Tag Archives: Friends

Adventures in Sourdough

A little over a year ago I read (and blogged about) Robin Sloan’s Sourdough. One thing I didn’t mention in that post was that I wanted a sourdough starter. I did once own a sourdough starter but the guy who gave it to me neglected to tell me that I had to feed it, although he did send me a recipe for sourdough pancakes. His sourdough (from Alaska) was apparently descended from sourdough starters that the gold rush guys created. Needless to say, the sourdough starter died before I had a chance to use it.

Around Christmastime last year my son, who’d been given a sourdough starter a few weeks earlier, shared some with me and taught me how to feed it. I was hooked. I loved how the regular feedings of flour and water made the starter grow and bubble. I attempted my first couple of loaves of bread using just the nurtured starter. It was delicious, but didn’t rise liked I’d hoped. For my next attempt, I used yeast as well, and it rose beautifully.

I’ve continued to nurture my starter and occasionally bake a loaf of bread or a make pizza crust — which turns out fine, but is a little thick for my tastes.

One thing I didn’t know about sourdough starter is that you must discard all but 4 ounces each time you feed it. I didn’t like that idea — throwing out an organism that I’d nurtured and fed so carefully, so I tried to find ways to use the discard. One way was to make sourdough waffles — which made the fluffiest and most tasty waffles remember having ever eaten.

A month ago I was selected as host for our long-running book group and I chose Sourdough as the book we’d read. When I host book group I always serve food from the book we’ve read — this one was pretty easy. Sourdough! I also decided that I would make enough viable starter so my book group friends could take some home.

Not long after the earlier book group I started collecting the sourdough discard in a separate container than my personal batch. As the month continued I continued to regularly feed my batch, but also fed the discard. It didn’t take too long to have a 7-quart bowl full of sourdough starter sitting on the top shelf of my refrigerator. Not being a wiz in math I was not sure how much I would need for my friends. (duh — 12 4 ounce portions equals a lot less than 7 quarts). I even made a gluten-free starter for my gluten-free book group members.

7 quarts of bubbling ripe sourdough starter.
7 quarts of sourdough starter

So what was I going to do with 5 and a half quarts of lethargic sourdough starter? I googled “composting sourdough starter” and discovered that sourdough starter was a great addition to compost so I grabbed my bowl and headed to the compost bin. I opened it, started scraping the starter and saw bubbles form. I absolutely could not throw this living thing into my compost bin. There had to be another way.

So I advertised free sourdough starter on the neighborhood email list:

Dona Patrick
Fri, Apr 26, 5:39 PM (2 days ago)
to htcanet

I made far too much sourdough starter for my books group (we read Sourdough by Robin Sloan) and before I toss it in my compost bin I thought I would find out if any neighbors were interested in some. It will need to be fed once you get it home.
If so, let me know before Sunday evening.

Dona

I received only one response so I knew I needed to go farther afield if I wanted to find a home for more of the starter so I sent the same email to an email list that encompassed our whole zip code. It wasn’t long before I received ten more emails from people wanting sourdough starter. We negotiated pick-up times and people began arriving.

Everyone who has picked up the starter so far has been excited to get it, friendly and talkative. One woman needed assistance up the steps, other people have walked to the house — some with children in tow.

A couple have not responded to emails asking when they plan on coming, so I sent an email saying I was closing up shop at 1:00 pm. Two more will contact me when they get back to town. I have enough left for the stragglers and no-shows if they do still want some.

A few cups of lethargic sourdough starter
Not much left — this needs to be fed!

This has been a fun experience — I am not really surprised that sourdough starter is a prized commodity — I sure wanted some not long ago and apparently it is a big thing with millennials. I rarely meet the neighbors on the 20187 email list, so I am enjoying that aspect of it. Plus my sourdough starter has gone to some good homes. Maybe people will think about meeting me as they feed their starters years from now. Or maybe they will let it die. Either way, it is out of my hands.

And Robin Sloan is who I really have to thank for this week of sharing the starter with friends and neighbors.

Frances Lide: First Woman in a Washington News Room

Alexandria Packet November 13, 1986

by Maria Kavanagh
Special to the Packet

Frances Lide had been in Washington only a few hours when she lost practically everything she owned.

This was 1934 when the Depression blanketed the country and losing everything meant just that.

