The Lessons in the Loaf

I am learning a new art. Sourdough bread baking.

It has many lessons to teach me.

Some days I am its willing disciple. Others, a stubborn pupil pushing back against what my critter mind has started calling, the Tyranny of the Dough.

My first attempt was pretty dismal. On the outside, it looked quite pretty. Golden brown. Nice domed shape. Crusty.

Inside. Well that was another story. Gooey. Thick. Heavy. I watched a Magpie try to pick up a chunk after my husband threw it out over the fence line into the dense bush that lines the riverbank. He thought the animals at least would eat it. Ha! After many attempts, the Magpie gave up.

Sigh. Even the animals find my Sourdough bread a bit too sour a loaf to swallow.  (I’m sorry. I just can’t help myself with the  not-so-funny play on words – though if you could have seen the Magpie’s reaction, you would have laughed too.)

So. Back to my lessons from the loaf.

Sourdough bread all begins with the mystical starter. I mean, seriously, flour and water? That’s it?

Yup. That’s it.

Measure. Mix. Let rise. Discard. Replenish. (Pray for magic)

Measure. Mix. Let rise. Discard. Replenish. (Pray for magic)

Repeat. Twice a day. For five days.

And then… let there be starter!

Now, if you read, or watch as many YouTube videos on how to create a sourdough starter as I do, you will know that what appears to be magic is just the alchemy of air mixing with the water and flour to create bacteria (healthy one’s) from the natural yeast that lives in the air and the off-gases the water and flour create. (That’s my “Hey! I’m not a scientist just a wanna-be sourdough baker” description of the process. If you’d like a more scientifically accurate explanation, click HERE.)

Once the magic has been allowed to fester for five days, you should have a nice, rich, bubbly mass in a jar that has a distinctly sour smell and bubbly surface. That’s your starter.

Currently, I have three jars of starter in my fridge. That’s because I have not got the heart (some may call it discipline or faith) to discard the excess starter every time I feed the jar.

And that’s where the first Lesson from the Loaf arrives in my bread basket.

  1. Science has a reason.

My kitchen scale is an old fashioned manual one. It requires a big plastic bowl into which you place your ingredients to be measured. Not that convenient when measuring 70g of flour and water. So… I skip the scientifically-sound advice to weigh the ingredients and measure them instead.

Thus far, the science is winning. My starters (more about why its plural in the next lesson) are a little too flaccid. One’s too thin. One too thick. I keep thinking the third one is ‘just right’ but it seems to be proving me wrong. Even though each starter seems to be achieving the requisite rise and fall, rise and fall, they seem to be lacking in their capacity to hold the rise in my dough.

Yup. Science has a reason — weighing the flour and water definitely outweighs my preferred (what I like to think of as artistic-expression) method of guess and measure.

Which brings me to lesson 2 and the reason why I have three jars of starter in my fridge.

2. Let go. (Why every lesson in my life is some for of the letting go one is a whole other story!)

The process of creating a sourdough starter is an exact science of weighing equal portions of flour and water, putting them into a jar, stirring and letting it sit for a certain number of hours and then repeating the process. Except, each time you repeat the process, you have to discard extra starter before adding to it.

Oh no, my facile mind cries at the thought of so much waste. I can’t let all that magic go down the drain.

So, I put the excess starter in another jar and continue on with the process (which if you remember Lesson 1 is somewhat faulty – yup there’s a Lesson 3 in that one).

Right now, there are 3 starters cooling off their maturation process in the fridge.

Thus far, the first two haven’t developed into spectacular bread results.  Third time lucky. Right? Maybe? Fingers crossed. (Unfortunately, there’s little magic in crossed fingers and third time lucky can also be a strikeout.)

Which brings me to Lesson 3.

3.  Accuracy matters.

Fact is, if the first steps are inaccurate, the results will also be inaccurate.

Somehow, my mind has trouble with this one. I mean, I almost followed the steps. Doesn’t ‘almost’ count for something?

Apparently, in sourdough starter making, that’s just not the case.

Sigh. I really did hope I’d be able to get away with pushing the boundaries just a bit.

And Lesson 4…

4.  Do Not Give Up. (even if you think you’re failing.)

I am still working on mastering this art. Right now, as I type, I have a loaf in the oven. I just took the lid off the cast-iron pot it cooks in to allow the crust to bake all golden and crisp. It is not as beautiful as I would have liked, but it’s definitely an improvement on the last loaf.

