20 for 2020

It’s a new year; it’s a new decade.

Can I get a Hallelujah?

A few months ago (actually many months ago) a friend reminded me that I had not written a post since February 13. “Yes, I know,” I replied. “I think about it almost every day.” The true question was, “Am I done blogging?” It seems so out of date and self-serving. Can I just say that this world does not need any more self-absorption?

I wrote at least five drafts that bored even me. Then, every time I would sit down to write, the egomaniac who is the current president would do something so ridiculous, so awful, that I would start to rant. And  I didn’t need to add to the clamor, the din, the tumult… But that might be just a weak excuse.

Like all years, this past one had its ups and downs, goods and bads: I lost 25 pounds; our  beloved Henry the cat died; I planted sweet potatoes and peas for the first time and they did great; the staples of tomatoes and peppers did poorly. We had tons of cherries and pears; we had almost no apples. I retired and had plenty to do; I retired and sometimes felt at loose ends. I read a lot of great books; I stopped writing almost entirely. We finished the beautiful back porch and the lower side of the house; the bathroom is still unfinished and ugly. I read and studied my journaling Bible every day, but truth be told, this year God has often seemed distant. I get depressed reading the New York Times and watching World News Tonight; my faith tells me I must have hope.

So last night just as I was deciding to give it up entirely and not even do a New Year’s post, WordPress sent me a notice that my stats were booming.

An unknown person across the internet somewhere far away was reading my blog posts in order — they had started with all the early posts about the cottage and then read at least forty-five of my 245 posts.  And that one little thing changed my mind. So here is my post for the New Decade. It might be the one and only, the first and the last; I’ve no guarantees. After all, I’m retired…

This morning I was reading an article written by James Hatch, a 52-year old former Navy SEAL who is a freshman at Yale. He wrote: “I challenge any of you hyper-opinionated zealots out there to actually sit down with a group of people who disagree with you and be open to having your mind changed… To me there is no dishonor in being wrong and learning. There is dishonor in willful ignorance and there is dishonor in disrespect.” Amen, brother. Let’s stop disrespecting each other. Starting today.

There are two kinds of people in the world:

1. those who would go to Times Square for New Year’s Eve, and those who couldn’t be paid enough to go…

Sunrise from our bedroom windows

2. those who go out for New Year’s Eve, and those who stay home…

3. those who would rehab an old vacant house, and those who would look for a new one instead…


4. Cat-lovers and Dog-lovers…

Cat in the Christmas tree

5. Savers and Pitchers…

6. Dreamers and Doers…

7. those who believe and those who scoff…

Micah 6:*

8. those who stay, and those who go…

9. those who love snow, and those who don’t…

10. those who take naps, and those who feel superior to those who take naps…

Cat nap

11. those who love city streets, and those who love country roads…

12. those who look up and those who look down…

13. those who eat their fruits and vegetables, and those who eat their meat’n potatoes…

green tomato salsa

14. those whose glass is half-empty and those whose glass is half-full…

Stag's Leap winery

15. those who work for pay and those who work for love; and those who are blessed to do both at the same time…

Mr. H.C's truck

16. those who believe santa is a democrat, those who believe santa is a  republican, and those who believe santa should just start a third party for the rest of us — the Dempublicans? The Republicrats? (Surely he would get more than just my vote…)

17. Those who love to go shopping and those who would rather eat worms than go to a Walmart.

18. Flitterers and Plodders…

19. Readers and TV watchers


20. Right and Wrong (please God, give us grace for both…)

At different times in our lives, we can be any of these. (Well, probably not too many of us would admit to being that turtle…)
Me? I have been all these — a city lover, a country girl; a scoffer, a believer; an optimist, a pessimist; a cat-lover, a dog-lover; a dreamer, a doer; a shopper and a worm-eater; right and wrong…(Though I would have to be paid a lot of cash to go to Times Square on New Year’s Eve.)
Can we remember this?
Can we remember that our differences make this beautiful world what it is?
Can we let go of our prejudices, our prides, our preconceptions, our disrespect… and just love each other?

May grace, peace, and joy be yours in abundance in 2020.

Christmas angel

Walls or Bridges?

I used to tell a story in my days working in libraries with kids, and its been on my mind lately. I know reading is not the same as hearing, but do your best to hear it being told…

Once upon a time there were two neighbors who were also farmers and friends. They’d been all three for almost forty years. Trading stories, tools, helping each other put up hay–all the things that farmers, neighbors, and friends do for each other.

