bread

I’ve been baking bread. Loaves. Buns. Rolls. Sourdough mostly. And after many failed attempts.

I am my most patient self while baking bread. I am most patient with myself while baking bread. I allow myself the time. The learning. I forgive failures and put aside worries. The bread won’t be rushed. And neither will I.

There is only the bread. The starter. The flour. The salt. The yeast. Maybe a bit of honey. A pat of butter. Simple ingredients, pleasing to my senses. The combination comes to a kind of miracle. The task offers me some sort of purpose. Satisfaction. A notion I’m doing good work…Is wholesome the word I’m looking for?

Each step, its own place, its own part in the process, a piece of my peace. Of my pleasure. A moving meditation. I am quieted for a time – inside and out. The measuring and mixing. The kneading (needing.) Rising. Waiting. Shaping. Rising. Waiting. Baking. Browning. Smelling. By and by … we break bread and eat. A small blessing.

I clean up. Set the kitchen to rights. Hot water from the tap. Soap and soak bowls and tools. Brush flour from the big, wooden work board – taking care not to dust the floor.

I didn’t know I needed bread making. I did not know my hands needed a simple and satisfying task. I did not know my heart needed another way to love.

(Dedicated to Stephanie)

an early spring

Did you know spring arrives earlier than usual this year?

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the spring equinox falls on March 19th – earlier than it’s been in over a century! For those of us counting – and here in the northeast, we are many – that’s only 18 days away! Not only that, but we’ll turn the clocks ahead an hour only seven days from today as we spring forward into Daylight Saving Time.

For me, there’s no hope quite like spring hope!

Here’s a few fun ways to enjoy, celebrate, and spend your days in positive ways while you await spring’s arrival:

  • Keep a spring flower journal … The arrival of spring flowers is a beautiful progression of blooms to watch and document. I know just where the daffodils bloom next to the foundation at church and spotted a few green shoots this morning. I can’t wait for the forsythia and lilacs to bloom out back, and every year I spend lots of time photographing the neighbor’s iris. Journal your way to spring by keeping a written record, watercolor paintings, sketches, or photographs.
  • Keep a birding notebook … In our part of New England, Canada geese are making their way northward. Bird calls are increasing by the day, and I’m ready to research just who’s heralding spring around here. It’s time to learn how to match the call to the bird … a new project for me!
  • Visit a sugar house … with the warmer daytime temperatures and still cold evening temperatures, the sap’s been running well here in New Hampshire. There are over 350 maple producers in New Hampshire and you can learn about them here. The 25th annual NH Maple Weekend is scheduled for March 21 – 22 with open sugar houses across the state. Visit the Vermont Sugar Makers’ Association here. If you aren’t able to visit in person, visit either of these sites to order syrup or mix up some maple sweetness in your kitchen with a variety of yummy recipes!
  • Bake hot cross buns … a spiced sweet bun with dried fruit and marked with a cross on the top, hot cross buns are a Christian Lenten tradition. I wrote about baking them here and used this recipe, substituting dried cranberries for raisin or currents.
  • Plan your summer garden … no matter the dimensions of your yard or size of your containers, the Old Farmer’s Almanac can help you plan what to grow in it. You can explore their free garden planning trial by clicking here. Hope springs eternal in a growing garden, and you’ll harvest a bunch of health benefits too!
  • March for Babies … According to the March of Dimes, two babies die every hour in the United States and one woman dies every 12 hours from pregnancy complications. Register here to March for Babies and find a local spring march for healthy moms and their babies.

full

January’s been … long.

And full. Purposeful. Mindful. Meaningful. Grateful.

I’ve felt powerful: building my physical strength and stamina. Resourceful: planning relevant experiences for my students. Sorrowful: remembering the first anniversary of my mother’s passing. And, of course, hopeful: beginning each and every day this month filling the pages of my journal with gratitude, guidance, goals, and hope for grace.

I’ve lived faithfully: honoring my commitment to #the100dayproject with at least a photograph a day – – showing up at the gym more days in January than not – – devoting time and effort to my health, diet, and overall well being.

There’s been wistful days, joyful days, and stressful days. More ups than downs, thankfully. A few trips and falls, painfully. Many new insights, realizations, and emotional turn-abouts, helpfully.

In other words, life’s been plentiful. And I’m taking one more deep, full breath of January and the fresh, clean air of a new year.

Thirty-one days.

Heart full.

3

habit

I think it’s true: the more you write, the more you write.

Writer’s write. It’s habit. It’s pen in hand. Laptop open. It’s simply showing up. The words, I’m discovering, will take care of themselves. It’s work, of course. Equal parts determination and devotion. Sometimes, delight. But mostly, it’s a decision.

