Nicole

It’s easy to make new friends on facebook, or twitter, or pinterest, or instagram, isn’t it? Friend requests come flowing in and I think–wow, if they lived next door, would they really want to be my friend? ! 🙂 Since I have neighbors who seem terribly uninterested in striking up a friendship with me or my boisterous family, I’m thinking the distance of my computer to yours has a lot to do with the courage folks seem to have in seeking out new people to correspond with…

Over the years, especially through the online work I do with Conciliar Press and other writers, I’ve made lots of real friends that I’ve never actually met in person. These people are dear to me, and if we ever have the chance to meet face-to-face there will be shouts and hugs and much admiring that other three-dimensional being.

But the other online state of friendship has more to do with pithy comments and pressing little hearts as likes. It’s just a bit of fun, and if I happened upon some of these folks on the street I might not know what to do with them! 🙂

All this to say, I’m proud of Nicole, and pretty pleased with myself, too, that the two of us decided to meet and say hello. We were introduced via facebook through a mutual friend–and there wasn’t really any pressing reason for us to strike up a friendship, except that we’re both part of the dying breed of redheads 🙂 And we both like books, and chocolate. (Okay, those three things might be enough!)

No matter how it happened. I mixed and molded. I baked and hip hopped across town, a loaf of warm sourdough filling the car with an almost edible odor. We sat, and chatted, and  I admired her curls, and she talked about her work as a librarian… It was lovely.

Here’s to Nicole, and hopefully many future gatherings where books are at the forefront of the conversation!

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Lent

Lent.

Lent began last Monday and (stealing some of Father John Finley’s homily) it’s a time of fasting, prayer and almsgiving, with the purpose of strengthening our hearts, our minds and our wills… I love this time of year. Meals are simple, prayer is more intense, and adventure always seems to come my way. I do love adventure.

But some days I’m not capable of as much adventure as is thrown at me. I know this when I start running red lights. I accidentally drove right through a red light yesterday–straight through. Was it the growing headache? Or the enormous to-do list that was circulating in my head? I had hit my adventure limit.

It all started when my brother-the-baker-who-lives-in-LA showed up with four loaves of bread early in the morning. I already had molasses bread rising, so I knew this was going to be a giving sort of day. Plus, my brother is the super adventurous type–he brings all sorts of fun in his wake. I made him a pot of green tea, and then John Ronan started making a list. “Mom,” he said in his five-year-old way. “Mom. We HAVE to do four things today. Write them down.”

  1. Buy a birthday cake.
  2. Go to the toy store.
  3. Decorate the house.
  4. Go to the other toy store.

Yes, it was my daughter’s birthday, and John Ronan had a plan.

Problem was, I also had a plan. My big kids were performing in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” and I had all sorts of errands to do, plus I was in charge of the bake sale for the musical, and all the mom volunteers, and getting the tables ready, and my parents were coming into town, and I had to clean the house, and wouldn’t it be great to just crawl back in bed and wake up on Sunday?

Adventure. Onward!

So, we got the cake, went to the toy store, went to the bank, went to the other toy store, bought balloons, cleaned the house. And all through this hustle and bustle I refused to forget about those six loaves of bread I had on my kitchen counter. So much bread!

During this time of Lent I’m hoping to give bread away to people who are hungry, or sad, or needy, or… people that I don’t like very much. I’m not a very vindictive person, and it takes quite a bit to offend me, but there are a few people in this town that I steer clear of. For quite some time I’ve been trying to get up the nerve to bring two people, in particular, bread. One lady runs the cashier at a nearby store that sells all sorts of Chinese-made trinkets. She’s grumpy and not long ago, when I asked about returning a few items because we had purchased way too much for a birthday party, she actually laughed right at me, and pointed to a sign that spelled out their return policy. She then folded her arms across her wide chest and smirked, so pleased. I just stared at her, stunned. She was mean.

Ooh. I was mad. As I walked to the car I so badly wanted to email all my friends and relate the episode, encouraging them to never shop there. But once I’d made it into the car, the good inside of me, the little man of Christ who sat hunched in an itsy bitsy corner of my heart, started to gain some ground. Just pray. It was then I realized that if anyone needed a hot loaf of bread and a smile, it was her…

So, there I was, armed with a warm loaf of molasses bread. But I don’t think my heart was fully in the right place–for she wasn’t there, (and I kept thinking about that smirk!). Instead I gave it to a young gentleman selling pixie sticks for some cause. He seemed grateful.

Not too much later, I was armed with a brown loaf of Swedish bread that my brothers had baked that morning. Heading to one of the toy stores, I spotted a homeless man smoking in a corner between two shrubs. I offered the bread but the man said, “Don’t eat bread,” between puffs. We said good-bye, turned the corner, and I literally ran into Dante, a waiter, artist, Italian friend. “Hey, Dante, how about a loaf of fresh bread?” He seemed happy to take it, and off we went–only four loaves left to consume.

