Adventures in Sourdough

“Mom killed “Herman”! ” “I did not… I saved most of him”… “Quick! Grab a towel!”

Laugh if you will, but this is how weird our house is getting now that we have introduced a new “life” into our home. “Herman” is our sourdough starter. Hush. It’s not odd… lots of people have names for their sourdough starter. I looked it up. And, for the record, I didn’t kill him off when the measuring cup malfunctioned and “Herman” became a melting, stinky puddle running down the side of the dishwasher… some of him was already saved in the container! “Herman” lives on!!

Okay, okay, let’s back up a little bit. Goal for 2019… live a bit greener and a bit more simply. Subsequently, I see a post from a friend that she has some sourdough starter to share… yes please… let’s try something new! Visions of the simple homemaker baking bread, the sweet smell of yeasty goodness filling the air with aromas of days gone by. Simpler times when everyone got along and borrowed cups of sugar. And so a tiny jar came home to me — filled with half a cup of sourdough starter: “Herman” had arrived.

People have been making bread for years. All kinds of bread. I read somewhere that sourdough starters present today could be upwards of 300 years old. History tells us that some form of bread has been a staple in almost every culture. However, unlike the great pioneer woman, I bought mine in the grocery store, already baked, packaged, and sliced. Therefore, I was excited to try out homemade. Many health experts say sourdough bread is a healthier option for people who are trying to reduce their gluten intake. Compared to store bought white bread, it also has a low glycemic index and can keep your sugar levels down. How hard could it be? I was in –but– I had no idea how to feed, nurture or care for this new being. So, I had to look up the instructions, again.

Along the way I have learned a lot! Most breads contain a yeast. Sourdough bread is made when the dough is allowed to ferment in a “culture” or starter. The mixture of a naturally occurring yeast (referred to as a “wild” ferment) and Lactobacillus (a bacterial culture) that produces lactic acid. This lactic acid produces the “sour” taste of traditional sourdough. The long story is: you’ve got to feed the starter in order for the culture to thrive. This is usually done by adding flour and water, which the starter then breaks down into sugars etc, etc… basically a living science experiment all happening on my kitchen counter.

At first, I was adding too much flour, and my starter became very thick, almost glue like. The hubby complained about having to wash those jars… gooey glop for sure! Then I added less flour — which makes the starter a bit more sour tasting. Parenting yeast and bacterial cultures is a delicate balance. And heaven forbid you spill… years of history running down into clean forks! Oh! The Tragedy!

All these adventures to say this: we have enjoyed trying all kinds of sourdough starter recipes! We’ve decided we don’t like the pancakes. The bread is good… although I am still learning to get a good rise. I think our house is too chilly. Pizza dough has become a favourite, and we have enjoyed the family bonding experience of making our own pizzas. Cinnamon buns and pretzels were big hits and baked donuts are on the agenda! I will post all the recipes on my Pinterest boards for you to check out!!

Cinnamon Buns were so yummy!!

I may not have become the pioneer woman of the gold rush, but “Herman” has forced me to slow down a little, to plan my rising times, and try new recipes for using up leftover starter. There is nothing like getting your hands all floured up and kneading dough. The whole family now has to participate in pizza night. I think the only one who is not so sure of “Herman” is the dishwasher. Sorry, darling. Be that as it may, it now comes as no surprise to me that our cultures have put such a significance on bread. It has deep symbolism in the Bible, too, many I am sure you are familiar with: hospitality, the bread of life, remembrance of Christ’s body broken for us at the last supper. Thanksgivings for our daily bread and the forgiveness of sins that can grow and multiply like the yeast and levain in a sourdough starter culture.

It’s a good reminder, isn’t it? How something so simple, so traditional, can contain such meaning. We forget to be thankful for our basic needs. We forget to take advantage of time. To be patient and wait for things to rise and flourish. We forget to appreciate the traditions of hard work, in this quick paced society. We forget that unless we are fed in proper proportions we become sour and fermented. Do we bless others through sharing our wealth and our hospitality? For now, “Herman” will continue to be fed and thrive on our counter… a reminder of so many more complex things!

Brag Tags

a fun and easy gift for an encouraging Valentine’s Day!

I was preparing to work in a kindergarten class not too long ago when I discovered a fabulous tool for positive reinforcement and encouragement! I was all set up and meandering around the room, waiting for the students to arrive. This moment is like the calm before the storm for educators. All is serene and peaceful and you think you can handle anything the day will bring. Then the bell rings and they descend upon you in a pile of puffy snowsuits and rosy cheeks, all demanding you help find their lost, frozen mitten that they just flung across the coat room two seconds previous. Nothing like thirty, five-year-olds to make you sleep real well at night! But I digress… back in the classroom, I noticed a large display of “brag tags” hanging from a bulletin board brightly displayed under the same name. They hung on small chains… one for each member of the class. Upon closer examination, I discovered each one contained a few tags for various accomplishments: “I can tie my shoes”, “I can print my name”, “I was a good listener”, etc.

What a brilliant idea, I thought! Such a creative teacher! Such incentive for positive behaviours, self learning and motivation! Upon further research, I discovered that it is not a new concept among teachers… there are a great many teacher/schooling sites that have all kinds of “brag tag” ideas and places to buy your own or edit and print. This teacher was not alone in her ideas! There is a whole classroom incentive entity out there about these fab tabs or spirit sticks (as they are sometimes called)! There was even one teacher who decided teachers themselves should have their own brag tags! A little tongue in cheek, I suppose, but fun! A human resource project for your next motivational meeting perhaps? 🙂 If you are an educator and have come looking for more brag tag ideas, please check out my Pinterest boards for lots of fabulous resources posted there!

