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Archive for December, 2010

Ever since I saw Tron: Legacy, I have been more aware of people’s search for perfection and the lengths they will go to achieve it. The desire to create a perfect system, and the impossibility of doing that, was one of the driving factors of the conflict in the plot of Tron. Maybe it’s also a seasonal thing: everyone always wants to have the perfect Christmas so it’s a theme you see popping up in a lot of television and movies that we see this time of year.

Or maybe it’s not. Maybe this is the tyranny of Martha Stewart rearing its ugly and perfectly sculpted head. For example, I caught the last ten minutes of a cooking show a few weeks ago where a chef was searching for the perfect Peking duck recipe that could be made at home. I was happy to see that he achieved his quest before the show ended because he kept failing to get a crispy skin of the right texture and flavor and everyone knows that Peking duck is all about the skin. The solution was simple too. It involved removing the skin from the duck and sewing it on to a rack and then smoking it in an oven for almost an hour. Simple, huh? Anyone can do that right? Even at my most adventurous and ambitious carnivorous period, I would never have attempted to reproduce this chef’s “solution” to making the perfect Peking duck at home. Seriously, how many people have ever thought to themselves, “If only I could sew this skin onto a rack and then smoke it using wood chips in my oven, it would be just right”? Personally, I would never get past the “sew the skin” part of the equation. But, hey, perfection is a demanding mistress so we do what we can.

I found myself doing something similar late at night on Christmas Eve. I had bought my wife a new printer so she could print photos from home instead of having to go to a store to have them printed. She’s old school when it comes to preserving memories and a photo in a book just feels more permanent than a bunch of ones and zeros stored on a disk. I can’t blame her since I’ve seen enough digital data disasters to be concerned about preserving our photos and movies. I found a great printer that I knew would do everything we needed and I couldn’t wait to see her open it in just a few hours. I wanted the wrapping on the gift to be as perfect as it could be. After all, this was a gift from the heart and I wanted the wrapping of said gift to reflect that. Before I go on with this story, I should add that I’m just not that good at wrapping boxes. I guess I missed the class on how to fold paper over a box and make it look good.

Anyway, I measured and carefully cut the paper managing to mangle it just a bit with the scissors. I had freed a sheet of wrapping paper from the tube! To thank me for freeing it, the paper kept trying to give me a hug. While I appreciate the affection, I just wanted it to lay flat. Was that asking too much? I didn’t think so, but it was. This paper kept rolling up every time I tried to make it go in a straight line. It just wanted to bend and curve where I wanted it straight and folded. After a bit of struggling and fighting I was able to get it wrapped around the box only to find out that the “measure twice and cut once” rule is a bunch of BS. There was a gap of about an inch between the start and end of the paper. I think this was the first time I actually started swearing. It wasn’t the last.

There wasn’t enough paper left on the tube to start over. I would have to improvise. I ended up cutting a strip of paper out that was a little bigger than the gap and carefully taped it over the gap. Then I realized the pattern on the strip was upside down in relation to the pattern on the paper around the box. Oops. The little Christmas trees were pointing toward me on the little strip while on the big sheet they were pointed away from me. This would never do. I started to remove the strip and that’s when the thin paper started to rip and tear. This was the second time I started to swear out loud. It’s a good thing I was in the basement.

I made the decision to forge ahead and try to keep the offending strip on the bottom of the gift so that it wouldn’t be visible while sitting under the tree. I only had one more step left in the battle of the wrapping paper: the sides of the box.

I’ll spare you the gory details here but needless to say, it wasn’t pretty. I believe this is where I finished my rum spiked egg nog in one gulp and threw myself back into battle with the fierceness of a mongoose fighting a cobra. Remember how I measured twice and cut once? I really didn’t think there should have been a gap in the paper and while picking the box up to get at the sides I realized that the paper had folded over on itself while I was wrapping the box and now I had an extra inch of paper on one side. It was an extra inch that was creased and ugly and totally out of place in the location it was. This is when I contemplated giving her the printer still in the giant yellow Best Buy bag. I realized this would be tacky and I couldn’t let a piece of paper beat me. I moved ahead with the cutting and the folding and the creasing and the taping and eventually, I had a box that looked like it had been wrapped by a bunch of hung over elves coming off a three day bender. It looked like shit. Once again I told the box and paper what I thought of it and then moved on to wrapping the special photo paper that I had gotten to go along with the printer.

