Dec 31, 2004

Tamale to Molly

Eating tamales on Christmas Day is a Texas (mainly South Texas) tradition. But as the state reverts to Mexican control and influence, these South Texas traditions are becoming established even in the Yankee dominated northern bastions like Dallas. Here at Casa de Verana, we used to get our Christmas tamales from a wonderful woman named Mrs. Ruiz. We would exchange gifts purchased at Target for her incredible tamales. We always felt we got the better part of the deal. But her family has grown up and moved on, and we have had to find a new supplier.

I meant to go by La Popular Tamaleria on Christmas Eve, but ran out of time. Instead, in the best Dallas new-tradition, I went by Central Market and got a dozen beef-pork tamales, and a dozen chicken-jalapeno tamales. They were OK, but a far cry from Mrs. Ruiz's handmade tamales (they were, however, superior to the canned Gebhardt's tamales I used to get on Christmas when I lived in San Francisco).

Pictured above is 13 year old Molly, "the world's best cat", enjoying a chicken-jalapeno tamale from the hand of Linden, the "world's best wife". I must tell you, that is not simply a taste she is trying. This was her second bite. If you look closely, you can seen her pink tongue wrapping itself around a sizeable chunk of tamale. Molly was seen a couple of months ago lapping up some chipotle hot sauce that had been set on a low table.

Like I said... "the World's Best Cat".

Dec 26, 2004

The Christening of Hosea

On the Feast of Saint Stephen the Proto-martyr, Hosea Foster Downing was baptized and sealed as one of Christ's Own, at Bethel Lutheran Church in Dallas, Texas. Anna, David, and Hosea are pictured above.

May he continue to grow in the Holy Spirit.

Proud grandparents include: Michael and Linden Summer,
Tom and Carolyn Downing, Matt and Rebecca Jaremko.

Dec 24, 2004

The Reality of Christmas

Christ wasn't born in the beauty of a cathedral! He was born amid the dung of an animal's stall. And he was not crucified among candlesticks, but between two thieves. I'm afraid most churches have completely forgotten this reality.

Maureen Burn

Dec 12, 2004

Like a Stable

Human nature is like a stable inhabited by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice; animals which take up a lot of room and which I suppose most of us are feeding on the quiet. And it is there between them, pushing them out, that Christ must be born and in their very manger he must be laid – and they will be the first to fall on their knees before him. Sometimes Christians seem far nearer to those animals than to Christ in his simple poverty, self-abandoned to God.

- Evelyn Underhill

Nov 25, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving.

I am thankful this year for so much. But I am especially thankful for the birth of Hosea Foster Downing to my daughter Anna. The picture above shows him (with my wife Linden) on his first trip with us to a TexMex restaurant. The Margarita was a little too much for him.

Nov 4, 2004

Thank you for visiting.

Thank you for visiting with The Penitent Thief. We hope your stay has been a pleasant one.

We try to take every precaution to make our irony-impaired guests feel at home, but sometimes we fall short of that goal.
If that has been the case with your experience, and our peculiar use of sarcasm tinged irony has offended and/or escaped you, please accept our apologies. We suggest you try visiting more predictable sites in the future.

Sincerely yours,
The Management in Thief

When it comes to hypocrisy...

...ya just can't beat the GOP.

Compare and contrast this picture with the one below.

Yes, it was all about Values. "Come closer to your Aunt Mary, Sweetie. Want some candy?"

Vice President Dick Cheney's family and friends watch as he speaks during a victory rally, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2004, at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington. Left to right are Cheney's daughter Mary Cheney, granddaughter Kate Perry, and Mary Cheney's life partner Heather Poe. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

In W's wake.

As a pro-life Democrat (all bad things to all peoples: a liberal to conservatives, a conservative to liberals, a homophobe to Gay Rights supporters, a Sodomite-enabler to Fundamentalists, etc., etc.) I have been toying with the idea of mounting a campaign for some way down-ticket office (or hopelessly lost cause... as most Dem slots are here in Texas), just so I can run a campaign as a "Christian Democrat". EVERY position would be based on the Good News of Jesus (explicitly) as rooted in the Law of Moses.

