Wednesday, January 13, 2021

New Year, Same Me



New Year, New Me!

Except...not at all. We’ve turned to a new calendar page and I am very, very much the same me. I struggled hard with resolutions this time around- not with keeping them (haven’t even gotten the CHANCE to fail yet!)- but with setting them at all. I just want so much growth, improvement, change, progress, accomplishment, that I didn’t even know where to start with overhauling myself. I felt immense pressure to have a life-changing word to focus on, to commit to fixing all of my flaws, or (AND) to finally find a way to feel like I’m doing things right. I just want to do all the things right.

This need to be better was overwhelming me. Especially following a year largely spent just literally trying to survive. Be better?! I’m already doing my absolute best. 

So, I paused. And I looked at my reflection with eyes full of grace, threw out all the expectations, gave myself a giant self-care self-hug and committed to loving myself extravagantly, just as I am, because that’s what I deserve.  



I did not do that. 

I languished in the messy middle- caught between ambition and guilt. Wanting to do all the things, and also wanting to just...nap for a while and wake up to a revised, slightly easier existence. I mentally jotted down a few new goals/rules, became instantly frustrated that my nearly imperceptible behavior changes aren't immediately translating to seismic life shifts, and berated myself for all the ways I’m already and always falling short. 

I am immensely hard on myself. I know this. But changing that would mean a whole new me, and as I’ve said...that’s just not happening right now. So perhaps I’ll take baby steps towards improvement by way of easing up on my quest for improvement. (The irony...) 


First up in this new journey through sameness- giving you the pep talk I really need to hear:

HEY YOU. Yes, you. You...are good. Just as you are. You don’t have to be new, or better. ESPECIALLY right now. You are more than the worst parts of you. But you’re also more than the best parts of you. You are worthy of love and happiness and a freaking break even IF...even still can’t manage to wake up early (or on time), you haven’t lost the last 5 (ok 15) pounds, or you are facing a photo album deficit you’ll never be able to Shutterfly your way out of. Whatever the thing is (or the multitude of things are) telling you you’re a failure- it's lying. You may be a night owl who’s a little round in the middle with a sad lack of baby books compared to your abundance of children (yes- this talk is starting to get oddly specific)...but THAT IS OK. It’s not all you are. It’s not all you’ll ever be. Because even if those things never get transformed (via magical January willpower or any other means)- THERE IS MORE TO YOU. And it is lovely and complex and flawed and quite possibly very similar to the you of last year in a lot of magnificent ways. 


If the world gets one more year of YOU? It should rejoice (and I promise you, so many people really are giddy about the same old you- even if they're maybe just a bit too distracted by their own neglected treadmills, cast-off hobbies and angry outbursts to make it fully known.)

So get better! Maybe! A little! Where you can, how you can, when you can! (Because frankly, Netflix doesn't need your undying devotion, and swapping a soda out for a water every now and again might be an experiment worth trying). But also: be the same! Because the unique goodness that is inherently yours needs not a single tweak. 


Annnnnnnnd abrupt cut back to me. In the now. The girl who's not exactly feeling all mushy gushy with self-acceptance, but also doesn't have the energy to Make This My Year! I want to believe my own words and follow my own advice and love my own self. And I do, or I am, or I will...or something. I don't know where I stand with my goals or my word and I sure don't know what this year will hold for me or turn me into. 2020 was a year of a loooooooooot of sameness, and yet I don't know anyone who wouldn't describe it as transformative. So maybe there is a New Me on the horizon. Maybe I will win my battle against screen-time addiction or find a new level of parenting patience or remember to switch the laundry the same day I wash it. Or maybe it will be more of the same- viewed and valued with a bit of a new perspective. It's a new year...anything is possible.


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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The One With The Gratitude Games

Unprecedented. Unparalleled. Unwanted.
2020. The pandemic. This version of Thanksgiving.

If this Thanksgiving was an episode of Friends, it would be: The One Where We All Quarantined.

Or...The One With the Masks

Or...The One With All the Zoom Calls

Thanksgiving is pretty much my favorite holiday (yes, I say that about all the holidays, but it's MY truth, so just accept it) so I refuse to have a little thing like a global pandemic (and non-mandatory but still very much recommended "Turkey in Place" order) dampen my seasonal spirit.

