Sunday, July 31, 2011

Civilized At Last!

Jim and I officially tied the knot yesterday in warm, fun ceremony in our backyard with about 50 friends and family in attendance...and one unfortunate pig that formed the center of the ensuing feast. There wasn't a cloud in the sky (though it was a tad hot) and we had glorious sunshine all day! The pic on the right is the chalk 'welcome mat' spelled out on the driveway for arriving guests.

Since Jim and I have been together for 15 years, we asked that people not bring gifts. Of course, our friends and family were way to generous to want to comply with that. So we asked that instead of gifts people donate to the It Gets Better Project ( In total, $1,000 will be going to the charity. I'm proud that we were able to make this ceremony more than just 'about us' and that we can help support something way more important in the grand scheme of things. A couple people who had not heard of the Project before this were in awe at the work being done and the stories being shared on the website.

We had a photographer, plus our friends were taking tons of photos. So I'll be posting all sorts of pics and stories from the ceremony over the next few weeks. Today, we're just going to relax, bask in our new state of civil-ness, and check out all the postings on facebook.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Civil Union Poem - Rejected!

Last launch of space shuttle Discovery
Well that's a little harsh as the poem is not a 'reject' by any means. I was stuck between two poems to read as part of the civil union ceremony. I asked Jim and our closest/oldest friends for an opinion. This one was written for Jim for our first Christmas together, and I thought it would be appropriate to read. However, I felt it was a little too short and not as rich in deeper feeling as I would like (maybe a little too Hallmark?). It was wonderful for its purpose, but it didn't seem to have enough 'gravity' to work in a ceremony.  I still love it and cherish it for its place in me and Jim's lives, so I thought I would post it in anticipation of our upcoming event:


Galaxies of planets and stars
in unending space -
a universe of mysteries
where answers have no place.

A yearning to explore it all,
to understand and to know,
but no way to lift off,
to voyage and go.

I can bask in the summer sun
or swim in mountain streams,
but how can such moments
ever outshine impossible dreams?

Yet it happened one moment
I found a true heart -
a place of infinite wonder
with a voyage to start.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Mumonkan, Koan 19: Ordinary Mind Is The Way

Photo: Larry Landolfi
Joshu asked Nansen, "What is the Way?"
"Ordinary mind is the Way," Nansen replied.
"Shall I try to seek after it?" Joshu asked.
"If you try for it, you will become separated from it," responded Nansen.
How can I know the Way unless I try for it?" persisted Joshu.
Nansen said, "The Way is not a matter of knowing or not knowing. Knowing is delusion; not knowing is confusion. When you have really reached the true Way beyond doubt, you will find it as vast and boundless as outer space. How can it be talked about on the level of right and wrong?"
With those words, Joshu came to a sudden realization.

For me, this dialogue encapsulates everything important to know about rightmindedness. I've written about 'ordinary mind is the way' (what I call Everyday Zen) elsewhere in this blog and I believe that is what Nansen is referring to.

'Seeking after it' as Joshu proposes to do is like when we see a dog chasing its tail. We laugh at how silly it is to pursue something that one already has. Seeking after ordinary mind or samadhi is the same thing. There is no seeking, you simply have to allow yourself to experience it. And then learn not to be pulled away from it. If you actively 'seek' it you will find, like the dog chasing its tail, that it constantly eludes you.

Nansen's answer about 'knowing' is also very good. Ordinary mind is just being in the moment, divorced from knowing or being confused, right or wrong, faith or doubt, better or worse. It's the wind on my face. It's a leaf falling from a tree. It's a child riding a bike down the street. It's a storm rolling in. It's a blade of grass. It's standing in an elevator. Ordinary mind - or the Way - is everywhere and everything. I think that's what Nansen means by 'as vast and boundless as outer space'.

I know the picture is a bit 'cosmic', but the idea of the Way leading to something as vast as the Milky Way definitely captures this koan's meaning for me in a powerfully visual sense.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Haiku Thursdays

my footprints
erased by waves
sunburnt neck

Sunday, July 24, 2011

News Update: Blogodometer, Back to Hapikido?, and More...

The odometer on my bike isn't working, and I've been too busy to fix it. So I'll be using Zen Throw Down to track my bike mileage. No way we're biking today. It has been pouring like crazy all weekend, with only a brief respite yesterday for a cook-out hosted by a couple we know. I drank too much and got a sleepy-buzz.

So the top story here is that last weekend we did another 24 miles and that takes the total up to 174. Far from earth shattering.