I’d like to say that the smaller boxes of photo paper were easier to wrap but they just mimicked the mess I’d already made but on a smaller scale. Eventually, I brought three poorly wrapped boxes upstairs and wearily placed them under the tree.

The next morning my beautiful children, oblivious to my suffering and pain and struggle the previous night were kind enough to allow us to sleep in until 5:00 A.M. I think the neighbors were woken up by the sounds of their protests as they were told, under penalty of death, not to touch the gifts or disturb us again until 7:00 A.M. Eventually they accepted our bargain of being able to keep their gifts in exchange for letting us sleep another two hours and left to do hard time in their rooms.

7:00 A.M. came faster than we thought it would and the kids were in the room in time to watch the clock roll over to 7:01. Our time was up and the madness would now commence.

It was an amazing flurry of paper and ribbons and boxes and hugs and “thank you’s” and cats. The poor cats. They had no idea what was going on. The little still gets jittery every time he hears paper crinkling. As things began to die down, it was time for mom to open her gifts. She went over to her poorly wrapped big box and, without stopping to critique the wrapping paper or notice the creases or bad folds or bulges of paper in the corners, opened her gift and was overjoyed by it. The paper I had fought so hard with was nothing more than a crumpled up ball on the floor soon to be moved into a trash bag. The battle was over and I had won.

Other than how bad I suck at wrapping, what have we learned from this story? For me, I learned that perfection is another one of those illusions that we love to cling to. My desire for the perfectly wrapped box led me to behave in a way I’d never behave in public. It drove me to drink. My wife never noticed all the little imperfections that stood out to me because they were different than my mental image of what it should look like. To her, it was a wonderful gift that was thoughtful and perfect. See that word in the last sentence? She thought it was perfect. I couldn’t see the perfection of the gift because I was too fixated on the appearance of the wrapping paper. She focused on the gift itself and the thought that went into it. That was where the perfection was to be found.

The entire idea of perfection is an illusion. It’s a lie we tell ourselves is attainable. One of the major foundations of Western thought, the philosophy of Plato, is built upon the desire to obtain “the Platonic ideal” of perfection. We build our cultures, our society, our lives on top of these lives and then we cling to them as if they are the supports holding up the structure of our existence. I see and hear the idea of making something “perfect” every day. I’m seeing more and more how that is only laying the groundwork for further suffering.

Sitting in meditation, I begin to shatter the illusion of perfection and it becomes easier for me to accept the messiness of life. Real life can be ugly. Reality can be harsh. Reality is anything but perfect. And this is OK. Really, it is. Doing nothing in the face of demands for perfection is the appropriate response. Anything else will end in suffering as perfection is grasped at only to slip away. The next time you feel the need or the desire to be perfect, remember this. Accept the reality of the situation and set aside the desire to be perfect. I’m not saying don’t do your best at whatever you do: if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Just don’t get upset if the results fall short of your expectations. Release your expectations and take joy in what you have made or done. You’ll be better off in the long run and you will get more joy out of living life just as it is.

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I’ve been trying to find some healthy and vegetarian ways to re-create some of my favorite foods and tonight I achieved my greatest healthy, vegetarian version of a classic yet. I made jambalaya. Yes, the classic Cajun food that brings together all three food groups, pork, chicken and shrimp and blends them with veggies and rice into a meal that is so good that you remember the experience of having it for years to come. It really is one of the best foods around and I attacked it with gusto and have made a new version that is loyal to the spirit of the dish but is significantly healthier. Behold! My creation!

This delicious dish was the result of a few days of thinking about how to pull off this feat and reading a bunch of different recipes. Eventually, I put everything together and came up with this. Keep in mind this is Jambalaya so it’s a bit of an intense recipe and will take some time to do. However, it is totally worth it.

