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.

Rage against the Feline.

Thomas The Porch Cat.
photo 8 s

I despise him with all of my physical and metaphysical being.

When he first started hanging around full-time, he (our assumed pronoun – we’ve never checked) was shy, thoughtful, and timid. He was grateful for the food we gave him and was never demanding or rude in any way.

That was over a year ago.

In the last four months, he has…

….peed on (and ruined) my porch furniture cushions. (I needed new ones anyway, so used this as an excuse to upgrade said porch cushions.)

….peed on the new (thankfully watertight) porch box I now store my new furniture cushions in to prevent feline urination.

….puked on the porch stairs.

….pooped on the porch.

….left half-eaten chipmunks on the porch.

(Like literally half a chipmunk.)

(The front half.)

(With the guts dangling out.)

…left just the intestines of an unidentified animal on the welcome mat.

IMG_7039You go ahead and eat your food nonchalantly as if there’s not poop chute sprawled out behind you.

(Nothing says welcome like disembodied bowels.)

…left bird crumbs on my new welcome mat (after I couldn’t handle the bowel-ey welcome mat.)


But Thomas’ ultimate horror show was more subtle…

During the holiday season, my dear husband’s yearly display of Christmas lights weren’t working one evening when the children and I returned home. At first I feared the power was out.

But it wasn’t…puzzling.

I didn’t touch the light display – I am not qualified. So I left the situation for Chris to figure out after returning from a hard day’s work.

Chris investigated. Chris called me outside. Chris methodically walked me through the situation, with an eery calmness in his voice.

The Stupid Porch Cat had…

a.) Crawled over a piece of furniture and under another,

b.) Wedged his devil self into a very precarious position,

c.) Vomited INTO the surge protector from which all lights originated,

d.) Shorted out the entire display.

The cat clearly upgraded himself to the level of Deranged-Aunt-Bethany’s-Christmas-Vacation-Cat. Next year Thomas is most definitely going to find a way to make our Christmas Tree explode.

We desperately wanted to wrap him in a box and re-gift him to a large-hearted relative. We even begged said large-hearted relatives to take him with them when they left town.

Puzzlingly, they refused.

But seriously, y’all. What does one do with an emotionally abusive stray cat?

Do we quit feeding him (yes we still feed him 1-2 times a day, depending on the quantity and loudness of his meows)?

And if we do quit feeding him, how much physical and emotional damage will he do to us as a family before he goes and finds another family to haunt?

Can we pay someone to drive him to another county? Or state? Or Mexico?

Can we seek out a stray guard dog, which will then turn our porch woes into a sequel of “There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly”?

I seriously need to know the proper procedure here. And I might’ve offered a babysitter a buck a mile to drive him away.

But Thomas could sense I was getting irritated with him.

Maybe the new welcome mat was a tip-off – I don’t know.

And so I came home from a rather stressful day to find that he finally left me something at least halfway useful.

IMG_1286 2

A perfectly preserved chipmunk. How thoughtful.

I began scouring the house for the accessories that spoke to me with regards to this gift.

I first decided he was a reader – the stick still left in his paws when Thomas delivered him gave the appearance that he was also a smoker.

You Call This Tragedy IMG_1988You kids call this tragedy? Let me tell you about tragedy.

Then it struck me that he was definitely a Pokemon. Perhaps a Chipachu.

Chipachu the Chipmunk IMG_2029Gotta catch ‘em all!

Then I went through a drawer of kid’s prize trinkets and found the destined items to gift to my new friend. It took a little work to get them into his tiny claws (the main part of which I did wear rubber gloves to do),

besides the fact that I then had to pour coffee into the miniscule mug,

Behind the Scenes Roadkill IMG_7417

But my careful work paid off. With Thomas’ help, I had created the munk, the myth, the legend.

Monday the Chipmunk.

Coffee The Chipmunk IMG_2068Some days are just made for coffee and ice cream. Simultaneously.

He summed up my day and made my day. Simultaneously.

And, because I can already think of a dozen people I need to send Monday to, the note cards are already on order.

Screen Shot 2018-01-22 at 4.12.17 PM

So, Thomas The Porch Cat gets a temporary reprieve.

VERY temporary.

photo 9 sGood night, Thomas. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely call an Uber for you in the morning.

On Proving that The Mayflower > The USPS

November First.

That’s where this story begins.

It was the day I received an order from England for one of my Roadkill Calendars*.

2018 Roadkill Calendar Cover web

I have shipped plenty of things overseas. I’ve shipped to China – with the endless label written in Chinese. I’ve shipped to Africa. I’ve shipped to England. I’ve shipped to many random places in the world, and I do not suck at it.

