Wednesday, September 30, 2020


The other day when I ran out the door to go on a walk with my sister-in-law, I was wearing my BLM

shirt. For a brief second, I paused. Was it safe? 

Oh, don’t be ridiculous, I told myself. Of course it’s safe. I’ll just smile real big at everyone who drives by so they don’t run me over.

There seemed to be an awful lot of pick-ups on the road that day. Was it my imagination, or were they shooting daggers at me with their eyes? My sister-in-law must’ve sensed the negative vibes, too, because after one truck drove by, she looked at my shirt and said, “Feeling brave today, eh?” 

I laughed, but then after we split at the corner (and the same pick-up passed me for the second time, um… yikes?), I did zip my jacket and jog the rest of the way home. No point in being stupid about things. 

Nothing happened — spoiler: this is kind of a non-story — but just the feeling that I might be at risk left a lasting impression. 

“Have you seen the photos of the fires out West?” my older daughter asked me one evening. “Everything glows red.” 

“Yes,” I said, but that was only a half-truth. I’d seen some things on social media that evening — the light in one photo an eerie demonic red — but I avoided looking too close. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I looked at them right before bed.

I feel this way about much of the news. It’s so heavy, so dark and troublesome and unsettling. Every issue feels like a full-blown crisis: the rising COVID death toll, QAnon conspiracies, climate change, revolutions, police violence, the relatives devoutly hanging on our unhinged president’s every word. 

Listening to the radio, scrolling through Facebook, reading family emails, skimming the NYTimes headlines, I get a knot in my stomach. 

Is there something we should be doing? I ask my husband. 

Like what? he says.

I don’t know….

My voice trails off as my mind ticks through the typical end-of-the-world shopping list of generators, extra gas, more firewood, medicine— 

But no. It’s too much work to think this way. Besides, those are the superficial things. The things I feel I need to prepare for — but what? how? — go much, much deeper.

The Sunday after the 2016 election, our pastor reminded us that our hope, as Christians, is not in our nation’s elections, and then she cautioned us against taking on the weight of the world: To think we are in charge is to make gods of ourselves.* 

Strong words for a group of progressive thinkers and doers, those. To me, it felt like a rebuke.

Also, a release.

I’ve been thinking about that sermon a lot recently. No one (and certainly not Jesus) ever promised things would be easy. People the world over deal with horrible injustice daily. Why would I think I wouldn’t be touched? 

Also, I am not in charge. Fixing this [gestures expansively] is not my responsibility. 

But at the same time, I believe that I need to — I want to — do what I can to make the world a better place. 

What’s the line between the two? How to strike a balance? How to keep perspective? 

Sometimes I wonder if I have a touch of PTSD from that march I did

PTSD is, of course, too strong of a word, but I’m not sure what to call this rawness, or heightened sensitivity, paranoia, whatever. 

It didn’t feel that disruptive in the moment, but it’s one thing to hear about the negativity and hate in the media — it’s another to see it made manifest, to feel it.

It’s scary.

In a recent NPR report on the trauma of ongoing covid quarantining, an expert explained that trauma is best survived by:

a) refusing to complain and/or getting stuck in an endless loop of negativity, and

b) by focusing on the things we do have control over, and being grateful for small pleasures. 

These people, the expert said, are the resilient ones. 

Back when I was having my BLM sign dilema, one of my friends said, “Even asking whether we want to deal with whatever happens by putting up a sign is white privilege…. Do we want to deal with the outcome or not?”

“Of course,” I said. “But does that change anything?”

I still have to make my choices. I still have to stand up for what I think is right. I still have to take care of my family, of myself.

So here’s what I do.

I check on my BLM sign every morning. It makes me smile. 

I corner the younger kids and make them listen to yet another chapter of Little Women — the book is taking us forever to get through. I wipe up the mouse turds on the window sill and frown at the empty mousetraps. I go for my runs even though I’d rather not. 

Weekday mornings, I force myself to march upstairs to my room to write about what I know: that our children’s learning doesn’t have to be nearly as disruptive, fraught, or disconnected from daily life as we've been led to believe.  

I turn the radio off.

I watch Schitt’s Creek before bed — only happy thoughts before sleeping! This is my second time through, and this time I'm bringing (read: forcing) my husband along for the ride. Also, I’ve learned how to do GIFs on my phone, and my older daughter and I have entire conversations with Schitt’s Creek GIFs, Ew, Deevid!

I spend a lot of the time sitting out on the porch drinking wine (or coffee or hot chocolate) and reading. (This book is a game-changer. READ IT.) 

I bake my heart out, collapse into bed early, and then pop awake in the middle of the night thinking about orange zest and soggy bottoms. 

I mail in my paperwork to be a poll worker. I have no idea what being a poll worker entails, or even if I’ll be needed, but since it’s always older men and women sitting behind the folding tables in our voting station, and they certainly shouldn’t be out and about when we’re in a pandemic hot zone, I figure I might as well step up. 

