Thursday, July 31, 2014

Another Helmet Rant

Being a cyclist, I read a lot of articles about cycling and I listen to other cyclists talk about cycling, sometimes joining in the conversation. The articles I seek out range from outfitting the bike for long, touring rides to cycling safely alongside motorists to what to wear. Most often, I gain something helpful from the articles. Even the discussions with others can be fun as cycling really is fun, but I've come to realize I have very little patience for an argument I hear a lot: everyone should always wear a helmet. The "always wear a helmet" mantra seems to seep into every casual conversation with family, friends, and the women's cycling group of which I am a member (though I tend to stand on the sidelines with this group--that's another post for another time), and this is okay in and of itself. What's not okay is the snarky, snide, "those who don't wear helmets are stupid" tone that goes along with the conversation. Most often I ignore these comments, but it's becoming more and more difficult not to respond.

I get that helmets protect the noggin. I do. That being said, I don't think I should have to wear a helmet every single time I'm on the bike. And I sure as heck don't think others should take it upon themselves to tell me how stupid I am for cycling sans helmet. If you are that person who feels the need to tell me I'm an idiot for taking such a risk, think about these four things before you open your mouth.

1.  Falling in the home can be fatal. In fact, the National Safety Council suggests that upwards of 25,000 people died from falling in their homes in 2009 (I know, I know--this was 5 years ago. I tried to find stats for 2013 but came up empty handed. I'm sure a more current number would be even higher anyway). This is scary stuff. We're in danger in our own homes! Should everyone wear a helmet while walking from the kitchen to the living room? Should everyone wear a helmet while taking a shower?

2. Just walking along, minding your own business can be fatal. Yeah! I know! Mind-blowing! Per the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, in 2011, 4432 pedestrians lost their lives. Should every pedestrian wear a helmet while window shopping and especially when crossing the street? Not to mention those open manholes. They really put a damper on a person trying to text while walking.

3. Over 30,000 people die in car crashes each year. When looking at the info offered through the CDC, of these 30,000 deaths, over 7500 of them were due to traumatic brain injuries suffered in the car crash. Hmmmmmm. This is a real head-scratcher. That's a lot of people. So why do motorists as well as their passengers not wear helmets?

4. In 2012, 726 cyclists were killed in traffic accidents. The number of cyclists deaths represents 2% of all traffic fatalities. Just 2%! I know I have a tough time when it comes to numbers, but this seems like a really low number in the big scheme of things.

I do realize many of the cyclists who lost their lives had traumatic head injuries. It's probably very likely they also suffered from severe internal injuries. How could they not? A heavy moving object striking a human body will create irreparable harm. A helmet isn't going to help in these instances. No one, though, likes to talk about the damage done to a person's chest cavity, liver, or kidneys. For some reason, these injuries are overlooked in favor of trying to drive home the importance of wearing a helmet. I'd really like to know how many of these deaths were due to traumatic bodily injury. A clearer picture of the injuries in general would be very helpful.

Cycling really is a very safe activity. Just look at Portland and what it has accomplished not just one year, but several years. In continuing to press the idea that cyclists should always wear helmets, the underlying message presented is that cycling is dangerous and injury is likely. That's just not true. In fact, if you look at the numbers and how the head injuries occurred, removing those due to car-cyclist collision shows just how minuscule the number of deaths due to traumatic head injury truly is. Also, in advancing the argument that cyclists should always wear helmets, all the responsibility for safety is put on the cyclist. Motorists are given a pass. Instead of saying all cyclists should wear a helmet, maybe we should instead say motorists and cyclists should share the road, all following the rules of the road, being respectful to one another to ensure the safety of all.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Farmgirl Stuck in the City

The garden is bursting. The tomatoes are ripening, giving me my first tomato sandwich of the summer. The herbs are tall, full, and giving off their wonderful scents. The second seeding of lettuce has reached the almost-ready to pick for salads stage. Even the bush bean plants I bought--sickly, near death plants I was sure were too far gone to be saved--are full of lovely, long beans. And the seeds I meticulously planted in egg cartons back in March? The ones that I thought were duds and after ten weeks of watering along with setting out in the warm sun only to get not even a hint of anything growing? The ones I ended up throwing into the compost box? Well, I now have a hodge-podge of zucchini, squash, and tomatoes where I spread the compost in early June. I'm hoping the zucchini and squash produce, as they are thriving and flowering beautifully, but the tomato plants have a lot of catching up to do to produce. The cool weather definitely isn't helping, but there's still August and September warmth to come, hopefully giving that last, little push to all the plants. I love walking through my gardens, thinking about how the tomatoes can be a part of our next meal, how the cucumbers might become a lotion, and how to preserve all the herbs.