Other stories: my Hapkido master called the yesterday wondering where I have been. I explained the whole thing to him and he was good about it but...he pointed out: "if you're good enough to go to the gym then you can do martial arts" and "you know martial arts is better for you than the gym". Jim added: "You could just go to the gym to lift, stop doing treadmill, and have hapkido be your cardiovascular workout". So now I'm rethinking this whole decision to pull back from hapkido. I have to admit that I do miss it, and treadmill isn't anywhere near as much fun.

Civil union planning is all set, and we're ready to get 'civilized' this weekend. My parent will be staying with us and everything.

And we're planning to go back to St. John next year. Details at 10.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ravinia & Rachmaninoff

Last night Jim and I joined his sister Kathy and her husband at Ravinia. There were three pieces by Rachmaninoff: The Bells, Vesna, and Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini. Each had a chorus as part of the full orchestra. The first two included solo vocalists, and the final piece was led by Alexander Romanovsky, a very talented pianist. 

Of course, it was a sweltering night, but I was able to forget about it while the music was going. It was very nice to go back to the Ravinia venue, which I had not been to in twenty years or more. In fact, this is only my second time there. The pavilion seating is surrounded by a lawn with sculpture and tall trees, where extremely well equipped people camp out and listen to the music. They brought chairs, tables, china, wineglasses, candles, cookers, vases with was a bit like a gypsy camp really.

Romanovsky was amazing. Really fantastic command of the keyboard. The video screens on either side of the stage sometimes had a shot from above showing his hands moving up and down the keyboard in these forearm-cramping arpeggios and all the wrist and hand flourishes one probably expects from an ace pianist.  However, I have to say I wasn't really taken by Rachmaninoff as a composer. The compositions were pretty bombastic, and the piano piece got too carried away with the pyrotechnics for my taste.

Hopefully it won't be another twenty years before I go again and maybe it'll be better weather!  Even with the heat though, it was fantastic to be outside and able to hear the crickets and feel a breeze while listening to music. Great ambiance!

Haiku Thursdays

April breeze
through tree leaves
thirty days to listen

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Back to Piano!

The creative resurgence continues....

Just the other day, for no specific reason, I just had an urge to sit and play piano...and I could still rattle of the first several bars of Fur Elise by heart. Talk about something being stuck in long term memory! It was utterly effortless and I barely even had to think, my hands just knew where to go.

I've been coming home for lunch each day and getting fifteen minutes of practice in and then maybe a little bit when I get home. I'm picking up some of my old repertoire: a couple preludes I love by Chopin, Valse Sentimentale (Schubert), and a sonatina by Diabelli that I learned all the way through ten years ago. I'm so happy to be back on it. We'll see if this lasts.

Makes me not feel so bad about all the years I wasn't really can always come back to it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dry Pastels. Better Than Oil.

The oil painting thing just isn't working. I freak out every time I clean my brushes because I have to do it in the kitchen sink. I can so easily see myself doing something really disastrous to the kitchen. Plus it's probably really bad environmentally to be disposing of oils that way. So I was in this quandary. Do I need to pay rent for a studio space to continue? Then all of the sudden it hit me. Why am I stuck on oils? Why not use dry pastel crayons? I still have my supply.

I went on the web and got some ideas about how to work with them and then started on my first piece. So how was it? Well, I really enjoyed it. There is a bit of a painterly feeling to how you use them in terms of laying the colors on. Then again, it really is a different process in how they work because there is also a drawing feel to the experience. And...I really liked blending with my fingers and getting pigment all over my hands! Fun fun fun!

The piece I did was a landscape, but I was mostly just playing with how colors get laid out. Learning by doing. I was happy with the piece when it was done, but I refused to commit on a verdict until I put it away for a few days.  When I did come back, I could see it is not at all good. There's not enough variation in the tonality of the color, which makes the whole thing kind of flat and uninvolving. Also the perspective wasn't what I was after. But that's all fine. The first one or two dozen pieces are not going to be good. That's what happens when you're learning.  However, the fact that this medium works without me having a studio is good in terms of the likelihood of me continuing.

I was also struck - after coming back - that I perhaps I should use some fixative and continue laying down color. Maybe really labor over it. When I first began crafting my poetry rather than just writing them, I'd have work and rework poems, fix them, labor over the words I selected, write multiple drafts, etc. After a while, I developed a strong sense for how to work with poetry so that I didn't need to labor as hard to get what I was after. It's about honing the skill in using the tools you have in the medium.