The Democratic Party needs some real Christians in it badly (yes, I am old enough to remember the Christian influences on the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements of my youth).

The GOP could use a few REAL Christians, too, who have God's law written on their hearts, and not just on granite monuments set up for public adoration.

I'll return now to Bonhoeffer and Kirkegaard (and Martin Luther King).

Nov 2, 2004

The End of the Fourth Year

Then Jesus told them a story: "A man had a bush planted in his front yard. He came to it expecting to find fruit, but there weren't any. He said to his gardener, "What's going on here? For three years now I've come to this bush expecting fruit and not one have I found. Chop it down! Why waste good ground with it any longer?'

"The gardener said, "Let's give it another year. I'll dig around it and fertilize, and maybe it will produce next year; if it doesn't, then chop it down.'"
Luke 13:6-9

The Gospel Reading appointed for this day.
Proper 26, Year 2
Revised Common Lectionary

Oct 31, 2004

I'm a Democrat and here's a reason why.

I grew up in the segregated south. I remember segregated water fountains and restrooms. I watched all the racist southern Democrats (Dixiecrats) become Republicans, carrying their hate with them into the GOP.

This is a report from an early voting site in Florida yesterday. Five hour lines. Republican "poll watchers" challenging voters and Democratic modern day "Freedom Riders" successfully defending them, finishing the job that got people shot when I was growing up. Here's a quote from an 80 year old African American gentleman:

“When I first started I wasn’t even allowed to vote. Then, when I did, they was trying to intimidate me. But now I see all these folks here to make sure that my vote counts. This is the first time in my life that I feel like when I cast my vote it’s actually gonna be heard.”

Oct 30, 2004

Woe 2 America?

I should have been producing these all year. They'd look great on the back of a Hummer.

Oct 29, 2004

The Reformation lives

Diarmaid MacCulloch

"One of the reasons the Reformation was such an urgent, bloody affair, was that those involved had to get things right with God before he came on his final tour of inspection in the Last Days."

MacCulloch is Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University. He wrote one of my favorite reads "Cranmer: A Life", and one of my greatly anticipated reads, "The Reformation: A History" - winner of the Wolfson History Prize, 2003.

Vote Republican, or Harry'll get ya!

Protecting America from my cousin, Harry S. Truman (first cousin, twice removed). 1949, Pennsylvania.

Some things never change.

Oct 25, 2004

Happy Birthday, Sis!

June Ann Summer

1954 - 1975


State basketball champion


A messenger of God

Gone way too soon, I await our reunion.

Oct 22, 2004

John and Teresa Share a Toast at the Huber Brewery in Wisconsin.

Well, that settles it. He's got MY vote! I'll take a Berghoff Red Ale over a Coors any day of the week.

Hunter S. Thompson is not Gay.

But he sure hates bush.

Presidential politics is a vicious business, even for rich white men, and anybody who gets into it should be prepared to grapple with the meanest of the mean. The White House has never been seized by timid warriors. There are no rules, and the roadside is littered with wreckage. That is why they call it the passing lane. Just ask any candidate who ever ran against George Bush -- Al Gore, Ann Richards, John McCain -- all of them ambushed and vanquished by lies and dirty tricks. And all of them still whining about it.

Oct 21, 2004

Harry Clifton Summer, Jr.

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

October 21, 1918 - March 17, 1996

SMU Letterman in Football.

US Army Air Force Veteran (WWII - Pacific Theater).

: Real Estate, Grocery, Imports, and Retail Nursery.


Yellow-dog Democrat.

Not perfect, but a...

Loving Husband and Father, and a...

Born-again Christian and Evangelist.