Sad to say, the other three and a half loaves were still there this morning. But the musical went off beautifully, the birthday girl was pleased with her day, John Ronan got to check all four things off his list, and despite my headache and the red light, it was a pretty great, adventure-filled day.

But, please, Lord. No more days like that for a while?

And speaking of prayer… I need to forget that dratted smirk and seek out that woman in love.

Pray for me. For Lent has only just begun!

Wild about Sourdough and Snow

Two loaves of sourdough (the 24 hour kind, and baked in a pot)

Mixed: 3:45 pm

Molded: 10:30 am next day

Baked 4:30 pm

Cold weather and warm ovens mix so beautifully. The storm that passed through our state over the weekend beckoned me into the kitchen, and wasn’t I pleased when my batch of sourdough came out looking authentically wonderful? I just had to share.

It was already dark, but I noticed most of my nearest neighbors weren’t home. I grabbed the umbrella and prepared for an adventure. After combing the two nearest streets, I ended up almost back where I’d started–right next door, chatting on the front porch while the rain fell all around.

Warm bread. They were pleased, I was pleased, and that nice mood kicked off all sorts of weather planning once I returned home.

Having grown up in sunny Southern California, I relish any weather that veers from blue skies and warm breezes. Now, there are those around me, who grew up in just the same way, who don’t appreciate my viewpoint. I don’t mind this at all–for when a sprinkle of snow comes to our mountains, only the wild-eyed weather-seekers are motoring their way up the hills. And that is just what we did the following morning.

What fun. Whatever the weather, I pray this day finds you well, my friends. I’m off to bake some rye crackers and maybe even find my way to the library with the little ones. If it snows again, grab your boogie board, a thermos of hot chocolate and I’ll meet you on Figueroa Mountain.

Deal?

The BISHOP and the bread

24 crusty rolls, some of them mixed with olive tapenade

Mixed: 9:15 pm

Molded: 6 am next morning

Baked: three batches, beginning at 7 am

For Bishop Joseph’s visit to our parish

Being Orthodox, we are blessed by a visit from our bishop at least once a year. He spends the weekend with us, answering questions, telling us what’s on his heart, and presiding over services. As a family we make extra space in our lives to attend the various events; just being available allows for all sorts of adventures to take place.

Adventure Number One: Arriving early early for Saturday evening vespers and the little one getting to play in the church.

Adventure Number Two: Rising at baker’s hours to make rolls for the luncheon. That’s 5am folks–5am with the house hushed and time all to myself. Now that’s adventure!

Adventure Number Three: John Ronan asking for a pumpkin muffin that sat on the Bishop’s own plate. Wish I had a photo of that one. Thanks, Mr. Bishop, for your pumpkin muffin!

Despite my 5am wake time, this kind of baking and giving is not a stretch. It’s the kind of stuff you and I do every day, isn’t it? We cook and clean, we drive and encourage and comfort. We work, and plant radish seeds, and fold laundry, and even re-learn algebra when we need to…

I’ve written this post a dozen different ways now, and each time it comes out sounding like a sermon. I’m not a bishop–I’m just a jane, and I guess what I really want to say is–I love baking! And I’ve come to really love giving…

It has taken a bit of work to get me here… To really love the giving part.

Before I sign off, and ask you to write the sermon instead–aren’t Bishop Joseph’s vestments simply gorgeous? Just being in the same room as that cloth made me want to sew for an entire weekend straight.

And weren’t those rolls also gorgeous?!!! More about my pot baking success soon. (And that’s a warning… If you read these posts regularly and don’t yet own an enamel or cast iron pot, I urge you to be on the lookout for one you might invest in. Baking bread inside them is like having your own portable brick oven shipped to you from a quaint French village… And I’m gearing up to share recipes and techniques that will all center around that blasted pot.)

Okay, now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear whatever sermons you might have for me. Though the Giving Virtue may have crowded out some of my Sour Stinginess–there’s still plenty of space in my heart that needs a good remodeling. Fire away! I’m ready and waiting…

Birthday Cake

(My husband) baked one very large cake

for one very small person…

He flew out of bed while it was still dark, to heat the (still-broken–only-baking-on-convection) oven and start the (Jungle) cake.

Later in the day, we had a party in the forest.

John Ronan, who turned FIVE, wanted a surprise party. So we did just that–surprised him, jumping out from behind the trees! He’s still talking about that…

We hiked to the oak grove,

ate some cake, tried to sing him Many Years, but because it wasn’t officially his birthday, he shut his ears…

He opened presents, then we shot a photo of the gang. What a gang–what a day!

If I could be five again, I might want a Surprise Adventure Birthday in the Forest, too.