Last summer I had several hot pepper plants from which I picked tons of hot peppers. I had no idea what to do with them as I've never cooked with them before, and Hubby isn't a fan of anything that might have a little heat to it. Those peppers ended up in the compost box. This year, I vowed to do something with the peppers, something that I know will be eaten by the majority of us. Funny Delightful Son and I love grilled sandwiches made with goat cheese, strawberries, lettuce, and pepper jelly, and he even turned his girlfriend on to this tasty combination, so I decided to make hot pepper jelly. This morning, I spent several hours in the kitchen, chopping, measuring, and cooking to end up with six half pints of yummy pepper jelly. I used a recipe I found online as it had a pinch of saffron as an ingredient, and since I have some saffron that I bought awhile back, I decided to give it a go. When all the ingredients were mixed, simmering, and nearing the stage of ladling into the jars, I tested it. The jelly definitely lives up to its name: Naughty and Nice Pepper Jelly. The zing and sweet together create a scrumptious treat.

To date, I've made sour cherry jam, strawberry jam, cucumber-ginger jelly, and hot pepper jelly. I've reached the point where I need a space for all my goodies. I have a spot just off the kitchen/dining area that could become a spot for shelves just to display jars of deliciousness, so now I'm trying to figure out how to go about getting shelves put into place. I'm thinking small wooden crates might be the answer. Time to go junkin'. I'd love to find some soda crates or vegetable crates that can be turned into shelves. Could be a bit pricey, though, so maybe just making some from reclaimed wood is a better, more affordable idea. I do wonder, hmmmmmmmm, if I went to the grocery stores around town and asked about their fruit and veggie boxes, if I might find what I'm looking for. Maybe.

Next up is the tomatoes. I'm envisioning salsa, spaghetti sauce, whole tomatoes, tomato paste, and dried tomatoes. I know some of these require a pressure canner, something I've never used so don't have, but I could go the freezing route to avoid investing in the pressure canner. We do have the freezer space since we stumbled upon a brand new freezer at a yard sale a few months ago, still in the box, and got a great deal on it. Part of the freezer space is reserved for grass-fed beef, an investment I'm determined to make sooner or later. All of this would be much easier if I had my own farm, a place and space to raise my own chickens, beef, and goats. The animals along with the gardens and growing fruit would give us so much of what we need. I know of a 2.5 acre property available right now . . ..

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Preserving the Garden Bounty

Last week was my best cycling week to date. I covered 503 miles, meeting some really nice people, eating some really delicious pancakes, and laughing over the antics of some really cute puppies (are there any other kind of puppies?). I traded in the road bike for my heavier hybrid on two of the days, mostly because I was too lazy to change out the road bike's front tire that was showing some splits in the rubber, but the two days on the hybrid were awesome. Because it is a heavier bike, I can't go as fast. Being forced to slow down was good as this has been my goal for the last two years. I find myself falling back into the mindset of needing to keep the speed up, so riding the hybrid forced me to just settle in and let the miles slowly pass by. The two days on the hybrid are two of my favorite rides so far this summer.

Now, only two weeks of my summer self-contained ride remain. Two weeks. I try not to think about being nearly finished, inching closer to having to return to work. To help with this, I've been immersing myself in fun projects. I made a wind chime out of Grey Goose bottles for a friend. Out of the 16 bottles she gave me to work with, I managed to get 5 with clean cuts. The rest ended up with cracks running up or down from the score, making them throwaways. From the discards, I played a bit with cutting some rings and firing them in the new microwave kiln I purchased, but that was a total fail. The bottle's glass is so thick there's no way to melt it down in the little kiln I bought. The glass broke inside the kiln and left a brown ring on the kiln base. The wind chime I managed to put together is kind of cool. My friend's reaction when I sent her a picture of it was, "Gorgeous!"

