Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Thomas Edison

I don’t have a talent for baking bread

My mother certainly did. She baked the most wonderful loaves and buns of white bread, brown bread, rye bread. Her cinnamon rolls were the greatest. She baked with a wood stove, then a gas stove and finally an electric stove. The only time the bread didn’t turn out was the day she left for parents’ day at school and forgot she had bread in the oven. The chickens got those loaves.

I didn’t inherit her talent, yet I always wished for bread like Mom used to bake. The stuff we buy in the supermarkets just doesn’t cut it. There are little bake shops that make good bread, but they are an hour away and I longed for bread fresh from the oven.

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One day I saw a nearly new bread machine at Value Village for a ridiculously low price. Even better, it was seniors’ day and with the discount I got it for $11.00, tax included. All I had to do now was to dump in the ingredients, push the buttons for the right settings, wait a couple of hours and this wonderful machine would present me with a perfect, hot, tasty loaf of fresh bread.

I had better confess right here that I complicated things by using flour from Red Fife wheat, the 100-year-old variety that was the first wheat grown on the Canadian prairies. I knew that the gluten in this flour wasn’t the same as the gluten in modern bread wheat. But hey, that was supposed to be a good thing, wasn’t it?

I did manage to make some pretty good loaves of 50% whole wheat bread. But things started to go awry when I tried to get to 100% whole wheat. The dough rose just fine. Sometimes it even got a little over exuberant, overflowing the baking pan and oozing down onto the heat element. Smoke billowing out of the bread machine was not a welcome sight. I would air out the house, clean up the machine and try again. But I never succeeded in baking a decent loaf of whole wheat bread with that flour and that machine. The machine was calibrated to start baking at a precise time and that was too late for the gluten in Red Fife wheat. By then the dough had risen, and then fallen.

I gave the machine to my daughter, picked up courage and decided to try doing it by hand. I found a good recipe, actually a blend of several, and set to work, with some coaching from my wife. I kneaded the dough by hand, let it rise, kneaded it again and let it rise a second time. Then I kneaded it the third time, divided it in two and put it in bake pans. As soon as it doubled in volume, I put it in the oven to bake. And it was good.

I discovered that baking bread has nothing to do with talent, but everything to do with the right ingredients, the right timing and a lot of work.

Some people read an inspiring story or article and say that person really has talent. No, she doesn’t. What she has is the determination to work at her righting until it comes out write (that started out as a typo, but it makes the point).

I believe that it was Thomas Edison who said that the recipe for success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. If we find that 99% part intimidating, we will never be anything but a mediocre writer. Talent, whatever we may imagine it to be, cannot take that inspiration and turn it into something a reader will understand and appreciate. Only work will get us there.

For both bread baking and writing we need to start with the right ingredients. But, as I discovered, you don’t get the greatest results from dumping them all together into a machine and pressing a button. You have to mix them together in the right way, you have to get the timing right and you have to work at it.

With bread dough, after I put the ingredients together, I need to begin with at least five minutes of vigorous kneading. Later, I knead it twice more for shorter periods to get the air bubbles out. Without that kneading, the loaf will have great big holes in it. Writing is just the same; we need to work it over and over again to get the holes out.


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

How Thomas Edison invented himself out of a job

St Marys Junction Station

Thomas Edison was almost a Canadian.  The Edison family originally lived in New Jersey but came to Nova Scotia, Canada as United Empire Loyalists at the time of the American Revolution.  A later generation moved to Vienna, Ontario and were involved in the War of 1812 in defending Canada against attempted invasions from the USA.

Samuel Edison, Jr., Thomas Edison’s father, married Nancy Elliott.  The Elliot family were originally from New York, but had also moved to Vienna, Ontario.  In 1837, Sam Edison took part in William Lyon Mackenzie’s rebellion and fled with his wife and children to the USA when it failed.  Thomas Alva Edison, the couple’s youngest child was born at Milan, Ohio in 1847.

The Edison family later moved to Port Huron, Michigan, just across the river from Sarnia, Ontario.  In his teens, Thomas Edison became a telegraph operator and worked at various railway stations in the USA and Canada.

In 1863 he was hired to work the twelve hour night shift at the Grand Trunk Railway station in Stratford, Ontario.  He also did relief shifts at the St. Marys Junction station in nearby St. Marys.  His main responsibility was to send “all clear” messages at regular intervals during the night, unless he received a message of a train coming, in which case he was to send the warning down the line to alert trains coming from the other direction.

He was already doing much study and experimenting during the day and found it difficult to stay awake at night, so he rigged up a device to automatically send the “all clear” at the times specified.  One night a message came in of a train coming from the other direction and he slept through it.  The engineers each saw the other train in time to stop and avoid a major catastrophe.

Edison was called to report to the head office in Toronto, but realized that this was the end of his career as a telegraph operator, hopped a train to Sarnia instead and returned to the USA.

There is an Edison Museum in Vienna, Ontario.  The St. Marys Junction station, built in 1858 by renowned Canadian railway contractor Casimir Gzowski still stands.  We lived about a kilometre from this station in 1978 and 1979 and passed by it pretty well every day.  It is recognized as a National Historic Site for its significance as railway history and the connection with Mr. Gzowski, not for the Edison connection, though that is a favourite story in St. Marys.

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