What about you–if you were five again, how might you want to celebrate? 🙂

Door Number Three

Two loaves of no-knead sourdough

Mixed: 10:30 pm

Molded: 10 am next day

Baked: 1:40 pm

First, I love the rain. I love overcast days. I love the fog. And the snow. Even hail. We get so little inclement weather here, so anything outside of sunshine and 70 degrees is lovely, and, to me, it beckons adventure.

I love adventure 🙂

I also love to be cozy. Funny how we can love so many things–even things that seem to be opposite one another.

This homeschooling year, Tuesdays are very light teaching days for me. We leave big blocks of time open for heading to the library, or driving to another town to see an exhibit, or for long stretches of research, reading or writing. So… just yesterday, Tuesday, my daughter (the homeschooling one) was deep into books on stress, taking notes for a science paper. Feeling, seeing, smelling the rainy weather, I just knew I had to bake and share some bread. With no teaching to do, John Ronan and I had the whole afternoon free.

By midday, dough that I’d mixed the night before was on its second rise. The little one and I were looking at a blog posting together; he was in a snuggly mood. The author of that blog had written about crafty winter projects. With the munchkin in my lap, we scrolled through the pictures, read the text and out came a grand proclamation, “Mama! Let’s make a Teddy Bear!”

Feeling adventurous (since I’ve never made a Teddy Bear or anything like it) I said, “Well, yes! Let’s make a Teddy Bear.”

Ten minutes later we had downloaded instructions to the funniest little Easter Birdy. I braved the garage and hefted out the sewing storage box, and then hefted out the sewing machine too. I turned on the oven (since the dough was just about finished rising) and…

We started to sew!

She took four happy hours to make. John Ronan followed every step and cheered me on. Just LOVE that boy. And the Easter Birdy had a very eventful afternoon playing on the rocks and swinging next door; she even got to go to preschool today in John Ronan’s ducky lunchbox.

But back to the oven–an oven who was having another off day. BAD oven. It seems the bottom element isn’t heating, except when it feels like it, so when I should have been baking bread at noon, I was finally putting the dough into the right sort of heat 1 hour and 40 minutes later. I’m sure you want to hear all the details…

  • Convection still works so we heated the oven that way. The convection heating element is behind the fan, behind the very back of the oven. The Oven Guy, Jerry, taught me that this week.
  • No-knead bread is very forgiving. You just can’t seem to completely mess it up. This bread had way overproofed (seems to be a habit of mine this week) yet, I tell you, that sourdough was still quite tasty…
  • I burned the top of the bread. Baking on convection will do that. I’m not a convection oven fan. I always think, Now, why would you want to bake something in the very windy, drying heat of the Sahara Desert? I’d prefer to bake behind a protected and heat-radiating rock face on a Greek island…
  • Thankfully, the sourdough that came out of the green pot was less charred looking. I set that loaf aside for the giving…

Fast forward to 5 pm. Cleaned up the scraps from our sewing day. Then…

Knocked on the blue screen door to our right, the loaf of sourdough wrapped in brown paper and tucked under my arm. Nobody home.

Knocked on the bright red door on the corner. No answer.

Knocked on the green door where they grow exotic everything in the front yard. Two year-old Owen answered. Then he knocked down two pumpkins that were sitting on their porch wall. I handed over the sourdough to a very thankful mommy, who then had to run after Owen because he had escaped out to the side yard. I celebrated, on my way home, the meeting of two new neighbors.

What a day. Lots of rain.

Three doors.

Two loaves of sourdough.

And one Easter Birdy.

Bad News Flipped=Adventure

Two French boules

Mixed: 1:30 pm

Molded: 4:45 pm

Baked: 6 pm

Gave to: a neighbor who just returned from a long drive, and was hungry…

Speaking of long drives. It seems that’s all I did today. I had this wonderful idea of how the day might look, and feel, and be, but all my plans veered into the chauffeur lane. I worked hard not to think about all the creative things I was longing to do. I decided it was better to not think, so repeated “Lord have mercy” about a thousand and one times while in the car…

Not only did my day on a small scale get flipped upside town and turn into an adventure in the mundane, but I also received a blow of bad news while pouring through the morning mail. Some letters on pretty paper aren’t as lovely as they seem. Not sure I’m ready to share yet–the news is still a bit raw, but, somehow I was able to turn the bad news into thoughts of yet another new adventure. That’s my word for the day. Adventure.

The letter was open, and gripped in my hand. I’m sure my mouth dropped open, then… I headed straight for this prayer, and even laughed. Lord, lead me along this path–wherever it may go. Let me see each turn in the road, each flip upside down, as a new adventure. Save me from the path that I try so hard to plow on my own!

And why not? Letting God sit in the driver’s seat led me to France just two weeks ago! Who would’ve thunk?

By the way, the boules were awesome. Matched with some potato leek soup and giggling kids there’s not much bad news that can get me down right now. Bread–and faith–can do that…