And then one day they had a falling out. Oh, it was over something stupid, like Paul lost Joe’s favorite hay rake; or Joe called Paul a name in jest and Paul took it wrong. What they argued about doesn’t really matter because the next day Paul took his tractor and dug a big ditch between the two men’s properties. Water from the top of the hill searched out the ditch and now a decent-sized creek was the boundary line between the two farms, when before, there had been none.

There was a terrible silence between the two men for weeks.

One day Joe looked up from working in the barn to see a man standing in the doorway. He was carrying a wooden tool box that was well filled with awls, rasps, screws, and nails. He had two saws in a pack on his back. “G’mornin,” he said with an easy smile. “Got any projects you need done or things you might need fixin’?”

Joe thought a bit and then smiled back. “You’ve come at a good time. Follow me.” Joe led the carpenter down to the rushing stream. “Ya see this crick? T’wasn’t here three weeks ago. My neighbor put it in to spite me, and I’m mighty mad about the whole thing. I want you to build me a nice wall with that pile a lumber I have in the barn. And I’ll pay ya well if ya do a good job.”

The carpenter nodded. “I have just the project in mind for you. I think you’ll be pleased.”

“I have to go to town today,” Joe told the carpenter. “I can get ya more wood if you think you’ll need some.”

“I think this will be plenty,” the carpenter told him. He took his saws from his sack, spread his tools on the ground, and hurried off to haul the lumber he needed to get to work.

When Joe returned from town late in the afternoon, his jaw dropped at the sight. There across the creek was a graceful wooden bridge with sturdy railings and a deck big enough to support a tractor or a truck or a wagon. And there on the other side of the bridge was his neighbor Paul waving and smiling. He crossed the bridge and grabbed Joe’s hand, shaking it up and down with abandon. “I have to say I don’t know what possessed you to have this bridge built after these last weeks of ugliness between us, but I am so glad you did. I’ve wondered and wondered how we could ever make a bridge over what happened, and dog gone it, you went and done it. Built a bridge right over it.” He shook his head in amazement.

Joe was stunned into silence, but he had a grin smeared all over his face. “T’wasn’t me,” he finally stuttered to his friend. “It was this here carpenter gent’s work.”

They turned to look at the carpenter who was packing up his tools. Joe called to him, “Please don’t go. I got several other projects for ya — you did a fine job on this one.”

The carpenter shook his head and smiled.  He shouldered his saws, picked up his tool box, and waved at the two friends. “I can’t stay,” he told them. “I’ve got other bridges to build.” And with those last words he disappeared over the hill.

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We live in a world that builds walls, but bridge building can be done by anyone–you don’t have to be a carpenter or an engineer. What kind of bridge can you build? A footbridge? A covered bridge? Or a glorious bridge that overcomes fear and unforgiveness? Imitate the carpenter–love your neighbor and build a bridge, not a wall.

This story has been around for a long time, mostly as Author Unknown. I found it as “Old Joe and the Carpenter” in Thirty-Three Multicultural Tales to Tell by Pleasant DeSpain. Margaret Read MacDonald published a version by the same name in Peace Tales. When I searched the internet I found an original version–much longer and more colorful–as a story On the Hills and Everywhere written by Manly Wade Wellman (ca. 1956) in a book of stories called John the Balladeer.  This is my own version. 

Thoughts on Retirement and Sourdough Bread

It is the oddest feeling. The feeling that is in the back of your mind that you have to do something. Something important, that you’ve forgotten. And then you realize that no, you didn’t forget; you don’t have anything that has to be done! You can go back to bed if you feel like it. You can spend three hours reading if you feel like it. And the laundry that’s piling up? It will be there tomorrow, and you don’t need those clothes anyway because you can spend the day in yoga pants and a hoodie.

Forgive me if it sounds like I’m gloating, and don’t worry, I’m not turning into a sloth. But rarely in my life have I not worked, and even part-time work necessitates organization and a schedule of sorts. Grocery shopping was done on certain days, laundry was done on certain days, housecleaning was for Saturday, and if any unscheduled reading was done, it was before bed and NEVER in the middle of the day.

