Thoughts on Quarantining

Yes, we’ve been being careful.

Not going anywhere without a mask, staying away from group activities, limiting our shopping in real stores, and still…

Here I am in quarantine, waiting on test results, and best case scenario–out of quarantine on Dec. 1.

Thoughts are swirling….

Perhaps I am being too cautious and don’t really need to do this? I had my mask on. It was about a five-minute encounter with an old lady who shouldn’t have answered her door because she had the virus. (What am I saying? I’m an old lady! But she is older than me, so that makes it ok?) Even more so, she shouldn’t have coughed at me when she opened the door.  She opened the door to tell me she shouldn’t be opening the door…

It is better to err on the side of caution, isn’t it? This is how the virus spreads–people think they are the exception and don’t bother to follow what the health experts have told us to do. Or worse, they flaunt their unbeliefs and don’t social distance, don’t wear masks, and call the virus a hoax in the name of personal freedom.

I’m isolating myself, even though it seems silly because I feel fine,  but I don’t want to be considered one of those people. Just suppose my dear 88-year-old neighbor came down with this because of me…

I feel like a slacker because I’ve canceled things I had committed to doing. Even though everyone assures me that’s just the way it is in 2020, I remain unpersuaded and feeling guilty. (But maybe I feel guilty because I really like staying home with no responsibilities?)

The truth is, I wake every morning and in my groggy, still half-asleep state, I think: Ok, what do I have to do today? And then I relax when I realize the answer is NOTHING…

It really is forced rest and I’ve never been good at it. It’s not that I’m a whirlwind of 24/7 activity, but I have things to do and I need to do them. As I was thinking about this, I remembered an essay I wrote about this very thing a few years ago and I went to reread it. (It’s here if you want to read it too.)

Yes, even then in the midst of busy-ness I was unhappy about the forced rest because I had plenty of things on my to do list…

Perhaps it is the feeling we all share–that we are important and what we have to do is important and nothing had better get in the way of that importance.

Perhaps it is the feeling of guilt that many of us have when we sit and do nothing–we learned it years ago, maybe?

Conscience: What are you doing?
Me: Nothing.
Conscience: Well, you’d better get up and do something. What will people think? Are you lazy? Don’t you know that through laziness the rafters sag and the house leaks because of idle hands?
Me: No. I’m just resting for a few minutes.
Conscience: What if someone sees you just sitting here doing nothing when the kitchen floor needs scrubbing, the house is messy, and your bed isn’t even made! You’d better have two or even three projects going, you know, so people won’t think you are a retired bum.
Me: Hmmm. Maybe I am a retired bum who is quarantined for a reason…So I can make peace with rest. And by the way, Get behind me, Satan…

It’s long past time to let this stuff go…

Many times during this pandemic lockdown time of 2020 I’ve wondered what it is God is trying to tell us. Sometimes we don’t know what it might be until hindsight makes it plain, but I’m thinking that, without a doubt, this is to be a time of reassessment; of determining what is important; a season of quiet. God called it Sabbath Rest. He said: Stop doing and just be. Reacquaint yourself with Me.

It’s become increasingly clear that we can’t. We keep trying to find workarounds and solutions and new ways to keep on doing. Our stuff is important, after all…

I thought I was doing fine–cutting back on activities, staying away from unnecessary store trips, not eating out–you know, the stuff we are all doing? But then real quarantine happened and I realized that I can’t go Anywhere. And what is important, anyway? What if I like staying home too much? Its hard enough to fight my introvert tendencies…

sun in dark clouds

Of course, some parts of living can’t just stop. And finding ways to help each other cope and survive are crucial, but to be honest for a minute: I am feeling guilty for not living my old life and I am fearful of giving it up. I don’t really like waiting either…

I think that could be part of the problem with those who refuse to wear masks and think the virus is a hoax: that fear and unwillingness to admit that things may change. We like to think we are in control; our feelings of control are directly related to our importance.

God is changing things up. He is telling us, “I am the Lord of the sky and the sea. Call on me, and let me be your rest.” He also tells us over and over: “Do Not Fear.”

Turn off the news. Breathe in deeply. Say your gratitudes. Let your need for importance evaporate into the night breeze.

Let God have the control button.

Now

Now there is time to wait at the window.
Now there is time to do something new.
Now is the time to let go of regret.
Now is the time to recognize the gift
of now; not then, not when, not ought.
Now is the time to breathe.

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…