“I had come to Washington from South Carolina to get a job with one of the New Deal agencies until I could find a job as a journalist. Jobs on newspapers, as most other jobs, were incredibly difficult to come by.”

She tells of her introduction to Washington with a wry detachment:

“A friend had met me at the railroad station with a borrowed car. On the way to my hotel we stopped at his boarding house where I had been invited for dinner. Afterwards, as we were leaving for the hotel we discovered that my large suitcase with all my winter clothes — it was December — and practically everything else I owned, had been stolen. Fortunately, I had carried in with me a small bag with my letters of introduction and a few toilet articles.”

Her letter to the Fourth Assistant Postmaster General got her a job as a clerk-typist in the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Public Works within a few days. But typing up labels wasn’t exactly what she had in mind when she came to Washington. Determined to write, she constantly made the rounds of every newspaper, wire service and agency which might use a journalist. Meanwhile, along with her government job, she wrote regular columns from Washington for North and South Carolina papers.

After a year of dogged persistence, she was hired as the first woman in the news room at the Washington Star.

“I was hired to cover Eleanor Roosevelt’s weekly press conferences. Mrs. Roosevelt insisted upon being covered only by women. Most women journalists at that time were society editors and society columnists and had had no experience.”

But before coming to Washington, Frances Lide had done it all. Forced to leave college because of lack of funds — her father had been an invalid, her mother supported the family on a meager salary — Lide found a job on the local paper in Greenville, S.C. On these papers she had been called upon to do every kind of reporting, as well as some editing and “sometimes sweeping the floors.” she says with a laugh.

After three exhausting years of working six days a week, from 7 a.m often until midnight and sometimes on Sundays, when, because of the Depression, she became one of only two people left on the paper, she realized she had to make a change.

However, it was on the strength of this very experience that she was hired at the Star. Her starting salary was $25 a week.

Lide_cartoonAsked about how she was received in the news room, Lide says with amusement  “They didn’t know how to treat me. When I walked in at 7 a.m. on Monday morning, they were all busy typing at their desks. No one looked up. No one said ‘Good Morning.’ But after a week or so they gradually became more friendly. And after that I never felt uncomfortable.

Newspaper women in those days were not taken too seriously by their male counterparts. Often referred to as ‘sob-sisters’ or ‘news-hens,’ most of them covered social events.

“It sounds curious in today’s world,” she says thoughtfully. “If a breaking story involved a woman, I would be sent on it. But there seemed to be an unwritten rule that only a man could get a particularly tough or grisly story.”

Yet, in a recent profile on Jane Pauley in the Washington Post, her “Today Show” partner, Bryant Gumbel admitted there were territorial lines on their interviews. “I think there may be a tendency if there’s an interview that has to be done with any, shall we say tenderness — a recently widowed father, or a sick child — Jane may get that one, Gumbel says. “And if it’s a real put-on-the-gloves one, Bryant will probably do better than I do,” says Pauley. “But I do those too, and Bryant does some pretty sensitive tear-jerkers.”

Frances is on the left. The woman with the boxes is not Eleanor Roosevelt. The paper printed a correction the next week.
Frances is on the left. The woman with the boxes is not Eleanor Roosevelt. The paper printed a correction the next week.

Eleanor Roosevelt held her press conference every Monday morning.

“Going to the White House was much simpler in those days. The gates were always open. We just walked up to the front door where the butler admitted us, gave our names to an usher and that was all there was to it.”

When asked how the men felt about being excluded, Lide says, “Naturally there was some resentment because Mrs. Roosevelt so often made real news. Although I was in my twenties, I would be completely exhausted when I would have to follow her around for a day on a story.”

Lide remembers only one event which reporters were not allowed to cover except by standing outside the gates.

“Mrs Roosevelt had visited the National Training School for Girls (a sort of detention home). Appalled at the conditions there, she — always warm-hearted and generous — had impulsively invited the girls to come to tea. We had to watch from the outside.”

World War II completely changed the field of journalism. With more and more men called into service, more women were hired and sent out on every kind of story. Women reporters were no longer an oddity in the newsrooms. “Even the society pages focused more on news items than simply accounts of social events,” says Lide.

In her last years on the Star, Lide took over the home furnishing section of the Sunday Magazine. In 1968 she received the National Press Award from the National Society of Interior Designers for outstanding feature reporting of interior design and the decorative home furnishing industry.