Which brings me to Lesson 5 from the Loaf.

5.  Find the lesson and the pleasure in the act of creating.

Yeah. I know. It would be easy to get all frustrated and huffy and tell myself ‘what a colossal waste of time’ or one of the critter’s favs, ‘you are such a loser’, but seriously, where’s the fun, or the compassion, in that?

Nope. I’m going with savouring the experience, learning from each attempt and growing in my art, and discipline, as well as my sourdough baking skills.

It’s not about creating the perfect loaf (yet). It’s all about learning and growing through the journey and savouring each moment of creation.

Namaste.

 

Life’s Eternal Nature

The earth has turned in its orbit around the sun, shortening the distance for its rays to travel to the northern hemisphere. Spring is in the air with its promises of new life.

I welcome Spring’s embrace. I welcome the longer days. The warmer air. The buds bursting with the potency of life. The green grass appearing between winter-dead leaves. The river running free of ice. The birdsong filling the air. Robins hopping on the grass. I welcome Spring’s poetic frenzy.

Spring is bursting forth here at the leeward edge of the Rocky Mountains. The breeze blows down off the slopes, across the foothills and into the still quiet streets of the city. People are out and about, keeping their social distance (mostly). Traffic continues to be light. The pathways are full of bicyclists weaving in and out of the pedestrians who walk in single file trying to keep their distance.

We are a winter city. We know how to hibernate. To bundle up. To protect ourselves from the cold. To stay busy inside while the north winds blow outside.

When spring arrives, we doff our winter parkas with joyful abandon and don lighter gear. En masse, we head to the great outdoors or at least the closest pathway, to savour the change in seasons. One thing we winter-folk know — spring is short. Summer ends too soon. Winter will be upon us again. You gotta savour the sun and warmth while you can.

This year is the same, yet different. Doffing winter gear brings with it the need to keep ourselves protected, not just with sunscreen but with masks and latex gloves to protect us from an invisible bundle of proteins.

The great outdoors have shrunk to city limits as people are asked to not travel too far. Suddenly, mountain towns that welcomed visitors with open arms have closed their gates to keep ‘outsiders’ away. Mountain parks are closed and favourite trails are inaccessible.

Change is constant, even though we humans chafe at its presence.

No one knows for sure what the future will look like, but we do know, it will be different than yesterday.

Different doesn’t mean worse, nor better. It just means, things won’t be the same.

It’s how we handle ‘the different’ that makes the difference palatable in our lives.

Baulking at its presence doesn’t change its presence. It just changes our experience of the present.

Spring has arrived once again with its invitation to welcome new life into our world. In its warm embrace, I am reminded that all things are in a state of constant change as we travel on this planet around the sun. That is part of life’s eternal essential nature. Nothing stays the same.

Whether I like the changes, or not, doesn’t change change. It just makes change more difficult to navigate when I try to keep everything the same.

I am learning to live with the ever-evolving landscape of a ‘new normal’.

Nothing lasts forever. Not even Spring.

 

 

 

 

 

Staying Home Matters

I have begun a new morning practice. It takes but a moment yet, I already feel its impact.

As soon as I awaken, before I get out of bed and begin my morning rituals, I say a little mantra to myself:

“Staying home matters. It is my contribution to help heal the world.”

And then I take a couple of deep breaths and get up out of bed to begin my day.

I am very specific about my language. For example, I do not say, “I am doing my part to fight Covid.

Fighting suggests a battle, and I do not believe ‘fight’ language is conducive to creating the necessary changes we need to create better in the world, let alone peace of mind and a gentle heart within to help us navigate these times. We’ve had enough fighting, greed, abuse to last our lifetime. In fact, if we don’t do something different, if we don’t turn our thoughts from ‘fighting’ one another to collective caring for one another, we risk losing the battle of our lives on planet earth.

Saying, ‘let’s fight Covid’ is kind of like saying, ‘let’s fight climate change.’

It isn’t climate change we need to fight, or even can fight. We can activate our collective power and will to change our ways so that climate change does not continue to create devastation around the world. As the saying goes, ‘You cannot change the wind. You can change the set of your sails.’

Which brings me back to my morning mantra.

