Category: Spirit

How to bake really good bread

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A friend just emailed for my bread recipe. Her daughter comes over after school, sometimes, to play with AppleApple, and they always make themselves peanut butter and jam sandwiches with big slices of my homemade bread. And the child always asks, “Is this your homemade bread, Carrie?” I gather she’s a fan.
Anyway, I wrote out the recipe for her mom. And then I thought, hey, why not post it here. I do have a “Bread Baking Tutorial” over in the recipe section, but below you’ll find the messy real-life version I make almost every weekend. It’s extremely flexible, with room for all kinds of extra ingredients, and the only time it ever flopped was when I used 100% whole wheat bread flour (we were all out of white; the resulting loaves resembled building material). So don’t do that.
Carrie’s Every Day Bread
I don’t follow a recipe, so there are no precise measurements. I make this bread so often that it’s second nature. But I’ll try to write it out for you. This makes four loaves.
4-5 tsp yeast (use the higher amount if you’re using a lot of whole wheat flour)
temper with 1/2 cup warmish water (ie. let sit for about 5 minutes)
Add 2 tbsp salt, 4 tbsp honey or maple syrup, 4 tbsp oil, 4 cups warmish water
Also add (and here is where it gets imprecise!) any or all of the following: ground or whole flax seeds, sesame seeds, ground pumpkin seeds, ground sunflower seeds (I usually add all four, in about a 1/4 cup amount each); 1/2 cup wheat germ; 1 cup of oats (optional); 1/2 cup ground lentils or ground quinoa or ground millet (optional, though I always add at least one of those ingredients for extra protein); (you can also add leftover cooked breakfast cereal)
Stir (as often as you’d like, at any point in the above process).
Add 6 cups of flour, stir. I use a mixture of whole wheat and white bread flour, probably about 1/4 ww to 3/4 white. Then start adding by 1 cup measurements. Eventually you’re going to add about 12 cups of flour total, more or less, but honestly, this is entirely by feel. When it gets too thick to stir, start kneading the flour in. Knead until you’ve got the right consistency and it feels ready (you’ll know what I mean!).
Oil and let rise for an hour or two. Punch down and cut into four sections, shape into loaves, and let rise again in greased loaf pans. Heat oven to 450, bake for ten minutes, then turn down to 350 without opening oven and bake for another thirty. Cool on rack. Done!
Also note: I have a coffee grinder that I only use to grind seeds/grains. It’s very handy, very inexpensive. I think it grinds about a 1/4 cup at a time, but it might be slightly more — that’s how I measure the seeds/grains that I add in — whatever fits in the grinder.

On being a competitive person: the ugly truth

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For a long time, I’ve thought of myself as someone who doesn’t like participating in team sports. But it had been so many years since I’d even attempted a team sport that I couldn’t remember why. And I love watching my children play team sports, and have observed the wonderful potential for camaraderie and intensive learning. So … this spring, when the opportunity arose to join a women’s soccer team, I signed up without hesitation.