Since her retirement in 1970, she has done freelance stories on historic houses and furnishings, has served as the coordinator in publishing a cookbook of old Alexandria recopies for the 40th anniversary of the Beverly Hills Church on Old Dominion Boulevard and did the interviews and research for the North Ridge History Committee for a book on North Ridge lore.

When the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History celebrated the Eleanor Roosevelt Centennial, she was one of the four panelists who spoke on how the First Lady changed her life.

Frances Lide reminisces in the manner of a true reporter. In her soft voice with its trace of a Southern accent, she shares her past with humor and a little surprise that we would find her experiences fascinating.

Her house in Alexandria, tucked away in a quiet, shady cul-de-sac is set in a lovely, almost quaint garden which she cares for with the help of an occasional yard man. Ivy, lilies and quince bushes splash unusual colors here and there.

She cuts the lawn herself, is busy with her family, friends and church work. And she still finds there aren’t enough hours in the day to do the writing she hopes to do.

Maria Kavanaugh last wrote for the Packet on illiteracy in Alexandria.
 

Patchwork garden

grandma's quiltWhen I was a child and would visit my Grandma Patrick, sometimes she’d tell me about the patchwork quilt that hung over the back of her sofa in her living room. Its pattern was of tulips in pots and suns with beams. Flowered material made up the border. As we sat under the quilt she’d point to a pot or a flower or a sunbeam and tell me about the piece of clothing that it came from. Sometimes her own, sometimes one of her 4 daughters. There even were pieces of shirts from my dad and his dad, her husband.

mountain mintTo me this quilt was special, not only because she made it herself, but it was made up of scraps of material that once clothed her family. This quilt now hangs on a sofa in my house. While I don’t remember whose dress or shirt each flowerpot or sunbeam was made from, I have told my children about it. Maybe someday they will tell their children too.

fall blooming crocusI thought about this quilt last night after thinking of the plants that will go into the bed in my front yard. I’ve hired my neighbor, Terese, a professional garden designer to plan the bed, and she’s come up with a great design. She’s purchased some plants for it, but we will incorporate some existing plants from the bed and take some from other places in my yard that I planted without knowledge of what they needed in the way of sunlight, drainage, etc. A few of these plants were from the garden of my friend, Bob, who reluctantly moved away from the neighborhood last December. We’re also getting a few plants from my friend, Alison. Terese is giving me some plants from her garden and maybe some from a community garden.

So my garden will be somewhat of a patchwork garden, plants from friends and neighbors will grow next to newly purchased plants. Plants that are re-purposed — just like the cloth in Grandma’s quilt. And it will be all the better for it. Maybe, when my future grandchildren visit, I will tell them about the people who gave me each of the plants; about Bob and what a beautiful garden he had or about my friend Alison and her family, with whom we had some amazing times. If only I’d remembered to take the plants that Frances gave me from my yard in Alexandria when we moved to Bethesda.

Secret Grotto, Secret Shrine

Years ago, on what I recalled as a long walk with my friend Candy, we happened upon an amazing discovery. Actually, Candy knew about it and wanted to show me, but it was a discovery for me. Candy called it a “grotto”. I didn’t really know what a grotto was and as the years went by the image of this grotto, in my mind’s eye, became a pagan temple where modern day witches might worship. I imagined that it was built by Pantheists in the early- to mid-1900s and was secretly kept up by followers of non-traditional faiths. I’d been thinking about it recently because I thought it was something that my daughter would like to see.

Candy and I visited the grotto again this past Wednesday and although I was wrong about the religion, I was right about the purpose — it was a place for worship. It was obviously built by Christians, however, not Pantheists. Symbols of Christianity are all over the structure, so much that it might be better called a shrine. I was also wrong about the location. I thought it was in Elgin and far away from civilization. (or as far away as possible in an urban area) In fact it is a few minutes walk from the Kane County Government center in Geneva, Illinois.

Grotto Shrine in Geneva, Illinois

Candy knew little about its history, so we stopped by the nearby government center to ask about it and the history of the government center buildings. The first person we asked didn’t even know the grotto/shrine existed. The second person we asked looked at us strangely and told us to ask down the hall. The third person we asked told us that the buildings had once been a seminary for monks and they used to worship at the shrine/grotto. She said that occasionally people from “out East” who have some connection with the monks stop by to visit the former seminary.

