Sunday, April 12, 2009

My Bike and Me

The fall of 1991 found me living in yet another parsonage, this time in Hampton, Virginia. I was not working, and hadn’t had any luck over the summer finding employment. Needless to say, I was getting bored and in need of some kind of stimulation in my life. It was during this time that my husband, David, decided that we didn’t need two cars any more. Since I wasn’t working, a second car was an added expense, and so he decided to sell our second car, the one I drove. To placate me, he told me that he’d buy a bicycle for me. With a bicycle, he reasoned, I could ride to the store, visit church members, and to go anywhere that I needed to go. I wouldn’t be stuck at home all of the time, but then I couldn’t go too far away!

Enter my Schwinn Crossfit bicycle. I went with David to select a bike for myself, and picked it out. It wasn’t the cheapest one in the shop – in fact, it was one of the higher priced ones. It had fifteen speeds and tires that could roll easily on both pavement and bare ground. David kept looking at the cheaper bikes, but I was convinced that this was the bicycle I wanted and since he had sold my car, he gave in and bought it. With my new bike and helmet, I was ready to ride!
I rode my Schwinn all autumn and into the winter and the next spring. The geography of Hampton was flat, meaning I didn’t have to deal with hills, and seldom used all the gears on my bike. I explored the town, pedaled to the grocery store and post office, rode it to visit some of our church shut-ins, generally having a wonderful time.

It came time the following fall for me to go to Greensboro, NC, to enter graduate school, and my bike went with me. By this time, I also had a car, thanks to my dad who had given me an old one to drive, but the bike had become part of who I was, and I wasn’t going to leave it in the parsonage garage. My litttle apartment was only a few blocks from campus, and I soon found that it was easier to walk to classes than to ride my bike. However, one of my apartment neighbors was a legally blind man, John, who soon became my friend. He loved bike riding, but couldn’t see well enough to go out alone on his bike. My Crossfit and I became his seeing eye bicycle, and together we began checking out the Greensboro streets on our bikes. Side by side, we rode our bikes up and down the neighborhood streets surrounding the campus, enjoying getting out into the fresh air and feeling the wind in our faces. I served as John’s eyes, and while he could see me as a shadowy blur, I alerted him to obstacles on our way and described to him sights I could see that he couldn’t.

Almost two years later, I finished graduate school, now divorced from David, and newly engaged to Phil. When it came time for me to move to Atlanta to begin a new job, both Phil and the bicycle accompanied me. My new apartment was on a busy street, and there wasn’t a good place for me to ride. I didn’t want the bicycle to sit unused on my apartment porch, so I offered it to my nephew, Mark, for his daughters, Haley and Paige, to ride. I bid farewell to my Crossfit as Mark loaded it into his car, but knew that it would be ridden and enjoyed.

Twelve years and three moves later, I was now living here in Walton County on a dirt road out in the country. I hadn’t thought about my bicycle in years. One day Mark called me and asked me if I’d like to have my bike back. Both Haley and Paige had outgrown bike riding days, and it wasn’t being used anymore. YES! I’d love to have it back. Mark delivered my bicycle, and except for two flat tires, it looked exactly as it had when I passed it along to my great-nieces. I was delighted to have it back, and when asked by Phil what I’d like for Mother’s Day that spring, I told him I wanted my bicycle fixed.

Another two years passed – two Mother’s Days went by without my bicycle leaving the basement. This March, when Phil mentioned my upcoming birthday, I told him that I really wanted to be able to ride my bicycle again. With this request, he finally made it to the bike shop, bought two new tires, new handle grips, and had the bicycle given the once-over. Declared safe and sound, it was now ready to hit the streets, and I was delighted!

I am now back on wheels – the kind I have to pedal. I look forward to my bike rides and am enjoying riding up and down our country roads. I am also discovering what all the gears are for, as we have lots of hills around here. I am amazed that I can shift from gear to gear and keep on pedaling. I don’t even have to get off to walk as I did as a child riding my one-speed bike. I am working my way up to being able to ride it into town to pick up the mail and to ride over to Hard Labor Creek State Park. Even though I am a walker and can walk miles without tiring, I find that riding a bicycle is different, and I need to work up my endurance.