This year my dad used the bottom half of our garden for their corn and sweet potatoes. Midway through the summer, I noticed that he’d planted a bunch of sunflowers, too. They were brilliant, a bright wall of color rising up out of the gnarly knot of our late summer garden. 

“I didn’t know you were going to grow sunflowers,” I said. 

“The corn didn’t all come up,” he said, “so instead of replanting, I just stuck some sunflower seeds in the empty spots.” 

And that, I think, is about as good a plan as any: when things don’t go as hoped, reach for the sunflower seeds.

*I’m paraphrasing wildly, and my pastor may not even have saidthose things, but that was my takeaway.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (9.30.19), hey-hey, look who's here!, welcome home to the circus, the myth of the hungry teen, chocolate birthday cake, dumping: a list.

Monday, September 28, 2020

the quotidian (9.28.20)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

For my birthday: the chef made me chef salads.

From our tree. 

For Magpie: crucial research.

Salted caramel: test run. 

For anyhow: peach, blackberry, and red raspberry. 

This week's special: sweet potato.


This (so good I bought it and am making it required reading) and this

Lazy afternoons are the best.

This same time, years previous: what we ate, for my birthday, evening feeding, you're invited, the soiree of 2016, getting shod, the quotidian (9.29.14), pointless and chatty, 37.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

a bakery shift

When I started working at Magpie, my expectations were low. I’d never worked in the food industry, so I didn’t know what it’d be like. Would I hate the repetition? Would the work be too tiring? Would I find the bakery’s vision compelling? Would I get bored? 

For the first few weeks I remained firmly on the fence. A newcomer, I was just learning the ropes, doing as I was told, and familiarizing myself with the bakery techniques. Also, I was learning a little about how the diner worked, and the Magpie enterprise as a whole (all three entities run by gifted and incredibly hardworking kickass women). 

But then something started to shift. I began to distinguish between failed pastry and okay pastry and holy-heck-this-is-awesome pastry. I learned how to rotate, double tray, and foil cover the morning buns to get their bottoms a “just right” caramelly golden brown. I learned to sheet pastry and work the computers and dock sourdough. I began to trust my instincts, and instead of just learning, I began to contribute

In recent weeks, I’ve been given opportunities to be a little more creative. I’ve played with the pastry scraps, added scones to the rotation, tested zucchini breads, and tweaked my peanut butter cream pie (which is on the diner menu this week!). 

pastry scraps #1: pie with plums and nectarines (or was it peaches?)

pastry scraps #2: feta and sausage cups

pastry scraps experiment #3: cream cheese and jam

testing, testing, one, two, three...

winner on the right: to be served in the diner sliced, grilled, and topped

with blueberry compote, whipped cream, and a sprig of fresh thyme

As a result, I starting returning home from work energized. Exhausted, yes (especially the day I got up at 3:45 and then pulled a 12-hour shift), but with my brain spinning with new ideas and far more plans than any sane person ought to have. In my spare time, I fiddle with the discard from the bakery starter, make shopping lists, daydream how to make the bakery more efficient, mess around with old recipe favorites and geek out over new ones. It's glorious.

lavender blackberry scones, maybe?

peach hand pies?

I’ve always loved feeding people — and one of my biggest griefs is that my family fills up so terribly fast, thus limiting my baking opportunities — so having a steady stream of appreciative eaters is pretty much heaven.

nearly every weekend, five minutes before opening

I’m energized by the customers' questions and comments, the high demand, and — best of all — watching their faces light up when they learn that yes, there is fresh sourdough available, or when I surprise someone with a sample from a test bake. (“It’s been a hard week, and this is the nicest thing that’s happened to me,” said one mother gratefully — she actaully sounded like she might have been on the verge of tears a toddler on her cocked hip.) 

They came to see me! (And to buy up all the vanilla braids.)

I even like the repetitive nature of many of the tasks (except for slicing sourdough, which fills me with rage, and pounding the butter blocks for pastry). The first several hours of the baking shift — the early morning one — is a marathon of hot ovens and pastry, sourdough, hand pies, scones, and cookies. 

browned butter chocolate chunk

rye shortbread

The pastry shift, which starts when the bakery opens, involves a couple hours of standing in the corner, zipping pastry back and forth through the sheeter to laminate it, and then a couple more hours of shaping. 

I find the rhythmic nature of the work soothing. I love being with the dough. The feel and smell of it. The tending of it. 

Now the bakery almost feels like a second home. Arriving in the early morning when it’s still dark outside, the hum of the refrigerators and the click of the ovens as they heat the only sounds, I transfer pastry from the fridge to the proofer, put away the last night’s dishes, and pull hand pies from the freezer.

While I mix the dough for the next day’s sourdough, eggwash the hand pies and sprinkle them with fresh thyme, and dry mise a batch of scones or cookies, I sip my coffee, the heat of the ovens warm on my back. Sometimes I even come in extra early so I can have more time alone in the night kitchen, just me and the ovens, and the pastry and bread.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (9.23.19), a bunch of things, grape pie, better than cake, test your movies, the run around, candid camera, when the relatives came, painting my belly.