Autumnal Chilifest

1886 Chili

2 lbs cubed beef (stew beef works well, or brisket), 1 inch cubes
1.5 cups chopped red onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 oz chili powder (Gebhardt’s is best, or Adams, or your favorite bulk style… but no Durkee’s or other yankee powder.)
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground Comino
1 8oz can tomato sauce or 1 10oz can of RO*TEL Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilies
16 oz beer (Spaten Optimator is best, Shiner Bock is fine... WARNING! The use of any Budwieser, Miller, or Coors product can result in severe abdominal cramps and/or diarrhea.)
1 tbsp Molasses
1 tsp Masa Harina (corn meal will work)
1 dried Ancho pepper, crushed

Sear beef until grey. Drain off liquid. Add all ingredients to pot (or Crock Pot) EXCEPT Masa Harina.

Simmer 2 – 3 hours hours.
Skim grease.
Mix Masa Harina into a liquid paste and stir in.
Simmer for 1 hour, or until meat is tender.

Garnish with chopped white onions and grated cheddar cheese if desired.
Serve with saltine crackers. East Coast Liberals may use oyster crackers without penalty.

Serves 4 to 6 people. Adjust ingredients accordingly.


WARNING! The use of any legumes in this recipe can result in intestinal gas, severe abdominal cramps and/or diarrhea.

Oct 9, 2004

Grandchild Number One

Hosea Downing (all eight pounds three ounces of him pictured above) arrived safely at Seton Hospital in Austin Texas at 10:48 a.m. on October 8th, 2004. His mother (my daughter) Anna is doing great. "Grandmother" (the official title of my wife, Linden, also pictured above) can not be removed from the room.

"Mr. Summer" (my official title) is observing this all with the detached bemusement expected of a curmudgeon (as seen above).

Life is a miracle.

Thank You, God, for all the blessings of this life, especially the blessing of Hosea.

We will be looking at the girls he dates carefully, especially any he becomes engaged to, and very especially if the girl is named after a Marine Corps private from Mayberry, RFD.

Oct 7, 2004


Here is an excerpt of comments by Hermann Goering as interviewed by Gustave Gilbert April 18, 1946, as quoted in Gilbert's book Nuremberg Diary.

"Why, of course, the people don't want to go to war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece.

Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.

...the people can always be brought to the bidding of their leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

Oct 3, 2004

Type cast.

When I picked up my heavy-starch-oxford-cloth-buttondown-collar shirts at my cleaners yesterday, I noticed they had an old Olympia typewriter from the 1940s on their counter. This silly old typewriter actually had a superscript "th" key. They didn't know that you couldn't do that before Microsoft came up with Word. Silly "greatest generation" ever, what do they know?

Oct 1, 2004

No Spit Zone

Caught the last hour of the debate (half on the car radio, half on teevee). I was amazed to see W. at his worse. Petulant. Smirking. Impatient.

This national disaster must surely soon come to an end. I really do believe that part of the motivation of BushCo is to cover their asses and avoid prison time.

But, the meme I'd like to get spinning is this epitaph for the Bush administration:

The Flippant Flop.

Flippant flop.

Sep 26, 2004

The Unfeeling President

By E. L. Doctorow
I fault this president for not knowing what death is. He does not suffer the death of our 21-year-olds who wanted to be what they could be. On the eve of D-Day in 1944 General Eisenhower prayed to God for the lives of the young soldiers he knew were going to die. He knew what death was. Even in a justifiable war, a war not of choice but of necessity, a war of survival, the cost was almost more than Eisenhower could bear.

Sep 24, 2004

A Vision for America?

Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. -- Thomas Hobbes

Friday cat-blogging

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The Abbess Hildegard von Kitty (aka: Abbey)

Aug 23, 2004

The old gods

I went to Houston this weekend on a dual mission. My primary motivation was to attend an "advanced prayer ministry training session" that Alpha Houston was putting on. Moving our Alpha Course to a deeper level of prayer is a goal of mine, and so I figured this might help. It may have, but I'll save that for another post.

My other reason for going was a desire to revisit the Houston Arts District. The Visual Arts were a "god" to me at one time (although truth be told, I wanted to be a "god", and art was a way to feed that desire). But a fellow parishioner had said some things about some of the de Menil Collection that stirred an interest in me. Specifically, I wanted to see the Rothko Chapel, the Cy Twombly Gallery, the Dan Flavin Installation, and the Byzantine Chapel.