Thanksgiving isn't cancelled! Fun isn't over! It's just...umm...reformatted.

At our house, Thanksgiving 2020 is going to be a combo of distanced celebration and virtual gathering. My parents, siblings and I are all going to make a few dishes, and then swap so we all end up with a full feast. (I'm in charge of my usual: brussels sprouts, and sweet potatoes, plus two kinds of pie because I'm nothing if not ambitious!) After the Tupperware handoff, we'll all go back to our separate houses and toast and eat together via Zoom. Not ideal...but sort of a lemonade out of lemons kind of deal. (And bonus: Thanks to my mom, I still don't have to learn how to make a turkey!)

After dinner, it's usually time for a nap...but also- GAMES! If I was making a list of the things I love about Thanksgiving, it's pretty much EVERYTHING- but playing group games is near the top of that list (in an 87 way tie with eating too much, watching the parade, that indescribable warm feeling that just magically comes with the holiday...etc. etc. etc.) There are a few things I can't recreate virtually (mostly hugs...don't you miss hugs?!) but games? Surely there is a way to make games still happen!

Awwwww yeah there is. You know what they say, where there's a will, there's a powerpoint. Or something like that. So I got real dorky on Saturday night, hunkered down with a Hoegaarden and a Hallmark movie, and made our fam a little deck of games to play virtually. I won't lie to you and claim there are any original thoughts in here (even the deck format is a default PPT template, so don't judge the design...or do, but know that I take no ownership)- it's all compiled from the wonderful world of Pinterest. It's not fancy, and it's certainly no substitute for the magic of actually being together. But it falls in that very important bucket of "Things We CAN Do Right Now" (also satisfies the: "Things Courtney Can Pour Energy Into Instead of Just Crying and Eating More Bread" need, and checks the "Things to Focus on as Point of Distraction From Other Crappier Stuff" box).

And because it's thanksGIVING, after all, I figured why not share with all you other good-time guys and gals looking to get your socially-distanced game on.

Click to download the powerpoint presentation

Despite all the changes and moments of "it's ruined. everything is RUINED" I'm still excited to celebrate. This Thanksgiving will definitely be memorable...but I'm hopeful we can all find ways to make it the good kind of special. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Friday, September 18, 2020

A Change is Gonna Come

"What's the point?"

I’ve been struggling a lot lately with that feeling in regards to politics. We are SO divided as a nation, with people DEEPLY entrenched in their views on either side. There is a lot of talking (actually- yelling) little listening, and seemingly no budging. So what’s the point? Why bother debating, correcting, convincing, educating, campaigning, protesting...flag-flying, sign-posting, petition-signing, IG story-sharing, or truth-seeking if everyone is already set in their beliefs/decisions/party lines?

What’s the point in discussing all of this with my Trump-supporting friends or family if they’re not going to change? Is it worth it? To risk awkwardness, or hurt, or even a severed relationship when no change in opinion is likely to come anyway? What’s the point in even voting if my vote is just going to get cancelled out by my MAGA hat wearing neighbor, my ultra-conservative cousin, or outnumbered by groups I’m technically a part of but shockingly unaligned with (hey there: evangelical Christians and suburban white women!)?

How much do I want to “make this a thing”? How much does it matter? How much should I speak up? How much should I risk? How much do I think I can change? 

I honestly don’t know. But a quote I saw recently might hold part of the answer. “I don’t do this to change the country. I do this so the country won’t change me.” 

So when the controversies flare up, the alliances dig in deeper, the dividing lines are put on display...I may not change her mind, or his mind, or your mind...but I can fight to be unchanged by a world I don’t agree with. And that is HARD. It’s COMPLICATED. It's a flip-your-brain-inside-out kind of struggle, dealing with the cognitive dissonance of it all, trying to understand what's true, what matters, how does it fit, what does it mean, what should I do, who am I, and who do I want to be...


Who I am (in my very core, at my very best) is a Jesus-following, family-loving, friend-supporting, people-championing, everyone-accepting person. I won’t give any of that up for any candidate, policy or party. But I also absolutely won’t compromise any of that by supporting, condoning, or ignoring systems, rhetoric, or people who promote hate.


