An Education of the Wild Yeasts.

In my thirty-six years on this planet, two things have completely eluded me: Jury Duty and Sourdough Starters.

Although not even being considered to sit on a John-Grisham-worthy international espionage trial did bother me, being left out of the sourdough club disturbed me at a more intrinsic level.

I was beginning to think that all of the sourdough starters in the whole world must have died between my childhood and my motherhood, because I remember my mom receiving, using, and eventually killing many starters, and in the in between, making fresh, hot, sourdough bread a semi-regular occurrence. Yet never had I ever even heard of one of my peers having a starter, and never had I ever been offered one myself. Perhaps my mother was actually an Infamous Sourdough Starter Serial Killer and my family had been put on a Don’t Share List. Or perhaps it was me. Not having the ability to produce fresh bread did lend me to feeling Imposter Syndrome at a deep level. I mean, was I even momming?

It was a painful quandary.

I wasn’t ready to tackle the issue of being ignored and/or avoided by the judicial system, but it was past time to address The Mystery of Dough. So in January, I posted this Instagram photo.


Within a day, I was offered not one, but two starters.

My life had finally begun.

I graciously accepted the starter from the person I would see the soonest. She brought it to me, in an insulated bag, at the Homeschool Spelling Bee. WHERE ALL STARTERS SHOULD EXCHANGE HANDS.

Melissa-The-Sourdough-Fairy gifted me with a large yogurt container with vents cut into the lid, along with a full 8 1/2 x 11 page of typed instructions. This page included a not-to-shabby pedigree for my starter, tracing its roots through two other homeschool moms and 12 years of shares.

And now I was the owner of this beautiful new baby.

I carefully carried it home, placing it gently in my cupholder and looking at it warily, wondering if it would spontaneously bubble out and fill my car. But when we arrived home, there was a present from Thomas-the-Porch-Cat on my welcome mat, as always. Except instead of the usual gag-inducing treats, it was a perfectly preserved chipmunk. I ran inside, placed my starter on the counter, grabbed my camera and props, and ran back out to play. After I appropriately memorialized the beautiful creature left behind just for me, I moved on with my day, extremely satisfied.

That night, when Chris got home, I proudly showed him my starter. I explained to the children my severely limited knowledge of how it worked (thinking, at the time, that I sounded like a seasoned expert), which was the exact point in time that I remembered that it was brought to the spelling bee in an insulated bag. CLEARLY I was supposed to put it in the refrigerator when I got home and now all these hours had passed because I let a chipmunk distract me and oh my goodness did I just kill my first starter before I even produced a single loaf? Maybe serial starter killing does run in my family what have I done!!

Chris, though an eager eater of all homemade goodness, laughed. Then comforted me with the words, “If you killed your sourdough starter because you were too busy staging roadkill, I will love you for that. We’re more of a roadkill homeschool family than a bread-making homeschool family.”


“Yes but, the story!!”

I did some frantic Googling and discovered that all was okay – I’d likely just made my yeast more hungry, it was hard to kill a starter, and it would probably prove itself to be alive the first time I fed it.

I quickly refrigerated it, and fed it as soon as my instruction pamphlet allowed. It happily ate the food, grew, and then grew into a lovely dough upon mixing.


I made my first ever sourdough loaves, and finally felt like a Real Housewife of The Deep South.


Regardless of his feelings about what kind of homeschool family we are, my husband was incandescently happy with the hot fresh bread slathered in freshly mixed honey butter (or butter honey, as Noah prefers it to be called) that I had coming out of the oven as he walked in the door from a wet run.


As the weeks passed and the successful loaves stacked up, I became obsessed with my little pet, reading more about what a starter really is, and even buying the new novel, Sourdough, which only deepened my understanding and unhealthy adoration of my starter. I have since been going around explaining to everyone what starters are and how they work.

Because you see. There are wild yeasts floating all around us. And you catch them and create a starter by leaving out flour and water for a week, feeding it more flour and water and taking some out. The wild yeasts are all like “Well, honey, doesn’t that look like a delicious home!” and set up a colony in your paste. Furthermore, Wild Yeasts like to travel with their BFFs, good bacteria, and those guys are super protective of their yeasty friends. So they guard their new encampment, refusing entry to bad bacteria, gross mold, or other things that might want a crack at your lovely flour and water.

