Feed Your Starter!

NaBloPoMo 2021:  Do Good, Kid

Friends, this is SO exciting, I’m growing a successful sourdough starter!! 

I scoffed at the pandemic sourdough craze for two reasons:  1. I hate fads, and 2. I hate labor intensive cooking.  Then this summer I binged Michael Pollan’s works, and got inspired to make bread from the “Air” episode of his Netflix docuseries Cooked, based on his book of the same title.  He made bread making, such an intimidating undertaking, feel accessible and rewarding.  I started experimenting, throwing together flour, water or soymilk, lots of baking powder, and then whatever else moved me.  Early attempts included coriander muffins, ginger-maple-buckwheat pan bread, cornbread, and pumpkin loaf.  No yeast and slack measurements resulted in varying levels of rise and density, and overall happily edible success (mostly)!

I started thinking maybe a sourdough starter would be a fun, next-level project.  It’s only flour and water, so failure would at least be inexpensive, and success could open up a whole new world of home cooking!  Wouldn’t it be awesome to make something of us, our family, including the microbes that inhabit our house, namely those under the kitchen sink?  And then have that something feed us and others, perhaps for years or even generations?

Ta-daaaah, I’m so happy to report that as of Day 7, it’s alive!  Sven, as Daughter named it, reliably doubles in volume between twice daily feedings, and emanates a sweet, fruity fragrance.  Scooping out a portion every day to ‘discard’ (save in fridge), then mixing in more flour and water, is a messy proposition (I really dislike messy).  But it makes me so happy to see it growing and thriving–giving

This week, in a flash of cosmic inspiration, I apprehended a greater meaning for ‘Feed Your Starter’ as a life action mantra!  Sourdough starter is a natural leaven—something that makes dough rise.  Oxford Languages also defines leaven (n.) as “a pervasive influence that modifies something or transforms it for the better.”  A simple internet search of ‘sourdough recipes’ yields pages and pages of baked foods that this humble slurry of flour, water, and microorganisms transforms, into foods transcendent to just flour and water alone.  Sourdough bakers, I’m learning, are an ardent and dedicated tribe, always seeking the perfect crumb or ear.  They are passionate.

Sometimes people ask, “What really gets your motor running?” or, “What gets you up in the morning?”  In other words, what starts you?  What boosts you, helps you rise, gives your life more complexity, aroma, flavor, and texture?  And how do you keep it, this starter of yours, alive?  What’s your feeding schedule and routine?

Starters are such great metaphors!  Let’s say it’s your WHY.  It is unique to you, its creator; a product of everything about you.  You tend it, nurture it, protect it.  Feed it often and well, give it a hospitable environment, and it grows—bigger, faster, stronger.   If life gets such that you need to cool the growth, shelve it for a while, it’s okay with that, too.  It can happily relax in the back of your fridge for months until you take it out again. Then, when you’re ready, a little time and attention reawakens the bubbly fervor as if nothing happened.  It can endure for generations, inspiring people you may never meet to keep making delicious, beautiful things for all to enjoy, that benefit all.

A sourdough starter can activate and enhance so much more than a loaf of bread—just as your WHY can inform, inspire, and elevate any number of Hows and Whats in your life and others’. 

And you can share it! In this way, it resembles Simon Sinek’s idea of the Just Cause. One of the five criteria to have a just cause is inclusiveness—everybody can participate. Whenever you feed your starter, you take a portion off. You can throw it away (it’s actually called the ‘discard’) or use it; books of sourdough cooking include myriad ‘discard recipes’. But how much better to give it away? Invite someone else to join in this beautifully messy and loving labor of making something? They can take it home—feed it, nuture it, protect it, grow it—make it their own. And now you’re connected.

I think that’s why I’m so excited about my starter.  To me it represents abundance, growth, progress, and connection.  The thing I love most is that in another week or so, I can confidently give some to my mom and my sisters, and we’ll all share something really special, something that brings us close in yet another way.  I’ll make things with it to share with my friends, and if they wish to adopt their own descendant, I will be more than happy to oblige.  So I’ll keep feeding Sven joyfully, just in case.

NaBloPoMo Theme Reveal, 2021

Okay, friends, it begins! 

National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) was an annual November thing back in 2015, when I started this blog.  Apparently the person who started it no longer claims it or formally facilitates, but many of us still practice.  This year a small cadre of women physician writers may join me in the challenge, woohoo!

The theme for this, my 7th year, emerged over the summer.  As some of you know, Son is a senior in high school, applying to college right now.  On a walk through the neighborhood one sunny evening in August, I ran into parents of two different classmates, kids he’s known since preschool.  We compared our respective parental experiences of contemporary college apps—fascinating!  In both conversations, I asked my counterparts what they wished most for their kids to learn at college, and then in life.  As usual, the question arose from outward curiosity, and before I could finish asking, I really wanted to answer for myself, too.

In short order, three primary ‘adulting skills’ came to mind: 

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-regulation
  3. Critical thinking

Over subsequent weeks the list grew quickly, as I sought additions from other friends and family. I noticed it was mostly nouns, which started to feel listless and uninspiring. Simon Sinek points out, in Start With Why, that posting static concepts such as ‘Honesty’ as organizational values is too abstract and unmotivating; it doesn’t tell people what to do. He recommends converting such nominal platitudes to verb statements instead: Isn’t ‘Always Tell the Truth’ a much clearer and more activating expression? And bonus: it also makes us accountable.

