The Incident at Walgreen’s.

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We were on our way home from dinner. The weather was abhorrent, but we needed two things from Walgreen’s. I went in on behalf of the whole family, because I’m sacrificial like that and also because one cannot trust one’s husband to pick out an eyebrow filling pencil. He probably doesn’t even know I fill in my eyebrows. Or what it means to fill in one’s eyebrows. I was trying to hurry, as we were all ready to get home and out of the cold rain. This whole 38-degrees-and-raining selection on the Weather Jukebox is one of those records that when it starts playing, everyone groans in unison and says “REALLY?! PATRICIA, C’MON. NO ONE LIKES THAT TRACK BUT YOU!!”

But dang it if Patricia hasn’t been hitting that track hard lately.

I made my selections and scrambled up to the counter. Except…that I got behind a lady buying all the Christmas decor. Her questionable hair dye job was about a foot from the top of her head, which boasted of gray strands sticking out any which way. Her double pack of Pall Malls were hanging out of her purse, desperately trying to escape. Her house shoes were a lovely shade of pet hair. And she wanted to make sure that she was able to use the most Walgreen’s rewards possible – whether that was on her husband’s or her account. She impossibly-slowly explained “We never use them … then they expire … and my husband … comes in and gets his prescriptions … but never uses his points … but I might have more … so I need you to check both …”

The patient cashier checked both accounts. Told her that she had $3 available to use. “Is that … on his account or mine … ?” He explained that it was from both accounts and she could use it all.

What a windfall day.

Maybe now we could move forward in this process of CHECKING OUT.

(I was becoming pretty sure that I was standing behind the very same Patricia that selected the day’s awful track on the Weather Jukebox.)

But then she noticed the total. “But all those … decorations … were supposed to be fifty percent off … “

“No ma’am…they’re BUY ONE get one 50% off.”

I internally roll my eyes. I’ll never get out of here. And Christmas decorations are never 50% off before Christmas (except at places where things are always 50% off like Hobby Lobby but we’re not at Hobby Lobby we’re at Walgreen’s and everyone knows that Walgreen’s is more of a buy one get one 50% off kind of place.)

“No, they were … definitely … 50% off.”

The cashier, still patient and smiling (#GodBlessHisSoul) called over the loudspeaker for help.

The manager came up. She said, “They’re buy one get one 50% off.”

“No, they were … definitely … 50% off.”

The manager, not being as patient as the cashier, said rather sassily with a bit of an “Oh yeah?!” implied, “Was it a red tag or a yellow tag?”

Mrs. Patricia Pall Mall looked her dead in the eye. “It was … a blue tag.”

Both the cashier and manager snorted.

“We don’t have blue tags.”

“It was … a blue tag.”

“Well, your total is $26.67.”

“Then … let me … think about it … for a minute.”

OHMYGOODNESS NO. PATRICIA, NO ONE HAS TIME FOR YOU TO THINK ABOUT IT FOR A MINUTE. YOU CAN’T EVEN SPIT OUT A SENTENCE IN UNDER A MINUTE.

But she grabbed all her decor up and headed back into the store. The manager went to the other register and called over to me, “I can take you over here, ma’am.”

She was ringing up my items, shaking her head, and muttering “Blue tag. We don’t have a single blue tag in this store! Not a one. There ain’t no blue tags. You can take your card out now, ma’am. Happy Holidays. Blue tags. Psh.”

As I took my card out, I turned to look over my shoulder – I guess I sensed Patricia approaching.

Indeed. She was shuffling slowly back to the counter, the same hopeful purchases in one hand and … a … FREAKING BLUE TAG in the other.

I nearly walked out the door backwards to enjoy the sight of the Manager and Cashier staring openmouthed at this legendary, impossible, nonexistent, nay, 50% off, blue tag.

The moral of this story is: don’t be a Blue Tag Denier. And make your husband go into Walgreen’s. And if Patricia says it’s 50% off, it’s probably 50% off.

A Letter: From the Cat, To The UPS Man.

Dear Bringer of Brown Squares,

Hi. I am the cat that calls the porch of the blue house my own. They call me Thomas, but others call me Midnight, Snape, Voldemort, and That $%*#& Stray Cat.

You brought a couple brown squares and left them on the porch today, as you usually do. I always like to try and read the letters on the squares.

A-M-A-Z….

Obviously, the squares come to herald how amazing I am.

But I felt the need to apologize for the state that you found my home in. The Owners of The Blue House hadn’t discovered my extremely generous gifting yet, and so…you had to step around some things.

You had to SEE some things.

For one, the dead and fully in tact chipmunk to the left of the front door. I left that one for the humans – they do love protein.

For two, the decapitated chipmunk, with the best pieces of intestines laid out as fancy as a formal dinner at Downton Abbey, on the welcome mat. That was going to be my pre-lunch snack, once it had attained more of a rubbery patina.

For three, the generously sized watery portion of chipmunk-related vomit on the third porch step. I’m sure that was hard to maneuver around, especially with those large brown squares in your hand.

That was to remind the humans how despicably they treat me.

These tortured corpses weren’t intended for you, gracious provider of material happiness encapsulated in brown squares, but for the Wicked Lords of the Manor, whom I despise with the heat of a thousand suns.

(And also, puzzlingly, whom I love and adore. I’m a complex being.)

The problem is, they quit feeding me. After screaming and yelling with what I can only imagine was uncontained glee at my increasingly graphic presents on their porch, they showed their appreciation by ceasing the provision of bowls of my cardboard-like nutritional substance.

I don’t understand.

I think they thought I would move on, to stay at one of the MANY other neighborhood houses that I frequent.

But, even after I go collect my half-dozen offerings of cat food from the other neighbors, I prefer them.

I prefer to stay at their windows and meow day and night.

I prefer to vomit directly into their electrical outlets.

I prefer to feast upon furry friends on their porch, leaving science projects for the kids – I mean, how else are they going to find out that Chipmunk hearts and lungs and intestines and livers are so easy to identify?? And discover how microscopic but Mortal-Kombat-looking a Chipmunk spinal column can be? I’m basically providing lab classes for their homeschool, free of charge. You’re welcome, Evil Overlords.

And it’s really no trouble – the tasteless tic-tac-toe shaped food they gave me just made me lazy. I much prefer the fresh catch of the day. So now I leave ten times the amount of corpses on their front porch. That’ll show them how good their strategies are.

And anyway. I sometimes catch The Lady of the Manor taking pictures of my leftovers. So I suspect she secretly appreciates it.

Swimming-Through-Life-Chipmunk-IMG_0793Just Keep Swimming, Just Keep Swimming, Just Keep Swimming…

But, I recognize that perhaps my banquet tables were a bit unsettling to your brown square delivery. You maybe were jealous of my adoration and provision for my host family. And I wanted to apologize. For all the feelings you must have felt, as you stepped over that large biley pile of intestines, and gazed upon my upcoming snack that was being perfectly seasoned as it baked in the sun.

Perhaps next time, if you could just slip a bag of cat food into that brown square?

That’d be great.

Sincerely,

Thomas the Cat.

p.s. Whatever you did totally worked! Thank you, deliverer of brown squares. They have ended their strike against me and have reissued their provision of tic-tac-toe food. Although now they’re serving it all the way around the back of the house. I think they think it’ll make me leave my presents back where no one can see them. Heh. Now WHY would I do that.

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.

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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.”

“BUT FRESH BREAD! DON’T YOU WANT FRESH BREAD!”

“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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.