The juxtaposition between the de Menil Rothko Chapel and Byzantine Chapel was amazing. The Rothko Chapel (octagonal?) has light colored walls with massive black-on-black paintings. As you enter the "chapel", copies of all the religious guides they could think of are available to take in to meditate from. The Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, Hindu texts, Bhuddist writings, etc., etc. Pick and chose.

The light is filtered in from the top cupola, indirectly illuminating the walls and the paintings. The paintings themselves (approximately 10 by 12 feet) look to be dark aperatures to the underworld. Mark Rothko (IIRC) committed suicide shortly after the completion of the chapel. DEATH.

The Byzantine Chapel is also desribed as a reliquary for the two 12th Century frescoes that it has been built to house. The interior is all black with direct artificial lighting illuminating the beautiful frescoes of Christ, an alter back-piece and a dome ceiling fresco. The dimensions of the small original chapel that the frescoes came out of (stolen, btw, from St. Themonianos church in Lysi, Cyprus) are formed by suspended glass panels. There is grate-work iconostasis, and altar, and candles (including a Sacristy lamp). LIFE.

In the Rothko Chapel, I took out my Palm PDA to make notes (and a sketch). The security guard was very concerned that I might be taking a picture with my "cell phone" of the depressing interior. Three times she asked me what was I doing.

In the Byzantine Chapel, I again took out my PDA, but this time I went to the Daily Office of Vespers, and observed the service aloud, but quietly. I left the chapel and went into the walled courtyard with fountain, and in the 104 degree heat index of an August afternoon in Houston, I could smell an aroma that told me that this is what Cyprus smells like.

Aug 17, 2004

Western wisdom

"There will come a time when you believed that everything is finished...

...that is the beginning."

--Louis L'Amour

Certainly true for me... twenty years ago this First Advent.

Aug 15, 2004

Keeping their priorities straight (WWJD?).

8-year-old's first Holy Communion invalidated by Church (
A reminder that the term "hocus pocus" supposedly refers to Roman Catholic eucharistic theology in the Latin Mass: "hoc est corpus", this is my body. True or not, one can definetly see the connection with "magic" in this cruel, law-bound understanding of Christ's Real Presence in Holy Communion.

Aug 14, 2004

Choking back outrage

Perhaps I've missed it in the discussions regarding the City of Arlington's bid for the Dallas Cowboys, or perhaps it's merely been overlooked by everyone.

The sole reason Arlington can even consider the package they are proposing to finance another sports stadium is a glaring example of municipal governance at its worse. Arlington has sales tax headroom to finance a proposed stadium for one simple reason: they have opted out of regional transit with its 1/4% sales tax.

The Metroplex is suffering through a very dangerous air quality season, an ozone problem caused primarily by mobile source emissions (that bureaucrat-speak for cars and trucks). As a response to the air quality problems that are literally choking the life out of North Texans, Arlington has repeatedly voted down both joining a regional transit authority, and even offering public transit for its own citizens.

If all goes as planned by Arlington's politicians, they can soon add the Dallas Cowboys to their dubious distinction of being the largest city in the western world to not have public transportation.

It's a fact that should make Arlington a regional pariah, not a tourist destination.

Aug 12, 2004

A Church Rocked to its Ancient Foundations

Some unintended consequences of the fight against Islam.


Stepping off the bus, this was the view as the sun struck Pegasus atop the Magnolia building.

Sad truth? Glad truth?

On a visit to Leningrad some years ago, I consulted a map to find out where I was, but I could not make it out. From where I stood, I could see several enormous churches, yet there was no trace of them on my map. When finally an interpreter came to help me, he said: “We don’t show churches on our maps.” Contradicting him, I pointed to one that was clearly marked. “That is a museum,” he said, “not what we call a ‘living church.’ It is only the ‘living churches’ we don’t show.”