(Except if I tried this, The Porch Cat would, with certainty, vomit directly into the starter, and no good bacteria can hold that sturdy a stronghold.)

It’s a genius system, clearly proving that God wants us eating bread. And people have been catching these wild yeasts for 5,000 years. So OBVIOUSLY, Sourdough is Paleo.

THEN, the wild yeast feast on the gluten of the flour, supposedly (though I haven’t had a gluten-sensitive test subject yet) making the end product gluten free. Because they pre-digest the gluten for you, turning it into gases which make your bread rise and create those lovely sourdough air pockets in your finished product. So apparently, wild yeasts are also gluten sensitive, because it gives them the worst gas.

As I became more and more intrigued by my paleo, gluten-free, basically-a-vegetable bread made for me by an entire microbial universe, I found myself perhaps in an unhealthy existential relationship with my bread. Because that’s normal, right? I pondered their civilization, their families, their lives, and hoped that when I cooked one cup of them, they’d sent me the penal colony of yeasts – perhaps the ones that had committed yeasty crimes were the ones in my measuring cup. It was like olden Australia, but the penalty for your crimes was being baked into a loaf. Because otherwise I was baking my chefs and eating my artisan breadmakers. It was all very confusing. But that didn’t stop me from making the world’s best hamburger between my dead pets.


Meanwhile, I was making multiple loaves every week, and instead of a January Whole 30, we had a January Dough 30, and let me tell you – it’s a much more delightful way to spend that miserable month.


I spread my loaves around to friends and family as best I could, although I must say it was difficult – there were multiple times that I was going to take a loaf to someone who had a death in the family or a sick child, only to remember at the last minute that they were gluten-free, or paleo, or on a ketone diet, or some other such limiting factor. I felt like getting all loud and Oprah-ish and in some faces about HOW AWESOME BREAD IS, but I didn’t. I just kept my bread and quietly ate another slice slathered in butter honey.

I even made three varieties of Stromboli with my dough, which had been for a long time one of Chris’ favorite creations from my mom (although she made it with regular bread, since she long ago murdered her sourdough starters.) Now I really felt like I had arrived in wifedom.











Then my wild yeasts had a baby. (i.e. I fed them but then didn’t feel good and so didn’t make dough.) If you do this, you’re supposed to throw away a cup of starter to make them think you made dough, but although I can bake my tiny friends, I cannot just dump them down the drain to live out their existence in the septic tank. Talk about a penal colony. Septic tank wild yeasts are definitely the kind of colony that will rise up through the drainpipes, riding on steeds of poop, and drown you in your sleep.

So instead, I made a baby.

I took an old sour cream container, cut vents in the lid, and made a new starter. Then I messaged my small group.


Nikki was the chosen new owner of my fresh baby yeast puppy.

I took the bundle of joy to her with a copy of my sheet of instructions/family tree. I am positive that when Nikki got home that night, she did not get distracted by roadkill and mistreat her puppy. However, I did check in with her the next morning to see how he slept his first night in his new home, and she told me that he was great, he’d slept well, and that she’d named him Yeastopher.

That’s right. Clearly Nikki deserves a wild yeast universe more than I. It had not, until that moment, occurred to me to name mine.

Naturally, I spent all day pondering the possibilities, and finally settled on Kanyeast. Pronounced (so you won’t be embarrassed if you ever find yourself addressing my yeast family,) as con-YAYst. Then I updated my feeding log to show my true love for my Yeast Puppy Colony Universe.


So, yo bread, I’m really happy for you, Imma let you finish, but sourdough is one of the best loaves of all time…one of the best loaves of all time.

The Highs and Lows of Winter.

When you live in the south, you really don’t expect the freezing point to actually mean something. To me, it’s always felt more like a guideline.

“Water could start freezing at 32 degrees.”

But no. I really actually means that water freezes.

And as such, it’s been freezing around here, so we’ve been experiencing the shocking sensation of naturally occurring ice. Who knew that happened south of Michigan?

