Monthly Archives: November 2014

Cranksgiving

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Today I was asked by several people about riding in the rain. One friend I saw asked with outright concern, “you’re riding in this?”  Then she caught herself and added, “but I guess you’re used to it.”  Yes, today was a coldish, wet, nasty, rainy day.  And yes, I might have rather stayed home.  But in the first place, there was a special song I wanted to sing with my choir, and in the second place, I was hoping to see a good friend, and finally, today was Cranksgiving Day.  In light of all of that, and the fact that I have very inconveniently decided to bicycle commute all this year, I decided to brave the rain.

I have a rain jacket, I have a dry bag, I have a bike.  Sometimes I have to windshield-wiper my glasses with my index finger, but really, in the grand scheme of things, this is nothing.  Just yesterday a friend reminded me that on any given day while cycling along the greenway you might see fifteen or twenty homeless people hunkering down for the night, or waking up for the day (I’ve seen that myself).  I have a place to rest my head and a warm living room that holds three bikes.  I don’t have much compared to some, but I have so much.  Somehow lately, this has been on my mind a lot.

I was aware of that while singing the song Gratitude this morning.”For we are blessed beyond what we could ever dream in abundance or in need.”  I’ve been thinking about the life I live and the friends that have come into it in recent years and I feel sometimes awed by all that this life has laid on my doorstep.  It’s more than I ever dreamed, even when I feel we are having a tough time.

I was aware when I was having lunch with my good friend Susan.  We’ve been friends since perhaps the week after I got to Charlotte, and we’ve seen so much change in our lives, we’ve raised children and shared struggles and joys.  Sunday lunch is kind of our thing, and I’ve missed it lately.

And finally, I was aware of it when I showed up for Cranksgiving, which is a scavenger hunt style race–aka an alleycat race.  In this case we were to pick up food to donate to loaves and fishes. I almost didn’t go because I came home from lunch and thought to myself, “nah, nobody will ride in this weather.”  Even the cycling crazies (I commonly refer to many of the folks in my cycling community as the cycling crazies) won’t brave this weather to ride around town picking up food for donations.  In such cases, we all consider our own comfort first.

I checked the weather map at home and it looked like not just a rainstorm had blown in, but perhaps the storm of the century was here.  I changed my clothes, dreaded the wet ride, went out on the porch with Luke the dawg, asked him what he thought.   Then I came back in and changed my mind five times before throwing on all my gear and riding out into the wet and nasty afternoon.  As I left home the rain had slowed to no more than a drizzle.  But by the time I turned out of my neighborhood at the bottom of the hill, it started picking up, and by the time I made it up the hill and over to The Comet Bar and Grille where the race was supposed to end–where I was volunteering to help organize the event, I was very happy for my rain jacket. I pulled up and tucked my bicycle under an umbrella outside. I pulled off my layers and went in to order coffee.  I spent most of the afternoon with a whole bunch of cool people.  Since I wasn’t racing, I went over with my friend Melissa and bought groceries to donate.  Then we just chatted and waited for the arrival of the riders.

Finally they started showing up.  I was a little blown away by the bags of groceries they’d managed to tow around Charlotte in all that rain.  Marley with her trailer, and everyone else with their giant, heavy panniers.  Every one of those riders came in drenched and smiling.

I loved that, the drenched and smiling part.  Not one of these cycling crazies came in drenched and complaining or drenched and frowning.  Everyone smiled–including the youngest among them, 13 year old Jessica–pulled off their outerwear, weighed their groceries….celebrated.

Is it hard to ride in the rain?  I’ve been asked that question today.  The truth?  It is not.  The hard part of riding in the rain is the very first part.  The hard part ofriding in the rain is saying, “yes, I’ll do it.”  It’s the radical YES that is hard…the agreeing to go beyond your comfort zone and into new and sometimes uncomfortable territory. Today we had a small group.  Because of the rain last year’s 40 riders turned into this year’s 9.  But this year’s nine who said the radical YES to riding around town collecting food showed up drenched and smiling.  They drug in the mother-load of loaves and fishes donations (343 lbs), they ate supper and had beer together and made a little magic happen right now in this moment, which after all is all that we are promised in the first place.