This is the opening paragraph to the late E.F. Schumacher’s “A Guide for the Perplexed”. I first read Schumacher's seminal "Small is Beautiful" way back in college when I was forced to take a business economics course. It made a lasting impression on me with its topic of sustainability and human scale economics (Schumacher was a British Labor economist).

He also became a Christian late in life, turning his back on the Labor-Socialism's secular positions (without embracing the Tory position). He lost a lot of friends as a result, and gained few.

On the bus this morning, I thought...

...about how,

Jesus died on the cross that I might live with him.

And that...

Jesus lived on Earth that I might die with him.

"Please sir, we would see Jesus."

Aug 9, 2004

A testy test

The Wheels of Perception

The Texas Department of Transportation sponsored a “Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety and Accommodation” workshop put on by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The course was put on for TxDOT engineers and Safety coordinators, as well as local law enforcement officers and transportation planners. The presenters were Dan Burden (previously the Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator for the Florida Department of Transportation) and Kirby Beck (Effective Cycling Instructor, bicycle police officer from Coon Rapids, Minn., and a board member of I.M.B.P.A.).

The three-day course is an informative, if shallow by necessity, overview of bicycle/pedestrian transportation issues. There were many great case studies of bike paths, lanes, wide outside lanes, tunnels, bridges, and other treatments to make cycling safer and more convenient -- including bike helmets and “conspicuity” (I love that word -- it sounds like something my grandfather did that required him to keep a spittoon handy). But there was an over-riding (although beneath the surface) message that needs to be addressed.

By focusing so much attention on safety, we are communicating an entirely different message -- one that has been picked up by cycling’s foes.
The unintentional message that we are sending is this: “Bicycling is an unsafe activity". Add to that message our preoccupation with expensive gadgets and highly specialized equipment (not to mention Lycra shorts), and we are reinforcing the all too common belief that cycling is a remote and esoteric activity.

A local city councilman, in explaining why he was voting for a mandatory bicycle helmet ordinance for all ages, compared cycling to skydiving! See if you can follow me on this: jumping out of a plane a few of miles above land and hoping that a glorified bed sheet will stop your fall doesn’t require a law making the skydiver wear a helmet, but getting on a bicycle to ride a mile to the local 7-11 does. If that comparison doesn’t make sense to you, just look at the visual similarity between a cyclist dressed for a winter ride and a skydiver preparing to jump out of a plane at 20,000 feet. Goggles, gloves, bright colors, helmet, and tight-fitting clothes are all common between the two. But is the attitude?

I always find it
ironic for a bicycle/pedestrian expert to show slide after slide of cyclists in Europe and Asia safely using bicycles for transportation, but who then launches into a warning about the dangers of cycling by showing all the hazards that exist here. The irony is compounded when they offer the magic elixir of bike safety; a bike helmet (or as some more accurately prefer to call them, a bicycle crash helmet). I too have been guilty of pushing bike helmets beyond their reasonableness. I won’t launch into this except to point out that the design speed of bike helmets matches the safety requirements of life on the bike path (mirroring the conditions of European and Asian cycling, oddly enough), not life on the streets. If a bike helmet offered real protection from automobiles, it wouldn’t say inside it, “Not for use with motor vehicles.”

The simple fact is that such a lightweight helmet (lightweight by design and necessity) can only offer protection from low speed crashes. But don’t mistake low speed for low danger. At relatively low speeds, the sudden stop caused by a head hitting a concrete curb at only a few miles per hour can cause severe trauma to the brain. Falling off a bike while standing still, if the head strikes a hard surface, can be very dangerous.
On rare occasions, it can even be fatal.

Very rare occasions, it turns out. But we are reacting like death is at our door, inviting us along on a bike ride! If bicycling was as dangerous as many wish us all to believe it is (cycling professionals as well as politicians and pro-helmet activists), our political and economic tensions with Communist China, Japan, and Asia would be greatly reduced. There wouldn’t be anyone to threaten us (perhaps those bodies in Tiananmen Square were only cyclists who had died while riding around the square).

