Tag Archives: every day life

Words, titles, and sounds…

Oh no, I’ve said too much.
I haven’t said enough.” 
~Michael Stipe
Losing My Religion

So these writings (ramblings) began sort of as notes to myself…a way to record, aknowledge, and even monitor myself as I attempt to simplify my life. Sometimes, though, I wonder if I should share what I do…if my sometimes seemingly aimless and meandering words will be of interest or even any meaning to anyone but me. But still I do it, and I’m not sure why. Sometimes it just has to come out. Anyhow, here’s another story, and a rather personal one.

One year ago today I was standing in front of an altar and in front of about 1500 people, along with 60 of my classmates, at Riverside Church in NYC. We were graduating from a two year seminary program from One Spirit Learning Alliance. The director of the program announced each one of us to the public, and when she said my name it gave me goosebumps; it was the first time I heard someone say, the Reverend Joe George. I can still feel the moment deeply when I recall it.

I recall the moment so deeply not because of the title. I’ve always found titles a bit silly, and have in fact recently taken a job where for the first time in 26 years my job title is cook, not chef (but more on that later). The reason I was so moved at that very moment is that I was so proud of myself and my classmates for having completed the program. Many of the students lived in the NYC area, some attended class part-time and via webinar, and others—like myself—commuted to the city for one weekend each month.

Mostly I entered seminary for personal reasons and being an ordained minister was not the main reason. I was so proud of myself because I had managed to do this while working full-time as a chef. I almost didn’t enroll and flip-flopped about it for a couple years before actually doing so. And I can still remember the day when I sat in meditation questioning it and was told (not through a voice but intuition…an inner voice) that if I really wanted to do this I could, that doors would be opened. And they were.

And so, as I stood in the front of that incredibly awe-inspiring church one year ago today I was both exhilarated and exhausted. Twenty-two trips to NYC (mostly by train) in twenty-four months had depleted me financially and exhausted me emotionally and spiritually. The inner work that was required of us had quite literally turned me inside out. I was raw. And while standing there hearing the director announce each one of us, and as she came closer down the row of people towards me, I glanced around at my classmates and some had tears trickling down their cheeks but we were all beaming; we were glowing.

I’m not sure what I expected after graduation. I was already middle-aged and three-decades into a culinary career when I entered the program. Did I want or expect to work as a minister in the traditional sense? No, of course not, I knew that. But I wanted this to change me and open me to new possibilities. And in many ways it has. As I’ve gotten older my priorities have changed, but I suppose this is common with a lot of people. Still though, this past year has been difficult financially, spiritually, and emotionally. But the one thing I have learned is that most things will work themselves out and that everything really will be okay, even if it doesn’t seem it at times. I’ve also come to realize that material things mean less and less to me, but experience and relationship means more (and more and more). But now I’m rambling so I’ll try to tie this together with some relevance to the above note.

The day we stood in front of everyone at the church was our graduation, but we were ordained in a private ceremony at a retreat center upstate along the Hudson two nights prior. One of our ordination requirements was to write our own vow which we would take and say aloud. We were asked to make them brief. I wanted to make it as personal as I could and my initial one was about three or four sentences, then we were asked to condense and distill them down to one sentence, two at the most. I found this to be more difficult than writing the original version. But I digress.

Two days ago I was having a rough day…nothing major, just “one of those days.” Everyone has them now-and-again, I suppose. I had gone up to my room to do a few basic asanas, which I do as a spiritual practice but mostly to relieve lower back pain. It was warm outside and I had the windows open and a fan on to create a cross-breeze. And as I was preparing for my stretches the breeze blew a piece of paper across the floor directly in front of me. I’m not sure where it came from exactly (probably from on top of one of my messy dressers) but I am convinced it was something I needed to see.

At the retreat center we were required to stand in front of everyone and speak our vows aloud to the class, our deans, and into the universe. We had to speak into a microphone, which always makes me nervous. So I wrote out my vow on a little scrap of paper so I wouldn’t forget the words out of stage fright. Words, I’ve come to think, carry so much weight when spoke aloud. The most obvious Christian example of this comes from the Gospel of John…”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and Word was God.” In Hinduism the word (sound) Om is considered the original vibration sent forth as the beginning of creation. But again I digress. 

Soon this recent day, as the scrap of paper rolled in front of me I picked it up and threw it in a small trash basket nearby. But as I did I noticed my own handwriting on it, so I retrieved it to see what it said. When I opened it I shivered. To my surprise it was the very note that held the words that I spoke aloud to the universe on that very day one year prior. Was this just a coincidence or a Jungian synchronicity? Who knows, but it certainly was something I was meant to (re)see. This scrap of paper likely sat on a dresser for a year. I’ve had the windows open and fan on many times since then, but it was at this time that it was delivered to me. I spoke those words aloud and one year later they came back as a reminder. A reminder of so many things. But mostly, I think it was meant to remind me that things do work themselves out and that everything is okay and that I (and you and all of us) are in the very spot that we are meant to be, even if we don’t realize it or if it doesn’t feel right. I’ve also come to think of life as a sort of journey—sort of like one lesson stacked on top of another—and today, just like tomorrow and the day after and the day before, are all part of that journey. 