So, I write.

I’ve been writing every morning. Journaling mostly. Lists. Notes. Phrases. Quotes. Ideas. Seeds. 

As a child naturally seeks boundaries in order to feel safe enough to grow beyond them, so does the structure of my morning page first fence me in and then free me to roam beyond.

Ideas arrive, much to my surprise. Pages fill. I think bookish thoughts. 

My notebook travels everywhere I do. Sometimes the words arrive in the spaces between. The space between leaving for work and arriving. There’s space too, after writing what I want to say in which I sometimes discover what I need to say.

I am not the sum of my words, but the subtraction of them. I take away what I mean to say from the entirety of what I wrote, so what’s left is what’s necessary, real, and true. Somewhere in all those words is my tiny moment of knowing. 

And sometimes, simply sitting with stillness and silence feels just right. There’s faith the words will come, because the habit of writing proves this to be true. 

The more you write, the more you write.

time travel

Stepped out the back door with my camera yesterday afternoon, seeking a moment or two in the last of the light. Feeding my soul, I’m learning, needn’t wait. If I’ve a bit of opportunity, an open few minutes, that’s exactly the right time to take the time. Life will wait, the light won’t.

Time travel: soul searching, to soul feeding, to soul filling.

In only ten minutes.

Out the back door.

once upon a sunflower

 

DSC_0472We’ve been saving for a new computer.

As such, I’ve started the tedious but necessary task of sorting through, saving, and deleting literally thousands of photographs.

DSC_0482

I have a natural tendency to look back over my shoulder, and I’m often self-reflective all day and into the night. Circular thinking. Around and around. Conversations. Decisions. Plans. Details. Opportunities.

DSC_0467

And while it would be far simpler and certainly less time consuming to delete all the photographs en masse, I’m resisting the temptation.

DSC_0465

It’s a good idea to look backwards from time to time. I like to see where I’ve walked and how far I’ve traveled. The photographs I’m looking at captured a single frame of my life. What I saw. Who I was. How I felt. What it was like to be me at that very point on my timeline.

DSC_0485

All of these photographs. All of these moments and memories. And as I reflect, what’s easiest to see: I’ve grown, and learned, and developed. I am changed.

DSC_0468

Looking back. Pausing. Walking forward. And deciding about what’s just ahead …

… a new Etsy shop for my photographs.

I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, you’re viewing my first series: Once Upon a Sunflower.

It was a magical day.  Pure blue and vibrant yellow.  I’ve sorted, and saved, and remembered every moment.

DSC_0489

And now I’m sharing them with all of you.

Here’s to hope.

 

 

 

 

dream on

DSC_0061 (3)

What do you do when you don’t know if you can … but feel you must?

How do you cope with self-doubt?

How do you push past feeling self-serving to feeling self-deserving?

I’ve been wrestling with these questions all summer long. Delighted with more time and opportunity, I’ve been able to nourish my creative soul more often. I savor each and every moment spent with my keyboard and camera.

But is that enough?

I’m not sure.

Is the creative act itself enough to satisfy, or is it in the sharing of the end result?

Do I dare? Will anyone care?

What role does audience play in any creation? In any creative’s growth?

I’m tiptoeing along this path, thanks in no small part to the encouragement of special friends and a husband who supports my every breath and dream.

And there’s a few other acquaintances whose inspiration and pep talks I keep within arm’s reach — maybe they’ll be of use to you if you’re in the midst of your own creative identity crisis:

Elise Blaha Cripe: fearless creator of Get to Work Book and so much more! Find big bunches of motivation by following her @elisejoy on Instagram or her website here.  Her Get to Work Book is a no-nonsense, plain-and-simple, get-it-down and you’ll get-it-done planner I’ve found to be oh-so-helpful. Elise experiments, explores, tries, fails, and tries again — a fun loving and living example of growth mindset. I find her incredibly inspiring.

Elle Luna: artist, co-leader of #The100DayProject, and creative author of The Crossroads of Should and Must. 

Elizabeth Gilbert:  author of Big Magic Creative Living Beyond Fear

Brene Brown: author of Daring Greatly

and finally, the classic Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck.

How can I possibly live past the hypocrisy of encouraging my children, my students, and family and friends to follow their dreams … if I’m not willing to walk the talk and follow my own?

Dream on, friends.

 

 

bake for good

DSC_0018 (2)There’s nothing more simply satisfying, more homey and wholesome, or more basically beautiful than a loaf of freshly-baked bread.

Unless you bake two loaves – and share one.