I need to say it for my mental health. Every morning. I need to remind myself that staying home is an act of empowerment. It makes a contribution. If staying home matters and I am actively engaged in staying home, then I matter too.

See, I’ve been feeling a bit helpless. A bit like a bump on a log.

Unfortunately, that also means the inner critter is taking the opportunity to leap into the fray and hiss silly incantations of self-destructive possibilities at me. You know, things like, “It’s okay to go out to the store and to do whatever you want. I mean really, Louise. You’re in day 54 of self-isolation. You deserve a break.”

I try to tell him that Covid isn’t taking a break but the critter mind doesn’t care. When he senses my feelings of being disgruntled and unsettled, he only wants ACTION — any kind of action will do so long as it eases the strain of my disquiet. Unfortunately, his idea of action includes things that cause more harm than good. Like checking the news every few minutes, charting the statistics, reading doomsday articles and allowing myself to slip into overwhelm.

It also means he’s been rather vocal with his exhortations that I  ‘Do something.’

Of course, being a whiner, the critter mind doesn’t actually know what the ‘something’ is. He doesn’t come with solutions or ideas. He just arrives in a cloud of self-criticism and complaints about how I am not doing enough, along with his litany of faults that destroy my peace of mind and sense of worth, if I let them.

Which is why I have chosen to create a morning mantra that reminds me that I am doing something that matters.

After several days of repeating my mantra when I awaken, I am finding it a powerful tool to battle the ennui and despair that, if left untended, threatens to creep into my body and invade my well-being with every breath.

“Staying home matters. It is my contribution to help heal the world.”

Say it with me.

“Staying home matters. It is my contribution to help heal the world.”

Repeat often.

And breathe.

Yup. Breathe.

Calm, measured breaths.

Breathe.

A calm you creates a calm world all around you. That calmness ripples out into the world creating waves of peace and harmony.

Keep breathing. Keep repeating.

“Staying home matters. It is my contribution to help heal the world.”

Thank you for doing your part in helping to heal the world. Together, we make a difference.

And I’d love to hear any daily practices you’ve initiated to create harmony, joy, peace in your mind, heart and world.

Namaste.

 

When each breath is all you got.

Morning slips quietly into view. Night eases its hold on the light. Morning breaks free. Darkness recedes.

I lay in bed and think about waking up. A part of me wants to stay here under my covers and keep myself locked in the safety of sleep. Keep myself holding onto the veil of darkness that separates me from all that is happening in the world right now.

I hear the birds calling outside my window.

I roll over onto my side, reach for my phone and check the time.

Beaumont the Sheepadoodle, attuned to the slightest stirring from the bedroom, waddles in, stands at the door momentarily, eyes the two of us in bed. He moves away from the door, comes around the end to my side, nudges my hand where it lies on top of the covers.

He is persistent.

I get up, take him outside, a wrap thrown carelessly over my nightgown. It is early yet. No one will see me.

Back in the house, Beau gives me a doe-eyed look, heads down the hallway and enters the bedroom again, this time to climb up on the bed and curl up. He will sleep for a couple more hours.

I cannot.

Morning has broken. Day has begun.

I check in with myself.

I feel restless today. Edgy almost.

There are tears waiting to be shed. Feelings wanting to be felt.

I want to ignore them all.

I want to go back to bed, slide beneath the covers and curl up into a ball and fall back to sleep until all of this is over. Like Sleeping Beauty. I want to let the world spin around me as I lay in blissful slumber, oblivious to the discord and disruption spinning around the world.

I make my latte.

Turn on my music.

Sit down at my desk.

Morning meditation beckons. I resist.

I know it is an act of teenage defiance. I know it does not make sense.

I tell myself it does.

And then, I smile at myself. At my wilful disregard of the things I know will soothe my edges, quieten my unsettled nature.

I pull out my yoga mat.

I lie down on it, my body pressed into the floor, my knees up to lessen the strain on my back.

I place my right hand on my heartspace, my left on my belly. I close my eyes. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out. Breathe.

Disruptive thoughts dart in and out of my mind. Clouds flirting with the sky.

I keep breathing.

‘What if’s’ clamber for attention.

Blue sky. Blue sky. I whisper the phrase again and again as if its incantation can will my mind into submission.