I am very happy to have my Crossfit back in my life, and once again, I’m ready to ride!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Baking Bread

For much of my adult life, baking bread has played an integral role in my collection of days. Bread-baking got me through the last dying days of my first marriage, as I made bread several times a week, selling it to friends and neighbors, and stashing the cash for the rainy day I sensed was looming on the horizon. My bread has also been given away as gifts, often as a way for me to tell someone “thank you” or to introduce myself to someone new. But more than anything, baking bread has been a connection to my mother who taught me how to bake bread, and a form of therapy for me. There is nothing like the aroma of a house where fresh loaves of bread are cooling on racks in the kitchen! And the rhythm of kneading bread is calming and soothing when I need something to center me.

Since we moved into our barn home six years ago, I have struggled with my bread baking. I had a sour dough starter that I brought with me from our former home, and began feeding it in anticipation of baking bread in my new treehouse kitchen. The starter bubbled and had the lovely sour smell as it was supposed to have, but when I baked my first batch of bread, it didn’t rise. I didn’t lose hope, and tried again. The second batch was just as flat. Undaunted, I tossed out the starter and began again. After a few more tries with the same results, I gave up and didn’t bake sourdough bread for the next five years. Instead, I concentrated on my jelly making during the spring and summer, and in between made loaves of banana bread and blueberry bread, with moderate success.

Last month I decided to try my hand at sourdough again. I started my starter, and nursed it for a couple of weeks to make sure it was doing what it was supposed to do. But, with my first batch of bread, I had the same results as I had before- flat bread- very tasty, but too dense for my liking. As the researcher that I am, I went to the internet and began reading about sourdough. I learned that some geographic regions have better indigenous yeasts than others, and that growing the yeast that makes the best sourdough bread is related to the yeasts that are in the air in a particular place. I concluded that my five acres of land is lacking in yeast! I also read that patience is a key, and it sometimes takes more time for the yeast in the sourdough starter to become active enough for making good bread. It was now up to me to supply the air with yeast spores to make up for my yeast-deprived acreage!

As I was reading, I found a recipe for a different kind of sourdough starter than the one I was using. I printed out the recipe, headed into my kitchen, and mixed up a batch. I also got out an old heating pad, and placed it on my kitchen counter to supply needed warmth (but not too hot!) for the starter to draw in the yeast it needed. In the meantime, I found a recipe for a good basic white yeast bread, which I mixed up and was delighted to see rising as it was supposed to do! I felt that maybe the yeast spores from this bread might help my sourdough starter.

The day finally arrived last week for me to take a deep breath and try making sourdough bread again, this time from the new starter. It worked! The bread rose once, and then again, and baked into a lovely round loaf. My next loaf didn’t rise as much as the first (I blame it on the cold snap and all the rain we've had), but I feel like I am on my way again. I can't wait to try it again in a few days to see how it works!

I am hopeful that my days will once again include baking and sharing my bread.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fool’s and Rainy Days

I woke up early this morning to the sound of rain again on our metal roof. I’m not sure if our drought is officially over, but the recent rains have certainly helped the dry conditions in Georgia. It seems that we’ve had more clouds than sunshine for the past several days. I am ready for a few sunny days! The childhood rhyme “April showers bring May flowers” is running over and over in my mind, but I’d like to see some April flowers smiling up at a bright blue sky. My tomato and pepper seedlings would also appreciate some sun. They are drowning from sitting in puddles, and their poor little stems are straining to stay upright. They need some dry weather and sunshine to get stronger and take off growing.

It is also April Fool’s Day. I don’t have any plans to play any tricks on anyone – namely, Phil, since he is the closest one to me on this day. Over the course of my life, as a very gullible and highly impressionable individual, I have been the recipient of many April Fool’s tricks. I have also been the successful instigator of some pretty good ones, because nobody ever suspects me of doing something of a devious nature. I’m just not in the mood for all this today, and it’s not in my heart to try to trick someone. I am happy that March and winter is over, and that spring is hiding behind the clouds. I want to see some sunshine!

Maybe this morning is nature’s April Fool’s joke on me- waking me up at 5:00 am to more rain.