 

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Thankfulness

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I began this morning looking out the window from my breakfast table.  Luke sat at my feet while I was eating a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel and feeling content.  I mean not just content but like I have everything I need.  In the first place, the breakfast table; a small, round, blue and white checkered drop-leaf number; was donated by a dear friend who has invited me to lunch this Saturday.  Also, I was having an IFA (intense food appreciation) moment.  I realized all of the sudden, looking out the window, that cinnamon raisin bagels with butter are delicious.  I was suddenly struck with a bout of thankful, head to toe.  The best part of all of this was that I wasn’t thankful because I had to be (I’m not even participating in the 27 days of facebook thankfulness that happens every year), it just happened.  I’ve found in the past few years that spontaneous gratitude is the very best kind.

After breakfast, determined to be as warm as possible on this 19 degree morning, I geared up:  fleece tights (another gift from a friend), work pants, two pairs of wool socks, two shirts and a cowl sweater, windbreaker/rain jacket, gloves, hat, and fur lined Ugg knock-offs.  I had lunch in a backpack, as well as an extra hat and jacket in case I got warm enough to sweat (I did), as I headed out into the cold, clear morning.

What I love about the ride is the beautiful silence, as well as the chance to see a heron, ducks and the occasional cardinal along the greenway.  Last winter I spotted a species of bird I’d never seen, and after posting a photo of it on facebook with an inquiry attached, I found out from a friend of a friend of a friend in Charlotte not only what kind of bird it was, but that she’d rescued one of these rare birds a while back which she released along sugar creek, and that the picture might be one of it’s offspring.  Even on the coldest days, these sightings along with this morning peace is enough reason to be thankful.

I mention all this because when I got to school there was a text from a friend whose daughter I used to drive home.  “Thinking of you and Madison.  Have you gotten your car fixed?  It’s awfully cold to still be riding your bike.”  A thought occurred to me as I was reading the text.  It’s a phrase we say to customers at the White Water Center, “Be an active participant in your own rescue.”  I thought about this because I made a difficult choice this year, although looking back it seems like the easiest thing I’ve ever done.  I chose to be car free for at least a year.  It happened as the result of once again having to invest heavily to either keep my car running, or invest in a new car, or oh….extra option since I was already using my bike heavily for commuting to work; don’t drive.  I decided that instead of continuing to throw funds into the wind after a car that will always end up broke, adds carbon to the atmosphere, and has occasionally seemed like a rolling death mobile, I’d ride a bike and keep a journal about my experiences.  I decided to actively participate in my own rescue.  I talked with Madison about it and we agreed to make it happen. The funny part about making this decision was the second I decided to go car free, all of these incredible people showed up to help me make that happen, and I honestly haven’t looked back.  I haven’t even had a moment of buyers remorse.   But I also took a shortcut with this friend.  I knew it was one of those things that would once again put me in the “weird-o” category, and sometimes I just get tired of being typecast.  So I told her I couldn’t  drive her daughter any more because I couldn’t get my car fixed.  I didn’t exactly tell her the truth, and she has worried.

So today, I wrote her a nice letter, saying thank you for the concern, saying this is what I’ve chosen and I’m happy and grateful to be in this place but I love that you thought of me.  Saying happy Thanksgiving and we are healthy and happy and grateful.  And apologizing for not being more open in the first place.

And here I want to say something else.  I’ve made a decision this year to do some fundraising for a charity that has really inspired me over the past few months: http://www.worldbicyclerelief.org.  This charity provides bicycles to people in different parts of the world who’s lives would be improved by having a bicycle.  This includes children for whom getting to school is a difficulty as well small business owners who might benefit by having a bicycle with which to tow their goods to market–and others

.  I’m excited to take part in something that does so much in the lives of others and also makes our planet a healthier, better place.

As one of our kids accidentally wrote on her invitation this morning, “Happy Thanksing!”

