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Life lessons my sourdough starter is teaching me (or at least reminding me of)

sourdough starter

Just over a week ago I mixed together some flour and water and left it on my counter to ferment. Guys, this was HUGE for me.

I’ve wanted to enter into the world of sourdough for quite some time but the whole thing seemed daunting. There was such a steep learning curve, so much that could go wrong and I had a hard enough time keeping up with my kefir and kombucha I wasn’t sure I could handle one more living organism (in addition to my two children, of course).

But I wasn’t able to bring my SCOBY for kombucha and though I dehydrated and brought my kefir grains I can’t make it because all the milk is shelf-stable. My time, brain and counter now all have space for sourdough.

I watched videos, read blogs and did as much research as I was able to with the preschooler on my lap while the toddler slept. Finally, I was ready to dive in. For five days I diligently added flour and water to the fermenting and increasingly bubbly glob. On the morning of Day 6 I mixed up a basic bread dough, kneaded for 45 minutes (yes, 45 minutes!) and waited for it to rise. That part didn’t seem to be over successful but I stuck it in the oven anyway, figuring it would turn out fine.

I successfully baked the worst loaf of bread in history.

I looked at what was left of my starter and felt betrayed. I had nurtured and cared for it and I spent 45 precious minutes of my Saturday morning getting sore muscles. What I got was a in inedible brick.

While I discovered I haven’t learned very much about baking sourdough bread (it’s a whole different ballgame than yeasted-breads) I am being reminded of some important lessons that not only apply to learning a new skill but to all of life.

worst bread

These are nothing new and I’m not sharing any great insight or wisdom, but hopefully this can be a gentle reminder of what you already know but seems to be easy to forget (or am I the only one who needs to be constantly reminded of the basic lessons she’s already learned?).

Things seemed hardest before you start

Like I mentioned, I’ve wanted to start sourdough for some time but the idea of making my own starter intimidated me and kept me from taking the plunge. Turns out the making a starter is easy, like really easy.

Sometimes what holds us back from going on an adventure, taking a risk or just simply doing something new might not be as big of a deal as we think it is. That doesn’t mean everything will be easy, but it might not be as intimidating once we’re in it. We just need to take that first step and find out.

Grace, grace and more grace for yourself

The morning after I baked my brick of a loaf of bread I attempted to slice a piece. Crumbs were flying, my knife was bending under the pressure of my arm and I kept complaining to Ryan about how terrible it was. Eleanor, bless her heart, came into the kitchen and said, ‘Mommy! It looks good!’ She was entirely wrong but it was sweet of her.

For lunch I attempted to make PB&J sandwiches from a few pieces of the very middle of the bread that were somewhat salvageable. I really should have just gone to the bakery for a real loaf of bread. When I served the ‘sandwiches’ to the kids, Eleanor again kept telling me how good it was, that she really liked it. Any time I said something negative about the bread, she would counter me. In the end I gave them leftover Canadian Thanksgiving pumpkin pie for lunch.

More often than not, we are more critical of ourselves than others are. We are ready to extend grace to those around us but withhold it from ourselves. We set unrealistically high expectations and feel like failures when our lives don’t match them. But those closest to us don’t expect as much from us as we do. We need to let go of our lofty ideals, do our best and be content with that. Everyone else is.

rising dough

It’s better when you have someone to walk alongside you

While I did research sourdough baking methods, it would have been much more helpful to have someone who has already mastered the skill standing with me in the kitchen, walking me through each step. She could have told me if my starter was really ready, how much flour to add, when the dough was kneaded enough and when it was done rising and ready to go in the oven. I’m just guessing, learning as I go and making a lot of mistakes that could have been avoided with some expert insight.

While it’s helpful to have someone to guide us as we learn a new skill, it’s even better to have someone walk alongside us as we learn how to live life well. I’ve never had an official ‘mentor’ but there have been people in my life who have helped me navigate new seasons or sometimes just get through. When we enter into a new phase or start an adventure the wisdom another person who has been there can be invaluable and can give us a proper perspective. And it just might save us from making a few mistakes.

Life is in seasons

If you’ll notice, my bread is 100% white flour. That does not make me happy. Part of the reason I got into sourdough is because the fermentation that takes places helps make the bread easier to digest so it does negate some of the harm of the white flour. Even still, my ideal would be fresh, organic whole wheat spelt flour I ground myself. But right here, right now all I can afford is white flour and I doubt I could find spelt berries in this country. One day I’ll have better flour but that day isn’t today and I’m coming to terms with that.