The same is true with the dry pastels. I have to try to find time to keep doing it and just keep creating stuff and exploring how they work. Every piece I create, whether it's any good or not, will provide me with information on how to function. Kind of exciting and daunting all at once!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Another 26 miles

Yesterday we got another 26 miles in, so we're up to 150 for the season. We found the 'path' that goes off the Lake Whalon to connect to some of the paths going down into Bolingbrook. The paths here weren't that great and they didn't really go anywhere, so it looks like Will County (I think it's Will at that point) has some work to do. We lost the DuPage River Trail at a major street intersection but, according to the map, it's supposed to continue on. Maybe it's along a street until we get to the next park. We'll have to see.

The ComEd Greenway also doesn't seem to really go anywhere. I was hoping it would connect to something that would allow for riding back up towards Greene Valley. It looks like there's a proposed path, but nothing seems to have been built. Of course, we may have missed something so we'll have to keep exploring. If we can connect down to some of the trails to the South, I have a feeling we'll have access to some really long distance biking. Who knows what that could lead to?

Funny thing happened after this ride. We were out into the midday and got a bit of sun. Unfortunately, I had been wearing gloves. So now my hands are untanned and my forearms are tan. It looks pretty dorky. No more gloves!

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Invitation Has Been Sent...

...and the catering is scheduled, the judge is booked, the tent is rented, and the necessary paperwork has been completed. We're ready for the civil union to take place!

I'm thinking up all sorts of ideas for making the actual ceremony (brief as it will be) something to remember. Already have 14 confirmed guests so we're well on our way to a nice - but not overly large - group of friends and family to share in our event.

I love Bluntcards, and when I saw this one I just knew that it had to be in our invitation. Which it is (click for a larger view). Since some of the guests have threatened to bring gifts we'll be setting up a donation box for the It Gets Better Project. That's a much better place for the money to go.

Check the project out at:

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Fourth of July

Happy Birthday, America!

This weekend has been such a wonderful time spending time with Jim, connecting with friends, and taking it easy. As I mentioned, it kind of started with my dinner with Gretchen, then the team outing where I got a chance to attempt canoeing, and more recently Jim and did a 25 mile bike ride before I had lunch with my good friend Cindy. Cindy's a hoot because she knows me well enough to call me on my bullshit and yet laugh with me about it at the same time. Then it was on to the fireworks for a dazzling show with perfect weather. Nice thing about our location is we have an awesome viewing location and yet it only takes us about five minutes to get home.

This morning, Jim and I did another bike ride. This one was 18 miles, which brings the season total to 124 (so far). This ride was one of those magical things that happen in life; a surprise where you least expect it.

For some time we have biked from our house to a nearby path that leads to a forest preserve and back. Usually this is about a 17-18 mile ride. We were looking forward to it this time because there had been a whole bunch of construction at this busy intersection and the story was that this intersection (getting across it being a major buzz kill to a biker) had been reworked with tunnels going underneath the streets so no need to cross with the cars. We were eager to see what it was like. The work done is phenomenal! It hasn't disrupted the path much either, so they did a great job. We followed the path down to where we normally turn off to get to the forest preserve when - surprise! - the path kept going!

We decided to follow it to see how much longer this path went for. It just kept going and going and going! We ended up biking along the DuPage River, through a forest preserve, past wetlands/marshes and lakes, and finally ended with a big circuit around Lake Whalon (see not so great picture), a gorgeous looking lake in the next county.  Even saw a bird suicide bomb into the lake to snag a fish. It was really a gorgeous ride, and I kept thinking "it's going to end here", but then we'd turn the corner and the trail kept right on going. There's even an indication that the work isn't over.  Apparently, the DuPage River Trail is being extended and connected with existing paths to provide access to a considerable distance. Who would have thought that this morning we would bike from home and within five minutes be on a gorgeous path that we'd never been on before and (apparently) will soon go on and on and on? Fantastic!

I love it when life offers a surprise this!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Mumonkan, Koan 18: Tozan's 'Masagin'

A monk asked Tozan, "What is Buddha?"
Tozan replied, "Masagin!*"
* three pounds of flax

I read a version of this koan some time ago and, in that version, the reply was "birdshit!" So either Sekida is a better translator, or he's loathe to use bad language. LOL!

Anyway, Buddha is reality. That includes flax, birdshit, and all mundane objects as well as the beautiful. Direct perception of reality is buddha mind.