The ‘What if’s’ grow in intensity. “Look at me! Look at me!”

The urge to look is strong. I tell myself to ignore their presence. I cannot. I glance furtively at their statements of doom and gloom.

There is so much anger and fear, confusion and angst in their presence.

I close my eyes tightly. The pull of their frenzy heightens.

I think about giving in.

There is no submitting to chaos, my heart whispers.

My mind wants to tell a different story.

Avoid it all, it hisses with sibilant passion! It’s wise enough to know yelling won’t get my attention.

Avoidance strengthens fear, my heart lovingly responds. There is only acceptance. Accept what is.

I want to change the channel. To turn the dial and flip through the stations like I’m tuning an old time radio searching for a song I want to hear.

Simon and Garfunkel pluck their guitar strings. Gimme some ‘Sounds of Silence’ I beg.

Yes. that’s it my unquiet mind asserts. Silence.

“You can’t find silence in the constant cacophony of your thinking your way into or out of it Louise”, my heart whispers. Lovingly. But I think I detect a note of frustration tinting the edges of its words like night bruising the sky purple and indigo hues at dusk.

The noise inside my brain picks at the thin thread of inner discord it senses in my critical thinking of my heart. The heart only knows Love, the voice of inner wisdom whispers. There is only Love.

Love! Bah! Humbug! cries the critter. You’re wasting your time meditating your way through these days. You gotta do something!

I can feel the teenager jumping to attention. “Hell ya’!” she cries in gleeful accord. Hands on hips. Chin thrust forward. “Do something!”

I am I whisper, tentatively. I am breathing.

The floor is hard beneath my body.

My hands rise and fall with each inhalation into my body, each exhalation out.

Breathe in Love. Exhale fear.
Breathe in Love. Exhale fear.

Morning has broken. Day is begun.

I am breathing my way into the silence. It is not a smooth ride.

But for this moment right now, it is enough.

For this day, right now, it’s what I got.

I give my all into my breath and my breath takes over my all.

Breathing easily now, I fall with grace into the beauty of this moment right now, where my breath sustains me in loving kindness.

Namaste.

 

 

Accept.

 

.

 

 

 

The Memory of Breath

The new normal eases into a way of passing each day. The chafing of this new ebb and flow lessens. Its awkwardness subsides as you learn to adapt. To make do. To adjust..

You know this new normal has settled in for awhile. It’s not going away anytime soon, still, you wonder, “When will the end arrive? The end of these restrictions. The end of wearing a mask to do your grocery shopping, or not doing your grocery shopping at all and relying on a neighbour, a friend, a son or daughter.

You wonder when will you be able to walk a path and not step off it every time a stranger approaches. Or fear that an unseen microbe could be lying in wait the next time you open a door or go about your everyday tasks.

You wonder.

And you carry on with your day, pushing back anxiety with baking, sewing masks, writing poetry, painting, doing a puzzle, taking solitary walks and reading through the pile of books that have been sitting on the bedside table threatening to topple over every time you turn out the light.

You don’t have it so bad, you tell yourself. Think about families with young children. They can’t socialize. Their children’s playdates are cancelled. School too. They are at home. 24/7 and there is no one to play with other than each other.

And that quote you heard years ago and don’t have any idea where pops into your thoughts. Familiarity breeds contempt. 

And you go in search of its origins because, well you’re in lockdown and have lots of time to feed your curiosity. And you discover it’s old, that quote. Old as Chaucer who wrote in the 1300s.

And your curiosity kicks in again and you wonder, ‘when did the plague happen’? And lo and behold, you find out Chaucer was alive in the time of the plague.

Did this happen to him too? Was he quarantined at home with his family? A mere child when the ‘Black Death’ swept through, taking the lives of millions of people.

And your mind does another one of those little leaps and you wonder, how many people lived on planet earth in the 14th century?

You say a little prayer of gratitude to Google Search and discover there were only 475 million humans on this planet, way back then. Before the Black Death that is. After, there were about 125 million less.

You say another prayer of gratitude.

For science. Medical advancements. Hospitals and ventilators. Governments and organizations like WHO insisting we stay home. And all your fellow citizens who, despite the hardships and the pain, are abiding by the rules of social distancing and sheltering-in-place orders.

You say a prayer of thanks for the food in your fridge. The frozen goods that can sustain you for awhile yet. Your full pantry and grocery stores and restaurants that deliver.