Candy and I then tried asking about the buildings and grotto at the Geneva History Center and neither of the volunteers on duty knew about the history of the buildings at the government center. One volunteer said that if we wanted someone to research it for us we could request it, but it would cost us money. I politely declined and said I would try to find information online.

I did find a few references to the shrine/grotto in Geneva, Illinois — most were pretty much the same text, however one was much more detailed [PDF, 226KB).

Apparently the Grotto Shrine (which is what the Neighbors of Geneva article* calls it) was designed and built by a Jesuit priest from Germany who came to the Sacred Heart Seminary to study to be a missionary. According to the article, “on special feast days the missionaries and seminarians would walk in candlelight procession to the outdoor chapel.”

While the grotto shrine was not what I remembered it to be, it still fascinates me and I look forward to showing it to my daughter someday. I’m also a little fascinated that no one we talked to knew much, if anything, about the grotto shrine. If I worked at the government center, I know I would want to know as much as possible about the history of the buildings I worked in. I guess everyone is not that way.

——–
*coincidentally written by the Geneva History Center

Best. Neighbors. Ever.

Skippy John Jones G.
Skippy John Jones G.

I look across the street tonight and see the blue Volvo and silver minivan parked where they’ve been for the past couple of years. I see Chris mowing his lawn. The other day I talked to Madeline, Anna, Molly and Carter about vacation Bible camp, Subway meals and trips to the Bay.

Nothing really, except the sad knowledge and “Under Contract” sign, indicates that tomorrow a moving truck will collect their furniture and move everything to Richmond. In two days a new family will move into the house across the street.

The current family couldn’t be any better. They are some of the sweetest people I have ever known. Chris took care of Andrew when he had his skin infection (knowing a dermatologist is handy). Madeline actively  participated in our neighborhood book group. Anna once stage whispered to a friend that Dean was really nice. Molly and Carter entertained us with their 3/4-year old antics.

And then there is Skippy John Jones G. who, although may have pooed on our lawn a few times, was the friendliest cat in the ‘hood. At least to neighbors and the mailman, who on more than one occasion sat on the stoop and gave Skippy a cuddle.

The new family has an incredible act to follow.

The G. family will be missed. Very much.

Pastor Keith

Most of you know by now that my father died in October. I’m not ready to talk about that here, if ever. What I want to talk about, instead, is an incredible man I met in September, but got to know much better in October.

Pastor Keith Fry
Pastor Keith Fry of Christ the Lord Lutheran Church, Elgin, IL

Pastor Keith Fry is the pastor of my mom’s church, Christ the Lord Lutheran Church in Elgin, Illinois. Mom only recently started going to this church, finally giving into her friends’ invitations to attend. I think she’s gone to this church just over a year.

I liked Pastor Keith as soon as I met him in September at my mom’s book group where they discussed Take this Bread by Sara Miles. I met him again the following Sunday when I attended church with my mom. His sermon mentioned someone he’d discussed at the book group — a friend he’d made in Washington DC who had nothing, yet gave him a gift. That tipped me off that this man was a man to whom connections were important.

When, three weeks ago, my mom’s church friends alerted Pastor Keith that my dad was on life support and in critical condition at St. Joesph hospital, he made a trip to the hospital that night. By then my mom and brother had left — knowing that there was little they could do for Dad and they both needed a good night’s sleep in order to have a clear mind to make whatever decisions needed to be made in the coming days. I’m sure Pastor Keith prayed over/for/about my father and for my mom for strength. He probably also got information from the nursing staff on Dad’s condition.

He showed up on Tuesday morning as well, this time offering support by way of prayer and information. He asked a few questions about our family — he really didn’t know Mom that well — so wanted to know if we had other siblings, what we did for a living, how many kids we had, where we lived, etc. None of what we told him was of any use, really, but, as I mentioned earlier, Pastor Keith is a man to whom connections are important. He wanted to know us in order to connect. At least, that’s what I think he was doing.

On Wednesday and Thursday he was always a phone call away and on Thursday evening my brother called him to tell him that we’d need his support on Friday morning.

I’m not sure what we would have done without Pastor Keith’s support on Friday morning. He was a calm presence the room. He was knowledgeable about the process. He was there when we needed him, but it was not as if there was a stranger in the room with us — more like a dear friend. Most of all, he assured us we were doing the right thing.