So this November, I intend to post one ‘action mantra’ each day, that I hope for my children to practice, to live a good life. I have chosen the theme title: Do Good, Kid. I like that play on words, too. 😉

This year’s theme is, perhaps, more personally meaningful and coherent for me than previous ones. I imagine it as the lifelong learning To Do list that could persist as my kids’ ethical earworms when I’m not around to remind them. It’s also a record of my own personal aspirations. How can I ask them to do anything I’m not willing to model myself? I have 30 days, and well over 30 practices to choose from. This could be fun.

So let’s see how it goes, eh?  Can’t wait can’t wait!

Onward from 2019: Learnings and Intentions

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Friends!  WHAT a year, no?  How are you feeling here at the end?

In this post:  3 key learnings, 3 high intentions, and my 6 recommended life readings.

What resonates with you?

What would you add?

For a thoughtful and inspiring look on the coming year, check out Donna Cameron’s post from yesterday.

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3 Key Learnings of 2019

Complexity

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”  –John Muir

“All that you touch, you change.  All that you change, changes you.” –Octavia Butler

We all live in inextricable connection, like it or not, know it or not, want it or not.  Every interaction has potential for benefit and harm, and the scale is exponential.  Some may find this idea daunting, overwhelming, or untenable.  I find it reassuring.  The idea that some cosmic life thread connects us all, that we are made of the same stuff today as that which existed at the dawn of the universe—this gives me peace.  It encourages me that everything I do in good faith could make a difference.  You really never know how far a small gesture or sharing will reach for good.

The 3 Tenets of Relationship-Centered Leadership

Not so much learnings as a synthesis from LOH training, these are the current foundation statements of my personal and aspirational leadership tenets (iterations likely to evolve over time):

  1. Founded on curiosity, connection, and fidelity to a people-centered mission
  2. Attendant to the relational impacts of all decisions, local and global
  3. Respectful of norms and also agile and adaptive to the changing needs of the system

Having defined these ideals for myself, I am now fully accountable to them.  And I hold them as a standard for those who lead me.

Being >> Saying or Doing

Saying and doing compassionate, empathic, and kind things are necessary and noble.  And they are not enough.  These actions ring hollow without honest sincerity behind them.  People feel us before they hear our words.  Our authentic presence, positive or negative, originates from within.  It manifests in posture, facial expression (overt and subtle, intentional and subconscious), movement, and tone and cadence of voice.  Fake it ‘til you make it—saying and doing things because we know we ‘should’—only gets us so far.  We humans possess a keen sense of genuineness—it’s a survival instinct.  If we accept that a meaningful, productive life and effective leadership in particular, require strong, trusting relationships, then we must cultivate true compassion, empathy, and kindness.  That means suspending judgment, managing assumptions, and holding openness to having our perspective changed by all that we encounter (see first key learning above), among other things.  This may be life’s penultimate challenge—our role models include Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama.

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3 High Intentions for 2020

  1. Continue to ask more and listen better for people’s personal and unique meaning making—not just patients but all people—attend to souls
  2. Let go perfection
    1. All relationships are not great, and it’s not all my fault
    2. Some people/relationships and circumstances challenge my best self and skills more than others
    3. It’s the honest, sincere, good faith effort, and the learning from imperfection and failed attempts that matter
    4. Some relationships are better ended
  3. Guard against judgment, arrogance, and cynicism

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6 Recommended Life Readings—the 6 most personally impactful books I have read in the last decade:

The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander.  Scarcity thinking, competition, and looking out for number one hold us all back.  Stepping fully into our central selves, claiming our full collective agency for creativity and collaboration, and manifesting all the good we are capable of—that is the discovery of this book for me.

Start With Why by Simon Sinek.  In my opinion, the most eloquent and resonant writing on the purpose-driven life.  The freedom and creativity that flows forth therefrom—it all just gives me goosebumps.  Sinek’s The Infinite Game may eventually make this list too, once I have integrated its content and learnings more fully.

Rising Strong by Brené Brown.  Strength and vulnerability, confidence and shame, individuality and belonging—these are the essential human paradoxes that Sister Brené reconciles with gritty aplomb through real life stories as well as grounded theory research.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.  Be you, all you, all in.  Love thyself—flaws, failures, and falls all included.  Make things.  Because that is what we are put here to do, for ourselves and for one another.

Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute.  Perhaps no book explains the profound importance of being better in order to do better, better than this.  And it took me almost all year to really comprehend, and then begin to apprehend, the concept.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, MD.  I started and finished this one on vacation this past week.  Dr. Gawande is my favorite physician writer.  I consider this book required reading for all physicians for sure, but really for all people .  “The death rate from life is 100%,” a wise patient once told me.  In modern western society and culture, multiple intertwined and complex forces hamstring our ability to live and die well and at peace.  This book is a brilliant compilation of heartrending personal and professional stories, neatly folded with history, research, and practical information for improving this sad state of things.  It is also a guide to the hard conversations that we all should really have—now.  It has both validated what I already do in my practice, and profoundly changed how I will do things hereafter.  Thank you, Dr. Gawande.

*****

Best wishes for Peace, Joy, Love, and Connection to all.

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