And you give thanks for hot running water and soap. You can wash your hands at will. You can keep your distance from ‘the well’ because you have running water in your home. And toilets and electricity and music.

Oh yes. Music.

And television and Internet that gives you access to movies and how-to videos and news from around the globe. Though you do wonder if that’s a blessing or a curse as you once again scroll through the numbers of new cases. Recoveries. Deaths.

It worries you.

This new need to know. How many. Where. Who. And you feel it chafing. This itch for information you cannot satisfy that sits at the back of your skull. And again, your mind does one of those leaps and you wonder, What is that part of the brain called. Your fingers ache to go look it up. And the word pops into your mind before you have to test your resolve to not give into the urge. Amygdala. That’s it. That place where memories are stored and fear responses are triggered.

And you think about fear and the memory of breath sweeps in to wash it away.

You’d forgotten to breathe in your quest to find out. Everything. To know. To have certainty.

You’d forgotten to breathe.

And so, once again, you take a deep breath. In. Deep breath. Out. And you keep repeating the breath. In. Out until you feel the fear subside. And in its easing off, you take your fingers off your keyboard. You stand up. Call the dog. Your children.

It’s a beautiful day out there. Nature is calling for you to come experience her in all her refreshed beauty.

You gather your family around you. The children are laughing. Excited. The dog is barking. You are laughing too. And you put down your cellphone by the front door and the kids put down their tablets and the dog picks up his leash and brings it to you.

You click it onto his collar, open the door and together you step out into the day.

The answers will come. Someday. Soon. Maybe. And even in their arrival, there will be more questions. More known. More unknown. More changes. More new normals.

In the meantime, the normal that feeds your heart and soul, the one that keeps your spirits lifted, your heart dancing with joy, is to spend time with those closest to you. Those who live in the same household.

And so, you step out into the world to savour the day. And say a prayer of gratitude for good health and good companions.

You step out into your neighbourhood. You’ll keep your distance from others. It’s what you need to do. But between you and your family, there is no distance that can keep Love from filling in the spaces where others would be if Covid hadn’t forced you apart.

You carry them with you. Buoyed up by Love, you step into the world with your family around you and say a silent prayer of gratitude for Life, Laughter, Love.

 

An Image of Love

A collective painting. Created at our wedding celebration, April 25, 2015 by everyone who was there.

This painting tells a story. It is a story of Love. Family. Friends. Marriage. Union. Communion. Hearts intertwining and lives weaving together to form a beautiful, vibrant tapestry of life today and everyday.

It is the painting my beloved and I created, along with our family and friends who had come together on this day, five years ago, to celebrate our union in marriage.

The day began with pouring rain. Cats and dogs as they say.

I was disappointed. We’d chosen Bench 1775 Winery in Naramata, BC because of their deck overlooking Okanagan Lake and the incredible views it offered of the vineyards, the lake and the surrounding mountains.

By 11am I had to make the decision — we would not be getting married on the deck. We’d have to set-up in the tasting room and the tent we’d had erected for the occasion.

By 2pm everything was ready and I raced back to Therapy Vineyards Guesthouse, where we were staying, to get ready. (I know. I left it kind of late but I really wanted everything to look ‘just so’, even if we weren’t going to be out on the deck).

While Charles and his son got ready at the Bench, my two daughters, step-daughter and I laughed and drank champagne as we got dressed at Therapy. The girls did each other’s make-up and mine. Ross, our photographer quietly took photos and Tim, C.C. and my best man, ensured we had everything we needed. Though, getting to the ‘deck’ on time was not high on the agenda, we definitely had fun and were looking ‘smokin’ hot’ by the time we were ready to go.

At quarter to four, the time we were supposed to leave to get to the ‘church’ on time for a 4pm wedding, we still weren’t quite ready. I jokingly said it was, ‘my day’ and I’d be late if I wanted to! (queue It’s my party… though the only thing I would have possibly cried about on that day was the weather but even it seemed to be lifting the shroud of grey and mist that had enveloped the lake and valley all day).

At 10 to 4 a friend text me from Bench 1775 where our guests were all seated, inside, waiting for the big moment. Three simple words. “The sun’s out.” Followed by a series of smiley face emoticons.

I promptly text back. “Tell them to move the chairs outside.”