I also turned my attention to making refrigerator pickles out of the cucumbers piled high on the kitchen island. I've been going on the idea that my family doesn't like pickles. Every time I buy them, they sit in the fridge and end up being thrown out two years after they were opened. Then, Funny Delightful Son informed me the other day that he, in fact, does like pickles and doesn't know why I don't buy them. So I searched for an easy recipe, one that didn't involve water baths or pressure cookers. I found a simple one and set to work. Most of the cukes are now pickles. This morning, I cracked open a jar of pickles to try them. Let's just say I had a tough time not sitting down and eating the entire jar right then and there. Not quite the reaction from Funny Delightful Son, though. He tried one and said, "Too sweet." What?!? So it looks like I'll be eating the pickles all by myself.

With still more cucumbers on my kitchen island, I decided to try a recipe for cucumber ginger jelly. The reviews of the recipe raved about how delicious the jelly is with cream cheese on crackers, so being the cream cheese lover that I am, I had to see if the reviews were true. When the process was over, and the jelly in the jars, I swiped a finger through what remained in the pot. The slight ginger pop along with the soothing cucumber create a very tasty combination, the kind that makes one say, "Ohhhhh, that's good." I encouraged Funny Delightful Son and his girlfriend to taste the jelly. Both looked at me like I was asking them to suck on lemons. That look vanished, however, as soon as the jelly crossed their lips. Both smiled, enjoying the surprise that is cucumber ginger jelly. Then, Lovely Beautiful Daughter and her boyfriend sampled the jelly. They, too, exclaimed over the deliciousness. When I offered them a jar of the jelly to take home with them, the boyfriend was quick to take the jar. I'm thinking another round of cucumber ginger jelly might be in order.

With the cucumbers taken care of, I turned my attention to the basil. This is the first summer I put the basil in one of the raised beds rather than in a pot. I'm glad I made the change. I've never had such beautiful basil plants before. Like last year and the year before, I'll dry some of it, but I also wanted to do something more with the leaves. I found a pesto recipe and got to work. Funny Delightful Son sat at the bar, watching me try to figure out the food processor, mostly laughing at my inability to put the lid on correctly, and Angel Baby came down to watch after getting a whiff of the pine nuts roasting on the stove. When I removed the lid after combining all the ingredients, both boys tested the concoction and approved. We ended up making pesto-mozzarella grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, and I had plenty of pesto left to put into an ice cube tray for freezing and using later. I'm already thinking about a noodle, roasted tomato and mushroom, pesto dish for dinner tomorrow.

I'm pretty happy with figuring out what to do with the cucumbers. I really didn't want them to just end up in the compost box. I want to preserve what I grow, and I am getting much better at it, but I still have a lot to learn. With the tomatoes starting to ripen, I'll be busy preserving them in a variety of ways, hopefully putting different kinds of sauces in our freezer. Who knows, maybe one cold winter day, we'll be eating chili made from my garden tomatoes along with crackers spread with cream cheese and cucumber jelly.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

On Being a Long Distance Cyclist

Okay, summer can slow down. Seriously, how can it be July 12th already? I've still got so many things I want to do and only 4 weeks to do them before having to return to work. Gahhh!

Most of my summer has been spent cycling as I signed up to ride as self-contained for Bike the US for MS. While I didn't raise as much money as I had hoped, I did raise the $2000 that Bike the US for MS suggested. I can't thank my family and friends enough for their support and generosity. I know my $2100 isn't much, but it along with the donations raised by all the others cycling for Bike the US for MS adds up to nearly $300,000 this year. That money goes to research centers in Virginia, Ohio, and Washington, and it also goes to building ramps, renovating bathrooms, and making other home improvements to offer easier access for those living with MS. I'll never forget our service days during the 2012 ride--cleaning, mowing, washing windows, rearranging furniture, installing handholds, and sometimes just sitting and talking with the individual we were working for--and how thankful these individuals were that we gave a day of our ride to help. I know I walked away from those service days feeling like I was doing something purposeful. Though I don't have service days this summer, I still have that feeling of doing something purposeful each day I set out and ride. I know I'm riding to fulfill the generosity of my family and friends.