All the while we were together, Pastor Keith must have been taking mental notes. He was storing our words, actions, and stories in a file in his head. I know this because he gave the most touching funeral sermon I’ve ever heard — taking what he’d observed the past week, what he’d heard from us the past week, and what he’d seen in a slideshow I posted on Facebook (yes, Pastor Keith is on Facebook). If there is a prize for funeral sermons, this one is a sure winner. It is posted after the break if you want to read it.

One of the memories I shared with Pastor Keith that morning was my vision of Heaven: When my Uncle Don died when I was 6 years old I couldn’t really process it until President Kennedy was assassinated. Then I wondered if they’d meet in Heaven. I pictured Uncle Don and President Kennedy sitting at a table drinking beer. As more and more people that I knew or admired died, they joined the table. If you read the sermon, you’ll see that Pastor Keith really listened.

Unfortunately I don’t have the gift of listening that Pastor Keith possesses. I’d like to tell you more about him, but all I know for sure is that he grew up in Texas, the son of a Baptist minister. He has siblings — maybe 3 or 4? He used to be in publishing, but about 5 years ago decided to go to Seminary. My mom’s church is his first congregation. They love him (I know, I read it on Facebook). I think I love him too.

Continue reading Pastor Keith

Cindy/Cynthia

I met Cindy my first day of junior high. She sat at the same lunch table as I did that day. It didn’t take us long to start hanging out at each other’s houses — in fact, her father, who was a 6th grade teacher dropped her off at my house each morning and we’d walk to school together. Then each afternoon we’d walk back to my house and spend the afternoon together before her dad picked her up after work.

Cindy’s mom was a vegetarian. The only vegetarian I’d ever met. Her father wasn’t. They lived in the country in an arts and crafts style bungalow on 13 acres they called Walden Oaks. They had a potbelly stove in their living room and Cindy always smelled of woodsmoke. She had long, black curly hair, huge eyes and a large smile. We were inseparable in junior high.

We continued our friendship into high school, but in our junior year Cindy’s father decided to take a sabbatical the following year and spend it in Spain with Cindy and her mother.  That meant that Cindy would need to graduate a year early. She seemed to change that year. She spent more time with seniors and less time with me. Our friendship was strained as it was — the old saying, “familiarity breeds contempt” proved true in our case. I think we’d spent so much time together the first few years of knowing each other, that we got to know each other too much — almost like sisters, I suppose. I remember being jealous of her grades — I guess I thought I  was the smarter of the two of us and when she got better grades than I did, I got angry. My temper was easily roused back then, and there were times when Cindy egged me on just to see me get angry — she admitted it years later.

The summer of our junior year, I went to England and she stayed to finish up high school, then she left for Spain with her parents. We kept in touch through letters — but Cindy was not much of a letter writer. When she returned from Spain, she was no longer Cindy. She was Cynthia.

At some point, when I went to England, Cynthia stayed a few weeks with my parents. I think she must have been in college, because she was learning about ecology (she went to the College of the Atlantic) and unplugged my Mickey Mouse night-light because she said it wasted electricity.

We kept in touch for a few years, but lost touch after a while. I think the real reason we lost touch was because I didn’t send her a card or gift when her daughter, Claire, was born. It was not Cynthia who quit writing then — it was I. I was envious that she had a child and I didn’t — and thought I wouldn’t have children. Then when I finally did have child, I named her Clare,  and was afraid Cynthia would be offended.

Cynthia was also extremely eco-conscious. I’m not sure she and her family had a television, much less a VHS player. We had a couple televisions and probably didn’t always turn out the lights when we should have. I was ashamed.

I kept up on her life through her dad, who wrote me each Christmas until the year before he died. I didn’t know he’d died until a couple of years later when my sister-in-law told me. I was a little miffed that Cindy hadn’t told me herself, but, I guess, by then, she must have figured our friendship had ended.

I did find Cindy/Cynthia via email and we wrote back and forth once. Then we found each other on Facebook and wrote back and forth a bit, but have not written anything in a while.

People change — friendships come and go. I’m not the same person I was when I was in junior high and neither is Cindy/Cynthia. Why can’t I let go? Just because we were best friends 35 years ago doesn’t mean we still should be. However, it would be nice to see her again, you know?