Pair all this freedom with a Polar Vortex (Are we in the middle of a science fiction novel or something? Who came up with that name anyway?) and a husband who is away, far away, in Haiti (where there is no Polar Vortex) and I can say it’s just been one odd feeling after another. Today, I studied the Psalms for an extra hour; I did the laundry (even though I didn’t have to–I have indeed been living in sweats); and I only went outside to get the mail and dump the compost. (The cat wouldn’t go outside either; I opened the door for him and he shook his paw and glared at me.) Cold winter days are absolutely the best days to make bread, so I made two loaves of Cranberry Walnut Sourdough bread. Except I didn’t have cranberries. So it’s really Cherry-Walnut Sourdough bread.

I’ve been messing around with sourdough since September when I got a starter. I’ve heard one is supposed to name the starter; mine still has no name, though I have given bits of it away to three people now. We’ve had loaves of bread, some good, some not so good, sourdough pancakes, sourdough biscuits, sourdough rolls for Thanksgiving and Christmas, sourdough corn bread… Mostly the recipes have been wonderful, but I’ve never been completely satisfied with the loaves. They were okay, but not bakery worthy. And I’ve made bakery-worthy bread before, but sourdough is different.

Bakery worthy sourdough rolls, and yes, I got up at 5 AM to bake them–Baker’s hours–because I had to go to work that day. But they aren’t entirely sourdough because they have added yeast.

Sourdough is meant for retirement because baking true sourdough bread takes sometimes up to three days…It is slow and on its own time. You have to wait for it, and when the dough is finally ready, and you have to go to work, well, the best you can do is put it in the fridge to retard the rising and hope you haven’t left it for too long.

Sourdough is meant for retirement because since you have nothing to worry about anymore, the sourdough experiment will give you plenty to worry about. What is a levain? What is an autolyse? And what if I don’t have a baking stone or a peel or a banneton or a brotform? And heaven forbid that all my kitchen towels are cotton with not a single linen one among them. Not only that, how could I, a decent enough bread baker not know what a boule or a batard is? It’s enough to make one want to go back to work.

Early in the Sourdough experiments I came across this Cranberry Walnut Sourdough recipe at The Perfect Loaf. She had labeled it Beginner. The recipe, printed out, is 4 pages. I put it away, terribly intimidated by all those words I didn’t know. And I happily tried other, simpler, sourdough recipes that were closer to what I knew. None of the results were a bread-lover’s dream. They were edible, particularly when toasted, but I wanted more. (Especially because Mr. H.C. got me an Emile Henry bread pan for Christmas and I wanted to do it justice. Can’t have mediocre bread coming from an expensive pan…)

I refused to be terrified of this 4-page, 3-day recipe with alien terms. After all, I am a master jack-of-all trades. So I dutifully looked up all the unfamiliar words. I read the Flourish blog on Sourdough Basics, that yes, uses bannetons and linen cloths, but also gives alternatives. So armed with my kitchen scale, I tackled 800 grams of flour and 880 grams of water. Yes, I weighed the water!!! Alas, though, I had to guess at the water temperature; I only have candy and meat thermometers that don’t go as low as 73 degrees F. I stretched and folded the sticky mass of dough 5 times in 30-minute intervals. (800 grams is almost 7 cups of flour! That’s another reason why I didn’t want a fail–who wants to waste that much flour?)

Cranberry Walnut Sourdough Bread (This is a batard, otherwise known as a regular rectangular loaf of bread.)

…with a lovely sourdough crumb.

My first attack on this recipe came up lovely. Truly it was my first bakery-worthy sourdough loaf. We didn’t have to toast it, and it was gone in two days. It sliced thin for sandwiches–and it might be worth cooking a turkey just to have sandwiches from this bread. I’m making the second batch (with cherries) right now; as I’m writing this, I’m smelling the nose-tingling aroma of bread baking. There’s nothing like it–I wish I could bottle it and send it over the internet, so you could enjoy it too. (No wonder Jesus said he was the Bread of life.)

But I’m not confident yet. There are just too many questions about this whole Sourdough Experiment. I put the loaf that is baking now in an enameled cast iron pan with a lid, but it rose too fast and too high and I had to bake it without the lid. The whole reason I used that pan was for the lid to create the steam! It certainly has a great oven rise though. The other loaf is in the fridge still, rising in my substitute wicker banneton with a well-floured cotton towel. I’m baking it tomorrow morning (the third day) on my cast iron griddle, which I hope will substitute well for a baking stone. All these issues! It’s a good thing I’m retired and don’t have anything else to think about…

And this is a Boule, otherwise known as a round loaf. You can see why the lid wouldn’t have worked…