Because the rhetoric is so intense, it’s easy to be misunderstood on this issue. But we need to look at the monster we have created in “bike safety.” I have even heard one nationally prominent cycling advocate compare bike safety to gun safety. “There we go again,” equating bicycles with life threatening activities, when we should be emphasizing (both to cyclists and non-cyclists) the health benefits of cycling.

When did cycling begin to be seen as a health threat and not as a healthy activity? In talking to some friends in the bicycle retail industry, it seems that it was the aftermath of the 70’s Energy Crisis that sparked “the great fear.” Recall how an existing bicycle boom was fueled even faster by the gasoline price shocks. Nationwide, people who otherwise used bicycles only to define ceiling height in their garages, began riding their bicycles to work, school, and on errands.

Where does an inexperienced bicycle commuter ride their bike? On the same streets that they drive their cars (it’s the only route they know). These inexperienced cyclists soon found that mixing with high speed automobiles on multi-lane thoroughfares and on crowded, narrow roads, wasn’t much fun. It not only felt dangerous, without the proper skills it was dangerous.

When fuel supplies increased (and gasoline prices decreased slightly), these people abandoned their bikes for the “safety” of their cars. The bike boom went bust. A panicked cycling industry began looking for reasons for the bust and identified “safety” as a prime suspect. Two solutions were adopted; bike lanes to protect bicycles from cars, and bike helmets to protect the cyclists.

The great irony here is that “safety” didn’t fuel a new cycling boom -- mountain bikes did. And how were (and are still) mountain bikes advertised? As gonzo fun toys for death-defying, risk-takers! But what was the real appeal? An upright, stable riding position. In a classic marketing campaign borrowed from the automobile industry, consumers were shown gonzo wild-men (and wild-women) flying through the air coming down Mt. Tam in Northern California. In the store, however, the vast majority of consumers were buying low-pressure, fat tired, upright riding bikes that have about as much in common with pro racing bikes as your Chevy in the driveway has to do with a NASCAR racer (very little).

Do you see what we are doing? We are promoting bicycles to gentle people by showing them how dangerous they are as part of the advertising. Their experience is that cycling is safe and fun, but we are telling them that it is dangerous. People all to often believe what they are told by ad agencies more than what they learn from experience. How many guys with beer guts and a six-pack of Bud pick up super-models in thong bikinis? How many young women become successful by smoking Virginia Slims? That’s advertising overcoming reality.

Here’s the message we should be sending out; Cycling is safe and fun! Very safe and very fun. Crashes happen (and can be avoided), and a helmet is a very good safety precaution. I never leave home without mine, because it is pretty cheap insurance. But cycling must be put into relationship with other risks. Statistically, stairs are a far more dangerous place than bicycles. Bathtubs are a far more dangerous place. Jungle Gyms? Give me a break (no pun intended).

How much more dangerous are stairs, bathtubs, swing-sets, and riding in a car than riding a bicycle? I don’t know, because the Head Injury Prevention lobby won’t release that data for fear of showing that their demands for mandatory bicycle helmet laws are unjustified (the chairman of the local bike helmet law advocacy group withheld that information because he felt that the data would, “be used against mandatory helmet laws.”

Now say after me, “Cycling is safe and fun.”

“Cycling is safe and fun.”

That’s the point that the League of American Bicyclists makes in Effective Cycling. Effective Cycling courses teach cyclists how to be prepared for most any conditions they will meet on the road: how to behave in traffic, how to dress for the weather (cold, rain, and heat), how to keep your bike in good mechanical condition. Why it’s a good idea to wear a helmet. These are the skills that prevent crashes, not just mitigate the danger. And perhaps more importantly, there is no false sense of security imparted in developing Effective Cycling skills, only the confidence gained from understanding your environment.

Obey the laws, wear your helmet, don’t be foolish (riding at night without good lighting is about as smart as working on your toaster without unplugging it), and have fun. Live long and prosper.

Repeat after me. "Cycling is safe and fun."

“Cycling is safe and fun.”
“Cycling is safe and fun.”
“Cycling is safe and fun.”

Now let’s saddle up and ride!