Momentary silence. And then she text back. “Ok. Done.”

She stood up, called out to the 50+ people gathered for the celebration and said, “Louise wants to move the wedding outside. Everybody pick up your chair and move!”

And so they did. Amidst lots of laughter and shaking of their heads and possibly a few, “Seriously?  What on earth is she thinking?”

Five years later, that day is still indelibly written on my memory. It was a day of laughter, joy, friendship and familial bonds shining in the sunlight that streamed in through a gap in the mountains lining the lake on the western side.

It was a day of vows committed beneath a cerulean sky dotted with fluffy white clouds, vows that continue to reflect and inform and enrich our marriage today.

It was a day to say, I Do.

As I sit in our home today, I feel the power of that ‘I Do’  resonating throughout my being. There is no one I’d rather be sequestered in solitude with during this time of Covid’s forced isolation.

While this virus might be coursing around the globe, our home is filled with the love and wonder of that day. It is imbued with the spirit of the hearts of everyone who gathered together to witness, to celebrate, to share, to dance and laugh and… to create an Image of Love with C.C. and me.

The painting we collectively created hangs on the wall as you enter our front door. It is a reminder of the one thing that endures, sustains. nourishes and abides no matter the weather or the times, no matter how dark or easy the path, no matter where in the world we are.

Love.

 

 

Laughing Matters

Art Journal
Cover is made from an empty Triscuit box.

I laugh at myself, a lot. I mean, really. Laugh hard.

I find myself quite amusing. But then, I have to because sometimes the things I do would make me cry if I take myself too seriously.

Like yesterday. I’ve been working on a video for art journaling. It’s a how to video on creating an art journal cover out of an empty cracker box (aka Triscuit box or Ritz etc).

Yesterday, I set everything up to get started. Laid out all my supplies. Put my iPhone into the tripod and made sure my workspace was centered in the viewfiner.

And I began.

After about an hour of videoing, stopping to organize something, videoing again,I had the cover glued down and the paper I wanted to use as the background all cut out.

Feeling pretty impressed with myself in fact.

Until I checked my video feed.

When I thought I was recording I was actually in pause. And my pause moments were actually recording!

I really had to laugh at myself. I mean, seriously. How could I be so fascinatingly funny?

And it gets better. Earlier in the day, I was working on my website updates and accidentally deleted the certificate I need to keep it all safe. No, the technical support person at GoDaddy told me, you cannot reverse the action. It’s gone.

I now have to reapply for it — and that will take up to 72 hours – of course that’s once the initial process of uploading my website is finished.

Arrgh!  I finally get around to working on my website and I mess it up!

Yup. Definitely had to laugh at myself for that one.

There are so many wonderful opportunities to laugh at myself during the day. And maybe even learn (and relearn) a lesson or too for future reference. Like… triple check, no quadruple check instructions before pressing any technology related buttons!

Then there’s the funny events that transpired from a visit we had with a friend who dropped by for an appropriately distanced visit outside on the lawn a couple of evenings ago. He mentioned that he would have called before dropping over but he still hasn’t replaced his Canadian cell phone. (He’d returned from out of country just as the lockdown started and hadn’t been able to acquire a phone yet.)

As I still haven’t cancelled the plan on the phone I’d given my mom a couple of years ago, I gave it to him so that he could use it until he is able to organize his own phone.

I didn’t know the number off by heart and the phone was dead. So, he took it home with him to charge. Yesterday morning, as I sat at my desk typing, my phone rang beside me. I looked at it and it read, “Mom Calling”.

What?! They’ve got cell service on ‘the other side”?

I started to laugh. OMG! For a moment I actually thought my mother was calling me from where ever she is now that she’s gone from this earthly plane!

Yup. Laughing matters. It’s good medicine.

Oh. And then there’s my Sourdough Starter. The first batch died. At least that’s what I thought. I’ve started a second batch but in the process of my researching what might have gone wrong with the first one I discovered it probably hadn’t died but just needed some TLC.  Too late. I’d already thrown it out!

See. So many opportunities to see the funny side of life when I stop taking myself so seriously.

What about you? When did you last laugh at yourself just for the pure joy of discovering how fascinating you truly are – when you quit taking yourself too seriously?

Go ahead. Laugh now!

It’s good medicine.