Our lives ebb and flow, moving from one season to the next. Some seasons are really enjoyable and we don’t want them to end, others can’t end soon enough. When we live in recognition of this, we are better able to be content in our present circumstances, not be overwhelmed by difficulties and savor the good times even more.

decent bread

Time, it takes time

I expected to bake a beautiful artisan loaf of bread on my first attempt. It didn’t happen. My second loaf was better (not pretty but edible and it tasted yummy!) and I am anxious for a third attempt. I’m doing more research, learning and getting opportunities to practice. These take time, it’s not going to happen overnight. There’s a reason there’s a difference between a professional baker and me!

It can be hard to just wait while circumstances, opportunities or relationships come to fruition. While there are times to act and get things going, some things only happen with the passing time and there’s nothing we can do about it. We just need to be patient and let time do its good work.


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Why I haven’t washed my hair with shampoo in 2 1/2 years

No poo

Way back in early 2012 my friend told me she was using the ‘no poo’ method to wash her hair, which replaces shampoo with baking soda and water and conditioner with apple cider vinegar (ACV) and water.

I was hooked and planned to try it right away. Feeling pretty comfortable with making my own cleaning solutions and a mostly homemade, whole food kitchen routine I was ready to take my crunchy journey to the next level.

Cutting out shampoo and conditioner seemed like a good place to start detoxifying my personal care routine. Continue reading


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DIY natural cleaning products

DIY natural cleaning products.jpg

I proudly stood over my kitchen floor. It was clean — the strong armed man on the bottle label assured me it was.

Then something happened that changed my life: my newly-mobile daughter crawled past me, put her hand on the still-damp floor and put it straight into her mouth. She ate chemicals, chemicals I had just put within her reach. I had child locks on the cabinets that stored toxic cleaners but this was putting those very same toxins right at her level and in her body.

I had recently bought a DIY natural cleaning book but it had just sat on my shelf. Now I had the motivation I needed to get the dangerous chemicals out of my home and replace them with natural cleaners I could make myself with a few simple ingredients all while saving money. Continue reading


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Detox your laundry: two ways

laundry detox main

I’d like to talk to you about your dirty laundry.

No, no. Not the clothes pilled on the floor or the ones that actually made it into the hamper.

I want to talk to you about what’s neatly folded in your drawers and hanging in your closet.

We all know that laundry detergents and fabric softeners can cause skin irritation, especially in babies and children. But did you know they contain chemicals that can lead to infertility, damage organs and disrupt hormones? The government doesn’t regulate many of these chemicals and doesn’t require them to be listed in the ingredients. Scary!

So, what’s to be done? There are some safe commercial detergents but they come with a pretty high price tag. Let me suggest Laundry Detox: Two Ways. Continue reading


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What and how I feed my kids

What I feed my kidsI’m not exactly a foodie but I do put a lot of thought and effort into what I eat. Making food from scratch is a hobby and I enjoy learning about how to get the greatest benefit from what I eat. When Eleanor turned six-months and showed interest in solid food, I poured my efforts into providing her with healthy, homemade meals. I pureed batches of fruits and vegetables in our tiny apartment kitchen and carefully introduced her to new flavors and textures. I’ve learned a lot about feeding children since those early days and though I am by no means perfect, I’ve found a way of providing our children with healthy, delicious meals while passing on positive attitudes about food. Continue reading


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Why I cloth diaper

Cloth baby

Like most people born before 1990, I was a cloth diaper baby. My parents folded a rectangular cloth, safety pinned it as tight as they could and put a plastic cover over it all. Then they prayed it wouldn’t leak.

It’s 2013 and I am a cloth diaper mama. They’ve come a long way in a generation and let me tell you, I love them.

I knew I wanted to cloth diaper before I had kids. I saw them in action on my niece and immediately knew they were for me. However, I didn’t start Eleanor in them right away. We lived in Hungary when she was born and planed to move back to North America several months later so I didn’t want to deal with shipping them over and then hauling them back. And I seriously doubted our Soviet-era washing machine was up for the task. So I used disposables for the first five months. Shortly after returning state-side I bought 12 cloth diapers and never looked back. Continue reading