The Rose Lady: the Disappearing Beauty of Cherry

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I’ve lived in the Cherry neighborhood for about 4 years now.  We moved out of Plaza Midwood because the landlord kept hiking our rent every six or so months, and eventually we could no longer afford to live there.  I found a great place through a friend who is now a neighbor, and moved into our ancient white bungalow house with the big front porch.  Our house is so old the plumbing was added a while after it was built, so all the rooms that require plumbing are on the back of the house.  We know our neighbors by sight.  There’s the slim lady that walks everywhere in her slacks and sunhat living two doors down in a tiny duplex.  My next door neighbor who wears scarf turbans and works downhill at Target, my neighbor who found us this place who sometimes loans me sugar or baking soda, the “Energy Store Guy.”  I sometimes pluck and eat the wild cherry tomatoes that grow by the sidewalk next to his business.  There are the three young dudes who scour the neighborhood looking for yard work or pick up basketball games down at the park and the old ladies that sit out on their porch enjoying nice weather and watching grandchildren play.  Also, until three weekends ago, there was The Rose Lady.  I started calling her that pretty much the first time I walked down Luther Street on the way to the store.  Her house is on the low-income block of Luther, which Madison and I walk or ride frequently to get to the grocery store.  Her postage stamp front yard was a rose garden.  She grew lots of other plants as well in hanging pots and in the tiny spaces between the bushes, but her heart and soul were in those roses.  She cared for them like children.  At Christmas she would decorate her porch and windows, and on holidays she would invite the family to that tiny house…exactly as if she was proud to live there.  Go figure.

When I first moved to the neighborhood, it took some getting used to living in such a mixed race/economic scenario.  But I have to say I liked the feel of it.  It was insular, a bit like a small town all by itself.  There’s a school, three churches in three blocks, a barber, a small convenience store, a laundry (closed for some time now) and a restaurant.  The church that’s just a few blocks from me pulls in a huge crowd on Sunday mornings.  If I happen to be going by there at the right time, I might get an invite.  I’ve felt more at home here in Cherry than I have in any of the other neighborhoods where I’ve lived in Charlotte.  Those neighborhoods had already been through the gentrification process by the time I moved in,   slowly, the poor and lower middle class folks were priced out of living in those areas.  Here we are still on the cusp.  And of course, the city has promised to “study” the situation.  Meanwhile the giant new homes keep going up.  Where there were once big yards, small houses, and wild places…there is now mostly just house. 

I feel that for the past several years there’s been a good balance here in cherry of race and economic mix.  I’ve loved walking down the street and seeing the Rose Lady’s bushes.  I’ve loved seeing those old ladies on the porch and the young men looking for yard work or basketball (in no particular order).  I’ve loved walking by the church on someone’s wedding day and seeing so many beautiful outfits and so much love and family in one place.  I don’t have a desire to stop seeing that world.  Yes it’s a little different than mine, and yes, I’ve had to change my attitude and perspective from time to time, but my own life has felt the positive effects of living in a world where everyone doesn’t look or act the same.  The folks in our neighborhood have gotten used to me riding my bike everywhere.  They’ve gotten used to me walking down to the store and chatting as I pass. 

To me it is tragic that we keep doing this as a society.  We came to North America doing it and we still are.  Because really, we don’t believe in sharing.  Land…resources…sharing is difficult.  Cherry is now a saught after place to live because of all that is now in walking distance.  For the time that it wasn’t, this place was mostly ignored, mostly left to fend for itself, and mostly left to end up an economic wasteland.  But people lived here.  Families.  The Rose Lady grew her roses.  Then she had to uproot, go to a new place.  More important, wealthier people need to live here now.  Her home was a “throw-away.”  Now there’s a red scar of earth where those little houses used to be.  It’s about the dollars.  People are buying, building and taking, culturally blind to the richness that was already here, in the sweet old bungalow houses that beg for photographs and had plumbing added later.  Blind to the people who’ve grown up here–many who’ve already had to leave, and will continue to do the march out of Cherry.  Blind to all but the dollar and the “good investment property.” 

The Rose Lady is gone.  Her house and garden destroyed three Saturdays ago.  Housing like that can’t exist so close to the excesses of the giant shiny new homes going in up the street.  The people in them don’t know the Rose Lady, they never really saw her.  I ride by that big scar of dirt every day since they took down her home and I wonder how people can see the world and yet not see it at all.