The USPS website allows you to buy international postage online, which is nice – because filling out a manual customs form is comparable to shoving a full-sized male Gorilla into a Ziploc snack bag – no international address actually fits into the tiny fields on that microscopic form.

The very day I received the order, I printed my label.

Except that I noticed no postage printed alongside the customs form.

I went through the process again to make sure there was not an additional form to print, and there wasn’t.

I shrugged, assumed the post office was doing things differently now, and dropped it off to ship.

A few days later, the package showed back up on my doorstep, with a handwritten note on it:

“No Postage!”

Calendar September 2018 web

I got back on the website and paid the $13.50 international postage again in the attempt of saving myself from a visit to the actual post office. It is a place of unspeakable horrors, as Portlandia so accurately portrayed:

But after I went through the process again, it printed off exactly as it had before: without postage.

So I gathered both receipts, the package, the new and faulty label, and as much bravery as I could muster and went to Local Post Office Number One in the late afternoon, riskily near closing time.

The parking lot was nearly empty, so I felt that the stars of postal fortune had perhaps shined upon me.

I walked in and was overcome by the smell of hopelessness.

There was one worker and one customer, and it was apparent she’d been there a while. The male postal worker helping her laughed maniacally when I walked in. He yelled over to me,

“Whatever you need, I cannot help you.”

I looked toward the counter. There was a pile behind him, a pile in front of him, and this pile had not yet been moved over to him:

IMG_2778 2

Every few seconds, he made a sarcastic comment to the customer.

“Oh is that ALL?”

“Just a few more then, huh?”

Calendar July 2018 web

…all while glaring at me in the attempt to intimidate me into slinking out in the SHAME of coming in while he was dealing with this tragedy of over-mailing.

I peeked at her stack of boxes: they were Christmas presents for overseas troops. This fact did not make Mister Postal Worker any less Grinchy.

Calendar November 2018 web

But the stars shone upon me and a shimmering unicorn walked out of the back room. Or rather, a smiling postal worker – same difference.

She asked me what she could help me with and I explained my issue and presented my receipts.

“You paid for this package twice? My goodness, honey. You shouldn’t have done that.”

She inspected the package’s markings and said while shaking her head, “Mmm, mmm, mmm, those idiots at the downtown Post Office sent this back. They are SO STUPID. They should know better!”

Calendar April 2018 web

She took out a black Sharpie and wrote on the package, “Postage Paid!!”

“That’ll do it, honey. It’ll ship now!!”

A few days later, like a stray cat that can’t take a hint, it showed up on my doorstep for the second time.

Calendar January 2018 web

This time it had a note, also written in Sharpie, that said “No postage – writing ‘postage paid’ is not postage.”

I stopped at Local Post Office Number Two.

It was late November by now, so the lines were beginning to swell with holiday anxiety. I waited patiently for ten minutes while my children waited not-so-patiently.

“Can I help you?”

“I am hoping that you are an expert. I just know you can help me solve this.”

I explained the saga. I displayed my receipts. I pleaded for mercy.

“I can’t help you with that. You need to take it back to Local Post Office Number One. They have a manager over there.”

I tried not to let my tears stain the post office floor.

Instead of taking his advice, I decided to take it to the Scene of the Crimes: I would go to the dreaded, the formidable, the horror movie of The Downtown Post Office.

Calendar May 2018 web

I left my kids with Chris and approached the office with a respectable dose of fear.

A man talking rapidly on the phone was coming out of the front door as I approached, and I slipped through the door.

He turned around, huffed loudly, and angrily barked toward me, “You’re welcome!!”

a. He didn’t even really hold the door for me.
b. He was on the freaking phone in mid-sentence. Was I supposed to interrupt him to thank him for his sub-par gentlemanliness?
c. He is absolutely the kind of man who believes that buying a woman dinner on a first date entitles him to immediate relational benefit. And this realization made me want to vomit on his fancy wingtip shoes.

This encounter set my Downtown Post Office visit in motion just the way I expected it to go.

Calendar June 2018 web

The line was the kind of line that you could file your taxes, read a Jane Austen novel, call and comprehensively catch up with your best friend from 4th grade, and knit an ugly Christmas sweater all before being granted the privilege of being Next In Line – and I’m pretty sure there were people in that line doing all of those things.

I approached the counter with a look of humble gratitude. I pulled out my growing Package Dossier. I explained my case.

She looked at it all quietly, then said, “I’ll have to talk to my manager.”

She left me. She left me for so long I almost had abandonment issues.