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We’ve been meandering around town, looking for bodies of water to disturb. And the kids have been perplexed, amazed, and endlessly fascinated by throwing things at the lake and watching the lake fight back.

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(If there’s a rise in general Alabama water volume due to displacement by rocks, that’s on us.)

I’m not saying I’m doing all of this exploring out of the generosity of my heart – I’m pretty geeked out by naturally occurring ice myself. I thought ice was created by ice makers and came out of the door of your fridge in neatly uniform tapered cubes. But ice is way fancier when it creates itself.

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We didn’t exactly attempt walking on water at Oak Mountain, but we certainly considered it. And gave the lake a few good shoves with our feet to see if it was possible. It was not, but the thickness of the ice was nonetheless impressive.

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(And by the way – the most satisfying sound I’ve heard in a very long time is the unique tinkling of a piece of ice being thrown at, breaking into dozens of pieces, and then sliding chime-ingly across a lake.)


But on our second day of Arctic Alabama Exploration, we hit paydirt.

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There’s something about this fountain – perhaps its extreme shallowness – that made it perfect for an actual attempt at walking on water.

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And so, after a few tentative steps around the edges, the children indeed realized they could do just that.

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I mean, this is SERIOUSLY NOT supposed to happen in the deep south.

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But they were happy to test it out, despite the fact that my dad had just finished telling us a story about a fisherman in Virginia that fell through the ice, and upon asking the locals what they would do about it, they said, “Oh, we’ll find him come Spring – if the turtles don’t find him first.” Dad followed up his story with “Anyone who is trying to walk on ice in Alabama has GOT TO BE stupid.”

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It was treacherous.

And we knew we were taking our lives into our hands.

So naturally, we let my Dad be the first to know of our dangerous adventures.


Lack of turtles. That’s the key for ice walking.


So we shall continue our bitter cold adventures until our normal winter temps of the 50s come back very, very soon.

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But we’ll always look down and check for turtles first.

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How are you coping psychologically with the cold?

Surgery, Snow, Smoothies, and The Senate.

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All The Laws of Physics were contradicted this past week.

1. It snowed, in Alabama, in early December. Significantly (for Alabama) – 4-12 inches.
2. Said snow stuck, stayed around an extra day, and some snow is still on my yard as I type.
3. I had my uterus removed yet came home looking four months pregnant.

It was a surreal week in all the ways. Snow had been in the forecast for days beforehand, but for the first time in my adult life, instead of planning and scheming on how to best maximize our snow opportunities if it actually did snow, I literally paid no attention to the possibility. I didn’t even deem it worthy to mention to my children. Because it has never, in my lifetime, snowed in early December. Preposterous. Plus, I was having surgery. So how could it snow when I literally could not maximize it? Inconceivable.

So when I packed my children’s bags to go to my parent’s for a few days, I did not pack them snow-ready apparel. I packed them cold weather apparel, thankfully, but no extra clothes or waterproof anything. It wasn’t even something I thought about as I filled their suitcases and mine.

Chris and I showed up at the hospital early Thursday morning, received our pager, and waited for a table to come available – because when you get down to it, having a hysterectomy is no different than going to Ruby Tuesday for a steak and potato.

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As we waited, we had no choice but to direct our attention to the morning newscasts, which were losing their mind over the fact that it was so definitely going to snow the next day. We rolled our eyes and made fun of their 14 hour “window for snow” – glad they can be so precise.

I don’t remember much about Thursday post-surgery, as I slept off and on most of the day. I tried desperately to stay awake and visit with Chris, and insisted on eating and drinking far too quickly after surgery. After realizing that I was so high I could not swallow food, Chris set off on a quest to get me one last Magical Smoothie – a legendary treat only given to new mothers. He had to journey through multiple wards and wings and buildings, negotiate with nurses and plead for a token to take back to his princess, trek back through wards and wings and buildings without allowing his treasure to be stolen by other desperate husbands seeking The Magical Smoothie, and finally, he delivered The Smoothie of Healing to me.

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I’m not saying that smoothie is why I’m able to blog this quickly after major surgery, but I’m not saying it’s not.

