Is It Really Quarantine If You’re Not Baking Bread?

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About a week into quarantine, I told my kids that we’d make bread. They groaned. We had all the ingredients – at our first grocery run before isolation I got a bag each of flour and sugar. I don’t know why; it just felt like a staple I needed like milk, bread, and eggs. I just thought I should have it in the house as if I were Ma Ingalls and baked fresh bread every morning (which I do not).

The next week, I said it again. Hey kids, do either of you have any FACS (Family and Consumer Sciences) class assignments? Let’s bake bread. They groaned. We did not bake bread.

Another week went by and my daughter asked to go to the supermarket; she had an assignment that she needed to prepare and photograph and submit for FACS. I cheered. We’ll bake bread! No, she said after she groaned; I’m making a grilled chicken salad. Fine, I said, but you need to make enough for all of us to eat lunch. She groaned again.

I watched people all over Twitter and Facebook baking bread. Some used regular rising yeast, some used self-rising flour, some used starters, mostly sourdough starter, a lot made banana bread. A lot. Why were my kids immune to the call of the fresh smell of baking bread. Sure, I could have made it on my own, but we can buy bread. I didn’t need fresh bread. I hated the kneading, and my dough was never smooth like in the photos or on the Food Network, and I wanted it to be a family project. Me and the kids, measuring and watching the dough rising, kneading like we used to do with playdoh, and then baking it at three hundred fifty degrees for thirty to forty minutes. Why wouldn’t they cooperate?

Five years ago, I would have had them. They’d put on the too-big aprons and they’d get flour on their faces, and they’d burn their fingers trying to pull bits of bread right when it came out of the oven. Five years is a long time in kid ages. My two youngest are fourteen and fifteen, and they had no interest in baking bread with Mommy.

We have to, I said more than once. Everyone is baking bread. Everyone, I whispered. Is it really quarantine if we’re not baking bread? They looked at me in that way that teenagers look at their parents – the face that is partly pity and partly embarrassment; and not of you, but for you. I let them walk away.

We were cooking at least I thought with a shrug. We made pasta, Chef Jose Andres‘ Angel hair with tomato sauce (he called it pomodoro), chicken Alfredo, meatloaf, homemade meatballs, lasagna, roast chicken, pork in orange sauce, even my own leek and potato soup.

And still no bread.

Until….

I have a friend in Oklahoma who made a starter and offered it to her friends, like a chain letter. You get the starter, you grow it, and then, after ten days, you bake your bread, and you share the rest with your friends leaving one cup for you to continue the starter or freeze it for when you’re ready. for more Hmm, I thought, sure why not.

About two weeks later, a small postal box arrived at my doorstop. My starter was here! This was day one, and the directions couldn’t have been easier: do nothing.

I can do nothing.

For ten days, I mix the starter in the bag and I feed it twice. At the second feeding it’s ready to divide and use.

I put on my red apron, I got covered with flour because really what choice did I have – that stuff gets everywhere! One of the best parts of this type of bread is that apart from the starter, I already had every ingredient in my house.

I mixed it smooth. There is no kneading; it has a batter consistency and it poured into the loaf pan easily. I covered it with cinnamon sugar, although I feel as though in the end I should have mixed the sugar with butter to give it a streusel-style topping. I will try that when I make this the next time, and I will definitely add my results in here with an update (but not for awhile). I baked the bread on Wednesday, and I still have a full half of a loaf left. I think my family hasn’t figured out where the bread is or it would be gone already.

Apart from the community of what seems like the entire world baking bread simultaneously, the act of baking the bread is its own therapy. It brings out the homesteading, the nurturing, the nesting that just naturally happens in days of trauma, especially this shared trauma we’ve been facing. This feels different, though, maybe not as natural as other moments, and there is a level of stress and an undercurrent of fear sitting on the surface; the unknown that awaits. Like a rising tide lifts all boats, bread rising is an act of faith. You can follow the directions, mix all the ingredients, knead and rise, and it works or it doesn’t. Sweet breads are a little different, but there is still the wonder of making something from your hands and then sharing that with the people around you, whether that is physically with your family or here online with the people who make up our community.

I got the starter and I followed the directions. I added the ingredients. I mixed. I poured. I spread. I baked.

It hadn’t taken much for the house to smell like a bakery. A little cinnamon and vanilla goes a long way. The smells combined with each other – the cinnamon mixed in with the vanilla – and then it spread throughout the entire house until it was just there; it was consoling, comforting. It calmed. It’s quiet work reassured that things are okay and if they’re not okay right now, they will be. They will be.

Twenty-twenty’s been a year, hasn’t it? We’ll get through it in our own ways and yet still together.

It will take time, but we’ll be okay.

And there will always be bread.

For anyone who wants to make this bread, this is the link for the ingredients and directions as well as a few photos from my baking venture.

World Otter Day

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Today Wednesday is was World Otter Day. Everyday should be World Otter Day!

Apparently, I had the wrong date in my planner and this makes me sad. My kids, my son especially have had an obsession with otters for several years now. There is a beaver near where we live, and for the longest time, my son called him an otter. When we explained that it was a beaver, he continued to call it an otter….or a skinny beaver. We see him throughout the spring, summer, and part of fall.