When I bake bread, my heart fills in direct proportion to the rise of the dough. I love all the steps: the measuring, the mixing, the kneading, the baking. I love the aroma as the crust browns. I love to cradle the warmth of each loaf as I wrap it in a cotton cloth just out from the oven. I especially love feeding my family.

I’ve written before about the joy and grounding I find when baking. (See Warmth.) I’m not much for cakes, although this is a good one, and I’m family-famous for my chocolate chip cookies, but my new fascination is with baking bread. It’s been a long-standing someday thought, only recently realized come an unexpected snow day off from school.

And it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be.

Time-consuming? Yes. But easy. And so worth the time.

This latest good thing in my life rose even higher, so to speak, this week after an in-school presentation by King Arthur Flour. Based in Norwich, Vermont, King Arthur Flour’s been a baking name to know since 1790 and employee-owned since 2004. With a company focus on connections in the community, the flour company not only maintains a baking school, but several outreach programs designed to “Bake for Good.”

Last week, the students in our school enjoyed King Arthur Flour’s Learn. Bake. Share. program where they learned all the basics of bread baking and the science behind it too. Each student was sent home with a flour-filled canvas tote, a dough scraper, a packet of yeast, a booklet of delicious recipes to try with their families at home … and an invitation: To share what they bake by donating a loaf to a local food bank.

Kids can participate in two ways:

King Arthur representatives visit over 200 schools all over the country every year. In-school presentations can be arranged by visiting here. Self-directed group baking can be arranged by visiting here.

Youth groups of all kinds can participate in Learn. Bake. Share. Anyone can participate and pledge to King Arthur’s Bake for Good. One pledge = one meal donated to Feeding America.  So far, King Arthur’s donated over 41,000 meals to date!

Bake. Enjoy. Give. And rise.

 

 

 

 

looking for light

DSC_0688 (2)It’s been a long, cold winter. The world’s been iced over and slippery.  Mostly gray.  Dark. For a woman who craves warmth and loves the light, this winter mood of mine sometimes feels bleak.

Seasons change, of course, and despite more snow in the forecast, I know winter’s waning and spring’s just ahead.

But it’s hard to get better at something when I dabble at it more than do it, and I’ve spent most of the winter without a camera in hand. Like everyone who tries to balance passion with responsibility, I’ve been riding the time and opportunity merry-go-round.  There’s either one or the other, but never both. I’ve been a little wistful and wishful hoping at each day’s go round for a minute or more in the light with a lense to my eye.

DSC_0664 (3)

Yesterday, my husband tucked three bunches of tulips among the bags of groceries he hauled home.

Today was the day.

I played happily for hours, tilting the blooms and tucking the long leaves just so. I fiddled with the camera settings and changed lenses … over and over and over. Never quite satisfied – or still hungry, not sure which – I took over 300 photographs in the changing light by the dining room window.

Off and on: about four hours of creative self-satisfaction.

I don’t mind tossing all but about ten of those three hundred because whatever the outcome, it was process I was after more than product.

DSC_0658 (2)

And the light.

This post dedicated to my friend, Jaclyn … on her favorite day of the year!

 

 

 

Hot Cross Buns

DSC_0383 (2)

Good morning from the other side of winter storm Stella!

With upwards of a foot of snow predicted, school was cancelled before the storm even started. Snow day! A snow day sometimes feels like a gift, an unexpected (and much-needed) opportunity to slow down a bit and rest.

So I did plenty of that.

But I also puttered around the kitchen. As you’ve read before, nothing centers me quite like baking, and I’ve been looking forward to experimenting with hot cross buns for Lent. I honestly don’t much care for currents or other dried fruit typically found in these breakfast buns, so I tossed some cranberries in the dough to see how they’d turn out.

It was an adventure.

First, I almost broke our hand-held mixer. I really, truly thought I could get the dough to a semi-mixed consistency and hand mix the rest,  but it got too thick , too quickly. It was almost a disaster for that ancient mixer of ours.

Next, I think I added too many cranberries. By following the recipe, I added as many cups of dried cranberries as the recipe called for raisins and other dried fruit. Personally, I think it was a bit too much. Maybe cut the amount by a fourth.

After that, it was all Stella who stole the show because her drama-filled high winds knocked our power out just as I set the buns for their final rise.

Power resumed about two hours later, and by that time, I was ready for bed.

I did what I could to save the dough by refrigerating over night and baked this morning.

Stella’s gone now … and I think these buns are soon to follow suit.

Here’s the link to King Arthur Flour’s recipe for Easy Hot Cross Buns. Follow as is, or try the cranberries for something a little different. Enjoy for Lent … or any random Tuesday morning.

Snowstorm optional.