Vegetarian Jambalaya
1 package Trader Joe’s 3 grain Tempeh – prepared per my post on Tempeh bacon
1 pound extra firm tofu
1 tbsp. olive oil plus more for tempeh
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
2 celery stalks, diced
2 medium cloves garlic, peeled
1 large bay leaf
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp Paul Prudhomme’s Cajun Magic seasoning
1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes. I use a Hunts brand called Fire Roasted tomatoes. They are really good in this
1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
Liquid smoke
1 3/4 cup Trader Joe’s low sodium vegetable broth
3/4 cup brown basmati rice, uncooked

  1. Drain the tofu and wrap it in paper towels. Press it between two plates to squeeze out more liquid.
  2. While tofu presses, prepare the tempeh. Slice it thinly and give it a bit of cover in liquid smoke. Saute in olive oil until crispy on both sides.
  3. While the tempeh is cooking, slice the block of tofu in half lengthwise and then cut into long, thin strips. Cover these strips in Cajun Magic seasoning and broil them for 5-8 minutes to continue to get liquid out of the tofu.
  4. Set prepared tempeh and tofu aside.
  5. Saute the onion, bell peppers and celery in the olive oil for at least 5 minutes until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and saute for a minute more.
  6. Add bay leaf, cayenne pepper, Cajun Magic, tempeh and tofu to the pan. Break the tofu and tempeh into smaller, bite-sized pieces while stirring everything together.
  7. Add tomatoes (with juice), tomato sauce and vegetable broth. Gently simmer for about 5 minutes.
  8. Pour rice into the pan and stir well.
  9. Bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered for about 45 minutes or until the rice is cooked and absorbs most of the liquid.
  10. Remove the bay leaf, add any more seasonings you like and serve. Preferably with Tabasco sauce.

I decided to make the recipe this way because it allowed me to capture at least two of the essential elements of jambalaya. The tempeh will serve as a replacement for the pork and the tofu is a good substitute for the chicken. The liquid smoke adds the flavor that is missed by removing pork from the recipe. I left out the seafood but personally wouldn’t be against having some fresh shrimp in there. I also added red bell pepper to the recipe in order to have a bit more flavor. I would have put okra into it had I been able to find any (for some reason, okra isn’t readably available in Maine). Once I sat down to eat this jambalaya, I was surprised at how well it came out. I expected it to be good but I didn’t think it would be as good as it was. I thought I’d be messing with the recipe for a while trying to figure out a good combination of ingredients and methods to capture the essence of this classic food but I pretty much got what I wanted on the first try. That never happens to me, but I’m not complaining. If you choose to try this recipe, give yourself some time and then savor it when you’re done. It’ll be worth it.

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As I said in part 1 of this exploration of why I meditate, there are a lot of different reasons I sit in meditation. The first reason I meditate is because I want to rewire, or hack, my brain in order to produce some real and valuable changes. Secondly, I meditate because I gain mental clarity and peace from it (most of the time, but I think that will be saved for part 3 of this series). And now, I’m going to explore another reason why I meditate. This will borrow from a few different sources that I have been reading lately. Primarily, Sit Down and Shut Up by Brad Warner and Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagan. Both of these books are great to read and will go much more in depth into some of the things I’ve been writing about.

As I said in the first part of this series, I do not believe that the mind and the brain are one and the same things. This is a perspective that scientific findings and my own experiences have reinforced. If the idea that the mind and the brain are different things is difficult for you to accept or understand, the next thing that I’m about to talk about will really mess with your head.

Think about your mind for a few moments. What does it sound like? How does it operate? Does it have a common theme that it likes to keep bringing up day in and day out? How do you feel about your mind?

I try to write a lot here about how I feel about my mind and the common themes that I struggle with on a daily basis. There are a lot of posts here that show this is a topic I spend a lot of time thinking about. Now, for one more question. Are you your mind? To phrase it differently, is your mind your self?

One of the reasons I meditate is that it helps me to remember that the mind is in fact not the self. We spend so much time with our mind that we can’t help but think that it is our true self. Our mind constantly tells us this too. Since our mind is our closest confidant and we are aware of it when we are awake or asleep it’s easy to see why we can think that we are our mind. When we hear our mind speak to us, we think “I am speaking to myself”. Buddhism tells us that this is in fact a misconception and that our true self and our mind are in fact separate.