My favorite rides so far this summer have been the longer rides. I went to Paxton, a cute town still holding on to the small-town feel. I sat on the curb of Main Street, downing a sports drink and eating a candy bar before beginning the ride home, ending with 105 miles for the day. Then I went to Lincoln, a bit bigger than Paxton, and sat outside a gas station to eat a sandwich before moseying around the side streets a bit and finding the new Lincoln Museum. On my way out of Lincoln, I saw a sign telling me I was on the Route 66 Bike Route. I'd actually ridden it into Lincoln, but there'd been no signage to tell me this. I followed the same route back, ending the day with 102 miles. Then I went to Pekin, to the west, and found a beautiful bike trail that wound its way through the town. I also found the "World's Greatest Sundial" in Pekin and enjoyed spending a bit of time there before returning home, an 81 mile day. In each of these towns, I leave a Bike the US for MS calling card on a bulletin board (and I noticedwhen I returned to Gibson City last week that the one I'd left there had been taken--hopefully, whoever took it visited the Bike the US for MS website and made a donation). I have plans for other long rides over the next four weeks, and even what I'm calling an "EPIC!" ride, so still more cycling to come.

The only downside to the cycling this summer is riding alone. I invited everyone to ride with me, but no takers. I know I could ride with the women's group here in town, but they usually don't go as long as I like to go. Though I prefer to ride alone, every now and then it does get lonely. I have run into other cyclists while out, and usually we strike up conversations as we ride along, but I end up going one way and the other cyclist goes his way. At these times, I think of Eleanor Moseman, who cycled throughout Asia, and a comment she made: "[W]hat the long distance woman finds . . . is love for herself. Learning and reassuring herself . . . that she can survive and live as a solo entity, without a partner at her side to help her make decisions and keep her motivated." I have found cycling alone has made me realize how capable I truly am, and I am definitely more confident in myself, whatever I undertake. I'm not sure everyone appreciates my confidence, but I know my kids do, and that's what matters to me.

Oh, Summer, my Love,
Your warmth fills up my being,
spilling out as smiles.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Help From All that is Around Me

Three years ago, I completed my first century ride, the Swedish Days ride that's a couple hours drive north of us. Hubby and I drove up the evening before and spent the night so I could get some decent sleep before having to get up early the next morning. We planned to ride together for the first 25 miles or so, at which time Hubby would return to the start and wait on me to finish the 100 miles. After Hubby turned back, I rode on alone, being sure to follow the cue sheet and arrows on the roads, as well as making sure to stop at the rest areas to eat and drink. The final rest area was about 15 or 20 miles from the finish, and after eating some fruit and a cookie, I started off to complete the ride. Nine miles out, I turned to go east, the final leg of the 100 miles, and found myself facing a nasty headwind. I slogged on, determined I was going to finish. I finally reached the parking lot where Hubby was waiting, and as I neared the truck, I was overcome with emotion, something that had never happened to me before. I suddenly found it very difficult to breathe, and all I wanted to do was cry. I had trained for weeks to complete 100 miles on my bike, and I knew I could do 50 or 60 miles with no problem. 100 miles, though, was a completely different story. It took all I had physically and mentally.

Since that first century ride, I've completed several more, one where I managed to maintain a 17 mph speed despite some gnarly hills (at the end, in the parking lot, another cyclist complimented me on my cycling, saying I rocked because I rode alone, and even though his group passed me, I always caught them at the rest stops), and one where the hills were known to make even the best have to dismount and walk their bike to the top (I didn't--I love hills). I even did a metric century on my mountain bike, a ride that was 90% gravel roads and hilly, hilly, hilly. I finished that ride feeling absolutely worn out, but so incredibly happy at having accomplished such a difficult task. After each of these rides, I didn't have the same reaction I had after the first century ride. Rather, I felt strong, capable, and accomplished.