Now… even though I work with children and have my own beloveds at home, I will be the first to admit I am not very encouraging. I try. I really do. But more often than not, my task oriented, in the box, do it this way brain takes over, and I am more apt to focus on what you should do instead of what you are doing great already!! It is so much easier to correct then to encourage, isn’t it? The Bible is full of verses about encouragement.  Jesus had a time and place for correction, no doubts about it, but usually, He teaches us to be gently encouraging — even in our corrections.

Our family brag tags!

Which brings me to my Valentine’s Day project. My kids are older now… far beyond their kindergarten years… but no matter what the age, we are are always in need of some encouragement, aren’t we?! So I made each of my family members some brag tags… even the hubby! I gave them 5 different ones each, and included some things I love about each of them. Things I want them to know that I have noticed they are doing, and doing wonderfully! Things they have accomplished or are working diligently on. Some of the tags were ready made ones in my gift wrapping collection. Others I punched or cut out and wrote on. Each were ringed on some old shower rings we had hanging around. Simple, but meaningful. I don’t expect them to wear them around their necks the way a five year old might. It’s a small token. But one I hope they treasure. I’m not a good encourager with my spoken word. I have a hard time saying those things I should. This is one way I can make my thoughts tangible to the people I love. Maybe you are not a good verbal encourager either… so, go ahead, steal my idea… I encourage you to ! Make your own “brag tags” for your crew… and let me know how they turn out!!

Create in Me a Clean Heart

So how goes your January? Still working on your New Year’s resolutions? I am. One of the goals that I am hoping to accomplish this year is to: Live More Simply. To use the “stuff” that I already have, and clear out the clutter. To try and eliminate what we cannot use, and to share our wealth with others. To prepare more and be less “pre-packaged”. To be more real and whole. And from the amount of videos, posts, plugs and pod casts on the topic, I’m guessing it is a goal that many of us have. Especially after the abundance of Christmas and the indulgences of the season past, there’s just something about that clean slate that brings a sense of peace and tranquility back into our lives… at least for me it does.

As I said, there are lots of helpful hints out there on how to purge, clean and organize your life. I’ve been searching out many, and gathering helpful hints and tips as I go. Some work, and some don’t work for me. Have you seen the news about this new cult following of the “queen of clean”? After chatting about my goals for this year, someone mentioned to me that I should look up Marie Kondo and her so called konmari method of cleaning and organizing. For those of you who have not heard of this Japanese guru on zen methods for cleaning, her minimalist style encourages you to keep only the things that “spark joy” for you. Thank the rest of your stashes for their faithful years of service and say adios to the discard pile! Then learn to fold everything in some obscure space saving stand up rectangle thingie and be all neat and tidy going forward! Yeah! I’m in.

This past weekend, I enlisted the hubby to help clean up and purge the furnace room. We don’t have a proper garage at our house, so the furnace room is a big space that holds a lot of our storage-type stuff: decorations, tools, camping equipment, that kind of stuff. My workshop bins also get stored here. Now, I am pretty confident in my organization skills… it’s one of the things that gets my juices flowing, so I am all in for folding bits of tissue papers and saving tiny pieces of ribbons — just in case. But the goal is to live more simply not just more organized. So the entire contents of the left side of the room got emptied out into the hallway and family room. (The right side has tools and will take another whole day to move around). We pulled off the old shelving from the wall and considered our options. There are some exposed pipes and such, as well as the furnace and hot water heater in this room, so we wondered how best to conserve space. I wonder if the “konmari konverts” can fold Rubbermaid bins of Christmas lights to store vertically? I am pleased to say, that we decided not to spend more on new shelving, and use what we had and simply stack the bins. (Hurray for small accomplishments, right?)

The BEFORE

I sat with the youngest crew member and sorted through gift bags and spools of ribbon and tried to be purposeful in what bits I kept. We tossed the 3 air mattresses with holes in them, and I refused to keep storing the aquarium light fixtures that might work if we need them someday. We initiated a project that has been on my to-do list for 10 years. I struggled too. I have two bins left in my family room that I still “need to deal with”. One is the kids old soccer stuff. Cleats and shin pads that won’t fit anyone we know, but are too good to just toss. I need to post them up for sale. The other bin is…yes, I admit it… my craft supplies that have been in the bin forever… but I just might use some day! (I’m one of those girls who could pass on a new pair of shoes, but a brand new pack of colourful paper — oooh…yes please!) I could say that they bring me joy, but I’d be lying to myself. The joy comes when those items get used and turned into something beautiful.

The AFTER

As we dusted and mopped and started to put things back, I reflected a little on how our hearts are like our furnace room. We store so much in there! Useful things, things that truly bring us joy, things that we may only use for a season, but bring renewed happiness each time we bring them out. Then there are the other things. The things we hoard and hide and hope they work… eventually. Or the things we are not willing to give up. Like the box of baby clothes I simply closed the lid on and slid back into place. (Why am I keeping baby clothes?! My youngest is almost 11!) Perhaps you have some bits of ribbon and trinkets that you want to someday make into something beautiful… but haven’t made the time for just yet. So they get stored away in that little space left in the corner of your heart. I will be the first one to say: I hear ya, friend!!

So in this first month of this new year, I am praying the prayer of David in Psalm 51: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your Presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Your salvation, and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” I want my outward de-cluttering to be a reflection of my heart. I want to live simply and use what has been given to me to benefit others and not let those things be quickly tossed away because I have chosen to be careless with it. I am discovering it is a very, very slow process. It takes time. It takes effort. It takes thinking ahead and making conscious choices. It may be simpler… but it is certainly not easier.

So, I am asking you to join me for the next few weeks as I blog about some changes that we are trying here at the Mitton house… to live simply. Hopefully, it will create in us some “cleaner hearts” as well.