I think that this notion was one of the hardest things for me to understand when I first encountered it. Seriously, when you are someone like myself who spends vast amounts of time wrapped up in thought and who derives a living from their ability to think deeply in unique and novel ways, it is quite a shock to the system to think that your mind isn’t you. But it is true. I am not my mind. You are not your mind. We are so attached to our minds that we think we are our minds but that is just one of the many delusions that we live with every day.

This brings me back to the meditation cushion. Why do I meditate? Meditation helps me to quiet my mind and to experience my true self in a way that no other activity can. The fact is that in meditation, I am able to quiet my mind and, on rare occasions, get it to shut up completely. However, I’m still there. I’m still me. If my mind really is quiet and still, if I were my mind, wouldn’t I too be quiet and still? So, as I sit in meditation, I get a firsthand experience of just how different I really am from my mind. A Buddhist phrase for this is “cutting through delusions”. When you first experience this separation of self from mind it really can feel like you are being cut apart from something. It is a profound realization to have. When I get up from the cushion after having had this realization (and it is definitely something that I don’t have every time I meditate), I see the world a bit differently. My understanding of how I relate to my self, my family, my friends and the world around me is a bit different for a while. It’s a more grounded understanding of reality and seeing things the way that they really are. This is why I meditate.

Please remember that I do not sit down in meditation with a goal of having this realization or experience or whatever you want to call it. If I approach meditation with a goal in mind, I will most likely not have a positive experience for the time that I’m sitting. The goal of meditation is to just sit. If I gain mental clarity, if I somehow change my brain for the better, if I see how my mind and my self are not the same, those are just extraneous benefits from the meditation session. Zen meditation, if done correctly, can be some of the most boring stuff you will ever do in your life.

That brings me to the fourth reason that I meditate. I sit because that’s what I do. I’m trying not to sound all super-spiritual or ethereal or whatever when I say that and I hope that I have succeeded. When it is time for me to sit my not-quite-as-big-as-it-used-to-be butt on a cushion, I try to approach it with a clear mind free of expectations. My goal is to sit and to calm my mind and to be present in each moment as it happens. Without anything to keep your attention or to focus on or guide you through the session, you can be bored out of your mind (no pun intended—OK, maybe it was intended). That’s the reality of meditation. You sit and you do nothing and you try to think nothing and maybe you’ll get something out of it, but if you don’t there’s no need to be upset or to consider the session “bad” or “wasted” since you go into it with no expectation to begin with.

Brad Warner has a great section in Sit Down and Shut Up where he talks about Zen meditation as stress relief and he makes a very good point. In the short term, Zen meditation is horrible for stress management. It won’t help a thing in the moment of stress. However, in the long term, it will be one of the most beneficial things you can ever hope to do in regard to handling stress. This is because as you sit in meditation with no expectation other than maybe boredom for a long enough time, you gain insights into your self that help you realize that the stress is a part of your mind and that it your mind that is stressed, not you. It helps greatly (so he says) to have this kind of perspective. I don’t know if it’s true or not since I’m definitely not there by any means but maybe I’ll get to that place one day.

Once again, I’ve gone on for too long so I think that I will have to have a part three to this post. Please let me know your thoughts about this in the comments section. I’d love to hear from others how they experience their mind and what they think about it. How does the statement that your mind is not your self strike you?

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Cajun Quinoa

As I mentioned before, I had a brief moment of falling off the wagon over the past few weeks but I’m not letting that stop me. With that in mind, I’ve been trying to find some new things to keep me moving forward. One thing I decided to do was find some new things to cook. That decision plus a small discussion here on the blog about good Southern food (is there any other kind?) led me to tonight’s new recipe. I found myself staring at the shelves of the pantry when inspiration struck.

Cajun Quinoa
1 yellow onion
1 stalk of cellary
1 green pepper
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup red quinoa
2/3 cup red lentils
Cayenne pepper
Garlic powder
Paul Prudhome’s Cajun Magic seasoning
Liquid Smoke (this is the “secret” ingredient)
1 1/2 cup vegetable stock (I used Trader Joe’s brand since its got a good tomato flavor)

Cut up onion cellary and pepper into small pieces. This is called the trinity in Cajun cooking. Classic French cooking uses carrots instead of pepper.

Heat olive oil in a pot and add the trinity. Saute until softened.