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 

Urban Simplicity.

The Toa of Pug

If you’ve been to this blog before you likely know a few things about me…and one of them is that I am owned by two pugs. I know, I know…if you are not a “dog person” you may find it a bit annoying to see pictures of dogs. And I’m wondering when I turned into one of “those people”…those people that post pictures of their dogs. Anyhow, sorry but I can’t help myself. They are such an incredible breed…some say big dogs trapped in little dog’s bodies. The above photos I snapped today and the below one last week. It’s interesting (in the above photos) how serious Franklin looks (upper left photo); he is the happy-go-lucky one; Maxwell is the more serious and alpha of the two. In the bottom photo it was something like 90F outside and we went for a walk..to their dismay the walk ended at the veterinarian’s office…

Urban Simplicity.

More about the Birds (numéro cinq)

So I was finally able to capture a couple pictures of the papa bird feeding the baby chicks (the top and bottom photo). And second from the bottom is the mother bird keeping a watchful eye as usual. Their breed was also identified…House Finch (thanks Rita!). And the image below is a closeup of one of the babies…they have become so full and chubby–and full of feathers–in less than two weeks. I’m pretty sure there are four in the nest. The reason the pictures of the parents are somewhat blurry are that I’ve had to take their photos not only from a distance (they hear the camera turn on, I swear) but also through an unwashed window (I really do need to clean my windows). Anyhow, to see previous pictures of the birds–in chronological order–click here, here, here, and here.

Urban Simplicity.

Mother and Child Reunion

A few things first. In the event this is the first you’ve seen these birds this is a continuation of a post I started a week ago regarding birds that have taken residence on my front porch. To see previous posts, click here, here, and here. I’ve been somewhat concerned because I haven’t seen anyone tending the babies in the past day but I think they (the adult birds) have simply been sneaky about it. The image above is the best shot I’ve gotten of the elusive mother. She’s skittish and sees or hears me as I approach the window. Actually, as it turns out, I’m not sure if the above bird is the mother or the father…it turns out there have been two of them taking care of the baby chicks. Both are small birds–likely not taller than four or five inches–but the other bird has bright red breast and neck feathers. It’s amazing watching them feed and tend to the little ones. But speaking of them…they’re not that little any longer. It’s amazing how quickly they grow. The best I can figure is there are four or five of them pictured in the pile of feathers below…pretty soon they will be overflowing from the nest.

Urban Simplicity.

Squawkin’ for Momma

This post is another continuation of the birds that took up residence on my front porch (click here or here for previous posts). They are really amazing to observe, and also how fast they are growing. I still have not been able to get a good photo of their elusive mother…the minute I step on the porch she flees. The nest is visible outside a window and sometimes all it takes is for me to approach the window for her to flee. The bottom photo is one I took of her in the nest feeding her chicks early this morning. The photo was taken from a distance and through an un-washed window.

Urban Simplicity.

The Birds…Two Days Later and Under a Watchful Eye

This is a continuation of a post I entered two days ago regarding these cute little birds that have taken to nest on my front porch. It’s amazing how they’ve grown in just two days…it’s the first time I looked in on them since the previous post, which I believe is right after they hatched. I was curious, so I went out with a stood and stood on it. And just like the other day the mother bird left the nest when I approached…but this time she didn’t go far. She flew to a branch only about ten feet away and watched…her head may have been sideways but we know she was watching my every move. Anyhow, I talked nicely to them (and her) as I snapped a few photos and assured her I meant them no harm. Amazing, I think. I’ll try to post a few more pictures in a couple of days, if she allows it…

Urban Simplicity.

Beautiful and Incredible–but Slightly Inconvenient–Nesting

Okay…firstly, this is incredible. A tiny little bird family on my front porch. But the reason I say it is inconvenient is its location…on a faux bamboo shade to shield the sun from my house on a hot day..today it was 89F/32C. I noticed the bird’s nest starting to take shape a few weeks ago and before I knew it I could see a bird sitting in there; I figure she was guarding eggs. I can see the nest from the window next to my computer and glanced out today and saw the little beaks sticking up over the straw. I went out and stood on a chair to get pictures. I didn’t want to get too close (I used the zoom) but still the mother flew away when I stood on the chair. I snapped a few quick pictures and got down before momma bird came back with papa and a few of his friends (maybe I’ve watched too many Alfred Hitchcock movies). She came back almost immediately after getting off the chair. It’s night now, and as I type these words I can see her silhouette perched in the nest with her chicks. I’ll not be able to use that shade until they leave the nest, I suppose. But it’s worth it. Sometimes it’s so easy to forget (I’m speaking of myself here) how incredible and amazing the fabric of life is. Things like this help me remember.