Yesterday, I felt that same sense of strength, ability, and accomplishment as I completed a second consecutive day of 100+ miles. Friday, I rode 105 miles. Yesterday, I rode 102 miles. The toughest mileage happened during day 2, around mile 90, when it began to sink in just how tired I was. My wrists hurt, making me want to constantly change hand position on the bars. My triceps ached from being in the same position for 5 hours. My thighs were burning and thankful for each pause in pedaling (my cadence really suffered at this point since I was coasting so much). I knew I had another 45 minutes to go, and I knew I had to get out of my own head if I was going to finish the ride in a happy state of mind. That's when a line from my favorite movie--Michael--popped into my head: "Listen to the earth." Michael (John Travolta) says this as he's sitting on a farming implement in a field, with Sparky the dog sitting next to him. I figured the line popped into my head for a reason, so I turned my attention to what was around me rather than what was going on with me.

I heard the leaves whispering in the breeze blowing out of the south. I heard a robin sing what my mom called their "rain is coming" song (and she was right--last evening we received a light, steady rain). I heard the warning shrill of the red-winged black bird as I neared its nest. I heard the panicked chirp of a chipmunk as it darted into the tall grass at the edge of the road. I heard the rustle of the corn growing tall under the July sun (much taller than the old "knee-high by the 4th of July" saying I heard as a kid). Before I knew it, I was at the edge of town, just a couple of miles from home. At this point, my Garmin beeped, telling me I'd reached the 100 mile mark. Nothing could take the smile from my face. Even as I pulled into the driveway and unclipped from the pedals, I was still smiling. With the help of what is all around me, I finished a task I've been wanting to do but wasn't sure I could.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Growing Fruit Mistakes

My gardens are loving this wet, hot, humid weather. The tomatoes and cucumbers are spreading, growing out and over the sides of their raised boxes. I've had to stake the tomatoes in creative ways to keep them in check. The cucumbers have a trellis to climb, and they're making their way up, looking healthy and producing beautifully. That said, the one garden that is truly out of control is the fruit garden. The raspberry vines are taking over, pushing their way into the designated grape space, and the strawberry vines have crept into all four corners, not to be outdone by the wandering raspberry vines. I spent some time in the fruit garden last evening to try and make a dent in the chaos, but there's plenty more to be done.

Last summer, I had more raspberries than I could handle. I made black raspberry jam, red raspberry jam, and red raspberry vinaigrette. The family enjoyed the black raspberry jam but didn't appreciate the red raspberry jam like I did. I adore red raspberries. When I see them, the memory of riding my horse along a country road where the berries grew wild comes to mind. I remember feeling like I'd found a treasure. I slid off my horse and picked berries, popping them into my mouth, delighting in their warm berry scent combined with the sweet taste. The red raspberry takes me back to being 14, exploring country roads by horseback.

My raspberries this summer, though, have no blooms, no fruit. I have lots of vines. The leaves are a vibrant green. Nothing looks amiss except it appears there will be no berries this year. To figure out what is going on, I read a few articles. I found out I am the culprit; I went too far in pruning back the canes last fall. This year's producing canes grew last year and should have been left alone. Oops. On the bright side, next year's crop should be fantastic.

Last summer, the grape vines produced beautiful clusters of grapes. I watched the grapes grow all  summer long, going from being tiny green pea-sized fruits to glorious purple marble-sized fruits. I patiently waited until they were at the perfect stage for picking, and the day I went out to fill my bucket, every single grape was gone. Something beat me to them. I figure a raccoon had gorged itself, enjoying the sweet treat I had watched over all summer.

My grapes this summer, however, have no clusters forming. The vines are strong. The leaves are huge and green. Everything looks healthy. Yet again, after reading up on grapevines, I learned I went too far in pruning last fall. This year's producing vines had developed last summer, and I cut them off. Oops again. Next year . . . next year will be a bumper crop!

Each summer I learn from mistakes I made the summer before. The good news is the plants are healthy and doing well, so there's no need to replace them. By the looks of it, I better start prepping now for the amount of berries I'm going to have next summer. One of my to-do jobs is to create a space for my canned foods; I might get started on that now so when I have jars of jams and other goodies, I'll have the place to put them.

On a side note, today's ride took me northwest, to new roads and scenery. On my way back, I had the pleasure of witnessing this.