And that all sounds just fine and good, and fairly politically-agnostic. Because in the end, we're all just good people trying to do good things, right? 


Well...let me say this as clearly as I‘m able to now, at the risk of offending, or being misunderstood, or accused of hypocrisy...

I do not support President Trump. I will not vote for him. And I have some serious concerns and questions about people who do and will. Yes- even people I wholeheartedly love. Actually, ESPECIALLY those people. I want to love unconditionally, I want to fully trust that relationships are bigger than politics, and know that everyday actions mean more than one box we check every four years. But I also deeply struggle with understanding how a leader of such profoundly and obviously flawed character could be endorsed by anyone who professes to value the same things I do. 

And let me also say:

I will love you no matter who you vote for. But please don't make me prove it! (Kidding. Kind of!)


I'll say it again because I need to repeat it confidently as I simultaneously start the hard work of meaning it: I will love you no matter who you vote for.


But I ask you to consider what your vote demonstrates to those around you. What does it say to your daughters? What does it say to your Black friends? Your gay coworker? Your classmate with a disability? Your immigrant neighbor? (OH how this list could go on...) What does it say you care about? And who does it say you DON’T care about?


And here- let me be explicit: If you vote for Trump, can you look at my white, Black, male and female children of yet-to-be-determined ability, status or sexual orientation...and proudly tell them who you voted for? Knowing all that you know. Witnessing all that you've seen and heard. Can you tell them what your vote means? What your yard sign is about? Who and what exactly you are putting your social, emotional, and monetary trust and support behind? Can you rationalize enough? Explain enough? Overlook enough? Cost-benefit analyze enough? Will any amount of party-loyalty or tax break incentives be enough to back that choice?

I am a broken, flawed, mess in progress, now, this November and always. I will change in innumerable ways between now and this November and the end of my life. My circumstances, my opinions, my approach (and my hairstyle!) could all be radically different over time as I pursue continual growth. I’m not afraid of that change. I’m not ashamed of progress that reveals contradictions. I will not confuse healthy conviction to core ideals with a stubborn grasp on temporal things. I will be changed in many ways, but I will be vigilant in what things I allow to change me. 

I will hold fast to the example Jesus set, and my responsibility to do what’s right.

I will pray for the bravery to speak up for others, stand up to harm, and risk my own comfort for broader gain.

I will vote for Joe Biden.

And I will hope for the very, very best kind of change for us all.


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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Beginner's Guide to Sourdough Bread

You know what the internet DOES NOT NEED? (omg, so many things) But specifically- the internet does not need the ramblings of a wanna-be-baker, teaching you everything they just learned about almost kind of successfully making something.


That's right. We're talking sourdough bread.
(If you're here for the recipe...keep scrolling. Or better yet- search Pinterest for someone who actually knows what they're doing. If you're here for the madcap antics...well then on with the show)

You may have seen on my stories, that I've taken up the world's most cliche quarantine hobby (aside from drinking and yelling at my kids...two pastimes that have also been on the uptick in Chez Bowden during this time): baking sourdough bread. Why bread? Well, because: carbs. Why sourdough? Because for a while there, yeast was about as scarce as toilet paper, sourdough relies on a starter instead. 

So on a whim a few weeks ago, I asked one of my very best friends (who just happens to be one of the very best bakers) if she would give me some of her starter. Oh....and also maybe teach me everything she knows about making bread. NBD. Well, she either loves me, or was getting stir crazy with Corona too, (it's both!) because she came over carrying a yogurt container full of stinky stuff (I mean...her prestigious, precious starter), yammering instructions I couldn't possibly absorb on the fly, and promising to follow up with video tutorials via Marco Polo. 

I was on my way! 

For the next couple of weeks, I embarked on my quarantine quest, trying loaf after loaf, and failing a different way each time. Sometimes I forgot to put in an ingredient (is salt crucial?) sometimes I lost track of time, always I mis-judged my flour and water ratios, and never did I make anything that really looked like what sourdough should look like. I do not blame my equipment (a nearly antique Kitchenaid mixer borrowed from a neighbor...followed by a new-to-me via FB marketplace Kitchenaid mixer once I got serious about this), nor do I blame my instructor (she patiently demonstrated every step, trouble-shooted a heap of troubles, and provided alternative uses for my failures: cheesy bread! pizza rolls!) For some reason, I just couldn't get it right. 