When my daughter and I went to Florida a couple of years ago for my aunt’s 95th birthday celebration we went to Flamingo Gardens where we saw real, live otters. We were so excited. They were enthralling.

Two years later, this past February, right before the pandemic, my son was able to go their with my husband and see the same otters. He was thrilled.

I thought I would share this video that I took in 2017, and I also wanted to encourage everyone to check out the work of the International Otter Survival World Fund (IOSF) and donate if you can.

Video of Otters at Flamingo Gardens, 2017. (c)2017-2020

Mental Health Monday, Part 2: Sing of Mary: A Springtime Celebration

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These mental health Mondays have been giving me trouble each week. I’m struggling to find my balance, and each day brings a new horror of deaths and White House incompetence that quite honestly is beyond frustrating; I don’t want to overuse the word, but it is horrifying. It’s beyond anything that we’ve seen in my lifetime. For those of you who saw the New York Times cover commemorating the covid-19 death toll reaching 100,000, you can see and understand it’s devastation.

It’s been a difficult time for those of us already on the edge with our “everyday” mental health issues having to slog through isolation day after day, and then watching on television people doing the exact opposite and wondering what the whole point is. I understand. Some parts of my anxiety have subsided, but some parts of my depression are heightened a bit. Nothing that needs a med check, but enough that it’s noticeable, and it’s hard to center myself.

I would usually find a quiet corner in a Starbucks and write. However, the Starbucks dining rooms are closed, and writing just isn’t there for me. While pre-covid I would sit in the car and have lunch and read or write on my Kindle, I find that eating in the car when the car is respite from the home isolation is not giving me the mental boost that it once did. I don’t know if it will come back post-covid, but for now, I’ve put off that worrying for another time. I’m trying to stay in the present, and the writing…I hope it will come. I will occasionally jot down a few thoughts in a journal, and I’ve been publishing here, but the writing that I long for just isn’t available to me right now. I can’t slow my brain down enough to get through a sentence let alone a paragraph and I may have mentioned my overactive brain has also been keeping me from sleeping properly.

Our family did have a nice weekend. We went to the comic store (curbside) and then got takeout from a chicken place, went to the state park and had a picnic in our car. Despite what I said above about eating in the car, this was actually a lovely time and we had a nice drive to places not too near our home so it was a different view for everyone. The people around us seemed to be following covid protocols so there was no outside stress from counting the maskless faces.

Upon arriving home, I discovered an art and music presentation that I had missed, but luckily through the magic of technology and the internet, I was able to watch the video of it.

The art was by my favorite spiritual artist, Brother Mickey McGrath and I know that when I’m enamored by something I post about it a lot and I will readily admit to being a Bro. Mickey stan. The music was from Meredith Augustin. I’m providing the link below because I think that this presentation, while religious in nature was also very soothing and would be a beneficial mental health exercise for anyone. Brother MIckey’s voice in describing the artwork and Meredith’s singing really just lulled me into a different headspace, and the beauty of it I think transcends and invites non-religious people to enjoy it as well, and spend an hour with it, away from everything else that may be weighing on us right now. I would certainly encourage you to give it a try, at least through the first musical section. If it’s not for you, of course, stop the playback and find your own musical and art encounter.

I had originally planned to draw or doodle in my sketchbook while I watched it, but I was so caught up in the presentation and pulled so far into the pictures that I didn’t do anything but give myself over to it. I can always doodle tomorrow.

Give yourself that time to breathe.

Sing of Mary: A Springtime Celebration in Art, Story, and Song with Brother Mickey McGrath and Meredith Augustin

Mental Health Monday, Part 1

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Three days late, so there will be two MHM posts today. Don’t applaud; it’s not great.

I feel an obligation to post what I intend to post. I have a planner, I do research, I write, I link, I take photos, and I really enjoy it even as I give myself deadlines, and perhaps miss a few.

These last several weeks have been a struggle (for so many people) and what I’ve encouraged myself to do is to do what I offer others: take a deep breath, take a few moments to myself, spend some time outside.

Today I delivered a bread starter to my friend and she asked if I had a few minutes. Kind of. Do you want to take a walk? I umm’ed, but I also said sure. It was hot, my face mask was stuck to my face, my glasses were fogged, but we walked and talked, keeping our distance, and it was nice. It wasn’t Facebook or Zoom.

This is the new normal, I guess.

Sometimes maintaining your mental health is just letting go and doing what can be done while keeping the stress as low as possible.

Stopping for a break, doing nothing is not lazy; it’s not even doing nothing. It’s just as important as eating and sleeping. Fit it in.

I will have two more posts today. One is the regular mental health Monday and one is a quick plug for an online event with Pope Francis.

Stay well.

Election Connection: 23 Weeks: Democratic National Convention

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NEW DATES: AUGUST 17 – 20, 2020

These are the new dates of the Convention. They were changed from their original July dates due to the covid-19 crisis and it is still undetermined if the convention will be in full force or will be virtual or partially both. Click on the picture to go to the Convention website. To visit Joe Biden’s official website, click here.