At first, I thought the difficulty was going to be the fact that I hadn’t played organized soccer since the age of ten. But I’ve been watching a lot of excellent soccer over the past few years, and I’m physically fit, and a quick learner — and our team welcomes beginners. So that hasn’t been an issue. 
What I realized after last night’s game is that there is another difficulty, one I’d forgotten, and it’s the reason I don’t like team sports.
Actually, I do like team sports. I love playing on a team. The problem is that I’m not always a fabulous team player. The problem, in other words, is me. Team sports don’t like me. 
For years, I suppressed my competitive nature, and only began embracing it again when I took up running and signed up for races. Wow, this is actually fun, thought I; and wondered why on earth I’d suppressed such an essential part of myself. In fact, I embraced my competitive nature so thoroughly that I forgot what I’d disliked about it in the first place — and let’s just say there was good reason for that suppression.
Here’s why: Because competition brings out an adrenalin-fuelled intensity in my personality that can be extremely unpleasant. Nope, it’s worse than that. It can be ugly.
In individual competition, there’s no problem: the only one I’m being hard on is myself, and for reasons probably best discussed with a therapist, being hard on myself brings out my best effort. But on a team, competitive intensity, handled badly, just sucks. Basically, I’m transferring expectations about my own level of intensity to everyone around me. What I seem to demand of myself, and therefore of teammates, is maximum effort — forget being there for fun, apparently I just want to win. Honestly, if this team sports thing is going to work out, I need to figure out how to dial this aspect of my personality down, and fast. Also, I need to shut up. There’s nothing wrong with having high expectations for myself; but in a team setting, positive feedback is the only feedback worth giving.
(And I need to get off the field without complaint when I’m subbed out! Good grief. It was one little moment in Sunday’s game, but honestly, in that moment I behaved like an ass.) 
You know, on the surface, it was a good game on Sunday evening — we won for the first time this season, and I scored the only goal of the game, and it was a very nice goal, put together with the help of excellent teamwork. But I came home feeling yucky. Realizing that I’d let my competitive nature take over; realizing that I wanted too badly to win and was willing to fight inappropriately toward that end.
So I guess my question is: Can I change? Can I, ahem, mature? Can I become a good teammate?
In some ways, I hate how the learning never seems to end. In other ways, I’m glad for it. Life has a way of shaving off my hubris, and keeping me humble. Ugh. It’s no fun being kept humble, even if it’s good medicine.
But I’m hopeful. It’s not all bad news. I really like being coached and getting feedback and criticism on my play — probably shaped by years of appreciating the writer/editor relationship, which is based on necessary criticism and mutual trust. And I really want to keep playing on a team, and improving — everything. Skills, fitness, but especially attitude. Especially that. I’ll report back.

Say it simple, say it best

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thanks to my mom for taking this photo of my kids walking to a diner for breakfast

This morning, our littlest piano player was becoming frustrated with her practicing. Slam, slam, slam the fingers on the keys, wrong note, BANG, wrong note, BANG, wrong note, BANG. “This song is too hard!” This was preceded by a ridiculous argument with her sister over the “funnies” in the paper (which no one finds funny, yet everyone insists on reading; which I find funny). And it was followed by a ridiculous argument with said sister over a sunhat — she wanted to wear her sister’s hat, which was apparently much superior to her own. “I only have one hat and she has two!” was the cry of misery.

Suddenly I realized — she was tired. It had been a late night, her first soccer practice of the season, bedtime pushed back by an hour, and she’d woken early.

Ah. It all made perfect sense.

I’m feeling a little bit the same way myself, frankly. Need more sleep.

Life is bigger

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A poem for this day


I am swept along
I am a still point in a river that will not quit its rushing
I am immersed in the world
I am blessed
I am not to understand everything and not to take anything
I am given to grace and place
I am sure as a branch and broken as a branch
I am breath and brilliance and calm
While I am, I am
With love with fierceness with the selfness of ongoing until
Gone
Burn in the water flame in the soil flicker in the darkness of a house at midnight
Steady on.

Bucket List Thinking

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at the farm

When we were driving home from Kingston, post-Easter holidaying at the farm, I was filled with ideas. Future plans. Things I want to do someday. Big things. Let me get them down on the page. (And maybe you’d like to share your big plans in the comments below; I’d love to hear them.)

** Bike trip through Ireland (or another beautiful place). With the whole family, if possible.

** Own a horse. Actually, own two horses, so AppleApple and I can go riding together.

** Write and record an album of songs. (This would require devoting several hours a day to singing and playing.)

** Spend a year training five or six hours a day and run an ultramarathon (like the Canadian Death Race, even though that’s a terrible title for a race).

** Tear down our garage and build a small apartment that could house university-aged children.

** Share a getaway in the country with friends, for retreats, summer holidays, etc.

** Get a dog. (I don’t know why that seems like such a big thing, but it does!)

But upon reflection, this morning, I see that I’ve already accomplished some of the big things I once dreamed of doing, and I want to recognize that too. I wanted to be a mother, and I have children. From a very young age, I intended to be a writer, and I’ve published two books. As a child, I dreamed of being a runner, and now I’ve completed a marathon. As an adult, I was troubled by the fact that I’d never learned how to swim, and I’ve learned. Once upon a time, all of the above were just hopes and imaginings and dreams. I’ve been so fortunate.