At this stage, Dustin had gotten the baking-bug too...but he apparently didn't quite have the knack for it either. We had fun working together, but try as we might...all of our efforts were: fine. All of our loaves looked semi-sort-of decent on the outside, and actually tasted good-ish, but inside the texture wasn't there (much too dense) and it was missing that delicious crusty outside. The kids were delightfully encouraging. They happily ate the cheesy bread (no real shock there. Most things are edible when covered in cheese). And even called our first real loaf "the best bread they've ever eaten!" We gave a few loaves to family and neighbors, and they were kind as well...acknowledging it might not quite count as sourdough...but it's better than NOT having bread!

My friend's technique/recipe was obviously working well for her...but I just didn't seem destined for success. I was a little stuck at this point, because I didn't want to abandon the dream but sifting through other options online was completely overwhelming. Early in my process I had stumbled upon an IG live by @davidavidavid and felt like it was the perfect example of why I had never bothered trying to make sourdough bread before. Everything was in grams, it required fancy equipment, the steps were numerous and time consuming... But for some reason after seeing it again a few weeks later, I just though "Maybe I can do this!" (apparently numerous failures actually gave more more confidence? Perhaps I just knew I didn't have anything to lose?) So I tried following his method.

It was a completely different technique, all done by hand vs. using a mixer. It required a few tools that I don't have (a pizza stone, a kitchen scale, a dutch oven) and some I honestly hadn't even heard of (batons?) but I figured I could just make a few substitutions, convert all the metric measurements and hope for the best. How bad could it be?

Well I think you know the answer to that:
It was my worst batch yet.

To be fair, the recipe made two loaves, and one was marginally better than this one. And as with my other attempts, it looked much worse than it tasted. After checking my measuring math (after baking two loaves is NOT the time to do that...but...) I realized I had used half the amount of flour., that would probably throw off the end result juuuuuust a bit. (I knew something was wrong mid-making, so I had added quite a bit flour, but I didn't realize I was that far off).

So despite all evidence to the contrary I was still feeling pretty encouraged that I might be able to make this work. I decided to give it another go (this time double/triple checking my measurement conversions as I went). And sweet & sour hallelujah I did it! 

 Just look at that big ball of perfection! 

I finally got the crusty outside I wanted, and the fluffy/chewy/air-pockety goodness I wanted on the inside. And it tasted gooooooooood. 

Like a proud mama, I took ten zillion pictures, internet-bragged, shared pieces with anyone who wandered by, and brazenly begged for compliments at every turn. No shame. I worked hard for this!

I wanted to make sure my win wasn't a fluke, so I tried it again, this time documenting my process as I went. (Following along with an IG live video + caption + comment was getting a little tricky, not to mention having to constantly do the math for the time and the measurements). I wanted to have something easy to refer to in the future, and I thought it might be helpful to have a beginner's guide for anyone who is scared off by the other versions they've seen. If I can do can do this (and the good news is I've gotten about 18 different versions of failure out of the way so you don't have to!) So without further is my very basic guide to making very basic (very delicious) sourdough bread:

"My recipe" more or less follows @davidavidavid's process, with a few adjustments and notes:
  • Starter: I absolutely know nothing about this, as I was given mine. I think you can buy them or grow them etc. etc. but getting it from a friend is my best advice. :)
  • Measurements: The original was all done by weight in grams, so I converted it to standard English volume measurements
  • Tools: I don't have batons- I used bowls instead. I don't have a dutch oven- I used an oven safe pot instead. I don't have a pizza stone or a silicon baking mat- I used a baking sheet and parchment paper instead.
  • Times: This is a two day process, with three long pauses built in (one at the beginning for the starter, one in the middle for the dough to rise, and one overnight to rise again). So one day is a little hands on, and then the next day is just baking. It will all vary based on what time you start, so I put things in terms of hours, with a suggested start time of 8AM for reference.
  • Baking Temperature: Original recipe instructs baking at 500 and 450 degrees, but my pot is only oven safe to 450, so I just baked at that temperature for the duration. Parchment paper is apparently only rated to 425 suppose I've been taking a risk there.
  • Egg wash: I added this step (it was part of my friend's process). It's not required, but I like how it adds a bit of color/shine to the finished loaf.
Day 1:
Hour 0: (8am)
Feed the starter. (Stir the starter if it has separated). Mix ½ cup warm water and ½ cup flour together and add to the starter. Let it sit at room temperature (covered is fine) for around 5 hours.

