood. Or you can make your own.

I’m told that in Lebanon this is eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And I can understand why…once you get a taste you’ll know too. And as I mentioned, this is so easy to prepare. Normally this is not made with whole wheat dough, but I prefer most things whole wheat/grain these days. Anyhow, you can make your own dough as I did (use any of these super easy recipes), or a store-bought raw dough.

After forming the dough into balls, the next step is to roll it out. I used my siti’s (grandmother’s) rolling pin which I inherited from my aunt a few years ago. She told me it was from the “old country.” Anyhow, roll the dough as large or small or as thick or thin as you like. I rolled these into discs about 8″ wide by 1/4″ thick. This was to be used to dip into hummus; if I was making it for sandwiches I would have rolled it much wider and paper thin.

Next, drizzle the dough with olive oil and sprinkle a liberal amount of za’atar, and rub it into the dough with your fingers.

After letting the discs rise for a few minutes, bake them–a few at a time–in a hot oven (425F) for about five minutes. I have a pizza stone in my oven which I slide the dough onto. Lacking that, you can use an inverted baking sheet. Either way, it is essential that the oven be pre-heated and that the stone or tray are hot.

Lastly, share the bread with friends and family.

If you’d like additional Lebanese-inspired recipes, click here.

PAX (a photo and a few words)

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The word comes from the French, paix
Which comes from the Latin, pax
An absence of violence
That’s one definition
Freedom from disturbance is another
Calm and tranquil are two more
There are others
But what about love
None seem to say that
Because with love comes peace
Not romantic love
But love for your fellow human
For all things
For every thing
With that, I think, there would be peace
But we are not there
I know I’m not
I have peace at hand
But not in my heart
At least not entirely
It’s easy for me to pray for family
And friends
But for those whom I dislike
Those I feel do wrong in this world
Those who slander me
That’s not so easy
At least not sincerely
But when I can
When I can truly love everyone
Even those who wrong me
Or those who do terrible things
And only then
Will I have peace
Be peace
There is so much work to do
So much to strive for
The absence of violence

Three Photos and Five Quotes….

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 “We choose our next world through what we learn in this one. Learn nothing, and the next world is the same as this one, all the same limitations and lead weights to overcome.”

–Richard Bach

 “We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill.”

–Richard Bach

More in the Five Quote series.

The easiest tomato sauce you’ll ever make…

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Okay, maybe this isn’t the easiest sauce–I generally don’t use extreme words such as easiest, best, worst, etc–but it is really easy. And it’s really delicious. Basically, after cooking onion and garlic until it is nice and caramelized, you add seasonings and grape tomatoes (diced tomatoes work fine–maybe even better–but I had these on hand so there was no dicing, that’s what made it so easy. The sauce itself can be seasoned however you want…add cumin for a more Middle eastern flare, or curry for Indian, but I kept it simple with basil and hot pepper to toss with pasta. This can also be used as a base for braising meat, poultry, fish, or vegetables. Anyhow, the simple recipe is below.

Tomato Sauce (made with grape tomatoes)

Makes about 2 cups

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon sugar (optional)

1 teaspoon basil leaves

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon crushed hot pepper

2 pints grape tomatoes

1 cup water

Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot, then add the onion. Cook the onion, while stirring, for 5 or 10 minutes, or until it is golden brown. Add the garlic and cook another couple minutes. Stir in the sugar, basil, salt, and hot pepper; cook for a few seconds then add the tomatoes. Cook the tomatoes for a few minutes, until they begin to pop. Add the water and stir and cook the tomatoes until they break down. While the tomatoes are cooking mash them with the back of a spoon. Cook the sauce until it reduces and thickens.

Playing Chess in the Park and other Photos…

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So just a bit of shameless self-promotion here (hey, someone’s gotta do it). My solo show is up and the reception is Friday evening. If you are in the WNY I would love to see you there. More than 100 photos in all. Here’s a link to the Facebook event page. My artists statement is below. Peace. 

Photography for me is often a contemplative practice. When I look through a lens it forces me to focus on what’s right in front of me. And it’s always beauty. One simply needs to look—to open themselves to it—and it’s there. These photos were taken over a five year period, from 2011–2016, but most were taken during 2012–2014. I was enrolled in ministry classes in the city and traveled there nearly every month for 2 years. And when I wasn’t in class I would wander around the city, mostly the east and west village, and contemplate what it means to be human at this point in time. And these photos are the result.

Five or Six Quotes from Maggie Kuhn…

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Maggie Kuhn, born in Buffalo, NY on August 3rd 1915, is often attributed to the inspirational quote, “Speak the truth even if your voice shakes.” But from what I’ve found that is a paraphrase, the actual quote is the first listed below. To read about Ms. Kuhn’s extraordinary life, click here.

“Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind — even if your voice shakes.”

“When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say.”

“Power should not be concentrated in the hands of so few, and powerlessness in the hands of so many.”

“I’m an old woman. I have gray hair, many wrinkles and arthritis in both hands. And I celebrate my freedom from bureaucratic restraints that once held me.”

“By the year 2020, the year of perfect vision, the old will outnumber the young.”

“There must be a goal at every stage of life! There must be a goal!”

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

Urban Simplicity.

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