Christmas Reflections on a Red Bicycle

The Christmas Story kid had the Red Ryder and my overwhelmingly fantastic Christmas present 30 years ago was this, my Shogun 10-speed road bike. My Dad and I were just discussing how pumped I was that Christmas morning when all the presents had been opened and then he surprised me by rolling this out from another room. This was my primary mode of transportation around my hometown until age 17-18.

my first road bike, a mid-1980s Shogun 100
my first road bike, a mid-1980s Shogun 100

Since then, it’s been stored in garages and a barn, until today. I’m taking it back! I rode it today and the gears and brakes work. I still love this bike as much as the day Santa gave it to me. My brother-in-law helped me pull it out from within a stack of bikes. At some point, he had given it a tune-up so it was ready to roll, albeit without much air in the tires. I pointed it at the dirt and gravel driveway and rode downhill, pumping the brakes. When I got down to a country road with a much steeper hill, I opted to just ride a little bit around in a circle before heading back up the driveway. The air felt a somewhat crisper, even on a warm Christmas for the East Coast. There is something freeing and empowering about being seated atop a road bike. Drawing in windy breath activates all the senses and I feel grateful for being alive. There is a timelessness to this sensation. I loved riding this bike around my hometown. It freed me from having to ask for a ride to a friend’s house. I remember placing a field hockey stick across the handle bars to get to and from summer sports clinic. There may have been some occasions when my high school friends and I would pull up to a party on a 10-speed. Growing up in New Jersey, we did not get driver’s licenses until age 17 and most of us were not given a car, so the bike was crucial for creating your own life outside home. I got on this old bike this Christmas and felt that same sense of freedom and self-identity. I noticed how comfortable the bike still fits (I am an inch taller than I was in high school). Similarly, I love the way my Specialized Dulce Elite fits and feels. When I was shopping for that bike, a salesman gave me good advice while I was checking out a less expensive alternative. He cautioned against compromising on price. Mind you, he was offering me that less expensive alternative. But, he said, buy a bike you absolutely love so that you will always want to ride it and not let it collect dust. He was right. When I get on my Dulce Elite, I feel embraced by it and it is easy to ride. Even after dozens of miles, the bike holds firm and keeps me going. Getting back on the Shogun, I had that same sensation of knowing this is my bike and my ticket to freedom.

Palm trees, Christmas cookies and holiday rainstorms

palm tree Christmas cookies

Our family Christmas traditions include trimming the tree together, writing riddles on gift tags about the presents within the wrapping, and baking butter cookies with cutout shapes. Last summer, while visiting family in Vermont, I found a palm tree cookie cutter at a bake shop and decided it would be perfect for Gulf Coast Christmas cookies. We live in Houston, which is full of palm trees. Also, there may have been palm trees surrounding the Nativity in Bethlehem, making the shape even more appropriate for the holiday. This year was the first for the palm tree Christmas cookie and I used the occasion to alter my mother’s basic butter cookies recipe. In addition to butter, sugar, vanilla and flour, I added a bit of orange extract, a pinch of ginger and a healthy sprinkle of cinnamon. Some of the cookies were sprinkled with colored sugar, in line with tradition, while others were pressed with mini chocolate chips and chopped cranberries.

cookies on a Santa plate
cookies on a Santa plate
pretzbark
pretzel bark heads into fridge to firm before being broken into chunks

I decided to try something new for me as well by making pretzel bark. I simple smashed up pretzels in their bag and smashed up some pecans in their bag. A rolling pin comes in very hand for this task. In a big bowl, I mixed the smashed pieces with chopped cranberries and then poured it out onto wax paper in a jelly roll. Finally, I drizzled on melted chocolate and melted white chocalate. That went into the fridge for a couple of hours before being broken into pieces. This turned out rather good, but I need to work on my chocolate melting and spreading technique. The proportion of pretzel to chocolate may have been too pretzel heavy. Still, it tastes delicious, especially if you are a chocolate fiend like me. After putting together the Christmas cookies and chocolate, I could not wait to get on a plane to visit my family in Vermont. Although the forecasts suggested otherwise, I was hoping for at least a hint of a white Christmas. When I packed up my vehicle to head to the airport in Houston, it was balmy and pouring rain. When the plane landed in Boston, it was warm and you could see the snow-less ground. I brought the rain system with me, thanks to El Nino, and we are gathered around in rainy Vermont for our family Christmas, butter cookies and all.