Calendar February 2018 web

She finally returned, looking a year older. “He said the online postage system has been messed up lately – he’s seen other international packages come through without the postage printed correctly also. He told me to just print you the postage and it’ll go through just fine.”

Thank goodness. I came to the right place. And also I’m not crazy – I did nothing wrong when buying postage.

She started entering in the address.

“This shows it should be $22.50, and you only paid $13.50.”

“That’s what the online system charged me…”

“Well, online gives a discount, but I can’t. Hold on let me go check with my manager.”

Depression gripped my heart as PTSD Abandonment Issues set in.

Days later, she came back.

“He said I have to charge you the difference. So you’ll need to pay nine dollars.”


Type, type, type.

She printed postage for nine dollars. I paid her. She said, “This should do the trick. If it doesn’t, come back.”

That was not the hope I was looking for.

Two weeks passed. I felt sure my package had made its voyage across the sea. I mean, HOW HARD COULD THIS BE?! Angelica sailed back and forth between England and New York multiple times during one act of Hamilton. If Angelica could do it in the 1780s, surely a few pictures of roadkill can make the journey before 2018.

Then came the Friday before Christmas. I was in bed recovering from surgery.

Calendar December 2018 web

Chris got home from work, walked into the bedroom with his hand behind his back, and said “You’re never going to believe what was on the front porch.”

“Cat poop?”


“A slaughtered raccoon from that stray cat who won’t take a hint?”

“So much worse. You’re going to be so mad.”

“I don’t want to be mad!!”

“Mad in a fun way.”

He pulled the envelope from behind his back.

I nearly popped my incisions from screaming.


He set the envelope in my lap. That poor package was battered, abused, and humiliated.

Package to England

This time it had come back, according to the sticker, because the barcode had already been used.

There were so many scars and memories on on that package of all my prior visits…

…The scribbled out Sharpie messages…

…The $9 postage…

…All the stickers demanding I do this right even though the post office admitted it was their fault…

The envelope itself was a calendar of my November and December.

So, the week after Christmas, I decided to go back to where it all started.

Local Post Office Number One.

I took a fresh envelope, my stack of receipts from all former post offices, and resigned myself to filling out a fresh customs form – by hand.

As I waited in line, I began the process of rewriting everything. Which is when a man and his son who had been standing behind me decided that I was a prime target for line-cutting. They nonchalantly stepped around and in front of me.

But it was the wrong post office visit to mess with me. I had endured the sarcastic You’re Welcome guy. I had endured the cruel postal worker who didn’t want to process packages for the troops. I WAS NOT GOING TO JUST TAKE A LINE CUTTER.

I pushed around them and took back my place. “I was in line before you.”

“Oh, sorry.” They stepped back a step and looked at each other as if I had a crazed look in my eye (I’m sure I would never.)

I held my shoulders high with the ecstasy of not being taken advantage of (by anyone but the United States Postal Service.)

I hefted my sheaf of documentation up on the counter.

I walked the clerk through a Masters-Level education of what brought me here, to her counter, today.

Calendar August 2018 web

She sighed and shook her head.

“Okay. We need a new barcode. And new postage. And I think we can make this work.”

“Do you want me to use a new envelope since this one is so wrecked?”

“No. Let’s leave part of these stickers the same.”

Type type type…

She read my customs declaration. “This is a calendar, huh? What year is it for? Please say it’s for 2020 – because that’s probably when it’ll arrive.”

“Right? The Mayflower sailed from England to America quicker than this package is getting from America to England.”

“You are so right about that, honey.” She taped my freshly handwritten customs form onto the package.


“Um, I trust that it’s going to work this time, but you just covered up my return address. If perchance it doesn’t work, I really want to be able to know it.”

She sighed, ripped it up, salvaged my address, and re-taped it. I pondered whether this could be a DefCon Nine Postal Worker Solution to a problem package: if you make sure it ends up in the Eternally Lost Package Bin, the customer can’t complain again.

Then she looked at me sternly, with that look you give a stray cat after it craps on your porch for no good reason. “I do NOT want to see you back here again. I do NOT want to see this package again. Got it?”

Calendar March 2018 web

“Believe me, ma’am. I feel the same way.”

And this is where we now find ourselves.

My confidence level regarding this fifth attempt is at about 32%. I fully expect to see that mangy package cuddled up to my stray porch cat any day now.

Calendar October 2018 web

Thoughts and prayers, y’all. Thoughts. And. Prayers.

* Roadkill calendars are sold out, but if you find yourself in desperate need of one, I can still special order them. Unless you’re in England. Then forget it.