Starter, pre-stirring
Flour + water. Not sure if it's necessary to mix them together 
BEFORE putting them in the starter, but I

Starter, after sitting for 5ish hours

Hour 5: (1pm)
“Autolyse”: Mix 8 cups of flour and 3 ¼ cups water. Let sit together for 30 minutes
Flour and water. It's tempting to add more water. Don't.

Hour 5.5: (1:30pm)
Add ½ cup starter and 1 tablespoon salt. Mix together. Cover for 30 minutes (Cover with cling wrap or a damp cloth and let sit at room temperature). 
Flour and water mixture, with starter + salt added. 
I make a little concave area for the starter and salt to go in before mixing.

 All mixed up. Not pretty yet. That's ok.

Hour 6-7.5: (2pm, 2:30pm, 3pm, 3:30pm)
Begin stretch and fold. Pull the dough up from one side, stretch it out, pull it across the bowl, and pinch it back into itself. Quarter turn the bowl, and do it again, 4 times, one on each side. I like to scrape the sides after to keep the bowl clean. Do this once every half hour, 4 times, covering in between stretch and folds.

This would be better as a video...but here's more or less 
what it looks like after each fold/turn.

Hour 7.5: (3:30pm)
Cover for the bulk rise. Let it sit at room temperature for about 6 or 7 hours. (I've heard semi-warm and humid is best, so I actually set mine in the garage rather than the kitchen because our house was too cold/dry).

 This is what it looks like when it's done rising. Should be significantly 
bigger/springier/puffier than when you last touched it. 

Hour 14: (10pm)
Shape your loafs. Sprinkle your work surface with a little flour. Empty your bowl with a scraper but be delicate. You don’t want to deflate your dough. It’s going to be super wet and you’ll probably think it’s too wet to work with and you did something wrong. It’s not, and you didn’t. Resist the urge to just dump a ton of flour on it to make it easier to work with. Cut the dough in equal size halves. Separate them. Pull them delicately into rectangles. Pull from each side and pinch on the other to make a log, then I roll it on top of itself to create a ball. Push the outsides underneath to hide the seams. Cover and let it rest on the counter for 30 minutes.

 Again- hard to explain/picture, but this is what the dough looks like when 
you pull from each side and overlap it in the middle.


Hour 14.5: (10:30pm)
Repeat this last step, but instead of bench resting for 30 minutes, just let it sit for just a few seconds to hide the seam.
Flour two bowls and put dough in each. Cover (with plastic wrap) and let proof in the refrigerator overnight.
 Not a perfect ball. A smaller bowl would help it stay rounder.

Day 2: (Morning)
Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and check to make sure it has risen.

Dough after the overnight rise. 
You can see where I didn't do a great job tucking in my folds on the end.

Place a baking sheet and large pot (or dutch oven) in the oven and preheat to 450 degrees. When preheated, pull them out, remove the pot and add a piece of parchment paper (or something similar/safer) to the baking sheet. Turn your bowl over to place the dough on the baking sheet (reshape a little if necessary). Take a blade or sharp knife and give it a good semi-circular cut to allow for growth while baking. Brush with an egg wash (1 egg or egg white mixed with a little bit of water). Cover with the pot. Bake for 20 minutes. Then remove pot and bake again for an additional 10 minutes. Let rest for 30 minutes before cutting/eating.

 Pre-bake. Not the most perfect loaf shape...but it will work. 


 After 20 minutes, covered.
  After 10 more minutes, uncovered.

So there it is....a six week long gluten-y journey of tears and triumph, all culminating in the sweet taste of victory.
Have you ever tried baking your own bread? Was it fraught with as much heartbreak as my experience? Are you tempted to give it a(nother) try now?

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