As the smoothie slowly helped rouse me from my Sleep of Death that evening, we watched the continuing frantic news about impending snow. Which would’ve been super exciting if a) I weren’t currently catheterized and therefore had zero chance of enjoying it, and b) every single commercial hadn’t been regarding Alabama’s upcoming senate vote.

Being forced to repeatedly stare at these two men while in a state of extreme medical inebriation helped me see through the political issues and realize a couple things.

1. Doug Jones has a couple of spots on his face that need to be checked out. He might need to get in with a dermatologist right away. And there’s not a dermatologist in the state with more open slots in his appointment book than our dear ex-gov, Dr. Robert Bentley. Can someone arrange a rendezvous for these two gentlemen?

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2. I finally realized who Roy Moore’s supervillain alter-ego is. Somebody light up the bat signal – we’ve got a serious problem down here in Alabama.

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After dreaming about those nightmares for half the night, I woke up at 3am to nurses frantically saying “We’ve got to move you!”

I groggily said “Are you kicking me out?”

“Don’t you smell that?? It smells very strongly of smoke in here!!”

Then Travis the Maintenance Man sauntered into my room and started sniffing around the fridge, the vents, my phone charger, and my IV bag – because I have literally never been in the hospital without having a maintenance man end up sharing my room with me.

At 5am, my nurse was frantic enough that she unhooked me from all the things and made me walk – for the first time – across the hall and three rooms down. Which, albeit annoying at the time, did give me a better view as the sun came up – because it was indeed snowing.

Chris arrived around 6:30 (I insisted he go home to sleep because no one should have to sleep in hospital chairs and endure frantic 3am nurses and visits from Travis the Maintenance Man), and we watched the snow fall together, somewhat stunned and a lot worried about our ability to make it home. Chris figured out how to open my window and gift me with snowballs, which is basically why I married him.


It was around 11am when they said I could leave, and as it turned out, 11am was the exact worst time to use the roads. The snow had accumulated a good deal (and some had turned to ice), but not enough cars had used said roads to make them safe. And, although it was only a (in normal driving conditions) 15 minute drive from the hospital, there were a lot of ups and downs between the hospital and home.

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There was sliding and swearing and stops to breathe deeply and check ones heart rate. The last half mile was the scariest, as it is basically a curvy nonstop downhill cross-your-fingers-and-wish-for-a-sleigh ride.

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But we miraculously made it without incident.

Meanwhile, the children were having the time of their lives at Gramamma and Pop’s.

There were snowball fights,
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And snowmen,
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And sledding,
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And swinging,IMG_0399 s_1

And snow cream and gingerbread-castle-making while their decidedly non-snow-ready clothes were in the dryer.
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Oh – and there was peanut-feeding my mom’s semi-pet squirrel. Because that’s a normal thing that all kids do at their grandparent’s house.
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The snow did indeed last for nearly that entire window of 14 hours that the morning prior’s news had suggested. It was preposterous in all its beautiful white glory. While I rested on the couch, Chris brought me my own fresh snow for snow cream,
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But eventually the temptation was too great, and the roads had ironically become snow-free and therefore safe to walk on, and I insisted Chris take me on a very slow walk around the neighborhood.

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It was as if Satan had sat around and put some serious thought into it. “What could possibly make Rachel take a long walk just 24 hours after having major surgery? I’ve got it!!!”

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The next day, the snow was still a work of art, and we took another walk, then a drive, then one more walk around The Botanical Gardens. It was, admittedly, too much too soon, and I hurt a good deal after the second outing. But the world beckoned to me louder than my abdomen pain.

The oddness of seeing fall colors and snow at the same time was something we have never experienced before, and will probably never experience again.
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The sun had come out and had begun creating micro-snow showers from the trees.

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The scenes of overwhelming white were nearly too much to take in.

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After these absolutely unavoidably necessary outings, I have followed doctor’s orders and stayed in my Lounging Princess Position, and will continue doing so for another week, as I attempt to make amends to my de-uterized abdomen. And – maybe it was the snow, or maybe it was always the magical smoothie, but I feel surprisingly good.