Last night I went to a kundalini yoga class. It’s been about a year since I last took kundalini. The experience felt different this time around. In the interim, I’ve pushed my body further than it had ever gone before. But I also learned that my body could be pushed too far, and injured, and that’s changed how I think about effort and pain. I felt so attuned to my own body, last night. It was easy to listen to it, and hear what it was saying — to recognize the difference between the agony of effort and the pain of gone-too-far. I felt more cautious, and yet also more available, more open to the movements, like I could flip a switch and go there. I felt a deep trust — of myself. But here’s the thing. The sense of wonder and discovery is not the same. I’ve learned my body is capable of accomplishing very difficult tasks. I’ve learned that I am strong. When I first started kundalini, now a few years ago, I was utterly amazed, blown away by what my body could do. I had no idea.

Now I know.

That takes away some of the sheen of adventure and discovery. But it also means there is room for a richer, more layered experience. It’s like having the second child. You’re simultaneously more relaxed, more laid-back, and not as blown away by the newness of discovering what it means to be a parent. It’s familiar, it’s known territory.

I think life should have a balance of known and unknown experiences. I’m not sure we get to choose these experiences, at least not all of the time. But I like thinking about what I would choose, if I could. And what I’ve chosen. And how I’m working out that balance in my life right now.

Can I tell you something? I really really really want to write a book in this blog-voice. Not a book based on the blog. But a book that would capture the yearning, reflection, wondering, and experimenting that I feel this blog is really about. Put that on the first list. I have no idea how it would be shaped. But I’m opening my mind to the possibility.

Today’s experiment

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balancing

Today, I am experimenting. Can I compartmentalize and work on two projects at the same time? I am going to attempt to develop my new character (ie. creative, not-yet-for-profit work), even while keeping several irons in the fire for a freelance piece I’m writing (ie. less creative work-for-pay). The new book, of course, has no due date, no deadline. The freelance piece does. I am obsessive about meeting deadlines (not necessarily a bad thing); except I’m so obsessive that I frequently meet deadlines well ahead of schedule. And honestly, I’m not concerned about meeting this one. I know I can do it. Things are moving along nicely. I know this. Still, my instinct is to worry it until it’s done. Thing is, I can’t finish this morning. There are interviews yet to do and other people’s schedules to take into account. More to the point, I don’t need to finish this morning. The deadline isn’t until next week.

So. Can I step back, set it aside, not worry about it, and work productively on something completely different?

As I say, it’s an experiment. It had better work, because, frankly, this could be my life for a long long time. It already is my life, you say? What with the children, and the cooking, and the triathlon training, and the book-writing? It’s funny, but those things all fit together in a long-term way that doesn’t trouble me. They’re all part of a steady routine, an ebb and flow that isn’t exactly predictable, and yet seems symbiotic somehow. More of this, less of that; more of that, less of this.

If I don’t write a blog post today, I’ll write one tomorrow. If supper is on the table late, well, eat some crackers and cheese, kids. If I have to drop a writing day to take a kid to the doctor, my book doesn’t know it. In all of these circumstances, I’m flexible. But give me a deadline and I focus to the point of compulsion. Hm. Maybe this goes back to childhood: feeling a sense of responsibility as the eldest of five, wanting to please, anxious over any perceived failure, stomach in knots if we were late for school. I was “high-strung.” Maybe, maybe, in some circumstances I still am.

My goal for today: Trust myself. I will get the job done. All in good time. And meantime, there is other work to be done, and it’s just as valuable, even if invisible.

:::

Yesterday, a client of Kevin’s brought him a ripped-out page from the latest issue of Elle Canada. “Tracking the best in movies, books, music and art,” says the page. “This month, we’re inspired by free spirits.” And there is The Juliet Stories! I love that Juliet is being identified as a free spirit. (Wasn’t “spirit” my word of the year when I was writing Juliet?) There’s a dark side to being a free spirit, of course, and I suppose that’s partly what the book is about; but sometimes I wish I were more free of spirit — colourful, creative, adventurous, alive. Writing is my window into all those things I couldn’t actually be.

:::

Finally, two exciting reading discoveries.

1. CJ is “reading” to us. I’m pretty sure he’s essentially repeating memorized text, but he links the words on the page with the words he’s saying. Out and about, he notices and reads signs (STOP is a good one), and he notices words and points out letters and letter sounds that he knows. Exciting!

2. Fooey read bedtime stories to CJ last night. For the record, I still love reading bedtime stories to the kids, but I’m not always available — last night I was walking Albus home from piano lessons. I got home in time to hear the tail-end of the last story, and give goodnight kisses. Sweet.

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