Add quinoa and red lentils. Stir until mixed. Add garlic powder, cayenne and seasoning and stir. Toss in a dash of the secret ingredient.

Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 15-18 minutes until liquid is absorbed.

Put finished cajun quinoa into a bowl and bogart it like it’s a dime bag of primo stuff.

This came out so well I’m sad I didn’t make more. It would be great as lunch tomorrow. I definately need to see if I can go through some of my old recipes and re-write them to be healthier and vegetarian. Jambalaya and étouffée and other southern foods may be a fun challenge to recreate. I’m thinking that instead of deep frying some things I may be able to put the convection oven to good use to make some crispy and delicious foods.

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I’ve been asked by a number of different people why I meditate. When someone asks a question like that, it’s usually backed up by a lot of their perceptions or beliefs about what meditation is. Most people don’t have a lot of exposure to meditation outside of movies or TV shows or spiritual superstars or charlatans. That kind of exposure will obviously color your attitude toward something.

The thing is, I’m never quite sure how to answer that question. I think it’s because I don’t know what kind of answer the person is looking for. Are they expecting me to answer like I’m Yoda or an ancient master from some kung fu movie? Are they asking because they want to know my personal reasons for choosing to spend an hour a day literally doing nothing? Are they considering meditating and looking for information from practitioners? Are they just trying to make conversation? Isn’t it amazing how one simple question can have so much attached to it? Especially if you’re someone like me who has to analyze everything (EVERYTHING) before answering?

  • “Not one good answer, could I give, but many to this question yes?”  — OK, the Yoda approach doesn’t work.
  • “I meditate in order to be reminded of my interconnectedness to the universe.” — The happy sappy spiritualist answer doesn’t work either
  • “I sit to be like the still water” — I’m never going to be a kung fu master
  • “The clouds drift by the mountain but the mountain sits — observing all, grasping at nothing.” — That sounds cool but I could never pull that off
  • “I sit because I sit” — Does that answer even make any sense?
  • “Meditation is a path to enlightenment” — That just leads to more questions I’m not prepared to get into
  • “I don’t know.” — I could pull that one off easily enough but it would be lying and not a good answer.

So, why do I meditate? I meditate for a few different reasons. I’m going to try not to geek out too much here but I make no guarantees. You have been warned. Let’s try to unpack some of those reasons. Ready…and go!

First, I meditate because it is a medical and scientific fact that it’s good for you. Meditation can be useful to alleviate pain and depression and stress and resetting your brain’s activity patterns to a healthy level. Through the act of meditation, I am essentially hacking my brain. Yes, I said hacking my brain. In order to understand where I’m going with this, you need to answer the following question: Are the brain and the mind separate or the same? The way you answer that will determine how easy it is for you to understand the rest of this post.

Is this your mind?

If you say they are the same, you’re going to have some trouble following me here. I used  to think that they were the same but over the past few years, I have begun to realize they aren’t. Scientific research has also begun to validate this view that they are not one and the same. The brain is an organ, albeit a very complex and amazing organ. The mind is not an organ: it is a sense—much like sight, sound, taste, touch, smell. The brain is a sensory organ for the mind and they do influence one another but they are not the same thing. When you exercise your mind, you actually cause physical changes in the brain. In this way, by practicing meditation, any number of things can be done to the brain to change it one way or another.

As we calm the mind in meditation, we cause a vast neural network to fire off in ways it doesn’t normally do. As we continue to do this with regularity, it becomes easier for the brain to operate in this fashion. We start to reprogram the way the brain works by having our mind change its focus. As we learn to do this, it becomes easier and easier to do. This way, when we want to start changing ourselves, the meditation cushion becomes the first place we go.

I don’t know about you, but the thought of rewiring my own brain to change the way it operates is exciting. This may be because my brain has some great things going for it that I’d love to improve and its got some patterns that really aren’t healthy and need to be changed for the better. Either way, those are some pretty good motivators to want to rewire myself.

That would be my first answer. I meditate because I want to hack my brain. Now that I see that in print, I’m thinking maybe some of those other answers weren’t all that bad. Maybe I should rethink that list.