Tozan's reply also points to another idea. It is easiest for us to have true perception with something like flax, because our minds attach no real significance to it. True perception occurs before our minds interpret what we see, assign meaning to it, judge it, categorize it, etc. Now if you consider art, a political speech, a religious 'truth', etc. we've programmed our minds with thoughts, right/wrong, beliefs, traditions, mores, feelings, etc. and it is harder to have immediate perception. Instead we let that programming take over.

Zen is about disciplining the mind to remove that clutter and allow direct perception to take place. Only then are we able to grasp truth or reality. It's not that you banish your opinions or feelings altogether, but you learn not to substitute them for perception. They are all responses and, as such, are paths away from buddhamind and towards delusion.

Mumon's verse had a terrific couplet in it that really spoke to me:

"Those who argue about right and wrong
are those enslaved by right and wrong"

The debates of right and wrong, good or evil, remove us from direct perception and keep us locked in our delusional thinking about reality. They require debating opinions about reality, which is already two steps removed from perception. It's arguing about clutter. Politics is a good example. You can tell in a lot of debates on the subject that people are either Republican or Democrat and that they argue the 'party line'. Or with people of different religions who are determined that their view is right and others are wrong.

This kind of debate never has anything to do with truth or right/wrong but in preserving our perceptions of it against a challenge so we do not have to make the difficult effort to escape delusion and reconnect with reality. When someone is in this delusional, cluttered mindset, they are all response. They are not thinking deeply (or at all), just reacting. Ultimately, that may be the point. For religious and political parties to fight their battles and prevail, it is best to have adherents who think as they are 'programmed' to. By creating adversaries to fight (other parties, other religions, other groups), the adherents remain lost in delusion and are easily controlled.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

My Dinner With Gretchen

I had a client meeting in the city, and this was a chance for me to connect with my one of my very oldest friends. We met up on Michigan and walked from Monroe up to the the Museum of Contemporary Art for drinks. It was a glorious day, and I had to work off my lunch before I could enjoy a proper dinner.  Of course, the conversation didn't wait and - as usual - we dove right in: careers, relationships (what is an approrpriate term for our 'boyfriends' when we're in our 40s?), religion, art, and of course life updates. We always have a lot of ground to cover.

We decided to go to Firefly on Halsted for dinner but it was hoo! So we wandered a bit and, after seeing the menu for Tapas Gitana (used to be Arco), we decided for sure we needed this. We must have been there for two or three hours sitting right by the open french doors and people watching - but mostly carrying the conversation into all areas deep, risque, and dreaming. Our waitress was totally cool and fun, and we ended up getting this fantastic bottle of red Spanish wine that we just killed.

Plus the food was fantastic!!! So I have to give a shout out to Tapas Gitana overall.  Go there!!! It made me remember how much I love tapas. Our experience was so relaxed as we tried many different things:
  • Calamares A La Plancha - My second favorite cephalopod flavored with garlic, lemon and olive oil. Cooked perfectly (i.e., tender to firm but not rubbery)!
  • ChampiƱones Rellenos - Big mushrooms full of spinach, garlic, and cheese. A mouthful of flavor!
  • Montaditos de Cerdo - Pork and caramelized red onions on a sort of bruschetta. Orgasm on a plate!
  • Pechuga de Pato - Duck breast with lentils, couscous, and a mushroom sauce. Mmmmm!
All of the food was delicious, and we also had dessert too. For all that, it was only my crazy high tip that took us over $100. Totally wonderful experience!
The ultimate cap was to walk after dinner (one of the things I will never stop missing about city life). We tried to go to Chicago Comics but they were closing (at 9PM on a dare they!). The next day was mostly made up of the team event where I went canoeing for the first time (see last post), so this was a great way to ease into my holiday weekend while catching up with Gretchen.

Friday, July 1, 2011

New Experience: Canoeing

Photo: Wiley & Wales
At a team outing yesterday, I was able to get my first ever experience with canoeing. Of course, it was nowhere near as idyllic as this picture would suggest. We had two rowers in my canoe, and we kept going in circles! We got some instruction from another team member about which side to paddle on and how to steer, and that helped a lot. However, we always ended up eventually going in circles again. Very frustrating.

Still we had a good time, and I'm happy I tried it. At the times when I felt I was steering correctly (I was in the back of the canoe), it felt really cool. I could really feel I was working the water correctly, and I was able to build up excellent speed when I was doing it right. But then I would think about it too much and mess myself up.  In any case, it was a workout for sure because nothing requires more energy than being inept.

The canoes were about $10/hour if I'm not mistaken. Maybe I'll go out alone next time to improve my skills. At the least, I've added another activity to the list of athletic stuff I've done!