Urban Simplicity.

Five Quotes from Mary Oliver

Photo credit: Josh Reynolds
I have to admit that I was not familiar with the poems of Mary Oliver before this morning. I am currently reading the book, Falling-Upward: Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, by Richard Rohr, when I came across this quote that he had sited: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? The quote is actually the last line in her poem, The Summer Day. Anyhow, it moved me when I first read it as it does still, so I thought I’d share it with a few of her quotes.

“I have a notion that if you are going to be spiritually curious, you better not get cluttered up with too many material things.”

“Poetry isn’t a profession, it’s a way of life. It’s an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that.”

“So this is how you swim inward. So this is how you flow outwards. So this is how you pray.”

“To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.”


The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

To read more in the five quote series, click here.

One Photo One Day Later

This flower was part of a series I posted yesterday. It’s a flower in my next-door neighbor’s front yard. It had rained for a good part of the day and when I came home in late afternoon it had stopped, and as I was unloading my bike in front of my house I saw this glistening and swaying in the wind…so I took another picture of it. Later, when I uploaded it to my computer it took my breath away. It still does. I remember hearing somewhere that what drives a painter to paint is to capture on canvas what they see so they can share it with the world. I don’t remember where I heard that, or if it was attributed to a specific artist, or if I actually heard it at all. But I’ve come to realize that this is the reason I post pictures…to share what I saw. Beauty in everyday life. It inspires me (share what I saw). And this is what I saw today. Click it for a larger view.

Urban Simplistic.


That’s Maxwell on the left and Franklin on the right; they are brothers from the same parents but separate litters (Max is a year older). I’ve posted on them before and thought I’d share today’s brief story. That’s their new bed Franklin is lying in. I posted a picture of them both in it here and a picture of me recently bringing it home on my bike here. They are really good dogs. They spend a good portion of their time home alone while I work or do other things (that’s why I got two, to keep them company…pugs are known to get lonely). They are 99.9% house trained and rarely have an “accident” and they rarely do damage around the house (such as chew things other than their toys). But every once in a while they do a bit of wilding while I’m at work; today was on such day. Apparently they needed to make their new bed a bit more comfortable by removing some of it’s stuffing…that’s it strewn about the picture (and throughout much of the house). The yellow scrap of cardboard behind Max and next to his bone is what remains of the box of a bicycle inner-tube I had on a table near my bikes; the tube itself is out of view but stretched out straight in the dining room as if they were having a tug-of-war and just set it down when they became tired (how, I wonder, did they get it off the table). Anyhow, the look on their faces when I walked in is what cracked me up. I know I should have been mad, but I had a stressful day at work today and when I came in and saw them all I could do was laugh. Both of them looking at me like, “he did it.” You may or may not know, but pugs are an old breed of dog with a rich history. They are known pranksters (sometimes referred to as big dogs trapped in small dog’s bodies) and one of the reasons they were first breed was to entertain the emperor of China. Well they sure do their job with here..they entertain the emperor of this house. Currently they are both sprawled next to the wood stove sound asleep…likely tired from their exciting day.

Urban Simplicity.

When I Grow Up…

This photo is a manipulated version of a photo I borrowed from Sustrans.

I’m not sure if it is the fact that I turned the big five-oh this past fall, or maybe that my son is approaching college age, but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately (as if I didn’t think enough already)…mainly on what I want to do with the second half of my life; what I want to be when I grow up. And it’s interesting how your views change as you get a bit older (mine did). For me at least, I don’t want to be defined as something. For so many years I was (and still am) a chef, among other titles. Everyone has their own personal labels, I suppose. It’s like when you are at a cocktail party and uncomfortable conversation often starts with…what do you do? As if what you do defines who you are. I’ve mentioned this somewhat recently but I think I finally figured it out. When I grow up I want to be an old man. A really nice and considerate old man (to himself, others, and the climate); an old man who is full of inner peace…and sill rides a bike. This, I think, is a lofty aspiration that is achievable. It’ll take some work (there’;s always work to do, often inner-work), but I think I can do it.

Urban Simplicity

Everything is Amazing

Sometimes I just need a good laugh…and this guy makes me laugh. It’s a short clip of comedian Louis C.K. on the Conan O’Brien show some years back poking fun at the fact that everything really is amazing (but nobody is happy). It’s a video that’s been floating around the Internet for a while but I recently came across it again and thought I’d post it. Maybe you’ve seen it before. But even if you did I hope you watch it…it’ll likely bring a smile and chuckle. Though it is funny, it also hits home…while everything truly is amazing, how many of us really remember it? I know I don’t. But it’s comedy like this that sometimes helps me remember.

Urban Simplicity.