Additionally, I meditate because it is good for my mental clarity and peace of mind. Through meditation, especially Zen meditation, you are forced to come to grips with your mind in a way that demands careful and thorough understanding of how it works. When you sit on a cushion and you aren’t reciting a mantra, hoping for the well being of all living things, focusing on an image or something in the room or going through a mental set of exercises you have nothing to keep you company but your mind. If you haven’t tried this before, be warned that your mind hates this. One of the functions of the mind is to run on endlessly throwing up thoughts and feelings and reminders and regrets with the same regularity that your lungs move air in and out. Sitting in Zen meditation is to your mind what holding your breath is to your lungs: after about 30 seconds, it gets a little uncomfortable. As your mind reveals itself, you also begin to notice things about it. You see the common themes and patterns that it runs over and over like a hamster in a wheel. With this understanding you begin to gain the ability to ignore it. This is a great way to do things like overcome anxiety, depression, fear, cravings or whatever else your mind may throw at you that is best ignored. The mental clarity I get while on (and off) the cushion is itself enough of a good reason to meditate.

There’s my second answer. I meditate because it allows me to gain mental clarity and peace.

The third reason I meditate will have to wait for part 2 of this post. I’ve already broken the 1,000 word count and I’m not done yet. It’s taken me days to get this far and the need to post something is beginning to outweigh my desire to complete this post. For now, if you meditate, why do you do it? Answer below in the comments. And try to keep the Yoda-speak to a minimum OK?

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The other day, we had a friend over for dinner. This is someone who shares my (new) taste in food and I love it when she comes over for dinner since it means I get eat the food I’ve made with someone else. My wife can’t usually eat what I do for a number of reasons, not just because she may not like it. The one thing I need to be concerned about with our friend visiting is that she’s got a gluten sensitivity and that means avoiding using wheat flour in anything. While I was at the store, I was going to grab some quinoa for dinner. The store was selling the quinoa for $11. I couldn’t believe the price they were charging for it so I put it back on the shelf and decided to save myself 8 dollars by buying it in bulk from the health food store down the street.

However, my trip down the health food aisle was not a total waste as sitting there, near the quinoa, was a mix for a gluten-free bread. I’ve never been a big fan of gluten-free breads but this was from a brand that I knew produced high quality items so I had a bit of trust in it. I brought it home and proceeded to make it. The first, and biggest problem, I had with this stuff was that the dough was incredibly sticky. Since gluten is what gives bread it’s “oomph”, going without it means that you need to come up with some other way to hold the bread together while it bakes. This stuff was almost like glue. It stuck to my spatula, my board, my hands and anything else it came into contact with. The recipe on the bag suggested using a loaf pan but I don’t actually own a loaf pan as I prefer to shape my breads by hand. That was the first time I’ve ever found myself wishing for a loaf pan. I managed to get the dough into a decent shape, covered it with foil and stuck it in the proofer for 45 minutes for the yeast to do its thing. I couldn’t believe how well it had risen after that time in the proofer. That’s when I first felt good about this particular recipe.

I switched the oven from proofer mode to bake mode and popped the dough back in to sit for a good long time. Shortly after this, the whole kitchen started to smell like fresh bread. Even gluten-free, the stuff smells amazing in the oven. I think we’re biologically geared toward loving this smell. I couldn’t wait to rip into this loaf!

That evening, our friend came over and she smelled the fresh bread as soon as she walked in the door. She entered the kitchen and saw the loaf sitting on a cooling rack and mentioned how wonderful it smelled. My wife gave her the good news that it was a gluten free loaf that I had made special for her. I wasn’t there to see this but my wife told me she was extremely touched by this simple gesture. She hadn’t had bread of any kind in a very long time and was overjoyed at the prospect of having fresh from the oven bread with our dinner.

Once it was time to eat, we started by cutting open the bread and putting some fresh, softened butter on it. This was the best gluten-free bread I’ve ever had. I’ve had three or four other types but this was the first one I had ever enjoyed eating and the first time I ever went back for seconds on it. We proceeded to have a wonderful evening eating dinner (curried quinoa and lentil stuffed peppers), sitting around the table and enjoying spending time together. Throughout the night, the bread was there on the table and every once in a while, we would reach down, cut off a piece and eat it while we talked. It reminded me of why for so many centuries, eating with another person was referred to as “breaking bread” with them.

The next day, we got an email from our friend thanking us once again for the great night the good company and the wonderful food. She expressed her gratitude once again for the bread and told us how touched she was that we had it for her. As we talked about this, my wife felt so happy that we were able to do this for her friend that she began to cry (not much, but it was crying nonetheless). Who would have thought that as I stood in the store contemplating buying one item that something else I bought almost on impulse would be the highlight of the evening? That’s the power of a simple loaf of bread. Cooking for someone else is always an act of service and is rewarding for those preparing and those consuming it. To give someone something special to eat is to show them how you care for them and that they are important to you. This is why some flour, milk eggs and yeast can turn into tears when they have been properly mixed and cooked and consumed.

If you have someone special that you care for, take some time to think about what they enjoy to eat and then try to make them something special for them by preparing it in a way that they will enjoy. It’s a great way to let someone know how you feel about them. Food, even a loaf of bread, has the power to transform a visit with a friend into a memorable experience that will stay with you for years.

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OK. I’m a geek. We all know that. Confession time over and we’re all happy. Let’s breathe out for a moment and let that shocking piece of new sink in. Ready? Good. Now, hold on to your seat and prepare yourself. This may get a little bumpy.

On Friday night, I made a long drive. It was more of a pilgrimage really, to the only true Imax screen in southern Maine in order to see Tron Legacy. This is a movie that I had been waiting to see for quite a while. I didn’t go in with high hopes for an engaging and eternal classic that will capture hearts and minds for generations. Let’s keep this real people, it’s a movie about getting sucked into a digital world where computer programs are people; there’s just not much you can do with that beyond what the original movie did decades ago. Instead, I went in expecting an effects heavy quasi-action movie with enough CGI whiz-bangery to make it worth spending the money I did to see and hear the movie on the best screen in the state.

I wasn’t let down. In fact, to say that the movie exceeded my expectations would be an understatement. I thoroughly loved this movie. It took me back to my youth and it was a really well done sequel. Especially considering that the original source material was from the early 80’s. There is a lot of father/son dynamic between Kevin Flynn and Sam Flynn as they try to come to terms with one another after having been apart for such a long time and there is a great theme on the dangers and disappointments of pursuing perfection. Then, there’s Jeff Bridges. I’ve never been able to see him in the same light ever since he became The Dude in 1998. I can’t help it because the role of Lebowski was unforgettable. As much as I tried to keep The Dude in his proper cinematic confines, I found him once again in The Grid that makes up the amazing world of Tron.

Why did I keep seeing The Dude? One thing they didn’t tell you in the previews and I didn’t know because I try to avoid a lot of hype concerning movies I’m really excited about is that Flynn has been trapped in the Grid for 20 years and has become a Buddhist while there. In fact, he’s become a Zen Buddhist. When I first saw him sitting in meditation with his back to the camera on a zafu and zabuton I knew this wasn’t going to be like anything I expected. Sure enough, I found myself in a completely sold out room full of people laughing in places where no one else was getting the jokes (yeah, it happened to me too Geo). There were a couple of times that I just sat back in amazement as Zen was presented in such a clear and vibrant way through this movie. Apparently, Jeff Bridges spent a lot of time learning about Zen and studying in order to portray a Flynn as accurately as possible. To see him wearing a mala on his wrist and looking every bit the wizened old Zen master was just icing on the digital cake (incidentally, I just realized you can’t have “wizened” without “zen” coincidence?).

I found myself laughing in recognition at the point when Sam challenges his father for just sitting by as CLU rampages and Flynn responds by saying “you have no idea how productive doing nothing can be.” Finally, after being forced to take part in the action, Flynn even chastises his son telling him “you’re totally ruining my Zen thing here” and once again, I find myself laughing out loud all by myself in a room full of people.

As I drove home on Friday night, I was giddy. Giddy with excitement from having seen a visually captivating film. Giddy from having seen a story that really did a lot more than I expected it to. Giddy from having seen such a wonderful presentation of a Buddhist perspective in a mainstream movie that wasn’t all wishy-washy and pseudo-spiritual. If you haven’t seen Tron yet, do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s worth the price of admission and you’ll have a great time watching the film. You may even learn something about Buddhism without meaning to.

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